US Dept. of Ed Will Investigate Complaint That Jewish Student Was “Steered” Away From Taking Massad’s Class

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“It’s possible Morningside Heights has found its annual autumn incident,” writes Marc Tracy in Tablet, an online magazine of Jewish news. According to his article published earlier today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will investigate a complaint that the chair of  Barnard’s Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures “steered” a Jewish Barnard student away from taking one of Columbia MESAAS Professor Joseph Massad‘s classes because his pro-Palestinian leanings may have made the student feel “uncomfortable.” Tablet notes that Professor Massad has been criticized before, most notably in the 2004 film Columbia Unbecoming, for “cultivating classrooms hostile to pro-Israel voices.” A subsequent internal investigation at Columbia cleared Professor Massad of all allegations, and, after an initial rejection, he was granted tenure in 2007.

Kenneth Marcus, President of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research (IJCR) and former head of the OCR during the Bush administration, brought the complaint to the Department of Ed. He has also served on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), a committee that advises OCR and investigated Columbia for antisemitism in 2006 (go to page 58). It looks like investigating accusations of anti-semitism on college campuses is a top priority for USCCR; they even maintain a special website to report anti-semitism.

Although Marcus brought the incident to the attention of the feds, he didn’t discover it on his own. According to Tablet, Judith Jacobson, a professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and co-founder of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a group of American academics committed to fighting anti-semitism and anti-Israel bias on college campuses, informed Marcus of the alleged “steering.” Professor Jacobson strongly opposed awarding tenure to Massad and later to Barnard Anthropology Professor Nadia Abu el-Haj, whose work on Israeli anthropology some scholars viewed as too critical of Israel.

Columbia claims Massad isn’t involved in the steering story. A spokesman for the University told Tablet, “It is important to note that the individual complaint appears to relate to academic advising at Barnard College and in no way involves Professor Joseph Massad.” But that’s not how Marcus sees it. His complaint may concern a department head’s “steering,” but the root of his problem is with, as Tablet puts it, “Columbia’s alleged failure to address the perception that Massad’s classes might make Jewish students unduly uncomfortable.” In an IJRC press release, Marcus writes, “if there is a problem in Prof. Massad’s classroom, as the Barnard chair may believe then steering Jewish students away is not the solution…the big question is whether Massad is violating students’ rights too.”

Marcus told Tablet he eagerly anticipates the Department of Ed’s investigation, and in the event that they find Columbia classes are hostile environments for Jewish students, professors involved “need to be dealt with.” Columbia has a historically flourishing Jewish community. According to a survey by Reform Jewish Magazine, Barnard currently ranks third in the country for highest percentage of Jewish students with 43.5%, and Columbia comes in close behind  at 25%. Given the tireless commitment that OCR and USCCR have shown to thoroughly investigating accusations of anti-semitism on college campuses, it seems Columbia will have to take these accusations very seriously.

Responses from Administrators and Student Groups

Jordana Kaminetsky, President of Hillel, and Daniel Bonner, President of Yavneh/Orthodox Community:

“In light of recent events, we want to make it clear as a Jewish community that we feel supported in the Columbia and Barnard academic community. There are certainly professors who see things differently than we do in the context of Israel and the quest for balance in the classroom continues. But it is the season of Jewish holidays–a season of missed classes–and as Jewish students on campus, we want to reiterate that our community has had overwhelmingly positive experiences with our professors and advisers who go to great lengths to accommodate our needs. Their attitude of respect and open-mindedness in this context is indicative of our larger Columbia experience, and we are very grateful for it.”

Joanne Kwong, Barnard’s Vice-President for Communications:

“We do not tolerate discrimination by any member of the College community, so we are carefully exploring and reviewing the claims made about this alleged incident. As this is a pending investigation, it would be inappropriate and premature to comment any further at this time.”

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  1. Anonymous  

    This incident seems so biased. So what if he's pro-Palestine. Pro-Palestine does not equal anti-Semitic. It's not as if vehemently pro-Israel professors are questioned when it comes to tenure-ship.

