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Contentions

Anti-Semitism at Columbia Is Investigated

A few years back, Columbia University was hit with charges of anti-Semitism, which were dropped after a somewhat dubious investigation. The latest accusations are from a Jewish student who says an academic adviser discouraged her from taking a course with a professor known for his anti-Zionist – and arguably anti-Semitic – statements in the classroom.

Apparently the charge is serious enough that the Department of Education has stepped in to investigate, reports David Fine at Tablet:

“I went to her to speak about the major and talk to her about classes that I was looking at,” the student, who asked not to be named, said of a January, 2011 meeting in which she sought advice from McDermott, the longtime chair of the Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department at Barnard. “I mentioned a course taught by Joseph Massad.”

“Oh, he’s very anti-Israel,” McDermott responded, according to the student. “And I said, ‘That’s fine, I’ve heard anti-Israel things before, and I’m fine if it’s a culture clash.’ ”

But McDermott insisted Massad’s course would make the student “uncomfortable,” the student said in the interview. In the end, the student, then a sophomore, took the Jewish history class instead.

The DOE is investigating whether this is a case of “steering,” which Fine explains “typically refers to housing discrimination, when a real estate agent tells a black family that it would feel ‘uncomfortable’ in a particular neighborhood because of its predominantly white population.”

But steering isn’t the only problem here. I get the sense from Fine’s piece the student’s adviser wasn’t acting maliciously, but was trying to offer some well-meaning but misguided advice. The real concerns are that this advisor seemed to a) stereotype the Jewish student as someone who would be unable to handle a class taught by an anti-Israel professor; and b) indicate there was something going on in this classroom that would make it a hostile environment for Jewish students.

That last point is the most alarming, especially because the class at issue was taught by Joseph Massad, the same professor who was previously accused of anti-Semitism at Columbia. While the current investigation is focused on the “steering” charge, the more important question is whether Massad is harassing and intimidating Jewish students at the university.