Columbia's Latest Embarrassment

Posted: Nov 27, 2007 12:01 AM
Columbia's Latest Embarrassment

In the coming days or weeks, Columbia University is poised to decide on the tenure of controversial professor Joseph Massad, who has a reputation for intimidating Jewish and pro-Israel students in the classroom and has a well-documented history of shoddy scholarship, spinning paranoid conspiracies about “Israel” and “Zionists,” and a decided affection for Hamas.

This comes on the heels of Columbia’s Barnard College earlier this month offering tenure to Nadia Abu el-Haj, an anthropologist who wrote an archeology book in which she largely denied the Jewish historical connection to Israel, and in key parts leveled shocking allegations based on anonymous, uncorroborated sources.

And these two tenure fights are playing out while Iranian madman Mahoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to campus is still fresh in the minds of outraged alumni and donors.

Massad, currently an associate professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History, is no stranger to controversy. In 2004, the documentary “Columbia Unbecoming,” produced by the pro-Israel David Project, featured students who described Massad’s outrageous classroom antics, including attempting to kick out a student who took issue with the teacher’s contention that Israel had perpetrated a massacre at Jenin in 2002. (Even the United Nations, hardly a friend of the Jewish state, found no evidence to suggest a massacre had occurred.)

The embattled academic strenuously denied the allegations, and an ad hoc committee formed by the university cleared him—but only partially.

Though Massad claims he was exonerated, the committee actually found the complaint had merit. In its final report, the committee did not find that Massad forced the student from the classroom, but it did find fault with his behavior: “Upon extensive deliberation, the committee finds it credible that Professor Massad became angered at a question that he understood to countenance Israeli conduct of which he disapproved, and that he responded heatedly.”

What is not in dispute, however, is his rather extensive body of written work. Perhaps most illuminating about his worldview and a strong indicator of his classroom instruction are the English-language columns he has written periodically over the past few years for the Egyptian weekly al-Ahram. (Massad did not respond to an inquiry seeking comment.)

When Massad is unencumbered by peer review or academic editors, he launches nearly incoherent rants against the “Apartheid” and “racist” state of Israel. One rather typical example: “The ultimate achievement of Israel: the transformation of the Jew into the anti-Semite and the Palestinian into the Jew.” For the confused, that statement is simply a gentler rephrasing of claims of moral equivalence between Hitler’s Nazis and today’s Jews.

Aside from bizarre rhetorical arguments, Massad also has a penchant for conspiracy theories.

In the past year alone, Massad has offered two doozies. Last November, he wrote that Hamas was being victimized by Fatah, with the latter committing terror attacks, but pinning them on Hamas. “There may be many more such operations being planned,” he warned. No evidence was provided to support this rather startling contention.

Then this March, Massad casually suggested that Israel “possibly poison[ed] [Arafat] at the end.” No sources were cited. No explanation was given. And the topic quickly shifted to something else.

No conspiracy theory, though, is more baffling than his take on the creation of Israel. According to a January 2003 column, the “Zionists,” in creating Israel, engaged in a “project of destroying Jewish cultures and languages in the diaspora in the interest of an invented Hebrew that none of them spoke, and in the interest of evicting them from Europe and transporting them to an Asian land to which they had never been.”

Though Massad is not a Holocaust denier—and, in fact, has repeatedly criticized Holocaust denial—the reasonable implication of Zionists “evicting [Jews] from Europe” is that the creators of Israel somehow played a role in the genocide that inspired so many European Jews to pack up and head to the Middle East.

And while he does not dispute that Hitler killed six million Jews, Massad is a denier of Holocaust denial. In 2004, he wrote, “[T]hose who deny the holocaust among Palestinians have no position whatsoever inside the PLO nor any legitimacy among the Palestinian intelligentsia.”

Claiming that the Palestinian leadership is free of Holocaust deniers is simply absurd. Fatah’s official newspaper and television station have for years promoted Holocaust denial and praised the deniers, all of which has been chronicled by the watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch.

And the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is a renowned Holocaust denier, who in his doctoral thesis gave credence to low-ball counts of numbers of victims and even wrote, “A partnership was established between Hitler’s Nazis and the leadership of the Zionist movement.”

Overall in Palestinian politics, however, Massad’s heart clearly lies with the Islamic terrorists of Hamas. This March, he lamented the “economic choking and starvation” resulting from the “international isolation” of Hamas. Last November, he was even more open with his fondness for Hamas, writing that the Islamic terrorist entity “can defend the rights of the Palestinians to resist the Israeli occupation and the well-armed Palestinian collaborators that help to enforce it.”

When Columbia’s ad hoc committee reviewing Massad’s tenure bid makes it decision soon, it needs to ask: Does someone who weaves bizarre conspiracy theories, denies the existence of obvious Holocaust deniers, and has a soft spot for Hamas deserve a lifetime appointment?