It's not often that a professor tells a packed crowd at Columbia University that Edward Said was a political extremist and that faculty members in the school's Middle East studies department encourage Islamic terrorism.
The professor who made those statements yesterday isn't from Columbia but from Harvard. Law professor Alan Dershowitz showed up at the intellectual home of Said, a literature professor who was a fierce critic of Israel, to rebuke Columbia's faculty and administration for tolerating an atmosphere on campus that he said promotes the hatred of Israel.
"This is the most unbalanced university that I have come across when it comes to all sides of the Middle East conflict being presented," Mr. Dershowitz told hundreds of students and a smattering of Columbia faculty members.
"I have never seen a university with as much faculty silence," he said.
At a campus already divided by a controversy that has flared for months - one that pits a handful of Jewish students against some professors in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department - the appearance of Mr. Dershowitz was the latest indication that the most serious crisis of President Lee Bollinger's tenure is far from over.
Mr. Dershowitz's speech, which lasted about an hour, drew a few catcalls from some hostile members of the audience, who accused the lawyer of supporting torture. It also prompted frequent outbursts of applause from many in the audience, as he repeatedly expressed contempt for the Columbia scholars in the Middle East studies department who are the subject of an internal campus inquiry.
One of the best-known defense attorneys in the country, Mr. Dershowitz, who is 66, said he would help organize an independent committee to look into the student complaints if the faculty committee appointed by Mr. Bollinger came to a "biased" conclusion. Without mentioning names, Mr. Dershowitz said the external committee would include Nobel Prize winners.
Members of the New York City Council, too, have called for an outside investigation of the student complaints.
Drawing a few laughs, Mr. Dershowitz said the prospects of "peace in Israel itself are greater than they would be on this campus."
"The kind of hatred that one hears on campuses like Columbia, and let me say especially Columbia, is a barrier to peace," Mr. Dershowitz said. "They are encouraging the terrorists. They tell the terrorists you will have academic support even if you oppose the peace process."
At times he singled out for censure an assistant professor of modern Arab politics, Joseph Massad, who is accused of ordering one of his students to leave his classroom if she continued to deny Israel's alleged atrocities against Palestinian Arabs. Mr. Massad, who denies that the incident took place, is among dozens of Columbia professors who in 2003 called on the university to divest itself of financial holdings in companies that support Israel.
"Anybody who advocates for divesting only from the Jewish state ... at a time when Iraq was posing a great threat to the world, when Iran was posing great threats ... when China is oppressing million of Tibetans, when the Kurds are still denied independence and statehood, to single out only Israel for divestiture at that point in time cannot be explained by neutral political, even ideological consideration," Mr. Dershowitz said.
Mr. Massad, who argues that Israel is a racist state, has publicly urged Palestinian Arabs to continue their resistance against Israel and supports the creation of one binational state containing both Israel and the occupied territories.
"If you were a space alien from a distant planet and your spaceship landed at Columbia University, you wouldn't think necessarily that the reality is a two-state solution," Mr. Dershowitz said. "You would think there is another potential reality - the one-state solution, the secular national state of Palestine."
He said those at Columbia who advocate the end of a Jewish state as a solution to the Middle East conflict "deliberately ignore the lessons of history."
"I do not believe that those who advocate it genuinely believe that a one state solution would produce a secular bi-national state," Mr. Dershowitz said.
Speaking to a mostly friendly audience, Mr. Dershowitz said he was struck by the reluctance on the part of faculty members at Columbia to demand publicly more intellectual diversity within the Middle East studies department. Such silence, he said, has turned the controversy at the university into a student-versus-teacher dispute.
"Having tenure means you have no excuse for not speaking out," Mr. Dershowitz said. "I'm appalled at how many professors at Columbia University privately support Israel, and privately support many of the students, but are publicly afraid to speak out."
One Columbia scholar who attended Mr. Dershowitz's speech, Judith Jacobson, shared his opinion that Columbia faculty members have been reluctant to speak out about the controversy.
"The faculty have been afraid," Ms. Jacobson said. She is an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia's school of public health and a leader of a pro-Israel academic group called Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
Mr. Dershowitz, she said, "is a little ungenerous about the nature of their fear." Ms. Jacobson said faculty members do not want to risk being subjected to ostracism and even jeopardizing their careers if they speak out.
A critic of Columbia's investigation of the professors, Monique Dols, 24, who is a student in the School of General Studies and a writer for the Socialist Worker, said Mr. Dershowitz's visit exposed the "political motivation" behind the student allegations.
"This is a man who wants to marginalize the pro-Palestinian voices on campuses," she said.
Mr. Dershowitz, a criminal lawyer who has in recent years become one of Israel's most visible public advocates, was invited and paid to speak by the David Project. The Boston-based group was also responsible for producing a documentary video, "Columbia Unbecoming," a compilation of student accounts of classroom experiences, that prompted Columbia last fall to launch the internal investigation into the conduct of professors of the Middle East studies department.