Rashid Khalidi, the embattled Columbia University professor recently accused of being anti-Semitic, said academic freedom in America is being deterred by "unreliable journalism" and a culture of intolerance toward anti-Zionist outlooks, in a discussion with Bronfman Center visiting professor Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg.
Last night's event comes on the heels of Khalidi's free-speech controversy last month, when the New York State Education Department dismissed him from a position in which he would prepare educators to discuss the Middle East conflict among public-school students.
Before an audience of more than 200, Khalidi and Hertzberg focused their discussion on academic freedom in Middle Eastern studies - a touchy issue on many campuses, especially at Columbia where several academic departments came under fire last semester after students charged that professors, including Khalidi, were anti-Semitic and intolerant of Zionist ideas.
"We can't analyze what real obstacles to peace exist in the Middle East, or one is liable to be labeled anti-Semitic," said Khalidi, professor of Arab studies and director of the Middle East Studies Institute at Columbia.
Khalidi said New York papers were guilty of "unreliable journalism." Journalists use quotes out of context or boil down complex, nuanced ideas into soundbytes, making the situation even worse, he said.
Hertzberg drew anger from the crowd when he said the NYU Jewish studies department and the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies could not survive without being avowedly Zionist.
"I have serious objections with your statements about Skirball," Alfred Ivry, the Skirball professor for Jewish Thought at NYU, said out loud after the comment.
Hertzberg slammed his fist on the table and refused to answer Ivry's complaint. He said it was not the appropriate venue to air this kind of grievance.
Audience members were asked to submit their questions in writing, which were then read by Bronfman Center Director Cindy Greenberg.
After the discussion, Khalidi also angrily refused to speak with a reporter from the New York Sun who approached him for a comment.
GSP freshman Orrie Levy said the speakers left important points out of their discussion.
"I think that [Khalidi] was extremely vague when he spoke about the topic of the confict's effect on academic freedom. He didn't give examples," Levy said. "Neither of them brought up the idea of academic bias arising from academic freedom. [Khalidi] valued academic freedom more than protecting standards from academic bias."