Much has been written recently about the pervasive anti-Israel culture within the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) Department of Columbia University and the outrageous acts of academic intimidation against students who maintain pro-Israel views.
An ideologically diverse array of editorial boards and respected commentators, from William F. Buckley, Jr. to Alan Dershowitz and many in between, have derided MEALAC not only for its virulent Israel-bashing, but also for the virtual prohibition of pro-Israel points of view. Professors who would espouse such views do not exist on the faculty and students who harbor such views dare not voice them.
Much has also been written of the antics of MEALAC Professor Joseph Massad, who, in what would be a tribute to anti-Israel zealotry at Columbia, may likely receive tenure instead of being dismissed (as has been called for by many across the ideological spectrum).
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the sham faculty committee which was convened to investigate allegations of academic intimidation against pro-Israel students. Two of the five-member committee members have signed a petition calling for Columbia to divest from Israel, another member of the committee is known to have strident anti-Israel views and one was Professor Massad's doctoral dissertation adviser. Massad even credits her in his book, writing that "…her trust in me strengthened my resolve to proceed."
When four out of five of the members of the committee responsible for investigating grievances related to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements have obvious biases in this area, it seems clear to me that the investigation is a travesty. I think Mr. Dershowitz's view of the committee says it best: "Asking pro-Israel Jewish students to present their grievances to the committee members who signed the divestiture petition would be like asking African-American students to present grievances to a committee that included David Duke."
The primary recommendation of the committee was to establish a sufficient grievance procedure, so that students have an appropriate outlet to address their complaints of wrongdoing. While I agree with this recommendation and support every effort to improve the grievance process, this recommendation does not speak to the real problem in MEALAC.
In my view, the problem with MEALAC is that it is little more than an anti-Israel propaganda mill whose professors engage in indoctrination, not academic discourse. Columbia's greatest failure is that it insists on denying this underlying problem. And, as this latest episode has shown, even when outside pressure compels an examination of MEALAC, Columbia focuses not on the root problem, but on other issues which are essentially symptoms of the deeper disease.
I have visited Columbia and met with students to hear first hand their feelings of harassment and intimidation and their fear of expressing pro-Israel viewpoints. This situation is the antithesis of an academic environment in which ideas are freely exchanged and positions openly debated to shape students' understanding of the world. As a former college professor, I am both saddened and outraged to see the existence of such an intolerant learning environment at one of the country's most prestigious universities.
For these reasons, until a truly independent committee is formed to examine MEALAC and significant steps are taken to restore academic integrity, I call upon the alumni, and on all people who donate resources to Columbia, to withhold their valuable support.
It is my hope that the leadership and trustees of Columbia will ultimately come to their senses, stop the MEALAC propaganda mill, and once again merit generous support. Until then, however, I urge supporters of Columbia to send their money elsewhere.
New York City Council Member James F. Gennaro represents the 24th District in Queens, which includes the neighborhoods of Kew Gardens Hills, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, and Fresh Meadows. He is chairman of the Council Committee on Environmental Protection and a member of the Jewish Caucus. He can be reached via email at Gennaro@council.nyc.ny.us