Oh, Saliba, How Sad You Are

I’m sorry for sounding facetious, but George Saliba’s op-ed in the Columbia Spectator is perfect proof of the problems facing students at Columbia, namely open and unapologetic intimidation and bad scholarship.
First, to intimidation. Saliba pointedly does not deny the conversation–he only wishes “I could have taught her a little more, so that next time she would at least get the argument right.” That’s funny, because at the beginning of his op-ed he writes that he has “no memory of the student in question nor of the conversation that she claims took place” only later to say that he “had thought very highly of this student when she took my course in the fall of 2001.” So I guess she did get his arguments right when writing her exams.
But more to the point: the grades are not the case here. The issue isn’t whether professors are failing their students for being pro-Israel. No, that would be too blatant. The issue, instead, is harassment and abuse of power. An analogy: can a boss deny responsibility for sexual harassment by saying that he gave his secretary a bonus? Of course not. When it comes to harassment and abuse, grades have nothing to do with it. It is like a battered woman saying “but he said he loved me afterwards.”
Second, to his racist argument about the colors of one’s eyes. Would he also tell a light-skinned African American student that, since their skin was whitened due to centuries of rape, they have no claim to Africa? No voice in the debate about the implications of Slavery? I seem to recall that Walter White, one of the most important leaders of the NAACP, had blue eyes and blond hair. Does that mean that Walter White had no claim to the long-suffering of African-Americans?
Last, to his scholarship. Saliba chooses to reference Biblical narrative to prove his point about his “prior claim” to the land that “Abraham was decent enough to buy the grave lot for his wife instead of taking it by force.” Here is the clincher: Saliba calls himself a Canaanite, but the Canaanites were African, not Semites. See, the Bible clearly traces the genealogy of Canaan to Ham, one of Noah’s three sons. Ham was an African and Shem was the Semite. Saliba, a Lebanese born Professor, is not an African, and therefore not a Canaanite–even if his eyes are brown and not green.
Furthermore, as a peace activist in the Gaza Strip, I was struck by the number of blond haired, blue-eyed Arabs I worked with. Would I ever, ever tell one of them that they do not have claim to the land because they have blue eyes? No–because I am not a racist.
He chose the frame of reference to make his case, not me. I’m just pointing out that if a professor can be so politically motivated as to be absolutely wrong about Biblical history, or the history of the civilization he is supposedly an expert in, should not be a professor at Columbia.


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