  2. Anonymous  

    This is bullshit

  3. Anonymous  

    boo hoo don't take the class because we don't want your feelings hurt

    • Anonymous  

      I think that's what the whole complaint is. She didn't take the class because she was "steered" away so that she wouldn't be offended. I guess there's a problem in there somewhere.

  4. Anonymous  

    Such bullshit. being anti-israel has nothing to do with being anti-semitic. It does, however, have everything to do with being anti-genocidal governments.

    • American  

      if you really think that you may want to talk to someone who's not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    • hmm

      Suggesting that Israel is a "genocidal" government has everything to do with antisemitism, but I don't believe the issue at hand here is anybody's right to hold an outrageously unfounded opinion.

      • Anonymous  

        Pretty sure that when i toured israel and visited the west bank, we witnessed the israel government bulldozing palestinian homes as the inhabitants of said homes fled for their lives. hence why the government-run tour quickly turned us around and led us elsewhere.

        • Anonymous  

          1. that is horrible

          2. that is not genocide. Israel occupies the West Bank, not Arabs. Any non-Arab who lives in the West Bank isn't treated differently. Genocide is against an demographic group, military occupation is on a plot of land. There is a whole debate around Israeli occupation of the West Bank, but whatever your opinion, please recognize that it has nothing to do with Genocide.

          • Anonymous  

            From the UN Convention on the Convention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:
            In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

            * (a) Killing members of the group;
            * (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
            * (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
            * (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
            * (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

            The intention, and most definitely a, b, c are fulfilled by Israel's actions

          • Anonymous  

            **Prevention and Punishment, sorry

          • Anonymous  

            Like I said above, those are about a group, not a plot of land. Second, all of those parameters are based on intention and who are you to say what Israel's intentions are? especially when the (non-Arab world) international community agrees that Israeli actions in the West Bank have nothing to do with targeting Arabs and everything to do with a (too) slow peace process.

            Furthermore, if the point was ethnicity, Arabs within Israel would not have rights. Now someone is going to say they don't have equal rights - that is incorrect - politically everyone has equal rights, but social injustices exist everywhere and the Arab population is correlated to lower class, just as certain ethnic groups are in the US

            Don't make Israel into your monster just because you need a monster.

        • As far

          as I'm aware, Israel bulldozes the homes belonging to families of suicide bombers as part of a declared deterrance policy (there being nothing that can be done to the perpetrator himself), and also occasionally bulldozes structures that are built on public land or in violation of private property rights. The latter often applies to structures built by West Bank Jews and Bedouins living in various parts of the desert that occupies the better part of the country. Clearly, this isn't genocide. In any case, though, I don't find the attempt by a nationality to assert sovereignty over the confines of its own national homeland with ample allowance for the territorial needs of all other nations and nationalities to be genocide either.

          • Clearly  

            "I don’t find the attempt by a nationality to assert sovereignty over the confines of its own national homeland with ample allowance for the territorial needs of all other nations and nationalities to be genocide either."

            I think "ample allowance" is more than debatable, but what I really want to comment on is their "own national homeland"--land they stole (with the help of guilty Europe and the U.S.) from the Palestinians. In most cases, this land was taken by force, killing anyone who did not comply with these orders in which they had no say. Most of the land, including the majority of the Mediterranean coast, was named Israel and became off-limits to Palestinians. This is how the genocide began, and it will not be over until that can be acknowledged.

          • Anonymous  

            that's just not true.

            1. Jews were expelled by the Romans
            2. people come live in what is now called Palestina
            3. 2000 years
            4. Jews moved to Palestine amid rising anti-semitism in europe and mobilization of a millenia-old dream to move BACK to Israel
            5. Arabs move to Palestine as Ottomans lose power, Brits take over, and the area gains prominence
            6. Israel declared in part of Ancient Israel/Ottoman Palestine
            7. Arab countries invade because they don't want a Jewish state to exist
            8. some Arabs stay and become Arab citizens of Israel.

            Israel was not a country carved from a country....it was a country resurrected after the fall of an empire. NO SOVEREIGN STATE OF PALESTINE HAS EVER EXISTED. EVER.

