ARMIN ROSEN and JORDAN HIRSCH
The New Republic
Thu Dec 16 2010
What will Columbia’s new Center for Palestine Studies become?
The October launch of Columbia University’s Center for Palestine Studies (CPS), the first institution at an American university specifically dedicated to the study of Palestinian Arabs, received surprisingly little notice. Middle East–related brawls on Columbia’s campus have often captured national attention, featuring accusations of anti-Semitism lobbed at professors (recall the alleged bullying of Jewish and pro-Israel students in 2004 by Professor Joseph Massad) and controversial speaking engagements (for example, Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejadin September of 2007). Despite this tumultuous track record, the CPS opening took place without disruption. Paraphrasing Columbia University film professor James Schamus—a faculty member associated with the CPS—The Forward characterized the opening as “a new moment of civility” and a re-dedication to “open and courteous dialogue” on Middle East issues.
But is it? Given the highly sensitive subject matter of this dialogue, the CPS faces an important choice. It can host academics interested in serious Palestine-related scholarship, or it can advance political interests under the guise of Palestine studies. Should it move in the latter direction, it could make the boundary between politics and scholarship more meaningless than ever. And there are already troubling signs that this is exactly what is happening.