As of Tuesday, more than 50,000 people have signed a petition started by students on Friday asking Columbia to quickly fire tenured professor Joseph Massad from the faculty.
Massad teaches in the department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.
The request was made in reaction to Massad’s piece from the Electronic Intifada published on October 8, in which he referred to Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 as a “resistance offensive” against “Israeli settler-colonialism and racism toward the Palestinians.”
It was also stated that “perhaps the major achievement of the resistance in the temporary takeover of these settler-colonies is the death blow to any confidence that Israeli colonists had in their military and its ability to protect them.”
The petition’s author, Maya Platek, GS ’25, criticized Massad for using adjectives like “astonishing,” “amazing,” and “awesome” to characterize the attack, saying that by doing so, Massad “shows support for the terrorist organization.”
In the petition, Platek stated that Massad’s decision to applaud the heinous attack “encourages violence and misinformation in and outside of campus, particularly putting many Jewish and Israeli students on campus at risk.” Regardless of one’s position on the conflict, it is never ethical to endorse and applaud one of the deadliest acts of terrorism in history.
When David Friedman, CC ’78, the former American ambassador to Israel, posted Platek’s petition on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday, it swiftly attracted notice outside of the university.
According to Platek, “I think that everyone is equally horrified by the remarks.” It’s inappropriate to exalt murder, say Massad’s tenure may be “terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation,” in accordance with rules for tenure issued by the American Association of University Professors. In the end, Platek declared, “I’m a huge supporter of freedom of speech.” But I believe that this goes too far.
Similar petitions are being circulated at Yale University calling for the dismissal of Zareena Grewal, a professor of American Studies, from the university’s faculty for “condoning violence, advocating for a terrorist organization, and historical revisionism,” according to the petition.
More than 300 Columbia affiliates and 300 members of the public have signed a letter that students, teachers, alumni, and affiliates of the university and the MESAAS department wrote in response to the petition at Columbia, expressing their “unwavering solidarity” with Massad. In the letter, Minouche Shafik, the president of the university, was urged to “unambiguously guarantee his physical safety and his academic freedom, as well as those of our university’s faculty and students more generally.”
The letter claims that Massad, a Jordanian with Palestinian ancestry, has received several death threats, one of which was hidden under his office door. The letter urged that the university look into the origin of these threats and hold those responsible in the open.
“Current attacks against Professor Massad are a continuation of this decades-long attempt to censor and intimidate him for his rigorous scholarship on Palestine,” the letter stated. The director of academic administration and finances for MESAAS, Jessica Rechtschaffer, the department chair for MESAAS, Gil Hochberg, and a representative for the university all declined to comment.
A university-wide declaration “unequivocally supporting” Massad’s academic freedom of speech was also demanded in the letter to Shafik. Massad’s latest post contained rhetoric that Platek deemed to be “universal problems” and “unacceptable.” It’s critical to hold them responsible for their statements, according to Platek. “Using words like “shocking win,” “astonishing,” or “amazing” can have a real negative impact and put people in danger.”
20,810 people signed the petition Monday night, bringing the total to 50,000. Since then, the petition has been removed for an unknown reason. “At this time, this petition cannot be accessed. The moderators who uphold our Community Guidelines may be reviewing it right now.
After the evaluation procedure is over, this petition might become available once more. When attempting to view the petition, the website displays the message, “We appreciate your patience.