Monday, January 10, 2005

" from, I don’t know, Teaneck. Or Scarsdale. Or Levittown. Or Long Island City."

This week's New York Magazine really has it in for young New York Jews. First, there's the exposé on how rich kids in NYC sometimes get obscene amounts of money from their parents. The only useful information in this article is that the amount of pocket money a kid has often has nothing to do with his parents' income, but we all knew this anyway. Do we really need to know that Jonathan Lebowitz, 14, watches what he spends, but if he really wants something, buys it? (Wow, he's stingy and rich! What a find!) Then there's Rashid Khalidi being interviewed on the subject of "Columbia University's Jewish Problem." To be fair, NY doesn't seem to swallow whole what Khalidi says, but still...

“Most kids who come to Columbia come from environments where almost everything they’ve ever thought was shared by everybody around them,” he says. “And this is not true, incidentally, of Arab-Americans, who know that the ideas spouted by the major newspapers, television stations, and politicians are completely at odds with everything they know to be true. Whereas kids from, I don’t know, Teaneck. Or Scarsdale. Or Levittown. Or Long Island City. Many of them have never been exposed to a dissonant idea, a different idea, as far as the Middle East is concerned. And so you have a situation where it’s going to be problematic.”

He swings around to his computer, starts surfing the university Website. “We’re not in an environment where Jewish students, as they were in the history of the Ivy League, are discriminated against,” he says. Indeed, the university Hillel estimates that roughly a quarter of Columbia’s undergraduates, or about 2,000 students, are Jewish. “Have you looked at the Hillel Website here?” Khalidi asks. “It blew my mind!” He finds it, starts to scroll. “Look at this. They have ten, twelve paid employees.” (Well, at least seven, and five rabbinic interns.)

Yikes! Nothing worse than going through years of rigorous academic training only to be stuck teaching Jewish kids from the NYC suburbs. Had Khalidi stayed put, he'd still be teaching kids from, I don't know, Chicago suburbs, some of whom are probably Jewish, but "Scarsdale" just has that special ring to it...

I don't even know where to begin, but begin I must. First off, why does Columbia being a quarter Jewish,* attracting kids from the area around the school, and having a 12-person Hillel staff blow Khalidi's mind? It's a large university in New York. It's like saying, what's with all these rural Midwestern kids filling up UChicago classes, some of them having never met an openly gay person or attended a sample sale? Khalidi sounds as though he misses the quotas which kept Jews from appearing at places like Columbia in such dreadfully high numbers. (What? Of course he doesn't miss quotas! I do apologize for being such a Zionist imperialist and assuming that was the implication...)

And how about Khalidi's assertion that Jewish (or euphemistic, "Levittown") kids, unlike Arab-Americans, are used to having everything they believe be continuously reaffirmed by what they encounter in mainstream media? If his implication is that these students are pro-Israel, then which media outlet is responsible for not challenging those beliefs? The New York Times? NPR? And last I checked, the demographic Khalidi has it in for tends to vote Democrat, so these kids can't possibly be nodding along to Bill O'Reilly on Fox News. And which politicians? Was Howard Dean's decision to sport a keffiyeh a mere ploy to make Arab-Americans forget that he was actually being controlled by his Jewish wife, who only pretends to be a doctor? The better (and serious) question: What planet is Khalidi living on?

*Then, there's the problem of how exactly could a campus Hillel know the number of Jews at a school (and should it even be counting in the first place)? My last name and home address were apparently enough information our Hillel at Chicago needed to put me on its email list, which I found myself on before even considering whether or not I wished to sign up. Ideally, though, Hillel could count its own members, but could leave be those Jews (or suspected Jews) who didn't wish to join the organization. The figure Khalidi's balking at may just be Hillel's count of every last Columbia student with a "gold" or a "berg" in his name.


Nick said...

I think the completion of the quote is even more damning:

He looks back at me with intense blue eyes. “I’m not saying that professors should necessarily ever do certain things. I’m just saying that in a polarized environment, and in a situation where overall there’s no reason for a person who’s Jewish at Columbia to feel persecuted, well, whatever might have happened in the classroom in the hothouse atmosphere of 2002–2003 has to be put in that context.”

which essentially says, there's no possible way that a Jewish person going to Columbia (a) could in any way identify as a part of a persecuted minority--which in itself is hugely insensitive--nor could any Jewish person at Columbia (b) ever identify with the needs of a persecuted minority group. He essentially gives pro-Arab professors extra leeway to rectify these possibilities.

disclaimer: I haven't much liked Khalidi since he dismissed my 2001 question on the long-term, realpolitik security of Israel with "Israel has the nuclear option." Now, it's true that Israel does probably have a nuclear program (it's never declared it) but that rarely leads to safety from one's neighbors. Fallout--literal and figurative--being what it is.

Scoffer Staff said...

I would submit to Mr. Khalidi that the ideas spouted by the major newspapers, television stations, and politicians are completely at odds with everything [Arab-Americans] BELIEVE to be true, NOT what they KNOW to be true. (can anyone know what is true? amongst yourselves...)

Nick said...

cogito ergo sum.'s something.