Recent coverage of the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department suggests that the Middle East conflict has come to Columbia. If that's so, maybe we should be searching for an "honest broker."
Don't look in Low Library. President Lee Bollinger is no honest broker. Judging by what he has done and said, and what he hasn't, Bollinger is on the side of supporters of "Columbia Unbecoming" and their backer, the David Project.
Bollinger's first salvo came on Nov. 7, 2002, when he responded to a petition calling on Columbia to divest from companies that manufacture or sell arms to Israel. The divestment campaign released its petition on Oct. 25, and the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing was to consider it on Nov. 13. Bollinger condemned the campaign in stronger language than any he has used to support academic freedom or MEALAC professors. He thus launched a preemptive strike before the committee even considered divestment and before debate began on campus.
With this statement Bollinger made clear his bias: "The petition alleges human rights abuses and compares Israel to South Africa at the time of apartheid, an analogy I believe is both grotesque and offensive." The petition did not compare Israel to apartheid South Africa. Several signers publicly stated that they did not agree with the apartheid analogy, although others cited useful points of comparison—as had Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It is one thing to disagree, but "grotesque?" Bollinger's statement also implied doubt about the Israeli government's violation of Palestinian human rights. Bollinger must know better than B'tselem or Human Rights Watch, which have documented these abuses.
This statement alone disqualifies Bollinger as an honest broker, yet this is not all he has done. The University has hired the expensive public relations firm, Howard J. Rubinstein & Associates, to handle the MEALAC case. Who else does Rubinstein represent? Ariel Sharon! The Israeli foreign ministry hired Rubinstein in 2001 to improve Sharon's image. Rubinstein has set up many meetings between Bollinger and Jewish and Israeli leaders. Has he set up meetings with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee or Palestinian or Muslim leaders? Bollinger has not met with MEALAC graduate students, though they have asked. Has he considered the grave conflict of interest in using the Israeli government's PR firm to deal with a case that revolves around criticism of one of their clients?
Equally egregious is Bollinger's silence on the hate-fest held on campus on March 6. Sponsored by Columbians for Academic Freedom, this meeting featured David Project staff and Israeli government minister Natan Sharansky. Speaker after speaker blamed "Arabs" for everything and portrayed "Jews" as the only victims. They depicted professor Edward Said as evil incarnate and praised Israeli Defense Forces actions in Jenin in 2002. The Jewish Week reports that a Palestinian audience member, critical of one speaker, was threatened with his life. So racist and hateful was the event that even student organizers were forced to demur. Is this not "grotesque" enough for Bollinger?
Not content with one preemptive strike, Bollinger recently launched more. At the March 8 Common Meal hosted by the Chaplain, Bollinger began: "I'm not going to talk about whether the accusations [made in "Columbia Unbecoming"] are true or not. Let's just assume they're true." This cute rhetorical device does away with the ad hoc grievance committee. He followed up with remarks last week referring to a "handful of instances of inappropriate behavior within our nation's universities." Bollinger frames his discussions with a presumption of guilt on the part of MEALAC professors. Perhaps he missed the due process class in law school, along with the ethics class.
Columbia should vote no confidence in this dishonest broker.