      • Anonymous  

        Disagreeing with some of the policies of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic. It is an aversion for what are, in my opinion, violations of the basic human rights of Palestinians.

      • King  

        Claiming that Israel commits genocide is not Anti-Semitic because the government targets Palestinians when it tortures, displaces, and murders civilians. Yes, atrocities are committed by both sides, but that does not mean that the government's actions are morally sound by default.

        The fact that torture and murder is morally corrupt does not prevent Israel from destroying the lives of others, so why do its supporters not openly accept the actions of the state to the world? You should proudly proclaim that your favorite nation commits genocide if you think that the actions are justified.

        • hmm

          I hate to bother you with facts, but you happen to be about 100% mistaken. Conceding the truth that atrocities have been committed in the name of the Palestinians, and by the various organizations representing Palestinian aspirations, does not make the untruth that Israel has committed "murder and torture of civilians" true. Israel never tortures civilians, much less kills civilians deliberately. Any civilians killed in Israeli military operations have been killed only because of proximity to military targets-- not unlike the untold tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan-- and usually despite considerable efforts to secure their safety, even at the cost of compromising military objectives. In fact, the Israeli military has one of the most aggressive internal review processes in the world. There is only one side in the conflict that has officially asserted a right to kill civilians, and carried out such intentions in every conceivable arena of civilian life-- from airplanes to shopping malls to dining halls to school buses. And it doesn't happen to be Israel.

          • King  

            Stop lying to yourself; several Jewish groups have admitted that Israel uses torture tactics, and Amnesty International has published several reports indicating that the nation's interrogation methods are not completely clean.


            You can thank me for enlightening you for free; Columbia charges you $60,000 per year for your education, but I am providing you with free knowledge.

          • King  

            Yes, only one side is violent; the other has never committed any atrocities (even though the UN and Amnesty International have concluded otherwise) and it has also never preemptively attacked other nations. Clearly it is always defending itself. It also never bulldozes innocent civilians out of their homes. Actions that are documented by the media never happened. Reality is an illusion.

  5. Anonymous

    great the jews are at it again.

    • hmmm

      So any identifier besides "anonymous" would be unduly intimate for you, and you like to post from multiple computers to evade the "track" function. I suppose you're quite proud of your opinions.

      • bullshit  

        His comment was uncalled for, but what evidence do you have that he's already posted other comments? "Anonymous" isn't a name he's choosing, just what comes up for anyone who doesn't put in a name. Thinking it's the same guy posting from multiple computers is just fucking paranoid!

        • hmmm

          There are roughly eight comments here under that signifier, all with the same general opinion and language-- and some with completely duplicative content. That's quite a few coincidences. But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps the name "Anonymous" just has a certain appeal to people who have a problem with Jews.

          • Still missing the point  

            People don't "choose" the name Anonymous. It's the default. Anyone who makes a comment without bothering to put something in the little "Name" field will have their comment posted as "Anonymous." Sure, it's possible that everyone not putting in a name is the same guy posting from 10 different computers, but use Occam's Razor. It's much more likely that a bunch of different people are just not bothering to put in their names. Eventually, I'm sure, there will be Zionists like yourself posting as "Anonymous" and then your argument will make no sense.

          • Another Anonymous

            Just to prove a point...

            those silly jews with their curly sideburns and big beards and love of money and silly little beanies and phlegm always caught in their throats and pastrami sandwiches and mothers who guilt them and big decorated scrolls and all that ...

            yea ... anyone can troll if they want. And you can call yourself anything you want.

    • J.B.

      i will end you fool. talk smack about my people, and SMACK! your face just hit the floor.

  6. Anonymous

    This really has nothing to do with Massad's tenure. A Barnard advisor told a Jewish student they might be uncomfortable in his class. The real issue here is Barnard babying its students.

  7. Anonymous

    doesn't the US Govt have something better to do? why don't they investigate AIPAC and its funding arm on Wall Street that has bankrupted the country? why don't they investigate how the apartheid state still gets the highest amount of US Aid despite being the 27th richest country by per capita income?

    but of course they won't because Congress is too busy pledging fealty to netanyahu's dick in jerusalem when its not threatening to shut down the US economy.

