Columbia University’s Latest Anti-Semitic Inanity: “Palestinian Hebrews”

Joseph Massad teaches at Columbia University on Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History. In addition to his coursework, he publishes essays in places like Middle East Eye which give the general public a small taste of what he is teaching to students at the Ivy League institution.

Tenured Columbia University professor Joseph Massad appearing on Russian news

Massad concocted a bizarre phrase called “Palestinian Hebrews” in recent articles. In order to understand this new noun, it is best to see how Massad used his invented term.

In one article, Massad wroteZionists deployed this originally antisemitic claim to argue that modern European Jews are somehow rooted in Palestine in order to render them fantastically the descendants of ancient Palestinian Hebrews.

In another article, he used the expression twice:

  • Like France and Italy, the European Jewish Zionists claimed to be descendants of the ancient Palestinian Hebrews and to be merely “returning” to their ancient land. Israel, which established a Jewish majority by expelling the majority of the Palestinian people in 1948, voted against the 1952 UN resolution recognising Tunisian and Moroccan self-determination.
  • Socialist pan-Arab nationalism was castigated by the French as reactionary and seeking to re-establish “Islamic” glories. By contrast, the pan-Jewishism of European Zionism, which sought to recreate the “Judaic” glories of the Palestinian Hebrews, who were appropriated as the ancestors of European converts to Judaism, was depicted as progressive and socialist.

The absurd phrase reveals Massad’s anti-Semitism on two levels.

The first anti-Semitic assertion of this Columbia professor is that Jews are not really Jews. According to this professor’s narrative, today’s “European Jews” who peddle “European Zionism” are not ancestors of biblical Jews but only of “European converts to Judaism.” Jews have lied to themselves and the world that they are descendants of the Jews in the bible.

Massad believes that the small number of European Jews who managed to survive the forced expulsions, conversions, Inquisitions, pogroms and the Holocaust are disgraceful liars. They’re just a band of thieves who adopted a story from the bible. The anti-Semitic world which persecuted Jews for their faith were in truth attacking charlatans according to this tenured anti-Semitic Palestinian professor.

The second anti-Semitic lie told by Massad is that the real Jews in the Old Testament are “ancient Palestinian Hebrews.” He attempts to strip the Jews out of the bible and replace them – presumably – with a new group of people who are somehow tied to Arabs.

The claim is of course, nonsense. Arabs did not come to the Jewish holy land en masse until the Muslim invasions of the 7th and 8th century, over 1,000 years from the writings of the Old Testament and over 500 years from the writing of the New Testament. The land wasn’t rebranded “Syria Palestina” until the year 135CE, well after Jesus died. The Koran, written hundreds of years later, never used the word “Palestine.”

But Massad has absurdly attempted to purge the ancient Jews from the holy land and replace them with an early version of today’s Palestinian Arabs called “ancient Palestinian Hebrews.” Not Jews of Judea, the way Roman historian Josephus wrote then (Judea is mentioned over 100 times in The War of the Jews), but Palestinian Hebrews.

The transparent purposes of stripping Jews of their history and falsely replacing them with “ancient Palestinian Hebrews” is a pathetic attempt to assert that Jews do not have thousands of years of history in the land of Israel, and that Palestinian Arabs are somehow the real biblical Jews. It is cultural appropriation of the most heinous kind, breeding lies and anti-Semitism. In its most gentle form, it presents as the idiocy behind Linda Sarsour and Bella Hadid claims that Jesus was a Palestinian. In its most violent, it manifests in the foundational Hamas Charter which calls for the destruction of Jews and the Jewish State because of their “usurption of Palestine.”

The anti-Semitic Lexicon has a new phrase, “Palestinian Hebrews”, courtesy of a tenured professor at Columbia University. Expect to see it wherever anti-Semites and anti-Zionists are found.

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Columbia University has claimed to be a champion of free speech. It was in that spirit that it invited the noted anti-Semite Malaysian Prime Minster Mahathir Mohamad to speak on campus in September 2019. Mohamad has called Jews “hook-nosed,” said they “rule the world by proxy” and questioned the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. He has even said he is “glad to be labeled anti-Semitic.”

That same week, seemingly to make the Jewish students on campus feel particularly unwelcome, one of Columbia’s professors, Lis Harris, released her book “In Jerusalem.” The student-run Columbia Spectator magazine reviewed the book in its Winter 2019-20 edition.

The review was shocking in seemingly endorsing the author’s contentions that Israel is an oppressor of Palestinians without adding any facts or context.

The article is set up to inform the reader that the book will have a natural “pro-Israel” tenor, as the author Lis Harris “grew up in a secular Jewish family in the United States fully alert, she says, ‘to the wrongs done to the beleaguered Jews across the ocean,’ but with little sense of the ‘wrongs done to the Palestinian people.’” Ah, if someone with a pro-Israel bias can see how terrible Israel is, it certainly must be true. The birth of a woke anti-Zionist is a cause for a progressive party.

Facts in the review and/or the book were seemingly few in the offering.

