Inside Higher Ed reports (much of this post derives from that site) that right-wing Jewish alumni are up in arms at Princeton over news that the Near East Studies Program may hire noted Middle East scholar, Rashid Khalidi. It even appears that the campus director of the Center for Jewish Life endorses or at least sympathizes with the opposition (see quotation following).
Rashid Khalidi: Princeton
under fire for considering
him (credit: Lafabrique.fr)
The Near East Studies Program is known for its faculty exhibiting a "tilt" in favor of U.S. and Israeli approaches to the conflict. Bernard Lewis, a retired Program member, perfectly mirrors this approach. That being the case, it makes perfect sense that conservative alumni would feel uncomfortable with the notion that Khalidi might upset the balance by introducing a scholarly approach more understanding, if not sympathetic to a Palestinian perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lost in the morass of controversy is the fact that Khalidi is one of the most outstanding Middle East scholars in academia today. Anyone who hears his eloquent and persuasive comments on his Charlie Rose Show appearances would probably agree with me. Scott Jaschik’s Inside Higher Ed post carries Juan Cole’s appreciation of Khalidi:
Cole, a Middle East expert at the University of Michigan, said in
an e-mail interview this weekend that Khalidi was “a giant in the study
of the modern Middle East” who has “used archival sources and the best
of critical theory to rethink the history of Arab and Palestinian
So what exactly are his opponents afraid of?
…Pro-Israel groups have denounced his work for several years, arguing that his Palestinian sympathies distort his scholarship.
…Arlene Pedovitch, interim director of the Center for Jewish Life at
Princeton, [is quoted in the Daily Princetonian] as saying “Some Princeton alumni are very concerned about
the possibility of Princeton University hiring an individual who has a
political agenda rather than a scholarly approach to history.”
Isn’t it interesting that when an academic holds scholarly views divergent from your own then those views constitute "a political agenda?" But a pro-Israel academic would of course have a purely scholarly agenda devoid of any political slant, right? Hmmm.
Pedovitch also raises the red herring of Princeton’s anti-Semitic, quota days in relation to a Khalidi appointment:
"Many alumni and students are concerned that
a potential appointment of Professor Khalidi will be used as an excuse
to describe Princeton as anti-Semitic again."
Excuse me, but the fact that Princeton was a bastion of genteel anti-Semitism in the past is incontrovertible (as were almost all other Ivy League campuses). But what does that have to do with Khalidi? Are you saying he’s an anti-Semite? If so, I double dare you to prove it because you can’t. I think what these people are really saying is they don’t want to be faced with any faculty member who might challenge their preconceived notions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Welcome to the bizarro world of narrow minded provincialism. Are these the values that Princeton wants to espouse?
Another ‘tolerant’ undergrad raised the specter of Khalidi on campus hindering recruitment and enrollment of Jews:
"It’s going to be a problem come admissions" if Khalidi is chosen.
So let me get this straight, no Jews will want to attend Princeton because it’s hired one of the world’s most eminent Middle East scholars? Hmmm. I’d say that any Jew that uses this as a criteria to reject Princeton should be rejected themselves as a candidate. Whatever happened to tolerance and open-mindedness in the world of academia?
Based on comments from a Princeton administrator quoted in the Inside Higher Ed post I believe that the college will not cave to such pressure and will pursue the issue of Khalidi’s possible appointment with due and fair deliberation (unlike Steve Ballmer’s cowardly approach to evangelical pressure against Microsoft).
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.