Opinions in the Classroom

November 6, 2008

There is a lot of talk about biases, allegiances, expressing opinions, etc. in the academic world, especially in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Many on the pro-Israel side accuse Middle East studies professors, associations, and students in American and other academic circles as being one-sided, too pro-Palestinian, or anti-Israel. There is a lot of truth to these accusations. However, the issue is not black and white and there are differences between being pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, less supportive of Israel than your neighbor, anti-Semitic, left-wing, etc. It is not useful to paint everyone with the same brush, nor is it useful to attack people solely because their opinions are different than your own. There are lines, and when these lines are crossed, people should be held accountable. However, for example, people need to understand that just because someone does not support Israel to the same extent as they do, that does not necessarily make that person anti-Israel.

On that note, and the real reason I began writing this post, is because I wanted to share something that happened in the classroom today. I hope to write more on this later, but of course Obama talk is very prevalent at AUC and around Cairo these days, and my professor was asking us if we were happy that Obama was elected. Of course the class was unanimously thrilled. However, one student, who is a very nice woman though she and I disagree on a lot of things, decided to add “yes, but he offered Rahm Emanuel the job of chief of staff, and he is a little too Zionist, so that is not good.”

Now, now. We are all entitled to our opinions. However, I was upset by this comment. First of all, I found it ironic that this same woman who was literally jumping up and down with excitement the day of the election in anticipation of Obama’s win, who did not come to school the day after because she stayed up all night watching the results, who told me that anyone who would vote for McCain is “retarded,” is already criticizing Obama’s decision making skills. I thought he was supposed to be perfect? I support Obama, but I was never under the illusion (or delusion) that he is perfect or that once he was elected, all of America’s problems were going to just disappear into thin air.

More importantly, the discussion of Rahm Emanuel’s politics, history regarding Israel, his father, etc, and being upset about these things I have no problem with. However, to me, the comment made in class served no purpose and was out of context of the discussion, unnecessary, and inciting. Personally, I try not make comments that I think could be inciting or might offend other people even if such a sentiment might be warranted based on my opinion. Especially in a classroom, especially when we are not really talking about politics, and especially when I know there are other people around who might disagree with it and/or find it offensive.

Not to mention the fact the Emanuel is the fourth ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, and by that logic is qualified for the job. Israel is not the only issue he will be dealing with and hence should not be qualified or disqualified for the job solely based on that criteria.

Anyway, these are the types of comments I hear often in Middle East studies academic circles.