About two months ago, I attended a round-table discussion about the Middle East and Columbia in which President Lee Bollinger was a participant. During the discussion, Bollinger essentially stated that he thought universities should be a place for complex thought and discussion. I couldn't agree with him more. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that the "discussion" about the Middle East at our University, and at many others like it, is anything but complex.
I am a member of the faculty of medicine and make no claims to expertise on the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech or, for that matter, the Middle East. However, as a natural scientist it has become obvious to me that the two critical components missing from this discussion are data and debate. For example, over a year ago I attended a conference sponsored by Qanun, the Middle East law students association. Two prominent members of our faculty, Rashid Khalidi and Joseph Massad, spoke in addition to Haifa University faculty member Ilan Pape. Khalidi started by stating that Israel "systemically prevents the growth of the Palestinian population." It took less than three minutes on the Internet to sort that claim out. According to the United Nations, the Palestinians have one of the highest fertility rates of any country in the world. So, evidently Israel isn't actually "preventing" the growth of the Palestinians or they aren't doing a very good job of it.
Perhaps the most problematic speaker was Pape, who equated Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with genocide. He of course offered no facts as to why this is or how exactly Israel's behavior met the definition of genocide set forth by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948.
Massad spoke next. He has already made a name for himself by his behavior towards students who disagree with his views on Israel. In less than 20 minutes, Massad managed to call Israel a "racist apartheid" state more than 30 times. In fact, he didn't actually say anything else. He gave no data for this premise and offered no rhyme or reason as to why he thought this way or why anyone in the audience should believe him or agree with him. He was, of course, met with huge cheers and ovations by the mostly student audience. As someone, perhaps the only one in the audience, who actually worked in a hospital in Soweto, South Africa during apartheid, I wondered if anyone in attendance actually knew the definition of "apartheid."
By now, it should come as no surprise that Massad was one of the key participants in last week's "Israeli Apartheid" program where he, again, did little more than repeatedly state that Israel is a racist state. I do agree that there is apartheid in the Middle East. In many countries, women are not allowed to vote and have no rights. In some, non-Muslims are not allowed to pray in their desired house of worship or take part in the government and education is often reserved for only the richest members of society. Apartheid is present in a number of Middle Eastern countries, that is, except for Israel. To quote the Muslim author Irshad Manji, who wrote about Israel in The Australian, "It's absurd to apply the term apartheid to one of the most progressive states in the world." Perhaps last week's conference should focus on why Israel is the only country in the Middle East without apartheid? But for those who call it apartheid, facts obviously aren't important on this issue.
Each day, I work with members of our medical faculty, physicians who have dedicated their lives to improving the health of their patients and furthering medical science, scientists who approach a challenging problem objectively and who critically analyze data before making a decision or offering an opinion. Unfortunately, most of them are deemed unworthy of tenure.