A Columbia University professor, Joseph Massad, has sparked controversy and outrage over his op-ed on the Israel-Palestine war, in which he praised the Palestinian armed groups for their “astounding” and “incredible” attack on Israel on October 7.
Joseph Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history, wrote in his article, published on The Electronic Intifada, that the Palestinian operation was a “stunning victory” that caught Israel off-guard, affected the political future of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and also affected US efforts for regional Arab governments to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.
Massad also argued that the Palestinian attack was a “legitimate act of resistance” against Israel’s occupation and siege of Gaza, and that it was not a “terrorist” act as Israel and its allies claim.
However, his article drew fierce criticism and condemnation from many students, faculty members, and alumni of Columbia University, as well as from pro-Israel groups and politicians, who accused him of condoning and supporting terrorism, spreading misinformation and propaganda, and inciting hatred and violence.
A petition was launched on Change.org by Maya Platek, a Columbia student who previously worked for the Israeli military as a content writer, calling for Massad’s “immediate removal” from the university. The petition, which has gathered more than 34,000 signatures so far, said that Massad’s article was “unacceptable” and “dangerous”, and that it made many Jewish and Israeli students feel “unsafe” on campus.
“Regardless of one’s stance on the conflict, supporting and praising one of the worst acts of terrorism in history is never acceptable,” the petition said. “We call on Columbia University to hold Massad responsible for his comments and immediately remove him from the Columbia faculty.”
The petition also claimed that Massad had a history of making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks in his classes and writings, and that he had violated the university’s code of conduct and academic freedom.
In response to the petition, hundreds of academics and students signed an open letter in support of Massad, saying that the petition was based on “incendiary and defamatory” allegations that misrepresented Massad’s article and attacked his “right to academic freedom”. The letter also said that Massad’s article was a “scholarly analysis” that did not endorse or celebrate violence, but rather examined its political implications.
“We unequivocally condemn this attempt to silence Professor Massad’s voice and to intimidate him and others who share his views,” the letter said. “We affirm our solidarity with Professor Massad and our commitment to defend academic freedom and free speech on campus.”
Massad himself defended his article in an interview with Middle East Eye, saying that he was not surprised by the backlash, as he had faced similar attacks in the past for his criticism of Israel. He said that he did not advocate or justify violence, but rather explained its causes and consequences.
“I am not interested in violence or non-violence. I am interested in justice,” he said. “And justice requires ending Israeli colonialism and apartheid, which are the root causes of this conflict.”
Massad also said that he did not feel threatened by the petition or the calls for his removal, as he had the support of many colleagues and students at Columbia University. He said that he would continue to speak his mind and challenge the dominant narratives on Israel-Palestine.
“I have been teaching at Columbia for 25 years, and I have never compromised my principles or my scholarship,” he said. “I will not be silenced or intimidated by anyone.”
Columbia University has not issued any official statement on the matter so far. However, some sources told Insider that the university was unlikely to fire Massad, as he had tenure and academic freedom protections.
Israel launched its offensive on October 7, following a surprise attack by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups that killed 1,300 Israelis and took at least 100 Israelis hostage. Israel said it was targeting Hamas militants and infrastructure, but its air strikes have also hit residential buildings, schools, hospitals and media offices.
According to the latest figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, at least 1,900 Palestinians have been killed and 7,696 wounded since Israel launched its offensive. Among the Palestinian casualties, 2,000 are children and 1,400 are women.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the situation in Gaza and call for an immediate ceasefire. However, previous attempts to broker a truce have failed, as both sides have rejected each other’s conditions.