The Middle East & Academic Integrity on the American Campus

I went to a conference on the above yesterday at Columbia (organized by my mother!). There were lots of great speakers there, and they showed Columbia Unbecomming which demonstrated how eggregiously aweful the Middle East and Asian Languages Arts and Culture Department is at Columbia and how badly the administration has handled the situation. The overall content was fantastic but it suffered from overambition. In addition simply to having to many speakers, its more fundamental problem was that it was unclear whether the priority was promoting academic integrity or fighitng against anti-semitism/anti-zionism. Pursuit of the later weakened the former and vice-versa.

If the issue was academic integrity, professors and administrators who don’t necessarily feel comfortable rallying for Israel would have had a higher likelihood of attendance and there presence there would have strengthened the hand of those who seek change in the administration either of MEALAC or Columbia and it would have been more difficult to claim that SPME or the David Project were simply trying to promote Israel’s agenda over the free speech of the MEALAC professors. In this battle, perhaps, even anti-Israel academics like Rashid Khalidi might take part (in upholding the ideals of academia).

If the focus was rallying against anti-semitism, the academic integrity claim, lowers the integrity of the rally. Many of the speakers argued that those who claim to be anti-zionist rather than anti-semite are deluding themselves because if they really cared about human rights they would exhibit much more emotion about e.g. the genocide happening right now in the Sudan and that by reserving their vitriol for Israel it is hard to escape the conclusion that such people are much more upset about Jews than genocide. They futher showed that many of the substantive complaints about Israel’s behavior are manifestly either false or unreasonable given the actual context and note that much of the anti-Israel vitriol actually originates with Arabs and Islamists who are both manifestly evil (note the genocide in the Sudan above) and motivated by hate. I would modify the comparison to argue that if people are going to complain about Israel they should also be complaining about France, Russia, and Spain, but otherwise I largely agree with these points.

The problem with making such points in the context of claims about academic integrity is that we are no longer talking about academic integrity but problems with a much larger political movement within which academy plays only a small part. The substance of these complaints is less what professors say or do in the classroom than what they are saying in public forums. In this battle Rashid Khalidi is most definitely the enemy and should be treated as such.

At various times Khalisi was being defended as a reasonable anti-Israel academic. At others it seemed he was being assailed as a dangerous crypto-anti-semite. It would help if we could decide.

One Response to The Middle East & Academic Integrity on the American Campus

  1. Mom says:

    Thanks for the feedback. Your comments reflect a debate that has been going on within and around Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), the primary sponsor of Sunday’s event, since its inception. Yes, academic integrity is a separate issue from the obsessive demonization of Israel, but academics have legitimized demonization of Israel and neglect of human rights issues elsewhere in the world. If that connection was not clear on Sunday, maybe we have to have another conference . . .

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