Thursday, December 16, 2010

More on Columbia's Center For Palestine Studies


Joseph Massad's book, Desiring Arabs. claims that homosexuality is a
western construct imposed upon the Middle East

This article by two recent Columbia graduates, Armin Rosen and Jordan Hirsch, worries as I do about the potential politicization of the new center and the probability of it becoming an official venue for Israel bashing. With a strangely undefined mission, the center can become home to anyone whose work is only tangentially related to Palestine, but centrally concerned with establishing Israel's evil credentials.

They note two academics whose work develops out of an apriori assumption of Israel's perfidy. One, Katherine Franke, a legal scholar whose, "...own work reveals the perils of such uncertainty in mission. She told us that she focuses on “gender and sexuality and how the rights of LGBT people in Israel are being used to punish Israel’s Arab neighbors.” For her, one of Israel’s greatest accomplishments (the creation of one of the most tolerant societies in the Middle East) is linked to the country’s ceaseless persecution of Palestinian Arabs."

The other scholar, "...Mahmood Mamdani—the former director of Columbia’s Institute of African Studies—with the CPS further illustrates the dangers of mission-creep. Mamdani justifies his involvement by pointing to a conference he helped to organize titled “Post-Apartheid Reflections on Israel and Palestine,” which taught him “how a thematic focus [on Palestine] could bring African scholars … into the mainstream of intellectual discussions.” Mamdani associates with Palestine studies, it seems, to increase the profile of his primary field. Moreover, he has used his background as an Africanist to attack Israel. In a 2002 speech at a pro-divestment teach-in, Mamdani argued that Israel was an apartheid state and a settler-colonial enterprise comparable to Liberia."

Even more troubling, however, is the inclusion of Joseph Massad, the villain of the David Project's film, Columbia Unbecoming who was cited for bullying Jewish students who dared to oppose his Israelis as Nazis views: "But there are signs that politics have already infiltrated the CPS. Take, for example, the fact that Joseph Massad (the professor accused of bullying students in 2004) is associated with the center. Massad’s body of work is a postmodern mash-up of high-minded critical theory and base innuendo. His book Desiring Arabs theorizes that homosexuality is a western construct that imperial powers imposed upon the Middle East and that a “gay international” cabal (consisting of groups like Amnesty International and the Human Rights Campaign) uses the rhetoric of minority rights to unfairly vilify Muslim regimes.

"More troubling than this vilification of human rights organizations is that much of Massad’s work is overtly political—exactly the type of scholarship that the CPS purportedly intends to avoid. In a 2002 essay in the “independent socialist” journal New Politics titled “On Zionism and Jewish Supremacy,” Massad called for “the continuing resistance of Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories to all the civil and military institutions that uphold Jewish supremacy”—this during a year when “continuing resistance” killed over 200 Israeli civilians. In the wake of “Operation Cast Lead,” the three-week armed conflict in the Gaza Strip in 2008–2009, Massad published an article on the Palestine solidarity activist Ali Abunimah’s website, Electronic Intifada, titled “The Gaza Ghetto Uprising,” which pilfered the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto for rhetorical flourish."

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