    • Good point  

      It's a little disturbing that the US Commission on Civil Rights and Office of Civil Rights thinks the biggest civil rights violation in the US is a couple professors who oppose Israel's policies in the middle east. What about all the actual discrimination against African-Americans, Latinos, and Muslim-Americans?


        you're so right. finally someone who GETS IT.

        what the fuck is the govt doing about this small shit. a plastic surgeon that my father works with has been committing fraud on their african american patients for the last FIFTEEN FUCKING YEARS and WHERE IS THAT INVESTIGATION??

        dad has been hammering and pestering the Feds for FUCKING YEARS. HELLO?! WHERE IS SOCIAL JUSTICE WHEN YOU NEED IT?

    • Zionist  

      "The Apartheid State" was dismantled in 1994 with the help of Nelson Mandela. The U.S. wouldn't have to so vocally stand by Israel - which allies do tend to do in the world - if other countries didn't single it out for ridiculous allegations like the one you made above.

  8. seriously?

    are you guys actually columbia students? does anyone who has commented so far have anything more than a pea-sized excuse for a brain? the issue at hand here is not about AVOIDING or PROTESTING Massad, the issue is being PREVENTED from taking Massad's class because of the student in question's (actual - or assumed, more likely) religious identity.


  9. Anonymous  

    I'm Jewish, and sometimes I find the comments people leave on Bwog a lot more upsetting than the article they're discussing... like this one.

  10. It is not acceptable  

    for any professor, tenured or otherwise, to use his academic position as a podium for promoting prejudice. Antisemitism is a terrible brand of prejudice that has spurred disastrous effects worldwide. Massad should lose his position if, after investigation, the allegation is found to be correct.

    • what?  

      There is ZERO evidence that Professor Massad is antisemitic. It's possible the Barnard adviser was discriminating on the basis of religion when she encouraged the student not to take his class, but how is that Massad's fault? Professor Massad may be a fierce opponent of Israeli policies (he is) and he may even be anti-Zionist (which he probably isn't, since he's gone on record as saying the state of Israel should exist), but there is no evidence he's antisemitic. And if you either don't know or don't care to accept the differences between antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and opposition to Israeli policies, then I don't know what to tell you.

      • I agree,  

        if he were pro-Palestine but Jewish no one would be making any issue out of this at all. People need to learn to separate religion from politics on this issue, point blank. Being against Israel's policies toward Palestine ≠ being anti-Zionist ≠ being anti-Semitic.

    • learn how to fucking read  

      The person under investigation is an advisor at Barnard. Massad had nothing to do with this.

      But yea, sure, go ahead and turn this into something it isn't. People at Columbia are pretty good at that.

      • Anonymous  

        “if there is a problem in Prof. Massad’s classroom, as the Barnard chair may believe then steering Jewish students away is not the solution…the big question is whether Massad is violating students’ rights too.”

  11. "anonymous" so meta :-)  

    this whole discussion in the comments is so typical. if someone had asked me to summarize what everyone was going to say before i clicked the link, i would've been spot on. when will someone come up with a rational un-heated way to discuss this, not just a rehashing of the same old buzzwords?

    also I fail to see what the issue is, at all. Am I missing something? Advisor tells student "Don't take class, you won't like it." Student doesn't take class.

    If advisor had said, "this professor's style is too sarcastic and will upset you, don't take class" or "this class is really boring you will hate it" would that also be a matter for investigation? It's the student's choice to take a class where the professor holds different views, or to skip it. No?

  12. costanza.jpeg  

    let's get this shit started

  13. SEAS student

    Note to all physics professors: Your classes make me feel uncomfortable. I feel like I'm being steered away from taking them because they're very pro-gravity. This means they're anti-magic. Please fix your subject accordingly.

    • hmmm

      Most particle physics classes have an "anti" gravity bias. All kidding aside, though, but it's pretty arrogant to compare a disdain for facts and indisputable truths with a disdain for convoluted socially popular political hogwash-- which in any case isn't even the issue under review. I'm uncomfortable with your inability to distinguish the different standards of evidence that are used in different fields, no less to determine when they have been met. I would advise you to take more humanities classes-- except that I can't be sure that you'll necessarily learn how to be more discerning as a result.

