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News and reports

November 5, 2004 | Pages 10 and 11

OTHER STORIES BELOW:
Save Senn High School
Texas march to stop executions
Students for Justice in Palestine

Stop the witch-hunt at Columbia University
By Monique Dols

NEW YORK--Columbia University in New York City is ground zero for the most recent pro-Israeli attacks on the voices of Palestinian solidarity in the U.S.

The Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) is at the center of the attacks, with accusations of anti-Semitism and one-sidedness in the classroom. Recent articles in New York newspapers have targeted Professor Joseph Massad to silence critique of Israel and the U.S. on campus.

An unreleased film that purports to document anti-Semitism at Columbia spurred this most recent barrage of accusations. The charges of anti-Semitism are a pretext for attacking Massad, who is a tireless supporter of the Palestinians and their claim to their land.

Massad draws a sharp distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. "Israel is a racist state not because of Jewish nationalism but because of its legally institutionalized racism where only Jews (not Israelis) have rights and privileges based on their national belonging," wrote Massad in 2003.

The film is a production of a group called the David Project, which was created in 2002 in response to the Israel divestment campaign and growing pro-Palestinian sentiment on campuses. The David Project refuses to make the film available to the public, although they screened the "documentary" for university President Lee Bollinger and insist on Massad's dismissal from the university.

The attacks on Massad and MEALAC are an escalation of the witch-hunt against Middle Eastern Studies departments and professors who do not fall into line with American and Israeli interests. Since September 11, 2001, critical professors have come under increased scrutiny and have been subjected to an atmosphere of intimidation on campus. Campus Watch, a Web site which "monitors" Middle Eastern Studies departments, calls on students to report lecturers who are critical of the U.S. and Israel.

Because of the David Project's campaign, several professors have reported receiving threatening and racist emails. Among them, Massad received a threatening e-mail from Columbia associate clinical professor of medicine Moshe Rubin. "Go back to Arab land where Jew hating is condoned," reads the e-mail, which Massad forwarded to the Columbia Spectator. "Get the hell out of America. You are a disgrace and a pathetic typical Arab liar."

Contrary to the claims made by the David Project, it is the anti-Zionist political messages that are marginalized on campuses across the country. "My criticisms of Israel are considered threatening to the entire Jewish community," says Stephanie Schwartz, an anti-Zionist Jewish student at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Massad's students, including his Jewish students, give him glowing reviews. Eric Posner, who was raised both in Israel and the United States, called Massad "a brilliant lecturer...When I came to Columbia, I heard absolute horror stories from my Israeli friends about Massad. They told me that he lies and that he's provocative." He and Massad have disagreed often, says Posner, but he nevertheless thinks him to be "approachable, stimulating and challenging."

Although the attacks on MEALAC and Professor Massad have been cloaked in the rhetoric of "academic integrity," it is really about creating an atmosphere of intimidation. It is about silencing a voice of opposition to the war on the Palestinians at a moment when their voices could not be more crucial.

To sign a petition in defense of Prof. Massad, go to www.petitiononline.com/jmassad/petition.html.

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Save Senn High School

CHICAGO—About 500 high school students, teachers, parents and community members formed a human chain around Senn High School October 28 to protest the plan to turn the school into a military academy. People are outraged that the military academy--being pushed by Alderperson Mary Ann Smith--would occupy an entire wing of Senn's building, take half of the school's science labs and displace crucial programs.

Hundreds of protesters formed "Hands Around Senn"--before rallying on the school's front stepsDozens of students painted their faces and arms with "Save Senn" in green and white, the school's colors.

As teacher Jesse Sharkey told the cheering students, "There's more than one way to learn something...There's learning something about power--about what it takes to make powerful people listen to you...I hope you've learned that you are powerful."

For more information, visit SaveSenn.org.

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Texas march to stop executions
By Katie Feyh

AUSTIN, Texas--More than 200 anti-death penalty activists from across the state gathered here for the Fifth Annual March to Stop Executions. The march, organized by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the Texas Moratorium Network, brought together abolitionists, families of death row inmates and murder victims, and activists of all stripes to protest Texas' execution machine.

Texas continues to execute prisoners at record numbers, despite the growing number of cases around the country--among them the fight to save Kevin Cooper in California, the exoneration of Ryan Matthews in Louisiana and the exoneration of Ernest Willis in Texas--that show the arbitrary and racist nature of the death penalty. Gov. Rick Perry is now faced with having to shrug off the call for a moratorium on executions from such unlikely sources as the Houston police chief and a criminal appeals judge, both of whom want executions halted based on flaws and errors at the Houston Crime Lab.

Monique Matthews, Ryan Matthews' sister, spoke at the march, saying she was "impressed and astounded at the outpouring of support" and "glad that people are still fighting. Ryan's chapter has closed, but someone else's is beginning, so we can't afford to sleep on this issue. We've got to keep fighting."

Sandra Reed, whose son Rodney is innocent on Texas' death row, drew inspiration from the event. "It's a blessing to be a witness to Monique's victory," said Reed. "It's a perfect example of what can happen if we keep the pressure on."

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Students for Justice in Palestine
By Michal Myers and Michael Butler

PITTSBURGH--Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) kicked off a divestment campaign here in October. They are calling for the University of Pittsburgh to disclose their investments and divest from companies that promote the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, especially those providing military hardware.

More than 75 people turned out for the October 7 kick-off event, where South African poet and global justice activist Dennis Brutus delivered a speech and then became the first person to sign the divestment petition.

Brutus told the audience about lessons from organizing against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. "There is global condemnation of the occupation, and it is our job to mobilize," said Brutus.

Although this was the biggest social justice event of the semester so far, shamefully, the press, including the student newspaper, chose not to cover it. But students won't let the struggle be ignored. SJP is planning movies, speakers, cultural events and more to educate the campus about the situation in Palestine.

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