Columbia University has been hit with another accusation of intimidation by a professor. This time it's not from a student but a member of Columbia Law School's board of visitors and former federal prosecutor, who says a lecture by Joseph Massad that he attended on campus three years ago was comparable to a speech at a "neo-Nazi rally."
In a February 11 letter to Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, the ex-prosecutor, James Schreiber, recounts his experience as a Jewish audience member listening to the speech "On Zionism and Jewish Supremacy," which Mr. Massad, an assistant professor, delivered at the university's International Affairs building February 6, 2002.
When he tried to counter a point made by Mr. Massad, Mr. Schreiber says, an audience member shouted him down with an anti-Semitic slur, which he says was ignored by Mr. Massad and the event's moderator, Reeva Simon, who at the time was a coordinator with Columbia's Middle East Institute.
Ms. Simon, reached last night by The New York Sun, said she had no recollection of the purported slur and no comment to make about the lecture.
In the letter, Mr. Schreiber says: "Purporting to be a scholarly lecture, I regret to say that it was instead an anti-Semitic diatribe with only a patina of scholarship that one might have perhaps heard at a neo-nazi rally."
After Mr. Massad completed his lecture - in which Mr. Schreiber says he argued that Israel is a racist state whose Jewish citizens view themselves as superior to Arabs - Mr. Schreiber says he raised his hand and disputed Mr. Massad's contention that Israel offered the Palestinian Arabs only 65% of the West Bank during the 2000 Camp David peace negotiations.
In his response, Mr. Schreiber - a member of the executive committee of a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy - brought up a conversation he had with President Clinton's chief Middle East negotiator, Dennis Ross.
"I responded that it just so happened that I had spoken with Dennis Ross, the evening before and that morning, that we had discussed this very point and that he had said that such contentions were regrettably becoming part of a false mythology increasingly prevalent in the Region," Mr. Schreiber states in the letter. "At that point, someone in the audience shouted out, 'Dennis Ross is a JEW!' the purpose of which obviously was to undermine a flat contradiction of the speaker. Neither the moderator nor anyone in authority in the room said anything. I sat there stunned."
Mr. Massad, who is undergoing his fifth-year review at Columbia, did not return repeated inquiries seeking comment on Mr. Schreiber's letter.
Mr. Massad is among several faculty members in Columbia's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures who have been accused of mistreating Jewish students in the classroom. Mr. Massad and the other professors deny the allegations, and have accused the students and other critics of trying to censor criticism of Israel and Zionism and of threatening academic freedom at Columbia. A number of former students of Mr. Massad's have defended him as a knowledgeable and respectful teacher.
Mr. Schreiber disagreed. "As a former federal prosecutor, I could be intimidated in that environment," he told the Sun. "Imagine how students and potential faculty members might feel."
Mr. Schreiber says his letter to Mr. Bollinger was intended as private correspondence. He sent copies by e-mail to some acquaintances for comment, however, and one of them forwarded a copy to the Sun. In his letter, Mr. Schreiber says: "It was apparent to me that Massad was using his position as a Columbia professor, entitled to the respect of students, to promote vile and insidious anti-Semitic hatred in the language of anti-Zionism. He was ostensibly using his scholarship in doing so, but what in fact it entailed was transparently flimsy and more importantly factually and demonstrably untrue."
Later in the letter, he writes: "But I feel that you should be aware that even in an otherwise benign setting where Jewish life is vibrant and dynamic, as it seems to be at Columbia, there can still arise - right along side it - a virulent and dangerous anti-Semitic movement that intimidates and frightens both students and faculty alike."
On Monday, Mr. Schreiber had a private meeting with Mr. Bollinger at the president's home, Mr. Schreiber said. Mr. Schreiber says the president found his letter to be "powerful." Mr. Bollinger, Mr. Schreiber told the Sun, "understands the need to recruit to Columbia top scholars and subject the scholars to rigorous academic criteria that may not have been applied in the past."
Speaking of the university president, Mr. Schreiber said, "He made it absolutely clear to me that he is committed to resolving these issues" and would seek to "upgrade" the faculty in the Middle East studies department.
Days after the 2002 lecture, Mr. Schreiber said, he described his experience to a Columbia dean and to the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman. At the time, Mr. Schreiber said, he was told that it sounded like an isolated incident.
This winter, after watching the documentary "Columbia Unbecoming," which features students describing incidents of intimidation, Mr. Schreiber decided to write to Mr. Bollinger - who at the time of the Massad lecture had not yet become Columbia's president.
Mr. Schreiber, a 1968 graduate of Columbia's law school, served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1969 to 1974 before entering private practice. He has also served as chairman of the Auschwitz Jewish Center, helping to finance the restoration of a synagogue that survived the Nazi occupation.