Asaf at Jewschool brings up a few questions about the film, which I think are important, since they represent the common misperceptions of the goals and identities of the actors. Without including the entire text of the question, I hope these answers will give enough background even to someone who has not read Asaf’s post.
First, the film showcases the complaints of a specific segment of the Columbia population, that is true. And it is also true that the great majority of the complaints we have received–those that cannot be included in the public discourse–are about MEALAC and the anti-Israel issue in specific. But the reason the film and we the students maintain that the film is about academic abuse in general is that we believe that anti-Israel abuse is only a symptom of a larger problem affecting academia.
An environment that will permit a professor to yell at a student for having one type of view or nationality is an unhealthy environment for students. That is why this issue may be triggered by the anti-Israel rage felt by a faculty member but concerns all of us in this community who have even been targeted for our identities or beliefs.
Second, the David Project quite simply gave us a voice when no-body else did. No other organization was so willing to listen and help. Before this, I had tried to publish accounts in the Spectator, but my editor at the time would not allow not-for-attribution stories about professors for fear that he’d be sued by the professors in question. And the students I spoke to did not want to go on record at the time.
When the film was made, it was made to be screened only in private showings to University officials and influential alumni in order to get them to start dealing with the problem. We wanted to work with the system–but the story broke whether we liked it or not, and by the time the news broke, most of the students had graduated, and some of the others were comfortable with their face and names being show. Others were not, and were taken out.
Next: that the David Project is a pro-Israel organization should be irrelevant, considering that the students can speak for themselves and that the content of their testimonies should be enough to convince even the most skeptical viewer that there is a problem at Columbia, but it seems to be a bone in the throat for those who are anti-Zionist. In this case, I only ask that the anti-Zionist try to look beyond their ideology and realize that this issue is much deeper than politics.
Last, the format of film was chosen, as I mentioned before, because it was the best and most effective way for students now spread out all over the country to give their testimony. Any other format would be less personal, and give the viewer less information than we’d like. The fact that the dates and times are not available to the general public does not mean that they do not exist–each case is corroborated and sourced. That we do not give out this information freely has to do with the sensitivities involved–other students do not want to be hassled, and we respect that.
The medium of film makes sure that the student’s own words are never lost, and that their statements retain the power they had when they made them at the time, some of them for the first time. It is hard to watch the episode where Liz recalls Prof. George Saliba “taking down his glasses, coming close, and looking her in the eye” without thinking about other instance where people in positions of power force their power upon their subordinates. It is hard to hear of other testimonies–that student are too afraid to come public with yet–without likening the abuse to the most sickening crimes. Film makes that clear, and that is why we will continue to use it and make the case that this is a universal problem, with universal solutions.