Monday, October 25, 2004

Juan Cole urges his readers to mobilize in support of Joseph Massad, a lecturer at Columbia:
Those who care anything for freedom of speech and academic integrity should please rise to the defense of Professor Joseph Massad at Columbia University. A concerted campaign has been gotten up against him by the American Likud, aimed at getting him fired.

We don't fire professors in the United States for their views when we are in our right minds. It happens when the US is seized with an irrational frenzy, as during the McCarthy period. A researcher at the University of Michigan was let go in the 1950s for "tending toward Scandinavian economics."
What strikes me about this plea is how utterly dishonest it is. The criticism at Joseph Massad is based on the following incident:
...a former Columbia undergraduate, Tomy Schoenfeld, recalls attending a lecture about the Middle East conflict given by Mr. Massad in spring 2001. At the end of the lecture, Mr. Schoenfeld prefaced a question to the professor by informing Mr. Massad that he was Israeli, Mr. Schoenfeld told The New York Sun. "Before I could continue, he stopped me and said, 'Did you serve in the military?'" Mr. Schoenfeld, who served in the Israeli Air Force between 1996 and 1999, recalled. He said that he told Mr. Massad he had served in the military and that Mr. Massad asked him how many Palestinians he had killed. When Mr. Schoenfeld refused to answer, Mr. Massad said he wouldn't allow him to ask his question.

Mr. Massad did not return phone calls for comment yesterday.
This is just one student's opinion, so it may very well be possible that the incident didn't happen. The point, however, is that the calls to fire Massad have nothing to do with his beliefs. No one is suggesting Columbia ought to fire him because he holds pro-Palestinian views. But professors are supposed to answer questions from students - and professors who refuse to do so on racial/ethnic grounds don't belong in the classroom.


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