  14. Anonymous  

    I'm not really sure why people are equating anti-Semitism with being anti-Israel / Israel's policies towards Palestine

    • Really?

      You're not that dumb. You could make a great argument that the two ideas are entirely distinct, and I agree that it is very possible for one to be neutral on the Jewish question and anti-Israel and even anti-Zionist, to an extent. But do you really not see that sometimes anti-Israel sentiment is driven by anti-Semitism (or that some anti-semites are anti-Israel). You honestly claim not to understand how, sometimes, these ideologies can be bound up in one another?

  15. Anonymous  

    Here's some advice for you Barnard girls, stick to your own classes. Take stabs at firing your own professors. Not ours.

  16. In Communist Russia  

    Barnard bear steers you!

  17. Really?  

    Why is it that comments on posts related to the Israeli Palestinian conflict always result in offensive comments like the ones here? The issue is complicated and there have been wrongs on both sides but to make inflammatory comments just because you feel like it doesn't help the situation at all. It just makes you sound irrational.

  18. Anonymous

    There are jobs in the university that are given to individuals from the minority group, despite the fact that there are other better qualified persons. Is this considered discrimination?

    • the problem here  

      is that "better qualified" really only means "more formally/professionally trained." And the deficiency of opportunities for formal training among "minority groups" is a result of institutional discrimination that is currently so hard-wired into the American system that most people don't even see it or side-step the issue by saying its all about socioeconomic class. I agree, it is all about socioeconomic class, but that doesn't mean that race, gender expression, sexual orientation, etc. don't also play a part. The fewer identities you can claim out of the following, the harder you have to work to make the same achievements and the more you have to achieve to get the same amount of respect in the US: (at least) middle class, white, heterosexual, (somewhat) Christian, English-speaking, male.

      Affirmative action is a complicated issue, especially when a person of color born and raised in the suburbs is hired or accepted over a white student of the same background--and the organization tries to use this to call themselves an "Equal Opportunity Employer" or some other bullsh*t, diversity-touting moniker.

      However, as more individuals from these "minority groups" obtain "respected" and visible positions, and white-collar work places begin to actually represent the demographics of the country, perhaps stereotyping of and implicit prejudice against such groups can finally decrease. Also, the increased representation in positions of power may lead to a greater focus on the many issues facing "minority groups" (although, the individuals who feel more strongly about these issues are still less likely to get hired than individuals who are willing to compromise them to address the issues the existing powers are more interested in).

      I realize this is a huge tangent from the article, but I'm tired of people trying to claim reverse discrimination.

      (Throughout the reply, I used "minority groups" because the term minority group implies that (1) it is a coherent group and (2) it is separate from other minority groups and the majority group.)

  19. jewish barnard alum

    I took many classes with Professor Massad. He knew I was Jewish and never once made me feel different or unwelcome. I don't know what transpired with these allegations but I find it hard to believe knowing the man as an academic who appreciates a diversity of opinion.

  20. Why go to college?  

    "But that’s not how Marcus sees it. His complaint may concern a department head’s 'steering,' but the root of his problem is with, as Tablet puts it, 'Columbia’s alleged failure to address the perception that Massad’s classes might make Jewish students unduly uncomfortable.'"

    Isn't one of the goals--or benefits, perhaps--of a Liberal Arts education is that students can take classes that challenge their preconceptions, even to the point of being made uncomfortable?

  21. yeah...

    ...except our world is getting more comfortable with the idea of being (and staying) comfortable in our own ways, stunting our growth.

    check out this ted talk. very creepy.


    what the fuck is the govt doing about this small shit. a plastic surgeon that my father works with has been committing fraud on their african american patients for the last FIFTEEN FUCKING YEARS and WHERE IS THAT INVESTIGATION?? On one occasion he tried to take the eggs from an african female patient and a nurse was a fucking witness and NOBODY GIVES A SHIT!

    dad has been hammering and pestering the Feds for FUCKING YEARS. HELLO?!


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