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Pro-Israel Civil Rights Complaint Filed Against Columbia University

kenneth marcus

Kenneth Marcus, scourge of 'anti-Israel' academe

Kenneth Marcus, the pro-Israel scourge of U.S. academia, has just filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against Columbia University.  Electronic Intifada reports on the story.  Though I haven’t read the complaint yet, I have read EI’s portrayal of it and I have to say it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such nonsense on a university campus.

judith jacobson

Prof. Judith Jacobson circulated third hand complaint of anti-Israel bias which became basis of civil rights complaint against Columbia

The gist of it is that a student, presumably Jewish, sought academic counseling from the chair of the Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department at Barnard College.  Happens every day, right?  They were talking about what courses he might take and discussed taking a class with Prof. Joseph Massad, the controversial (in pro-Israel circles) Middle East scholar.  I don’t know what happened during the session.  But after hearing about it third-hand, a Columbia faculty member of the School of Public Health, Judith Jacobson who, like Marcus, is an officer with the right-wing Israel advocacy group, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, consulted with Marcus.  He in turn filed the complaint alleging that the department chair “steered” the student away from taking a course with Massad.  Jacobson, it should also be noted, was one of the Columbia faculty who campaigned against tenure for Nadia Abu El-Haj.  Further, her academic specialty is cancer and asthma prevention, a far cry from the Middle East.

It’s hard to speculate about what might’ve happened during that Barnard academic counseling session, but speaking as someone who spent twelve years doing undergraduate and graduate studies and who often consulted with faculty about which courses I should or should not take, I imagine the chair asked the student what he wished to study, perhaps even discussed the student’s political views.  The faculty member may have suggested to him that he might wish to take a course with a different professor.  That’s not “steering” that’s advising.  Professors do it all the time.  Marcus really wants professors to stop doing their jobs.  He wants to punish them for helping students find the most fulfilling academic programs they can.  He wants campuses to become beacons of pro-Israel correctness.

Interesting to note that Marcus is attempting to snare Prof. Massad in his net even though the latter had nothing whatsoever to do with the complaint.  Massad didn’t know about the incident until he heard a complaint was being filed.  This is Marcus pimping a ride from all the negative publicity Massad earned over the years from the David Project and other pro-Israel advocacy groups that attacked him.

Frankly, there is no such academic term as “steering,” as EI notes.  It derives from housing discrimination law, which Marcus is also familiar with as a former staff member of the U.S. human rights commission.  What he’s trying to do is to graft a totally alien term onto a new sphere of law so that he may wage pro-Israel lawfare against American campuses.  Make no mistake, this is a campaign against academic freedom and deeply hostile to the process of open inquiry and pursuit of knowledge that is the hallmark of great universities.

What Marcus aims for is restraining speech and action concerning Israel on campus.  He wants to outlaw certain speech, courses and professors who cross imagined red lines by being overly critical of Israeli policy in their teaching.

What beats me is how an academic press can publish a book by Marcus, as Cambridge University Press is doing.  To me, it’s the ultimate chutzpah for a pro-Israel shill to use such an academic publisher to advance a program so inimical to the academy.

Marcus, as I’ve noted here, previously filed a similar complaint against UC Santa Cruz which the OCR has accepted formally for investigation.  I hope to God OCR doesn’t find the Columbia complaint credible.  Otherwise, there will soon be a flood of such complaints, which will prevent OCR from actually investigating any real civil rights complaints on American campuses.

Marcus has also been sniffing around Evergreen College trying to gin up a case against that school.  Among his targets is Prof. Steve Niva, who he’s sidled up to via phone calls and e-mails attempting to elicit Niva’s personal views about Israel.  Unfortunately for Marcus, Niva has had better things to do with his time than furnish fuel for a future civil rights battle.

Interestingly, Marcus is teaming up with Stand With Us and Israel’s NW consul general, Akiva Tor in pursuing the Evergreen complaint, as SWU’s website attests.  Since we now know, thanks to Israel’s Channel 10 news, that the Israeli foreign ministry has officially sponsored a lawsuit against the Olympia food coop (Evergreen College’s hometown), it seems entirely reasonable to presume that the foreign ministry, at the very least, looks favorably upon this attack on American universities.  At the most, it may even be supporting them in far more direct ways.

Marcus is also exploiting Scholars for Peace in the Middle East as another venue for relaying intelligence about campuses which are ripe for attack.  I hope professors and administrators become aware of these points of attack which people like Marcus will exploit.

I’m deeply chagrined that Marcus’ work is being financed in large part by a $5 million life insurance policy paid off after the death of Prof. Gary Tobin, one of the Jewish community’s most distinguished demographers, who died in 2009.  The Institute for Jewish and Community Research, which he founded to be his academic home, turned to Marcus and his pro-Israel drivel after Tobin’s death.  The Institute was undoubtedly seeking a new raison d’être since it could no longer pursue the ground-breaking polling research that was Gary’s specialty.  It is a great tragedy that his widow, Diane, bought into Marcus’ vision of turning “anti-Israelism” into a kosher academic field.  One in which it was made equivalent to anti-Semitism, and which involved the demonization of anyone on college campuses who transgressed the pro-Israel line.

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  • pabelmont October 6, 2011, 4:49 AM

    You write: “Prof. Joseph Massad, the controversial (in pro-Israel circles) Middle East scholar. ” DOES “controversial”, here, mean “dis-liked”? Or does it mean that, strictly within pro-Israel circles, there is controversy about Massad? I suspect that you meant, “Prof. Joseph Massad, the Middle East scholar whom some/many pro-Israel folks dislike.”