A student petition published on Friday calling for Columbia to immediately remove Joseph Massad, a tenured professor in the department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, from its faculty has garnered more than 47,000 signatures as of Monday night.
The demand came in response to Massad's Oct. 8 article for the Electronic Intifada, in which he described Hamas' unexpected attack on Israel on Oct. 7 as a "resistance offensive" to "Israeli settler-colonialism and racism toward the Palestinians."
Maya Platek, GS '25, who wrote and shared the petition, condemned Massad's use of words such as "astonishing," "astounding," and "awesome" to describe the attack, claiming Massad "shows support for the terrorist organization."
"Massad's decision to praise the abhorrent attack encourages violence and misinformation in and outside of campus, particularly putting many Jewish and Israeli students on campus at risk," Platek wrote in the petition. "Regardless of one's stance on the conflict, supporting and praising one of the worst acts of terrorism in history is never acceptable."
Massad did not respond to a request for comment sent to his email listed on a Spring 2023 syllabus obtained by Spectator. His email is unavailable on his faculty profile, the Columbia faculty directory, or the Columbia email system as of Monday.
Platek's petition quickly gained attention beyond campus when David Friedman, CC '78, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, posted it on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday.
"I think that everybody's equally horrified by the remarks," Platek said in an interview with Spectator. "It's not okay to glorify murder."
Massad's tenure can be "terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation," according to tenure guidelines published by the American Association of University Professors.
"Ultimately, I'm a really big advocate for freedom of speech," Platek said. "But I think that this crosses that line."
A similar petition is circulating at Yale University calling for the removal of Zareena Grewal, a professor of American Studies, from its faculty for "condoning violence, advocating for a terrorist organization, and historical revisionism," according to the petition.
In response to the petition at Columbia, more than 300 Columbia affiliates and 300 members of the public have signed a letter written by students, faculty, alumni, and affiliates of the University and the MESAAS department expressing their "unwavering solidarity" with Massad.
The letter called on University President Minouche Shafik to "unequivocally guarantee his physical safety and his academic freedom as well as those of our University's faculty and students more broadly."
According to the letter, Massad has received a number of death threats, including one that was slid under his office door. The letter demanded the University investigate the source of these threats and hold them publicly accountable.
"Current attacks against Professor Massad are a continuation of this decades-long attempt to censor and intimidate him for his rigorous scholarship on Palestine," the letter read.
Gil Hochberg, the MESAAS department chair, Jessica Rechtschaffer, the director of academic administration and finance for MESAAS, and a University spokesperson declined to comment.
The letter also called on Shafik to issue a Universitywide statement "unequivocally supporting" Massad's academic freedom of speech.
This is not the first time that Massad has sparked controversy.
In 2004, a documentary, titled "Columbia Unbecoming," featured the testimony of 14 Columbia students and graduates who said they felt intimidated by Massad and two other professors after they expressed pro-Israel sentiments.
The University formed a committee to investigate student grievances in the film's fallout. Columbia issued its findings in 2005, writing that it found "no evidence of any statements made by the faculty that could reasonably be construed as anti-semitic."
Platek said that the rhetoric Massad used in his recent article is a "universal problem" and "unacceptable."
"It's important to hold someone who says stuff like that accountable," Platek said. "When you describe something as a 'stunning victory' or 'astounding' or 'incredible,' you can have a real negative impact that could put people at risk."
Of the over 47,000 signatures on the petition, 20,810 people signed Monday night.