Columbia University released last week the list of donors it solicited to create the Edward Said Professorship on Modern Arab Studies and Literature. On the list were a number of individuals, and even a foreign government, that actively preach hatred against Jews.
In this time of increased hatred and violence, one would hope that our universities would strive to defuse conflicts and disabuse hatreds. Judging from recent events, however, it is becoming clear that Columbia University, for one, does not intend to play that role.
It took more than a year for Columbia to disclose publicly the sources of the money for the Said chair, and now that the names of the donors have been made public, one can understand why the administration was so reluctant to admit from whom it received funding. The list of names the university published in its official newspaper includes a businessman who funded the PLO before it entered the Oslo peace process, and another who was central in orchestrating the French arming of Saddam Hussein, among many others. But the most distressing of the donors is a foreign government: the United Arab Emirates.
This is not the first time the UAE made a high-profile donation to a leading university. Last year, the Harvard Divinity School's administration was made aware of a disputable donation of $2.5 million by the UAE president, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan. The unelected president and sole authority in the UAE since 1971, Zayed was also financing and hosting the think tank of the Arab League, the Zayed Centre, which promoted Holocaust denial, the resurrection of the blood libel and the myth that Osama bin Laden was a CIA agent and the United States was behind the attacks of Sept. 11.
Although the Zayed Center shut down due to pressure, there remain problems surrounding the UAE endowment that cannot be ignored or disregarded. Zayed and his wife financed the defense of Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, and the UAE's state-sponsored television network aired a series during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, in 2001, titled "Plots of Terror," depicting the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a vampire who craved the blood of Arab children, tossing Arab babies into a bonfire in classic anti-Semitic form. A report printed in the UAE daily press, Al-Khalij, in the spring of 2002 referenced remarks made by a French anti-globalization activist who said that the Israeli Mossad was behind the recent wave of anti-Semitism attacks in France.
These examples illustrate the willingness of the UAE to associate itself with the dehumanization of Jews and Israelis, promoting research for hateful propaganda to help regimes divert attention from the problems within their own countries by using the Jews as scapegoats.
Despite the prejudicial behavior of Zayed and the UAE, however, both Columbia and Harvard are willing to allow the influence of this anti-Semitic sheik to reach into a field where the most damage can be achieved: Middle East and Islamic studies. Money talks, and the very fact that an academic chair has been established at Columbia based on money that has an inherent political bent bodes poorly for the university's ability to separate politics from academics.
That the fund raising and the establishment of the chair was orchestrated by Lisa Anderson, the dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, who is a former director of the Middle East Institute, is even worse. Anderson, whose expertise is the Middle East, should be familiar with the character and intent of the donors, and her decision to solicit their funds means that she does not object to Columbia becoming another avenue through which nations such as the UAE can spread their hateful propaganda.
Both Harvard and Columbia's administrations should take responsibility for the actions of their employees, stand in clear opposition to the promotion of religious intolerance and not allow the classroom to be politicized. Instead of allowing the donors access to the process of education through their funds, these academic institutions should publicly denounce the hatred they spread, and promote an environment of honest intellectual engagement and discourse.
With the increasing trend of anti-Semitism nationally and globally, it is imperative that our revered academic towers join the moral struggle for a tolerant, pluralistic world where state-sponsored anti-Semitism worldwide is met with outright rejection.
Ariel Beery is an undergraduate at Columbia University. Rachel Fish is New York Regional director of The David Project