Martyrs get tenure at Columbia?

Yesterday the press reported that Columbia University has promoted Joseph Massad to associate professor. Massad, a Palestinian extremist and protégé of the late Edward Said, was the prime culprit in last year’s student abuse scandal. His most famous contribution to the store of human knowledge is his ingenious discovery that Zionism isn’t just racism, it’s antisemitism. Read his latest excretion, a review of Steven Spielberg’s Munich, and ask yourself how in the world Columbia entrusted him to teach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Edward Said hadn’t been pulling all the strings on Morningside Heights, Massad probably would have ended up teaching in a community college. Now he’s one step away from tenure at a leading university.

If he’s ultimately tenured, who will bear the responsibility? In December, David Biale, Emanuel Ringelblum Professor of Jewish History at University of California Davis, published an article on campus controversies in J., a Jewish newspaper based in San Francisco. I don’t have the patience to rebut every claim or factual error in this text; Professor Biale really should stick to Jewish history. But there’s one claim that relates to Massad’s tenure, and that demands elucidation. Professor Biale writes:

When Palestinian professor Joseph Massad at Columbia University addressed an Israeli student in a fashion that certainly deserved censure, those eager to find an anti-Semitic conspiracy ended up turning him into a martyr and guaranteeing him tenure. Colleagues at Columbia have told me that their prior doubts about this instructor were drowned out by the din of external propaganda.

This is a very serious charge—not against the makers of “external propaganda,” but against Columbia University. If Professor Biale believes that mere “martyrdom” is sufficient to get someone tenure at Columbia—that Columbia, like Hamas, puts shahids on a permanent pedestal—he should step forward immediately to deplore Columbia for betraying the basic principles of academic integrity. I propose he begin by announcing publicly that he won’t lend his name to any appointment or promotion procedure at Columbia. He should urge others to do the same.

However, yesterday’s report indicated that Massad’s tenure isn’t guaranteed, which means that it may not be too late to block him. If Professor Biale and his “colleagues at Columbia” relieve me of the responsibility of making the case against Massad, I’ll be glad to defer to them. I merely await their explicit assurance. I’m particularly eager to learn who these “colleagues” are, and what sort of “doubts” they’re willing to express.

Should they not have the courage to step forward, preferring to stay securely locked behind their office doors, they should keep silent about “external propaganda.” It will be the only thing standing between Massad and tenure. I’m quite willing to conduct it, and I’ll expect Professor Biale’s tacit support.

Update: David Bernstein (The Volokh Conspiracy and a law prof at George Mason) thinks I don’t give enough credit to community colleges: “I can’t imagine any self-respecting community college would give [Massad] a job.” He’s probably right.

Bernstein has gone back to Massad’s review of Munich, which compares Spielberg’s latest to the film Exodus:

Here is how Massad describes [Exodus‘s] plot: “Exodus tells the story of the Zionist hijacking of a ship from Cyprus to Palestine by a Zionist Haganah commander.” This is analogous to saying that Schindler’s List was a movie about Jews taking a working vacation in Poland.

We’re all familiar with Holocaust denial; no respectable university would hire a Holocaust denier for its faculty. So why would any elite university like Columbia retain, much less promote, someone who similarly intentionally falsifies Jewish history (indeed, in this case, the history of Holocaust survivors) for political ends?

I think this is a perfect opportunity for Professor Biale to show a bit of grit. I urge him to come forward with an authoritative critique of Massad’s distortions of Jewish history. Isn’t this precisely why he was tenured (and chaired)? To counter falsehood with truth? As Professor Biale teaches the Holocaust, he has a unique responsibility, and far more authority than any blogger. (Read his many credentials.) Come forward!