CMW Class Watch: Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies

Written by: CMW on January 21st, 2010

Professor Joseph Massad
Professor Joseph Massad

Joseph Massad, associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history, is teaching a class this semester entitled “Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies.” While lauded by many for his successful publications and extensive research on the Middle East, Professor Massad is also well known for his controversial ideas and is the subject of “Columbia Unbecoming,” a documentary created several years ago that accuses him of classroom intimidation and biased lectures. Due to the debate over the validity of the students’ claims, I decided to experience Professor Massad’s class first hand to judge for myself.
Professor Massad initially caught me off guard. Extremely upbeat and congenial, it did not seem as though he could be someone guilty of delegitimizing the state of Israel, which is a common claim against Professor Massad’s work.
After Professor Massad’s brief introduction, all sixty students took turns sharing their name, major, and reason for taking the class. Almost everyone mentioned the terrific reputation they heard about his infamous professorship and teachings. They seemed excited to be under his instruction though one or two students were gutsy enough to mention the controversy surrounding his classes as the reason for registering.
The icebreaker lasted about thirty minutes and we were all dismissed shortly after. Once class ended, I carefully read through the syllabus.
The required reading includes:
Edward Said, The Question of Palestine

  • Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity
  • Joseph Massad, The Persistence of the Palestinian Question
  • Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State
  • Theodor Herzl, Altneuland
  • Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People
  • Ghassan Kanafani, Men in the Sun
  • Ghassan Kanafani, Returning to Haifa
  • Sara Roy, The Gaza Strip. The Political Economy of De-Development
  • Neve Gordon, Israel’s Occupation
  • Jeroen GUnning, Hamas in Politics
  • Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel

Those who research the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, regardless of where their interests lie, immediately note a pervasive theme in the required readings; a majority of the listed authors are among Israel’s greatest detractors. And while many are in fact Israeli, some of them, especially Shlomo Sand, have written pieces that many have considered virulently anti-Semitic.
Reading through the descriptions of required texts and researching the authors’ backgrounds seemed only to confirm this observation. Despite the direction the course seems to be headed in, I hope Professor Massad’s class, and especially the open debate that he strongly encouraged in the seminar, proves his ability to provide students with an unbiased assessment of the region, thereby encouraging the development of original opinions.
For more information check out some of these articles:
 A review of “Columbia Unbecoming”:

If you are taking this class or any other Middle Eastern related classes and would like to tell us about your experiences, please let us know by emailing us at [email protected]. Remember, all emails are confidential and names/emails will never be published without the writers permission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *