Letter: Week of Jan. 21

Outrage at Dirks’ divestment remark

Editor’s Note: A version of this letter was previously published in the Columbia Daily Spectator. 

The undersigned faculty members of the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University feel outraged after reading the assertions made by Nicholas Dirks, our former colleague and the newly appointed chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, in an interview recorded by the Public Affairs office at Berkeley on the eve of a meeting of the regents to approve his appointment (“In Conversation: Chancellor-designate Nicholas Dirks”).

While discussing the divestment petition at Columbia in 2002 (which, to set the record straight, called on Columbia to divest, not from “all things Israel,” as mischaracterized by the interviewer, but from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other companies that supply military hardware used by Israel against the civilian population of the West Bank and Gaza), Chancellor Dirks referred to “all sorts of other controversies that developed about the climate for Jewish students on Columbia’s campus.” He described this climate as “hugely not just anti-Israel, but by implication anti-Jewish, and anti-Semitic,” and connected this issue with “the nature of instruction in the department of Middle East studies.”

Our sense of outrage stems from Dirks’ denial of the fact that the very committee set up by then-Vice President Dirks, to which he proudly refers in his interview, found no evidence whatever for concerns about the climate for Jewish students, let alone about the nature of instruction in our department. We feel affronted by the fact that the chancellor’s defaming the department means that he now rejects the committee’s finding and seems instead to accept as true the false accusations leveled against us by an external hate group that has since been exposed and discredited.

— Muhsin Al-Musawi, Gil Anidjar, Partha Chatterjee, Hamid Dabashi, Mamadou Diouf, Wael Hallaq, Sudipta Kaviraj, Mahmood Mamdani, Joseph Massad, Brinkley Messick, Timothy Mitchell, Sheldon Pollock, Frances Pritchett, George Saliba


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