Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Columbia Still Unbecoming

Two new items today about the politics of Middle Eastern politics at Columbia:

The first is from the NYSun.
Months before a Columbia University dean was named to a special committee convened to investigate student complaints about professors' hostility to Israel, the dean took a trip to Saudi Arabia that she acknowledges was "largely" paid for by Saudi Aramco, the kingdom-owned oil company.

The dean, Lisa Anderson of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, was one of five members of the committee named in December 2004. The committee for the most part cleared the accused scholars of blame, prompting critics to describe their report as a whitewash.

The March 2004 junket to Saudi Arabia is described in glowing terms on a Web site for former Saudi Aramco employees that details the "delightful lunch" enjoyed by the Columbia delegation, as well as a "wonderful dinner" during which "guests watched the sunset over the sand dunes from the tent."

The tour, which the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations helped organize, took a total of 10 Columbia faculty members and scholars to Riyadh, Dharan, and other parts of Saudi Arabia to tour facilities and meet with officials of the oil company.

Ms. Anderson's participation drew criticism yesterday from people familiar with the developments at Columbia.

"Saudi money is borderline corruption," said a research associate at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, Martin Kramer, who has been a vocal critic of Middle Eastern studies in America.

Mr. Kramer said Western academics are constantly vying for Saudi money to fund their departments, whose message more often than not is that American support for Israel is the problem in the Middle East.

Mr. Kramer said he wonders if Ms. Anderson's trip was part of an effort to raise more funds from the Saudis.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, who recently gave $20 million gifts to Georgetown and Harvard Universities, told the New York Times Magazine earlier this month that several other Ivy League universities had applied for similar gifts, but that he had turned them down. In the interview, the prince declined to name the schools, saying: "I'd rather not embarrass them."
Generous of the Prince. Had Columbia University received a $20 million gift from Saudi Arabia only a year after the Columbia Unbecoming scandal, it indeed would have deeply embarrassed them. But only for a little while. I'm sure they would have recovered their equanimity all in very good time.

And Ha'aretz interivews Anat Malkin-Almani, who studied for a degree in Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University. She provides details about the atmosphere and the intellectual perspective that prevailed in classes:
"Every week I would get e-mails about anti-Israel demonstrations, lectures that were virtually a form of incitement. The whole atmosphere in the department was hostile, and it was orchestrated by (the late Prof.) Edward Said. In one class the lecturer cited an article about how the Israelis were raping Palestinian women in the prisons and then sending them back to the territories. I raised my hand and said that no friend of mine had raped a Palestinian, and he started to shout at me."

Was that the only case?

"There were cases like that all the time. In one class I asked the lecturer where the border between East and West Jerusalem ran. He started to shout that you Israelis are so stupid, you don't know anything. All the students in the class joined him and started shouting at me. That was the routine. Once I met with Said, who was a good friend of (violinist) Daniel Barenboim, and I told him I wanted to join the Arab-Jewish orchestra they had established. He asked me where I was born and I told him Israel. Straight off he told me that Israel had not permitted the entry of a few musicians from Syria who wanted to play with the orchestra in Bethlehem. Suddenly he started to shout at me as though I were the one who stamps the permits. After two years of studies I said enough is enough and I left the university."

Did you share your experiences with anyone on the faculty?

"I had an Israeli lecturer whom I told what happened in the classes and I gave her all the articles we were given. She said that we must not meet in the university. A month later she told me, `We checked it out, it is dangerous to act and the best thing is to be silent.'"


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