Ramaz says, Jewish high schoolers can handle Beinart, but Khalidi would overpower them

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Rashid Khalidi.
Rashid Khalidi.

Last week we broke the news that Ramaz, an orthodox school on the Upper East Side of New York, had overruled a student club’s invitation to Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian scholar and former diplomat. And that the students had bridled, organizing a petition to force the school to reverse the ban (267 signatures so far).

The story has now moved forward. Let’s catch up.

The New York Times’ Jacob Sotak reports that the idea of inviting Khalidi was seeded by Peter Beinart, the liberal Zionist, during a “presentation” at the school. Beinart writes in Haaretz that he was a guest of the Ramaz Politics Society last year and suggested they ask the “world-renowned expert on Palestinian history.”

Khalidi agreed; the students were thrilled. He was set to speak on February 19

The Forward picks up a letter from Paul Shaviv, head of School, to the Ramaz community:

When I learned of this invitation, I, along with others, felt that the controversy would be inevitable and would massively overshadow any conversation, and make an educational experience impossible. Professor Khalidi, who is an international personality of great political stature, was not the right partner for “dialogue” with high school students, and we needed to cancel his visit….

Shaviv expanded on why Khalidi is not an appropriate partner in an interview with the Times:

Mr. Shaviv described Professor Khalidi, whom he overlapped with briefly while at Oxford, as a “world-class academic,” but suggested that any dialogue between the professor and students would be distinctly imbalanced.

“It would be a bit like inviting the head of our high school tennis team to play an exhibition match with Andre Agassi,” he said. “We are not a university. We are not a graduate institute on the Middle East and politics. We are not a political organization. We are a high school. Given the sensitivity of this issue, this was simply not an appropriate or balanced dialogue.”

So if Khalidi is Agassi, what does that make Peter Beinart? The tennis pro at the country club? I can’t believe that. The issue is essentially religious and racial. Beinart is a Jew and a Zionist. Khalidi is Palestinian and not a Zionist.

In his letter on the schoolhouse door, Shaviv says he even met with Khalidi. This sounds very painful indeed:

In an effort to maintain a professional and respectful relationship with Professor Khalidi, it was very important that I meet with him personally to explain why we did not think his visit was appropriate. After an amicable and civilized discussion, which included a recognition that we were both graduate students at Oxford at the same time, he acknowledged he understood the issues at hand. The entire school appreciates Professor Khalidi’s realistic understanding of the school’s position.

Khalidi (a friend) is nothing if not courtly. It seems to me he was being kind to Shaviv, and absorbing the insult with the same nobility that he displayed when Barack Obama threw him under the bus. More of Shaviv’s explanation:

Please note that the issue has never been about whether or not students should hear another view; they should. Our question was, “Is this the appropriate program?” To this end, we are working with RamPo to arrange an event that will provide the program content they originally envisioned.

Throughout this process, I have been speaking to the RamPo students and have come to admire their passion and engagement.

Yes but they’re not mature enough to hear from the ferocious overpowering Khalidi. The tragic fragile Jewish community, committing intellectual suicide. Yes and who will draw the line between racism and pedagogy?

PS. Here’s some video of mine of Khalidi in Brooklyn last November, explaining what the negotiators mean by a Palestinian state. Scary, huh?

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“It would be a bit like inviting the head of our high school tennis team to play an exhibition match with Andre Agassi,” the students would not be in competition with Khalidi, this is a false paradigm. the students are there to learn, as observers. it is the palestinian narrative… Read more »

“So if Khalidi is Agassi, what does that make Peter Beinart? The tennis pro at the country club?”

Nice, Phil!

(Wouldn’t you like to know!!)

Maybe RamPo can find a Palestinian speaker with training wheels (a third-rate degree and a stutter?).

I can “understand” that Mr. Shaviv and others fear Rashid Khalidi, the first time I saw him on a panel he drew my attention maybe not least since it was also my also my first visual encounter with Martin Indyk. I guess that is an American Jewish standard? Thus I… Read more »

Students learn from their experiences, perhaps more vividly and forcefully from having their invitation overruled by authority (valuable oppression), than by what Khalidi might have said. I am reminded of Noah Feldman’s NYTimes Magazine article, Orthodox Paradox about being excluded from Maimonides School alumni publications when he started dating a… Read more »