This week, Rashid Khalidi starts his new job as the first Edward Said Chair of Middle East Studies at Columbia University, as well as director of the school's Middle East Institute. His arrival augments the school's already acute problems of extremism and intolerance on the Middle East.
Examples of Columbia's problems:
* Outspoken Palestinian advocates - openly antagonistic to Israel and Zionism - teach every course offered on the politics or history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC).
* 78 percent of MEALAC faculty members signed a petition that compares Israel to apartheid-era South Africa (a comparison Columbia's President Lee Bollinger called "grotesque and offensive") and calls for Columbia to divest from companies with interests in Israel.
* Hamid Dabashi, chair of MEALAC and professor of Iranian studies, declared at an April conference that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was equal to Attila the Hun as "a destroyer of civilization" for his role in the liberation of Iraq.
Enter Rashid Khalidi and the Edward Said chair.
Anonymously endowed, the chair canonizes the Columbia prof who more than anyone else politicized scholarship in Middle East studies. In "Ivory Towers on Sand," Martin Kramer writes that Said "enshrined an acceptable hierarchy of political commitments, with Palestine at the top, followed by the Arab nation and the Islamic world."
Yet Said is a professor of comparative literature, not a Middle East specialist, and teaches no courses on the topic. His sole connection to the Middle East is one of advocacy and polemics, including defending Palestinian violence. For example, he calls suicide bombing "a consciously programmed result" of Israel's actions, and insists that "Sharon wants terrorism, not peace."
Khalidi's views aren't much different. An unabashed advocate for the Palestinians and an obsessive detractor of Israel, he claims that Israel (a modern, Western nation) is an "apartheid system in creation," a "racist" state that "brainwashed" Americans simply don't understand. He calls Israel's capital, Jerusalem, "an Arab city" whose control by Israeli "foreigners" is "unacceptable."
In a June 2002 speech to the conference of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Khalidi reportedly condemned violence against innocent civilians but then added: "The ones who are armed, the ones who are soldiers, the ones who are in occupation, that's different. That's resistance."
Khalidi also lashes out at his own country - repeatedly. During the Gulf War of 1991, he (wrongly) forecast that U.S. intervention on Kuwait's side would cause a "backlash" of Arab unity against America and a power imbalance in the Middle East. And he characterized popular support for the recent war against the brutal tyrant Saddam Hussein as an "idiots' consensus," while labeling Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz "a fanatical, extreme right-wing Zionist."
Given this background, two aspects of the funding around Khalidi are worth noting:
* As director of Columbia's Middle East Institute, Khalidi will oversee a new influx of federal funds worth $900,000 over the next three years.
* While other donors to the endowment of the Edward Said chair are unknown, two of them are 1.) a foundation headed by Rita Hauser, whose former law firm, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, was registered with the Justice Department as an agent for the Palestinian Authority, and 2.) the Olayan Charitable Trust, a charity affiliated with the America arm of the Saudi-based Olayan Group.
Columbia's other Middle East faculty are celebrating Khalidi's imminent arrival. Lisa Anderson, dean of the School of International and Public Affairs and president of Middle East Studies Association, said she "can't honestly think of a better person to recruit to Columbia."
In short, a biased professor is taking over a biased department, paid for by funds endowed at least in part by Saudi and Palestinian interest groups - and administering a taxpayer-subsidized program. (Ironically, those subsidies are justified as improving our national security.)
It is highly unusual for a university to make a secret of the donors of a chair; that Columbia's administration has done so for the Said chair suggests it has something to hide. Faculty, staff, students, alumni and other Columbia stakeholders should demand the full story, to be sure that this highly suspect chair isn't funded with tainted money.
Jonathan Calt Harris is managing editor of Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum that reviews and critiques Middle Eastern studies in America.