We are told that the book tries to look at the conflict through the lens of two families, a Jewish one living in “West Jerusalem” and a Palestinian one “living across the border wall in East Jerusalem.” This is fiction. There is no “border wall” between “West Jerusalem” and “East Jerusalem.” In 1967, Israel tore down the fence that divided the Jerusalem after Jordan illegally attacked Israel, and reunited the holy city. There is no West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem, and the fence which had existed from 1949 to 1967 was explicitly declared to NOT be a border by Israel and Jordan in their Armistice agreement. The “security barrier” which Israel began to erect in 2002 to stop the terrorism of Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank is to the east of unified Jerusalem.

Perhaps the facts make the author’s shuttle diplomacy seem less daring, but it’s a sad intro for a writer “who spent more than ten years gathering research and interviews for the book.” The book established zero credibility from the outset.

The review then moves from the gross inaccuracies to ignoring Jewish history and blessing Arab terrorists.

We are informed that the stories in the book are told by “accomplished women” and intelligent and respected family members who “want peace and a fair solution to the conflict.” The Jewish woman’s aunt escaped Nazi Germany who found asylum in Mandatory Palestine “as a refuge from violence.” There is no mention that Mandatory Palestine was designed to REESTABLISH the Jewish homeland years before Nazis came to power. Jews were not dumped into Mandatory Palestine in a reaction to the Holocaust; the land of Israel has been the Jewish homeland for 3,700 years. Modern Zionism pushed for Jewish sovereignty in that land decades before the State of Israel came into being. That’s why Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since the 1860’s, all facts not covered in the review and presumably not in the book.

This Jewish aunt “is juxtaposed with the experience of Niveen’s [the Arab’s] aunt. At twenty-one, Rasema Odeh was accused of terrorism, illegally tortured, and served ten years at the Ramla prison… Rasmea’s story is shocking, but the chapter devoted to it is one of the book’s best.” The review made it sound like Odeh was a poor victim, unjustly “accused of terrorism.” It neglected to state that she was convicted of terrorism in which she placed a bomb at a supermarket killing two civilians (her accomplices openly admitted such on Palestinian TV). It failed to state that Odeh lied about the events in getting a visa into the United States in 1994 and was stripped of her citizenship in 2017 and deported. It failed to note that many countries – including Germany in 2019 – banned her from speaking in public and denied her a visa as she calls violence against Israel. The mayor of Berlin said about Odeh that “anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic resentments, wrapped up in liberation rhetoric, have no business here. I am glad that we have found a way to stop this propaganda.

This “juxtaposition” of a Holocaust survivor finding refuge at the expense of Palestinian Arabs seems to take a page out of the book of pathological liar U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) who claimed she found comfort that her ancestors created a safe haven for Jews when they actually did everything they could to kill the Jews and/or keep them out of Palestine. It is called Seeing the Holocaust Through Nakba Eyes, which turns the Jews from victims to oppressors, and the Palestinians from participants in the Holocaust to victims themselves.

The article continues with more inanity such as “Harris is clear-sighted and firm in her own view that the Israeli government is more oppressor than victim. She does not condemn the Palestinian people fighting to live in their occupied home of East Jerusalem (but neither will she excuse the violence of Hamas).”  No commentary that the Arab population in the eastern part of Jerusalem has grown FOUR TIMES since 1967, a rate that surpasses the population growth of Arabs in any neighboring country. It also neglects to mention that Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem have the option of becoming Israeli citizens and thousands have opted to do so. Palestinians aren’t “fighting to live;” they are fighting to evict the Jews and destroy the Jewish State.

The Spectator adds that “Harris was able to comment on President Trump’s rash recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” Rash? Was President Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948 also rash? The snide comment didn’t even attempt to hide the reviewer’s bias.

In summation, the review states that “through the people she comes to know in Israel and Palestine, Lis Harris sees hope, and this brave new book ultimately helps us see it too.” Palestine? The United States recognizes no such country. And to the extent that it recognizes “Palestinian Territories,” those are limited to Gaza and Areas A and B, and certainly not “in Jerusalem.”


Columbia University has chapters of anti-Israel hate groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace as student-run groups on campus. Their voices seem to have penetrated not only the student-run paper and magazine but the University itself which includes a faculty with anti-Israel authors and promoters of boycotts of Israel, and enabled the invitation of proud anti-Semites like the Prime Minister of Malaysia onto its campus. Beyond the student agitators, maybe the university’s anti-Israel platform was purchased by foreign donors like Saudi Arabia who pumped more than $193 million into Columbia between 2011 and 2017.

In October 2019, a report entitled “A Hotbed for Hate” produced by the Alumni for Campus Fairness listed over 100 anti-Jewish incidents at Columbia and Barnard since the 2016/7 academic year. In addition to the on-campus activities like a swastika painted on a Jewish professor’s office, the report listed numerous faculty members who deny the history of Jews as well as peddle forms of Holocaust denial.

At the very moment when antisemitism is on the rise, the murder of Jews is becoming commonplace and the demonization of Israel is accepted, it is a travesty that New York City’s only Ivy League school gives credibility, honor and an open mic to such vile sentiments.


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