The wages of courage

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New York Magazine published a long article this week outlining the dispute between pro-Israel students at Columbia University and the overwhelmingly pro-Arab professors in the university's Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department.

The students allege that the department's professors promote the notion that Israel is a racist, terrorist state.


While the dispute has been simmering for years, it rose to the headlines four months ago when a pro-Israel organization called The David Project released a short documentary film called Columbia Unbecoming, in which 14 students and recent alumni recounted incident after incident of abuse they suffered in Columbia's classrooms at the hands of these professors for their "crime" of defending Israel's right to exist.


Rashid Khalidi, the PLO activist who holds Columbia's $2.5 million endowed Edward Said chair for Middle East Studies (partially financed by the United Arab Emirates), gave the magazine a telling critique of his department's detractors saying, "We're not in an environment where Jewish students, as they were in the history of the Ivy League, are discriminated against." Turning to his computer screen, Khalidi added, "Have you looked at the Hillel Web site here? It blew my mind!


"Look at this. They have 10, 12 paid employees [T]here's no reason for a person who's Jewish at Columbia to feel persecuted."


So in Khalidi's view, since there are no longer quotas limiting the number of Jewish students allowed to enroll at Columbia, as there were until the 1950s, and because Columbia's Hillel is a large organization, (serving the needs of some 2,000 Jewish students), Jews have no right to feel persecuted by their hostile professors.


This is pure anti-Semitic claptrap, but note how Khalidi changed the subject.


He said nothing about the substance of the students' claim that Columbia professors indoctrinate their students into believing that Israel is evil.


He dismissed them by hinting that the real problem isn't academic abuse but pampered Jews who ought to feel so grateful for not being discriminated against in enrollment that they should mutely accept any lies their professors tell them about the Jewish state.


Khalidi is far from alone in turning on his accusers to avoid contending with the substance of their arguments.


Take, for example, Khalid bin Mahfouz.


Mahfouz is a Saudi financier, who until 2003 owned and ran the National Commercial Bank, (NCB) the largest bank in Saudi Arabia.


After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Mahfouz, his family and the NCB came under the scrutiny of several major newspapers, think tanks and terrorism researchers in the US and Europe for their apparent links to al-Qaida, Hamas and other terror organizations' funding networks.


Rather than responding to the allegations, Mahfouz filed libel suits against his detractors in British courts. His choice of Britain as his litigation venue was not coincidental.


In sharp contrast to most Western countries, Britain's libel laws place the burden of proof not on the purportedly injured party but on the side that leveled the allegations. That is, in Britain a party accused of libel is guilty until proven innocent.


Mahfouz has deep pockets. His personal net wealth is estimated at over $3 billion, so he can afford to litigate forever, unlike the targets of his lawsuits. Most of them have abandoned their pursuit of his terror links.


Major publications like The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times and Harper's Magazine have opted to rescind their allegations rather than face the high court costs of battling Mahfouz.

Mahfouz's most recent victim is New York-based terrorism researcher Rachel Ehrenfeld.


Ehrenfeld, who directs the American Center for Democracy, documented the allegations against Mahfouz, his family and the NCB in her 2003 book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It.


Mahfouz filed suit against her in Britain last October.


Ehrenfeld, who like Mahfouz's other targets lacks the financial means to defend herself in Britain, and who like the others understands that she would be hard-pressed to emerge victorious given Britain's pro-plaintiff libel laws, has through necessity decided to turn the tables on Mahfouz.


She scraped together the money to file a countersuit in New York last month.


In her suit, Ehrenfeld asks the court to find that Mahfouz's libel charges would not pass muster in America. She further asks that the court declare unenforceable any award granted to Mahfouz in Britain.


In both Khalidi's manipulations and Mahfouz's litigation we see the real price demanded of individuals brave enough to fight for their principles, rights and freedoms.


Khalidi, backed by the financial muscle of a Persian Gulf state, hides behind the self-righteous cloak of multiculturalism to malign anyone who dares expose him and his colleagues as bigots. Mahfouz uses his vast wealth to intimidate his critics into silence with the threat of financial and professional ruin.


No one who recognizes the importance of intellectual, political and professional freedom can afford to remain indifferent to this fight. The battles being fought by Columbia's Jewish students and by Rachel Ehrenfeld are also our battles. We owe it to ourselves, no less than to them, to support them in their fights. For if they lose, all of us will be less free.


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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