Ramaz, Orthodox Manhattan high school, nixes Rashid Khalidi talk

NEW YORK (JTA) — Some students and alumni of Ramaz, an Orthodox high school in Manhattan, are protesting the school’s decision to rescind an invitation to Rashid Khalidi, a Columbia University professor known in the Jewish community for his criticism of Israel.

Ramaz’s student-run politics society had issued the invitation to Khalidi,  the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, but the talk apparently was nixed by Ramaz’s head of school, Paul Shaviv. The controversy was first reported by the website Mondoweiss.

Calls Friday by JTA to Shaviv and Ramaz’s communications coordinator went unanswered.

After Shaviv’s ban on Khalidi’s talk, Ramaz students began an online petition to pressure Shaviv to reverse his decision.

“I believe it is critical that Ramaz students are exposed to different perspectives and that open dialogue be encouraged at Ramaz — not limited,” the petition says. “I call upon Head of School Mr. Shaviv to realize how important academic equitability is to the Ramaz community and reverse his prohibition on Professor Khalidi’s address.”

As of Friday morning, the petition had garnered more than 150 signatures.

Khalidi, who was born in New York to a Saudi-Palestinian father and Lebanese mother, lived in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war and was associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization. As a professor, he has said that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation have a legal right to resistance and charged supporters of Israel with using McCarthyite tactics to silence honest debate in America about the Middle East, including false accusations against him of anti-Semitism.

The controversy at Ramaz comes amid a wide debate in the American Jewish community about how open Jewish institutions should be to debate about Israel. Much of the recent focus has been on college campuses, with a few Hillel chapters torn between whether or not to allow the participation of Jewish groups and students supportive of the movement to use boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

As news of the Ramaz-Khalidi controversy spread, the Hillel president at Dartmouth, Asher Mayerson, joined the signatories of the petition to allow Khalidi to speak.

“As a Jewish Day School graduate and a Hillel President, I support bringing open conversations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Jewish communal spaces,” Mayerson wrote.

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