Academia’s David and Goliath

As young students we walk into our universities filled with excitement and eagerness to learn, develop and become significant members of the next generation. Our gullible minds are largely in the hands of our professors and peers. Students assume their professors are knowledgeable, speak the truth and know better than them. This may be particularly significant in Ivy League institutions. The power dynamic between professors and students is a given in a classroom.

At Columbia University, Israeli and Pro-Israel students need to face their Goliath in the classroom. This summer a Columbia professor, Hamid Dabashi, made an anti-Semitic claim. As described in an Algemeiner article by Shiri Moshe: “Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia, wrote on Facebook, ‘Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world just wait for a few days and the ugly name of ‘Israel’ will pup [sic] up as a key actor in the atrocities.’” Although this was not said in a classroom but rather on a Facebook page (which is followed by many students on Columbia), this despicable and grossly baseless statement by a Columbia professor leaves little room for doubt regarding his anti-Semitic convictions. Blaming Israel for “every dirty, treacherous and pernicious act” in the world goes way beyond political controversy. Blaming a country or a people for all that is evil in the world can only come from racial prejudice. One wonders if Professor Dabashi believes that the mass murders of innocent Syrian civilians by their own government and by Iranian militias is also Israel’s work. This would indeed require a serious leap of imagination.

Dabashi is not the only one.  Columbia has a rich history of employing Israel haters and anti-Semites. Edward Said is one example. After him came Rashid Khalidi, Dabashi, Massad and Gil Hochberg, the latter having written an article on the school’s paper against one of Students Supporting Israel’s activities. These professors who mostly teach in the Middle East institution, justify terror against Israelis by claiming it is an understandable act of resistance against white colonizers (which is factually wrong). Israeli students need to listen to their professors indirectly explain why violence against them or their loved ones in their homeland is legitimate. Students who support Israel on Columbia’s campus are facing an almost impossible dilemma – either hide your convictions to avoid the faculty’s demonization, or speak your mind and take the risk of being singled out in the classroom as a senseless Zionist, who in their eyes is an equivalent of a racist.

These professors do not spare students their anti-Israel smears. In classrooms, they utter complete falsehoods such as the claim that Jews came to Israel as European colonizers. The facts are that Jews have been indigenous to the land of Israel for millennia; furthermore, most Israeli Jews are not of European ancestry.  As a Columbia student who is also the President of Students Supporting Israel I cannot take any class I wish, realizing that if I take classes led by such professors I run the risk of failing since I will not be able to sit quietly while outright lies about my people and country are taught as facts. In most of these classes the syllabus is extremely biased; I would most likely not be able to express my thoughts and knowledge through these sources, while quoting contradicting sources will likely lower my grades.

The pro-Israel struggle is not limited to classrooms. Our classmates who listen, learn and occasionally even admire these professors grow to believe exactly what Dabashi says- that Israel is the source to all evil in the world. This is evident in the student anti-Israel activity on campus. Students organize events which call for violence (Intifada), justifying and calling for the murder of innocent Israelis- and again Israelis are expected to accept it on campus and feel safe.

This is what academia is for many pro-Israel activists today, it is the David and Goliath of our time. We face a power much stronger than ours by very basic power dynamics, and an academia that promotes anti-Israel notions. I cannot speak for every pro-Israel student but I can speak for myself and the amazing group of people which Students Supporting Israel are on Columbia’s campus: we choose to remember that eventually it was David who won. Many of us are not willing to give up our identity as Israelis or allow lies to be told about the Jewish homeland as legitimate teachings in an Ivy League University.

Although we cannot determine who is teaching, we can combat their claims on our College walk, which we do. We will fight for our peers’ minds. My main hope is for students to be critical of their professors and peers- including myself. I hope students always look for alternative resources and independently search for facts, especially when highly controversial issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are concerned. Since multiple complaints and letters which were sent to Columbia’s administration about the anti-Israel bias on campus were met with a deafening silence, I sadly cannot expect my University to stand up for the truth or for our rights. It is time for us, as the generation of the future, to assume responsibility and be critical, educate ourselves, and seek the truth wherever it is attacked or hidden.



About the Author
Dalia Zahger is the North East Coordinator for the Maccabee Task Force. She is a Columbia University alumna and co-founder of the Columbia chapter of student organization Students Supporting Israel
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