Sunday, September 15, 2013

SDSU Ghassan Zakaria: Indoctrination as Free Speech

It seems the world has been turned upside down. A consortium of students are demanding the right to have Ghassan Zakaria's  political and historical inaccuracies taught at the college level, in the name of academic freedom.

Zakaria recently distributed a map of the modern Middle East to his Arabic class, sans Israel. Only after student complaints and negative publicity for the University, did he redistribute the maps, with "Israel" scrawled in by hand. 

Ghassan Zakaria , a lecturer at San Diego State University apparently disagrees with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who famously declared "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." Equally appalling  is the response from some students, claiming that academic standards of truth and accuracy are tantamount to censorship.

From the Daily Aztec, the student newspaper of San Diego State University
Multiple student organizations including Students for Justice in Palestine, Afrikan Student Union, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan, Students of the World and the Arab Student Association among others signed a letter to SDSU Provost Nancy Marlin asking to not censor freedom of speech in the classroom in support of Zakaria.
  But Aztecs for Israel member and Stand With Us intern Nirit Revzin said students, who wished to remain anonymous for confidentiality reasons, enrolled in the class disclosed the information and their concerns to Stand With Us which in turn distributed the information through a newsletter email.
“The Pro-Israel community spoke up against this issue because we strongly value education, and want to ensure students recognize reality from falsehoods,” AFI said in a statement.
 The university also said in a statement that “while SDSU encourages scholarly debate and discussion of varying opinions, presenting inaccurate information to students is not acceptable.”
The letter is reproduced below

Dear Provost Marlin,

We are writing out of concern for academic freedom on the San Diego State University campus. As students, we expect that our professors will not be subject to censorship or have their freedom of expression violated. It has come to our attention that one SDSU lecturer, Ghassan Zakaria, was forced to change the label on a map he presented to his class in order to satisfy the concernsof a single SDSU student and an off-campus political organization, StandWithUs, which has no role on our campus and has no business representing us as students.

Professor Zakaria is a wonderful professor who is careful not to let his personal opinions spill over into what he teaches in his classes. According to a large number of his students, his manner of teaching is inclusive of all backgrounds, and politics is left out in this linguistics course. That being said, it is perfectly reasonable that while teaching a class on Arabic language and culture, Lecturer Ghassan Zakaria would include a view of the Middle East and North Africa aligned with the perspective of most Arabic speakers. It happens that many in the Arabic speaking world do not recognize the state of Israel, but instead understand the region to be historic Palestine. If one of the aims of such classes is to understand how Arabic speakers themselves view the region, this map will aid students in that understanding. In fact, Mr. Zakari would be remiss if he did not include this perspective. Mr. Zakaria’s personal and political opinions, whatever they may be, are irrelevant and should not have any bearing on how he is treated as an employee of the university, and as an academic. His right to free speech should not be infringed upon or censored in any way.

We hope you will agree that it would be shameful to think that Stand With Us, and a small number of students could jeopardize a professor’s entire career simply because he exercised his right to portray the valid political opinion of millions of people to his class.

There are countless maps in the university’s books and classrooms that label the region solely as “Israel,” which is not only completely inaccurate, but also very offensive. These maps label the entire area as “Israel” without even the slightest mention of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza strip- which even the state of Israel recognizes as Palestinian territories. Palestine/Israel is not the only region in which land and naming are controversial. The situations of Tibetans, Kurds and Western Saharans are a few instances that should be familiar to students. We hope all in the SDSU community will take this opportunity to learn more about the issue.

Additionally, we absolutely reject all attempts to conflate Zionism (a racist political ideology) with Judaism or the Jewish people. There are many Jews around the world who oppose Zionism, including here at SDSU, and who do not feel that their political opinions are included in the Zionist depiction of Jews as unquestioningly aligned with the state of Israel. Such a cynical politically-motivated stereotype excludes and silences pro-Palestinian Jews and is in itself offensive.

Finally, any attempt to tarnish professor Zakaria’s reputation as a professor with fantastic academic credentials is a purely political and uninformed act of slander that should not be acceptable on our campus. We as students are not represented by this narrow-minded opinion and ask that the university take note of the wide support that professor Zakaria has received from his students and from the San Diego State community in general.


Students for Justice in Palestine, SDSU
Amnesty International, SDSU
Arab Student Association, SDSU
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlán, SDSU
Afrikan Student Union, SDSU
Association of Chicana Activists, SDSU
Muslim Student Association, SDSU
Students of the World, SDSU
International Socialist Organization, SDSU
Students for Justice in Palestine, UCSD
Al-Awda Foundation, San Diego
Students for Justice in Palestine, CSULB
Students for Justice in Palestine, CSUF
Students for Justice in Palestine, UCLA
Muslim Student Association, CSUSB
Students for Justice in Palestine, UCSB
Students for Justice in Palestine, UCD
Students for Justice in Palestine, UCR
Muslim Student Association, UCR
General Union of Palestine Students, SFSU

The letter claims Ghassan Zakari's teaching is  is inclusive of all backgrounds, and politics is left out in this linguistics course."  This statement is contracted by an earlier claim made to Channel 10 News  , implying the political nature of the course
The department chair said the professor used Palestine in place of Israel on the labels to "reflect the view of Arab-speakers in the region."
Also, the statement to the group said the language class professor intended to "have students get into groups and research the political developments of each area on the map, with the assumption that this would lead to a discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of the state of Israel."
Aristotle once said " It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
By refusing to address the historic truths of the region, and using his classroom as a forum for historical revisionism and indoctrination, Zakaria commits a grave disservice, not only to his students, but  to higher education as well.


Anonymous said...

In my experience, the harassment of Jewish students and Israel supporters on California campuses is not necessarily marked by major incidents. Instead, it is characterized by a steady pattern of low level annoyances and minor grievances that together add up to an uncomfortable climate.

Last year I had a class with Prof. Ronald Lopez of the ethnic studies department of Sonoma State University. Other students had reported his bias against non-Latino students, but ethnic studies are required and his class was available and fit my schedule. Mid semester I went to his office to speak to him about a test. His office door was filled with flyers about creating a safe space for all students. Maybe not ALL Students. Front and center however was a disgusting piece of anti-Israel propaganda.

I didn't go in, and I didn't talk to him. I was angry and there was no where to turn and no one to complain to. Knowing any action I took would affect my grade, I was silent.

I'm glad the students in this class spoke up. I realize now that silence is complicity.

Richard Behar said...

Nice try by the signers, but Zionism/Israel can't be separated from Judaism/Jews -- even if there are pockets of Jews who believe it can be. They should read "Why The Jews: The Reason for Anti-Semitism (by Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin." Then they may understand why it can't be done.

Anonymous said...

Zionism is an important part of Judaism. Why, just a few nights ago, I spent hours reading liturgy describing our longing to "return to Zion". And as I recall, the evening concluded with "Next year in Jerusalem". Thats Zionism, folks.