NEW YORK (JTA) – Some students and alumni of Ramaz are protesting the Manhattan Orthodox high school’s decision to rescind an invitation to Arab-American academic Rashid Khalidi.
Ramaz’s student-run politics society had issued the invitation to Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, but the talk was nixed by Ramaz’s head of school, Paul Shaviv. The controversy was first reported by the website Mondoweiss.
Khalidi, who was born in New York to a Saudi-Palestinian father and Lebanese mother, lived in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war and was associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization. As a professor, he has said that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation have a legal right to resistance and has charged supporters of Israel with using McCarthyite tactics to silence honest debate in America about the Middle East, including falsely accusing him of anti-Semitism.
After Shaviv’s decision, Ramaz students began an online petition calling for the event to be reinstated.
“I believe it is critical that Ramaz students are exposed to different perspectives and that open dialogue be encouraged at Ramaz — not limited,” the petition says. “I call upon Head of School Mr. Shaviv to realize how important academic equitability is to the Ramaz community and reverse his prohibition on Professor Khalidi’s address.”
As of Friday morning, the petition had garnered more than 150 signatures. One signatory, Dartmouth Hillel student president Asher Mayerson, wrote: “As a Jewish Day School graduate and a Hillel President, I support bringing open conversations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Jewish communal spaces.”
In a statement issued to JTA on Friday, Shaviv said he was working with students to “navigate a delicate political situation, respecting their wish for open exchange of ideas, but also being mindful of multiple sensitivities within our varied school constituencies.”
The statement from Ramaz said, “The issue is not whether or not students should hear another view – they should. Our question was: ‘Is this the appropriate program?’”
The school’s administration said it believed the controversy would “massively overshadow any conversation and would make an educational experience impossible,” and that Khalidi was not the right partner for dialogue with high school students. Shaviv said he met with Khalidi and amicably explained the situation to him, and Ramaz’s statement said the school is “working with the politics club to arrange an event that will provide the program content they originally envisaged.”
The controversy at Ramaz comes amid a wide debate in the American Jewish community about how open Jewish institutions should be to debate about Israel. Much of the recent focus has been on college campuses, with a few Hillel chapters torn between whether or not to allow the participation of Jewish groups or students supportive of the movement to use boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Earlier this week, Vassar’s Jewish Student Union announced it was becoming an “open Hillel,” repudiating Hillel International’s guidelines rejecting partnerships with groups deemed hostile toward Israel.