Central Connecticut State University's (CCSU) "Middle Eastern Studies Summer Institute for Teachers" lacked balance on the Middle East conflict, three participants have told the Ledger.
"It should have been named propaganda 101," said Lorie Zackin, who participated in the Institute. "It was completely un-American. America represents a marketplace of ideas. That was not found on the CCSU campus."
"I went up to the instructors everyday and said I would like to hear something positive about Israel," said Joan Kadish, another participant, who said the instructors simply shrugged her off.
"I went in trying to be open-minded," said Renana Kadden, who called the institute "anti-intellectual" and "unbalanced."
The course for middle and high school teachers, held July 29-Aug. 2 on the CCSU campus in New Britain, was funded by a $24,832 federal grant.
Jewish leaders, U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-6) and U.S. Rep. James Maloney (D-5) expressed concern to university officials prior to the start of the program that the institute did not include an expert who could represent the Israeli point of view in the Middle East conflict. The university rebuffed a suggestion from Jewish leaders to add such an expert to the institute, which included lectures on the geography, history and culture of the Middle East and on Islam.
The university was flooded with more than 300 emails protesting the course.
Kadish and Kadden particularly criticized CCSU Prof. Norton Mezvinsky's Tuesday lecture on the Arab-Israeli conflict, which they claimed was riddled with inaccuracies and omissions.
Mezvinsky informed the class, for example that the well-armed and well-funded Israelis fought against the Palestinians in 1948, the educators said, failing to mention that the armies of five Arab countries invaded Israel.
The professor blamed Israel for creating the Palestinian refugee problem, noted Kadish and Kadden, but did not discuss the Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands,
Mezvinsky said that Israel has from the beginning granted rights to Jews but not to non-Jews, said the participants.
"He did not discuss that Israel is a democracy," said Kadden. "One of the things that Mezvinsky said over and over again is that Israel is a terrorist state."
Kadden criticized the professor for refusing her request to discuss terror attacks against Israeli civilians in detail after he gave a detailed account of Israel's destruction of Palestinian infrastructure in Operation Defensive Shield.
The teachers also said that the history professor left out significant events in the conflict's history, such as the 1967 Six-Day War, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's trip to Jerusalem and the subsequent Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's 2000 peace offer to the Palestinians at Camp David.
Because of his focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said Kadish and Kadden, Mezvinsky did not discuss other elements of Middle Eastern history, such as the Ottoman Empire.
Mezvinsky refused to speak to the Ledger for this story.
Mezvinsky was scheduled to lecture on the second half of Middle East history on Tuesday, according to the institute's syllabus. But he asked the teachers to vote on whether to keep to that topic or discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kadden and Kadish said.
Before the institute began, Mezvinsky said he'd be lecturing on the modern Arab-Israeli conflict Tuesday afternoon, according to a July 28 article in the New Britain Herald.
CCSU President Richard Judd and Prof. Richard Benfield, who organized the course, both rebuked the professor for his narrow focus on the conflict.
In a July 31 email obtained by the Ledger, Judd informed Mezvinsky that "from what I have been advised, you breeched [sic] the tenets of what I asked the faculty in this program to do."
"I have not and will not trample on your rights of academic freedom, but I will take serious issue with your alleged professions to the program students," wrote Judd.
"I made it quite clear to Richard [Benfield] and in turn to all of you, and to the community outside of the University that I expected that the syllabus for this program would be followed. If it has not been, then the University had misrepresented its position, and I as its President have done so, as I am the only person entrusted with that responsibility. I am to say the least, disappointed."
In an interview with the Ledger, however, Judd backed away from the critical comments he made in his email to Mezvinsky.
"I'm satisfied with what [Mezvinsky] did," said Judd, who wrote the email after Benfield briefed him on Mezvinsky's lecture.
The same day Judd wrote his email, Benfield read a letter to the 72 teachers in the class, in which he described Mezvinsky's lecture as inappropriate, according to the participants who spoke with the Ledger and a report in the New Britain Herald.
The Herald reported that Benfield felt that Mezvinsky's lecture was more "inflammatory than informational." The geography professor then proposed adding a speaker recommended by the Jewish community, according to the participants and the Herald.
This week, when the course was over, Benfield downplayed any criticism of the institute. He refused to comment on Mezvinsky's lecture. When asked why Mezvinsky had devoted significant time to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Benfield said he did not attend every presentation and refused to confirm that Mezvinsky had addressed the conflict at length.
He also said he did ask the class if they wanted to hear from another professor, but he could not remember if he suggested an expert recommended by the Jewish community.
No speaker added
The offer to add a speaker who could offer a pro-Israel viewpoint was "overwhelmingly" refused by the class, according to CCSU spokesman Mark McLaughlin, who said teachers "felt it wouldn't be necessary."
While Judd said he felt "all views do need to be on the table," he said it was up to the faculty and students of the institute to decide whether they wanted to hear additional speakers.
Benfield told the Ledger that course participants had heard enough material and did not need to hear from a pro-Israel speaker.
The class did request that CCSU Prof. Ghassan el-Eid - who developed a kidney stone and was unable to teach his session -- lecture at one of the course's two follow-up sessions, scheduled for the fall and spring.
Judd addressed the institute on Friday, telling the teachers he had done the right thing in his handling of the institute.
He reiterated that sentiment in an interview with the Ledger.
"I am maybe not happy with the way some of it went... [but] I have to be supportive of the faculty's prerogative to do what they think is right in this matter."
The institute received "overwhelmingly positive feedback," from its participants, said McLaughlin.
CCSU also received a significant number of emails praising the university for holding the course, he added.