N.Y. officials fire left-wing professor: Witch-hunt at Columbia

- by Jonah Birch

NEW YORK’S state government has escalated the attack on left-wing professors at Columbia University. The New York Department of Education (DOE) fired Professor Rashid Khalidi from a program that the DOE runs jointly with Columbia to help public school teachers discuss the situation in the Middle East with students.

Khalidi, a respected historian and director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute, hhas been targeted for his political views. He was fired just one day after the New York Sun, a right-wing tabloid, published an article blasting Khalidi for describing Israel as a “racist” state.

In a statement announcing Khalidi’s firing, DOE Chancellor Joel Klein made it clear that the Sun article played a direct role in the decision to fire Khalidi. “Considering his past statements,” read a statement from Klein’s office, “Rashid Khalidi should not have been included in a program that provided professional development for DOE teachers, and he won't be participating in the future.

Khalidi’s firing comes at a time when there has been intense right-wing pressure on professors in Columbia’s Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) department. Just last week, in a speech at Columbia, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from Brooklyn, reiterated his demand that the university fire Professor Joseph Massad--another focal point of the right-wing assaults because of his criticisms of Israel.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger criticized the DOE’s decision to fire Khalidi, calling it “a very, very serious matter.” But while Bollinger’s defense of Khalidi is welcome, he and other Columbia administrators remained largely silent about the attacks on Columbia’s left-wing professors and MEALAC to begin with.

At a discussion with students sponsored by the Columbia chaplain’s office last week, Provost Alan Brinkley denied that there was anything political about the university’s current investigation of MEALAC professors--a statement belied by the fact that the inquiry was launched amid an uproar orchestrated by right-wing and pro-Israel groups.

Brinkley also made it clear that the administration would not issue any statements defending the MEALAC professors--despite the intense harassment they have suffered. For example, in November, Massad received an e-mail from Professor of Medicine Moshe Rubin that read, “Go back to Arab land where Jew hating is condoned. Get the hell out of America. You are a disgrace and a pathetic typical Arab liar.”

Asked why the administration wasn’t investigating Rubin, Brinkley said that while he personally abhorred Rubin’s racism, the e-mail was a “private correspondence,” and was thus outside of the administration’s jurisdiction.

The right-wing attacks have sparked a wave of anger among Columbia students. The same day that Congressman Weiner spoke on campus, students from a range of campus groups came together to form a new coalition called Stop McCarthyism at Columbia (SMAC).

The day after its founding, SMAC distributed a flyer announcing, “We have come together to defend the professors at MEALAC and others from attacks by well-funded right-wing organizations, media outlets and pro-Israel activists, who are intent on silencing criticism of Israel and U.S. foreign policy. The attacks on Columbia professors are part of a nationwide assault on academic dissent that will lead to a new McCarthyism if left unchallenged.”

Meanwhile, the Columbia Antiwar Coalition is planning a debate with student supporters of the right-wing attacks on MEALAC, scheduled for March 9. And graduate students from the MEALAC and Anthropology departments are planning a teach-in on Palestine for later in the month.

The firing of Khalidi shows that we can’t rely on the Columbia administration or anyone else to protect left-wing voices on our campus. As Khalidi put it, “The sooner there's an organized response to these people who have absolutely no scruples about twisting the truth, the better.”

This piece first appeared in Socialist Worker. Jonah Birch is an undergrad at Columbia University, and a member of the Campus Antiwatr Network (CAN). He can be reached at jmb2005@columbia.edu.

CAN is an endorser of the Week of Campus Resistance .

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