Students of a Jewish modern orthodox upscale high school in New York City are demanding that the administration permit its political society to host the noted Palestinian-American academic Professor Rashid Khalidi after the head of the school barred his appearance.
The controversy erupted earlier this week when the anti-Zionist blogger Mondoweiss reported that the Ramaz day school had nixed an appearance by Khalidi, who was invited to the Manhattan campus by the student-run political society.
The move angered some students, who were moved to circulate an online petition that called on the Ramaz headmaster, Paul Shaviv, to reverse his decision.
“I believe it is critical that Ramaz students are exposed to different perspectives and that open dialogue be encouraged at Ramaz — not limited,” the petition says. “I call upon Head of School Mr. Shaviv to realize how important academic equitability is to the Ramaz community and reverse his prohibition on Professor Khalidi’s address.”
Khalidi, a professor at Columbia University, was born to a Saudi-Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother. According to the Jewish Telgraph Agency, Khalidi was an adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization during the Madrid peace negotiations in the early 1990s. Khalidi has generated controversy in the past for stating that the Palestinians were legally entitled to resist Israel’s occupation by targeting soldiers.
Prior to taking up his current post as the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia, Khalidi also taught at the University of Chicago and Georgetown University.
In a statement issued to JTA on Friday, Shaviv said he was working with students to “navigate a delicate political situation, respecting their wish for open exchange of ideas, but also being mindful of multiple sensitivities within our varied school constituencies.”
The statement from Ramaz said, “The issue is not whether or not students should hear another view – they should. Our question was: ‘Is this the appropriate program?’”
The school’s administration said it believed the controversy would “massively overshadow any conversation and would make an educational experience impossible,” and that Khalidi was not the right partner for dialogue with high school students. Shaviv said he met with Khalidi and amicably explained the situation to him, and Ramaz’s statement said the school is “working with the politics club to arrange an event that will provide the program content they originally envisaged.”
The controversy at Ramaz comes amid a wide debate in the American Jewish community about how open Jewish institutions should be to debate about Israel. Much of the recent focus has been on college campuses, with a few Hillel chapters torn between whether or not to allow the participation of Jewish groups or students supportive of the movement to use boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Earlier this week, Vassar’s Jewish Student Union announced it was becoming an “open Hillel,” repudiating Hillel International’s guidelines rejecting partnerships with groups deemed hostile toward Israel.