Princeton University's interest in hiring a professor, Rashid Khalidi, away from Columbia University is causing divisions within the New Jersey school's Jewish community.
One side has expressed concern over Princeton wooing Mr. Khalidi, a prominent scholar of Arab nationalism who attributes many of the ills in the Arab world to America's support for Israel. The other side defends Mr. Khalidi's scholarship and wants to avoid the protests against faculty members in Middle Eastern studies that erupted at Columbia last year.
Tensions surrounding Mr. Khalidi's job candidacy increased late last week after the Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper, published an article quoting the interim director of Princeton's Center for Jewish Life, Arlene Pedovitch, as saying, "Some Princeton alumni are very concerned about the possibility of Princeton University hiring an individual who has a political agenda rather than a scholarly approach to history."
Ms. Pedovitch's remarks on Mr. Khalidi elicited a bitter response from another leader of the Center for Jewish Life, Stanley Katz, who scolded her for questioning the integrity of Mr. Khalidi's scholarship and accused her of fueling the flames of a Columbia-style controversy.
"I think it both inaccurate and unacceptable to describe Rashid as 'an individual who has a political agenda rather than a scholarly approach to history,'" Mr. Katz, a professor at Princeton, wrote Ms. Pedovitch in an e-mail that was obtained by The New York Sun. "I don't know how well-versed in Rashid's scholarship Arlene is, but I think the statement is totally inaccurate as to his scholarship."
Referring to Columbia's president, he continued: "The difficulty, as even the benighted Lee Bollinger has figured out, is with professors who do not distinguish their political agendas from their scholarship.
"Rashid has not done that, in my view, and to suggest that he has, as Arlene is quoted as doing, is either inaccurate or politically motivated or both. If CJL wants to turn Princeton into Columbia, I want nothing more to do with it."
In reply to his message, Ms. Pedovitch, a 1980 Princeton graduate, promised to write an apology for remarks to the newspaper but said: "I and many, many others do feel that such an appointment makes a political statement by Princeton University." She continued that the "statement" will hurt Jewish enrollment at the Ivy League school.
Mr. Katz is a former president of the board of directors of the Center for Jewish Life, which is associated with the Hillel Foundation. He is also director of the university's Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, a program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
The Sun reported last month that Mr. Khalidi, who directs Columbia's Middle East Institute, was a candidate for a Princeton chair in contemporary Middle East Studies endowed by businessman Robert Niehaus. Last month, as part of the interview process, Mr. Khalidi went to Princeton to deliver a "job talk," an academic presentation.
Leading the search committee for the chair is the director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, Miguel Centeno, the Daily Princetonian reported. Mr. Centeno, the newspaper also reported, signed a petition in 2002 calling on Princeton to divest itself of holdings in companies that do business with Israel.
The tussle over Mr. Khalidi - along with the protracted struggle by a conservative Middle East scholar, Michael Doran, to earn tenure - has placed Princeton near the center of the debate over the future of Middle Eastern studies in America.
At Columbia, where he has taught since 2003, Mr. Khalidi has earned praise as an engaging teacher with a sweeping knowledge of the Middle East. He has also met criticism from those who say he represents a trend in Middle Eastern studies toward an anti-American and anti-Israeli politicization of the field.
The New York City Department of Education dismissed Mr. Khalidi earlier this year as a lecturer to public school teachers enrolled in a professional development program after the Sun reported that Mr. Khalidi, in public comments, has described Israel's polpicies as "racist" and accused the Jewish state of establishing an "apartheid system in creation."
In recent months, Mr. Khalidi has come to the defense of his colleagues, such as Joseph Massad, who were the subject of student complaints concerning their classroom conduct. In a speech he delivered earlier this month on campus, Mr. Khalidi compared Mr. Massad's plight with that of the embattled University of Colorado faculty member Ward Churchill. "We have a campaign against what are called unpatriotic faculty," Mr. Khalidi said, according to a transcript of his speech