Leader of campaign to fire Joseph Massad ran Twitter page for Israel’s army

Students wearing traditional Palestinian scarves and holding signs and bullhorns protest on Columbia University's campus

Students and faculty are condemning Columbia University’s leadership for allowing attacks on professor Joseph Massad to escalate. (Twitter)

Students and faculty at Columbia University in New York City are denouncing the mounting attacks and smears against Joseph Massad, an author and professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at the university.

Supporters of Israel have demanded that Columbia fire Massad over an opinion piece he published just over a week ago on The Electronic Intifada.

They claim that Massad’s analysis is tantamount to “supporting terrorism” and have circulated a petition calling on the university to fire him.

The petition was launched by Maya Platek, a Columbia student and former head content writer for the Israeli army’s “spokesperson’s unit.” That is a propaganda division in the military now waging a genocidal war against the people of Gaza.

Platek’s page on LinkedIn says that she managed a Twitter account and a website for the Israeli military from 2018 to 2020.

Her petition claims that Massad’s analysis “encourages violence and misinformation in and outside of campus, particularly putting many Jewish and Israeli students on campus at risk.”

It is a common trope used by Israel defenders and its lobby to claim that any criticism of Israeli attacks, or any mention of Palestinians’ right to defend themselves, harms Jewish people worldwide.

Israeli propaganda outlets such as The Jerusalem Post have circulated the smears against Massad.

Neglecting academic freedom

But students and faculty of Massad’s department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African studies, along with affiliated departments, are pushing back.

They are demanding that Columbia President Minouche Shafik “unequivocally guarantee [Massad’s] physical safety and his academic freedom as well as those of our university’s faculty and students more broadly.”

The university’s failure, they explain, “to extend concern for and commitment to the diverse Columbia community in its entirety – a community which includes Arabs, Muslims, anti-Zionist Jews, and critics of Israeli policies that suppress Palestinian freedom – is not befitting of a leading institution in higher education.”

“We condemn President Shafik for neglecting to fulfill the most basic obligation the university owes to Columbia’s faculty and students,” they add.

“We view President Shafik’s failures as part and parcel of the university’s proven track record of neglecting to protect academic freedom on campus, especially when it pertains to our department’s study of the Middle East.”

The students and faculty are asking supporters to sign their statement.

This is hardly the first time that Israel lobbyists and defenders of Israeli apartheid policy have swarmed to demand Massad’s punishment.

Right-wing commentator Bari Weiss, who attempted to have Massad fired when she was a Columbia student in 2005, reanimated her efforts this week.

On 12 October, Columbia students and supporters marched against Israel’s attacks on Gaza.
The university administration had earlier attempted to bar journalists from covering the protest, but eventually backtracked.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).