The evidence that Columbia University classrooms are infected by a culture of anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli bigotry grows ever stronger. On film and in person yesterday, students described an intimidating atmosphere in which professors treat Jews with scorn and insist on adherence to the view that Israel is evil.
The students' accounts at a screening of "Columbia Unbecoming" were shocking. An Israeli Army veteran said Prof. Joseph Massad demanded to know how many Palestinians he had killed. Another student quoted Massad telling a class, "The Palestinian is the new Jew and the Jew is the new Nazi," and "I will not have someone in this class who denies Israeli atrocities."
A third Jewish student, discussing Israel's right to exist, said Prof. George Saliba told her, "You have no claim to the land of Israel. You have no voice in this debate. You have green eyes. You're not a Semite. I have brown eyes. I'm a Semite." Imagine a professor saying a student could not discuss slavery because his skin was not dark enough. The professor would be fired, tenure or no.
A fourth student reported that when he asked his language professor how to use the verb "prevent" in Arabic, the professor wrote on the board, "Israelis prevent ambulances from entering refugee camps." Others described anti-Semitic caricatures being plastered on the walls of the language lab and posters advertising an Israeli film festival on campus being defaced with swastikas.
Leaders of The David Project, the activist group that produced the film, said they also had interviewed 10 faculty members, who declined to appear on film out of fear. Tenured professors said that to express pro-Israeli views is to commit professional suicide, while nontenured professors feared for their jobs, the filmmakers said.
Massad did not return calls, and Saliba declined to comment. Both are members of Columbia's Department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures, which has been the locus of sentiments of these kind for years. Complaints were widespread enough that University President Lee Bollinger asked a committee on free speech earlier this year to look into academic bullying on campus. Somehow, it was unable to turn up claims of bias or intimidation.
Well, now they're staring Bollinger right in the face. Yesterday, he responded as any upstanding, right-thinking academic would: He promised to investigate and to institute a process for students to air grievances. How enlightened of him! How little! How late!