New York

A textbook case

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A two-page Sunday spread on a dispute over radical professors at Columbia University has the Daily News returning to familiar territory: Twice in the past two years the newspaper has taken schools to task for the way they teach controversial subjects, especially those involving Jews and Muslims.

The November 22 story by Douglas Feiden, headlined “Vile Words Of Hate That Shame Top University,” reported on complaints from students and faculty who said some Columbia professors ridicule or silence people who try to defend Israel’s right to exist.

The News focused particular scorn on department chairman Hamid Dabashi, who has called Israel a “ghastly state of racism and apartheid.” The News also listed six “firebrands” on Columbia’s faculty, including anthropology professor Nicholas De Genova, who claims that patriotism is “inseparable from imperial warfare and white supremacy.”

The News has walked this beat before, sometimes appropriately. In March 2003, News reporter Larry Cohler-Esses found that some of New York’s Islamic schools were using books containing anti-Semitic passages, including one book in a Long Island City school that told kids, “the Jews killed their own prophets and disobeyed Allah.” Another book read: “The reasons for Jewish hostility lies in their general characteristics.” The News ran two follow-ups to the story, and the paper editorialized that New York State “shouldn’t register schools that are in the business of warping young minds. And it shouldn’t be a partner in bias crimes in the making.”

Talking about Jews’ “general characteristics” obviously gets into territory where textbooks shouldn’t tread. And Columbia students ought to be able to say whatever they want in defense of Israel.

By the same token, the “vile words of hate” by professors Dabashi and De Genova also ought to be heard as part of the flow of ideas that is part of university life. But the News has indicated before that it deems certain ideas off-limits. In December 2002, Feiden and Allison Gendar reported on textbooks containing political statements to which the News objected.

“Ever wonder what your children might be learning when they hit the books in the New York City public schools?” read the 2002 story, which also slammed other books that contained plain inaccuracies. “A kinder, gentler definition of jihad. It really means ‘to do one’s best to resist temptation and overcome evil.'” Another book had the impudence to ask, “What are the three main reasons certain Muslims became angry with the United States?” and, “Why does American foreign policy anger Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East?”