April 20, 2005

Joseph Massad: All zionists are shmocks

I ought to point out from the start that Massad didn't actually say that but a zionist has accused him of saying "that the word "Zion" means "penis" and that therefore zionism is a macho movement." The allegation has now done the rounds of the New York media and, of course, the internet. I just put "zion means penis" into google and 38 sites came up:

1.New York Sun
3.Israel Insider
4.Campus Watch
5.Little Green Footballs
6.David Project - of which more later

Only the seventh site on the list has Massad's denial of what was a preposterous claim. This is therefore a classic example of what, I think, Juan Cole has called a "googlesmear."

Anyway the "zionists are shmocks" (that's a good idea for a UN resolution) thing is just one of the allegations against Joseph Massad, a Palestinian professor in the Middle East and Asian Language and Cultures (MEALAC) department at Columbia University.

The campaign against Massad involves a lot of detail but to cut to the chase (as Americans say) various zionist individuals and organisations are trying to tilt academia in favour of Israel and that means campaigning against anyone who criticises Israel or its zionist ideology. It began with disruptive zionist students in his class and ran the gamut from tabloid allegations, through mayoral and, even Congressional statements, ADL petitions, a film, and now Massad has had to stand before an ad hoc committee hearing at his own college.

For all the allegations against him there are only two of his former students in the film that is the main body of "evidence" for the committee. They are Noah Liben and Deena Shanker.

Here's Noah
As for Noah Liben, who appears in the film according to newspaper accounts (I have not seen the film), he was indeed a student in my Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies course in the spring of 2001. Noah seems to have forgotten the incident he cites. During a lecture about Israeli state racism against Asian and African Jews, Noah defended
these practices on the basis that Asian and African Jews were underdeveloped and lacked Jewish culture, which the Ashkenazi State operatives were teaching them. When I explained to him that, as the assigned readings clarified, these were racist policies, he insisted that these Jews needed to be modernized and the Ashkenazim were helping them by civilizing them. Many students gasped. He asked me if I understood his point. I informed him that I did not. Noah seems not to have done his reading during the week on gender and Zionism. One of the assigned readings by Israeli scholar and feminist Simona Sharoni spoke of how in Hebrew the word "zayin" means both penis and weapon in a discussion of Israeli militarized masculinity. Noah, seemingly not having read the assigned material, mistook the pronunciation of "zayin" as "Zion," pronounced in Hebrew "tziyon."
Ok, so Noah's a prick. What about Deena?
As for the claims made by Deena Shanker, whose story suddenly appeared in a report in the New York Sun after my posted statement dismantled the false claims made by Liben and Schoenfeld, her claims are also outright lies.

In her New York Sun account, Ms. Shanker stated that she asked me "if it is true that Israel gives prior warning before launching strikes in Palestinian Arab territories" "That provoked him to start screaming, "If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against the Palestinians then you could leave the class," Ms. Shanker said…She said she was "shocked" by his reaction, and that Mr. Massad “usually answered civilly along the lines of, "No, you're wrong." She said Mr. Massad compared Israelis to Nazis during lectures in class.

Shanker later told the New York Times a different story: "She said that Professor Massad sometimes ridiculed her questions and during one class exchange yelled at her to get out. (She stayed.) 'People in the class were like blown away,' she said." Her account to the Jerusalem Post was also inconsistent with the other two accounts:

'If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against the Palestinian people then you can get out of my classroom!' Massad shouted, according to Shanker's account…Shanker was shocked…"Sometimes teachers and professors yell at students - it
happens - but this was not like anything I've ever experienced. He was not treating me like a student," she said… Shanker said she had grown accustomed to Massad's antagonism toward Israel, but the professor's rage at her for speaking up was frightening… 'I felt - I wouldn't say 'intimidated' was the right word - I would say: humiliated, violated, scared. This was very overt and explicit."

Deena Shanker is lying in all three versions of her story. I have never asked her or any student to leave my class no matter what question they asked. In fact, I never asked any of my students to leave class for any reason. I have no visual memory of Deena Shanker who never came to office hours or spoke with me after class. The incident she describes has never taken place.
Joseph Massad has been pilloried beyond most people's endurance. The ease with which he refutes his detractors demonstrates the weakness of their case but it says nothing of the campaign of intimidation he has had to suffer for trying to relate a critical history of both zionism and Palestinian nationalism. For that, please read the whole statement.


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