Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York City, has placed himself beyond the pale by having written a problematic Facebook post and a scurrilous tweet, both of which have been rightly condemned by students and faculty alike.
In a Facebook post last month, which he has since taken down, he called opponents of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement “diehard Fifth Column Zionists.” And in a tweet, he claimed that Israel lurks behind “every dirty, treacherous, ugly and pernicious act happening in the world.”
These are fighting words that must be challenged.
Dabashi, an anti-Zionist of Iranian descent, may think he is exercising a cherished value in academia, freedom of speech, by disseminating such noxious views. But in reality, he has crossed a line and ventured into the malodorous swamp of antisemitism.
To maliciously label American Jewish critics of the Iran nuclear accord as “Fifth Column Zionists” is to suggest they are disloyal to the United States — which supported the agreement until President Donald Trump walked away from it in May. This is a calumny that might well have been ripped from the pages of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a czarist forgery of which antisemites are so fond.
And to ascribe “every dirty, treacherous, ugly and pernicious act happening in the world” to Israel is an accusation so absurd and silly that it need not be refuted. Only a simpleton or a hate-crazed fool would be capable of writing such arrant nonsense.
In a letter to Columbia President Lee Bollinger and the university’s board of trustees, almost 250 alumni, students, faculty and representatives from Jewish organizations correctly pointed out that “Dabashi’s statements echo common antisemitic canards and meet the working definition of antisemitism that the U.S. State Department has been using for years.”
They went on to add that “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel … than to the interests of their own nations” fits the definition of antisemitism as defined by the State Department. They warned that Dabashi’s statements, the latest in a long line of lies comparing Israel to Nazis and the Islamic State organization, “promote a hostile environment on campus for pro-Israel and Jewish students.”
In conclusion, they recommended that Dabashi should be relieved of “teaching responsibilities until he commits to recognizing and ending his antisemitic rhetoric.”
The associate director of Columbia’s Center of Innovation and Outcomes Research, Paul Kurlansky, excoriated Dabashi’s “virulent antisemitic pronouncements” as well. “I cannot imagine the impact that such behavior has on both Jewish students and all students concerned with human decency,” he said. “If faculty is to be vigilant (and appropriately so) lest the slightest remark be found offensive to our student body, how then is the university to deal with one in position of authority who is so openly hostile?”
To say that Dabashi is an Israel basher would be an understatement.
Using inflammatory language that Iran or Hamas would embrace in a heartbeat, he has maligned Israel as “occupied Palestine,” “a colonial settlement,” “a Jewish apartheid state” and “a racist apartheid state.”
And in his ideologically jaundiced opinion, Israel is nothing less than “a military base for the rising predatory empire of the United States.”
One would normally ignore such wildly inaccurate and obnoxious rants. Columbia University, however, cannot stand idly by. It should not for a moment tolerate excursions into antisemitism by a member of its own faculty. There should be zero tolerance for Dabashi’s vile conspiracy theories. We know from modern history that inciteful words often morph into unbridled violence.
At the very least, Dabashi needs to be severely reprimanded by the university. And if necessary, he should be dismissed.
There is no room for people of Dabashi’s ilk on university campuses in America.