Controversy continues to swirl around an invitation by a student group at Manhattan’s Ramaz High School to Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi to deliver a talk on the Middle East. Mr. Khalidi is a well-known critic of Israel and a former spokesman for the PLO. The school administration cancelled the invitation, whereupon a petition drive was mounted to rescind the cancellation. At this writing that effort has secured more than 200 student signatures.
There are those defenders of the invitation who maintain that it is entirely appropriate that Ramaz students be exposed to different perspectives on the Middle East. Yet not only is Mr. Khalidi a particularly inappropriate choice to explore that issue for high school students, it is disheartening that the educational program at Ramaz could have fostered such a determined outreach to someone of Mr. Khalidi’s ilk.
After all, Ramaz is a venerable Modern Orthodox educational institution whose mission statement contains the explicit commitment to “Ahavat Yisrael, and love and support for the State of Israel.”
Surely there are enough neutral scholars around – or even, Heaven forbid, some who might tilt toward the Israeli narrative – to meet that need. But Rashid Khalidi?
Mr. Khalidi has long denied any ties to the PLO, but Martin Kramer, writing on Commentary Magazine’s blog, noted that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is just one of the many journalists who regularly linked Mr. Khalidi to Palestinian officialdom. In a June 9, 1982 dispatch from Beirut, for example, Mr. Friedman quoted Mr. Khalidi and described him as “a director of the Palestinian press agency Wafa.”
Similarly, Mr. Khalidi was interviewed in a 1979 Pacific Radio documentary “at the headquarters of the PLO in Beirut” and the documentary described him as “an official spokesperson for the Palestinian news service Wafa,” “PLO spokesperson,” “official spokesperson for the PLO,” and “the leading spokesperson for the PLO news agency, Wafa.”
In some respects this episode, being such a departure from what one would expect from an Orthodox school, brings to mind the recent disclosure by Ramaz that it permits female students to put on tefillin, something that leading Talmudic scholar Rabbi Hershel Schachter has decried in a formal teshuvah. (See “Who Speaks for Modern Orthodoxy?” editorial, Jan. 31 and “More on the Tefillin Controversy,” editorial, Feb. 14.)
To be sure, we do not suggest that Ramaz institutionally condoned the choice of Mr. Khalidi or that it has in any way diluted its devotion to Israel. But one has to wonder what there is in the lessons being taught that would lead many of its students to look with such a measure of dispassion and objectivity on the Palestinian counter-argument to Israel’s existence.