The president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, yesterday made the mistake of naming John Coatsworth as the new dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. Readers of these columns may recall Mr. Coatsworth's name from our editorial, "Yom Kippur at Columbia," remarking on Mr. Coatsworth's role in inviting the Holocaust-denying, terror-sponsoring, nuclear-bomb-building president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to speak at Morningside Heights. It was Mr. Coatsworth who went on Fox News on Yom Kippur to announce that he would have invited Adolf Hitler to speak at Columbia, too.
While that is the episode for which Mr. Coatsworth gained national infamy, it turns out he has a prior record of activism on behalf of the enemies of Israel. In 2002, he signed a petition calling on Harvard and MIT to divest from Israel and from American companies selling arms to Israel, accusing Israel of "continual military occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory by Israeli armed forces and settlers, and the forcible eviction from and demolition of Palestinian homes, towns and cities." Mr. Bollinger has called the movement to divest from Israel "grotesque"; if he really believes that, one wonders why he would elevate one of its adherents to the leadership of the university's School of International and Public Affairs.
But it isn't only the Middle East where Mr. Coatsworth is on the far-out fringe; it is also in his academic specialty, Latin America. When the State Department in 2005 denied a visa to a Sandinista leader, Mr. Coatsworth told the Harvard Crimson, "It's just another cost we're all paying for the restrictions on international travel to the United States under the Patriot Act." The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act had passed the Senate by a vote of 98 to 1. In 2004, he staged a protest at Las Vegas by putting 65 empty chairs in a conference room after the State Department denied visas to 65 Cuban "scholars." In 1999, he backed a Harvard student petition against the Clinton administration's use of a naval range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
In 2002, he wrote a letter to the Crimson defending the decision to invite a high-ranking Cuban official to Harvard as a professor. "The Cuban government does not practice genocide or start world wars," the letter said. "It prosecutes and harasses some dissenters." Oh, just "some" dissenters? The letter went on to state, "many decent and honorable people in Cuba are Communists. They work in government agencies, schools, laboratories and clinics to improve the lives of their fellow citizens."
Before the Iraq War, Mr. Coatsworth signed a petition claiming that an American invasion of Iraq "would be illegal under the charter of the United Nations" and that it would lead to "a prolonged and heightened conflict between Israel and the Palestinians" and "increased terrorism in the US." Mr. Coatsworth also signed a petition-style letter to Foreign Affairs magazine criticizing it for refusing to give unlimited space to a critic of Henry Kissinger's role in Chile during the Nixon administration.
No one, least of all us, is suggesting a political litmus test for the deanship of this school at Columbia. But a modicum of good judgment would be nice. The members of the search committee for the post included two of Columbia's foremost Israel-bashers, Rashid Khalidi and Mahmood Mamdani. The dean who preceded Mr. Coatsworth in the job, Lisa Anderson, is known for accepting a junket to Saudi Arabia from the state-owned oil company. The persons whose judgment is really called into question here is not just Mr. Coatsworth but the president and trustees of Columbia, who have now elevated to a deanship an Israel-hating apologist for the Communists who is on record as being willing to welcome Hitler to campus. They announced the decision just in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day. What an embarrassment for a university that has so many fine scholars and students associated with it and has so much to offer this city if it could only set its sights a little higher.