Columbia University President Lee Bollinger informed Israel's consul general in New York, Arie Meckel, on Wednesday that a university-sponsored conference, "Revisiting the Middle East Peace Process," scheduled to have taken place on Thursday, was postponed indefinitely.
The conference was postponed due to heavy pressure by Jewish groups, who claim the motives for hosting the conference were questionable. The groups said the university decided to hold the conference a month ahead of the publication of a report on a wave of recent complaints targeting Arab faculty members and their attitude toward Jewish students. "Holding the conference while a committee is still investigating complaints against the university is an obvious ploy to divert attention from the severity of the allegations," the head of a Jewish organization in New York said.
University officials denied any correlation between the probe and the conference, saying the seminar had been planned months ago.
Israel's Ambassador the United States Danny Ayalon, who was supposed to participate in the conference said he would boycott the meeting. Also set to speak were former consul general Alon Pinkas, columnist Tom Segev, Professor Rashid Khalidi, Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S. Nabil Ismae Fahmy, and Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns.
At the heart of the controversy were a series of complaints were made by Jewish students, who claim that certain professors in the university's Middle Eastern Studies department hold clearly anti-Israel positions and discriminate against students who try to present different positions.
The conference was being organized by Columbia University's Center for International Conflict Resolution, of which former senator George Mitchell is a Senior Fellow.
Sources in the Israeli Embassy in Washington said Tuesday that Ayalon's decision not to participate in the event was made after consultations with the heads of the Jewish community in the United States, "due to Jewish students' claims of intimidation by university staff."
The sources noted that despite the importance the ambassador sees in maintaining academic freedom, all efforts should be made to ensure that this freedom is not exploited to intimidate students.
Columbia University, one of the most highly-respected institutions of higher education in the U.S., established a committee to look into claims made by a dozen Jewish students that professors in the Middle Eastern Studies department use their classes to spread anti-Israel positions. The students also claimed that those professors do not allow Israel supporters to express their views in class.
Members of the Jewish community claimed recently that Columbia University does not adequately acknowledge the aforementioned complaints, and that the investigation has gone on for far too long.
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