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Columbia anti-Semitism debate draws Utopia center crowd crowd

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At a sizable gathering of Jewish residents and elected officials at the Utopia Jewish Center last Thursday, Columbia senior Ariel Beery and 2004 graduate Aharon Horwitz showed a documentary in which several students told of incidents in which they felt intimidated by certain professors when they posed pro-Israel sentiments. The film, produced last year by the David Project, a pro-Israel group based in Boston, ignited an uproar among Jewish organizations and academic freedom activists and led Columbia President Lee Bollinger to form an ad hoc committee to investigate."Expressing different opinions that challenge student views is what learning in a free-thinking environment is all about. But not when professors used their classrooms as a podium to spread propaganda," said Horwitz, who appeared in the film.Although the report found no evidence of anti-Semitic behavior among faculty, it did cite three incidents of intimidation, including a professor who allegedly screamed at a student who suggested that Israel sometimes gave warnings before a bombing so civilians would not be injured.Horwitz recalled another moment in class when he asked a professor how to say "prevent" in Arabic."He wrote on the board, 'Israel prevents ambulances from going into refugee camps,'" he said.A Columbia public affairs official did not return calls seeking comment. Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) was among the several Queens politicians or their representatives who attended the meeting at the Jewish center, which invited the two activists to speak."There needs to be those who dare to have the opinion that Israel has the right to exist, and some in the classroom don't (get to express) that opinion," said Gennaro, who showed the documentary on the Council floor Nov. 10 . As part of the Jewish caucus, he is helping to draft a resolution calling for an independent panel to review the more than 100 complaints of pro-Palestinian bias brought by Columbia students."It's important to put the maximum amount of heat on the president and make sure the university does the right thing," he added.Beery and Horwitz also lambasted university administrators for not allowing them to thoroughly review the report the night before it was released, even though a copy was leaked beforehand to both The New York Times and Middle Eastern studies professor Joseph Massad, whom the report cited as being involved with at least one of the three incidents of intimidation.The Times ran a front page story on the committee's findings last Thursday, the morning the report was released, in which Massad was quoted but no students."The students didn't get to see (the report) before the whole world did," said Beery, who is the university's student body president.Beery said he and others met with Bollinger last Thursday afternoon and called the talks "encouraging." He and Horwitz's newly formed group, "Columbians For Academic Freedom," is now waiting for the administration's reaction to the report and any subsequent course of action."This is a first step in a long haul," he said.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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