Suffering in silence at Columbia

An Israeli newspaper over New Year’s weekend ran a profile of Anat Malkin-Almani, a violinist and child prodigy who had performed at Carnegie Hall at the age of 16. Malkin-Almani was born in Israel, but moved to California at the age of five, and then to New York, where she enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music and Julliard. Between her junior and senior years at Julliard, her left hand was badly mauled in an automobile accident. Now 29, and twelve surgeries later, she has made her way back to full-time performing. The profile is a moving story of dogged devotion to music in the face of adversity.

After Malkin-Almani’s accident, she considered a career in politics and foreign affairs. So she decided to study for a degree in Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University. Big mistake:

Malkin-Almani: Every week I would get e-mails about anti-Israel demonstrations, lectures that were virtually a form of incitement. The whole atmosphere in the department was hostile, and it was orchestrated by Edward Said. In one class the lecturer cited an article about how the Israelis were raping Palestinian women in the prisons and then sending them back to the territories. I raised my hand and said that no friend of mine had raped a Palestinian, and he started to shout at me.

Haaretz: Was that the only case?

Malkin-Almani: There were cases like that all the time. In one class I asked the lecturer where the border between East and West Jerusalem ran. He started to shout that you Israelis are so stupid, you don’t know anything. All the students in the class joined him and started shouting at me. That was the routine. Once I met with Said, who was a good friend of Daniel Barenboim, and I told him I wanted to join the Arab-Jewish orchestra they had established. He asked me where I was born and I told him Israel. Straight off he told me that Israel had not permitted the entry of a few musicians from Syria who wanted to play with the orchestra in Bethlehem. Suddenly he started to shout at me as though I were the one who stamps the permits. After two years of studies I said enough is enough and I left the university.

Haaretz: Did you share your experiences with anyone on the faculty?

Malkin-Almani: I had an Israeli lecturer whom I told what happened in the classes and I gave her all the articles we were given. She said that we must not meet in the university. A month later she told me, “We checked it out, it is dangerous to act and the best thing is to be silent.”

Malkin-Almani didn’t appear in the film Columbia Unbecoming, and her name didn’t surface in the subsequent controversy. She was a silent victim of faculty intimidation in a department run wild. Columbia isn’t in the news these days, but now is the time to pose this question to the university’s president, Lee Bollinger: how are you using this hiatus to clean up the mess? We’re waiting. And we’re watching.

Update: The New York Sun has spoken to Malkin-Almani, and she confirms that the offending professor was Joseph Massad. She also testified before the ad hoc grievance committee. Columbia’s legal laundryman, Floyd Abrams, says he doesn’t recall the testimony.