Now that one of Columbia's anti-Israel professors, Rashid Khalidi, has been dismissed as a teacher trainer by the New York City public schools, his allies are making a belated attempt to rally around. Even while Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, is earnestly trying to assure Jewish leaders and potential donors that he genuinely is committed to addressing the issue, his spokeswoman, Susan Brown, was quoted yesterday in a newspaper describing Mr. Khalidi as "a respected professor and scholar."
Well, Mr. Khalidi may be respected on Morningside Heights and in the United Arab Emirates, whose government donated $200,000 to fund Mr. Khalidi's chair at Columbia. The UAE, after all, has a formal policy of denying entry visas to Israelis. He may be respected in Saudi Arabia, where is based the Olayan Group, whose Olayan Charitable Trust also helped fund Mr. Khalidi's professorship at Columbia. But there is no reason to have him teaching teachers how to teach the Middle East.
In a June 7, 2002, speech to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Mr. Khalidi endorsed the killing of Israeli soldiers as legitimate "resistance" to occupation. In an August 4, 2001, appearance on CNN, Mr. Khalidi referred to Israel's "35-year-old occupation which has instituted systematic racist policies against 3 million people." In the same appearance, he claimed, "it will be the longest occupation in modern history in a few months," apparently unaware of China's 54-year-old occupation of Tibet or the Soviet Union's 46-year occupation of Lithuania.
In his 2004 book "Resurrecting Empire," Mr. Khalidi made numerous significant factual errors, as was detailed in our August 5, 2004, editorial "What the UAE Bought." Among them was attributing the Iraq war to the influence of "Perle, Feith, Wurmser, and others," which he described as "part of a group that often seems to have virtually exclusive access to the top decision-makers in the Bush administration." In a letter to the Sun, the book's publisher said it would correct some of this tenured professor's errors in any future printings. The idea that the Bush administration is dominated by a group loyal to an Israeli politician is a recurring theme for Mr. Khalidi. In a May 22, 2003, article in the Nation, he referred to "the Sharonistas who dominate the Bush Administration."
The campus environment at Columbia is such that the Middle East Institute that Mr. Khalidi now heads up can sponsor a lecture with the title "Zionism and Jewish Supremacy" in which a member of the audience can shout out "Dennis Ross is a JEW!" and not earn a peep of public protest from Mr. Bollinger or any of the other First Amendment experts on Morningside Heights, though it was an event that a member of the Columbia Law School board of visitors, James Schreiber, described as like what "one might have perhaps heard at a neo-Nazi rally."
Nat Hentoff is quoted in the Forward as suggesting that instead of dumping Mr. Khalidi, the city "should have brought in a team teacher for the course so that it wouldn't be one-sided indoctrination." He's a First Amendment expert who reckons the American Constitution requires New York taxpayers to pay for two Middle East teacher-trainers, one who says, wrongly, that Israel's "occupation" is the longest in modern history and another that says it is not; one that says, wrongly, that shooting Israeli soldiers is legitimate resistance and one that says it is not. Maybe the First Amendment requires having a teacher trainer who says the Earth is flat and another who says it's round.
Some will argue that these are differences of opinion rather than factual errors, but that is a surrender to relativism. This is our reaction not only to the situation in respect of New York City teacher training but also, in a large part, to the situation at Columbia. Mr. Bollinger's plan to hire more, better professors in Middle East studies is no more a remedy to the problem there than would be hiring more teacher-trainers for the city to balance Mr. Khalidi's inaccurate bile. The real question is how someone with such a record landed at Columbia in the first place. A cynic might say it had something to do with the funding from the United Arab Emirates and the Saudi-linked Olayan Charitable Trust. But Columbia's academic integrity isn't that cheaply bought. Or is it?