Baruch Requires Students Read Book Some Are Labeling Anti-Semitic
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Baruch College students and a CUNY trustee are charging that the college’s required reading for incoming freshmen this year, “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” is racist and anti-Semitic and therefore violates CUNY’s bylaws.
In the 2002 book, the author, Chris Hedges, a former New York Times reporter, recounts his experiences as a foreign correspondent covering war-torn areas around the world and relays lessons he gained. In one passage, Mr. Hedges describes the actions of Israeli soldiers in a Palestinian refugee camp as follows: “I had seen children shot in other conflicts I had covered … but I had never watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.”
Mr. Hedges’s book is “extremely hateful towards Israeli and Jewish nationalities,” a student, Joel Ney, wrote in the college newspaper, citing Mr. Hedges’s mockery in the book of Argentinean anti-Semitism and his statement that the creation of the state of Israel was a “profound injustice” to the Palestinian people.
“There is no place for the encouragement of any racist or ethnic hatred towards any group on campus,” Mr. Ney wrote. He did not respond to an e-mail message seeking comment.
A spokeswoman for the college, Carol Abrams, said a group of English professors chose the book in an effort to create common ground for the exchange of ideas between the students, faculty, staff, and administrators who are involved in freshmen seminars. The Baruch College Web site says the book “figures prominently in a freshman’s transition into college.”
Mr. Hedges will deliver the keynote address at the college’s convocation ceremony and may return to the campus in the fall to discuss his book.
“We recognize that some students have had intense reactions to parts of Mr. Hedges’s book and his opinions. Preparing students to deal with controversy and to learn how to respond to ideas that challenge their own views has always been a key objective in choosing a freshman text,” Ms. Abrams said, adding, “The use of the book complies with all CUNY bylaws.”
The college each year requires incoming freshman all read a single book. Past requirements have included George Orwell’s “1984,” Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation,” Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” and Philip Gourevitch’s “We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.”
“This is not a valid book to provide an introduction to incoming freshmen. Assigning it is a mistake,” a CUNY trustee, Jeffrey Weisenfeld, said, calling the book “deeply offensive” and “anti-Semitic.”
“Baruch has always been a flagship school, and I am extra displeased to see that this is the particular venue in which this polemic has emerged,” Mr. Weisenfeld added. He said the required book should be either a recognized classic or one authored by a specialist in an academic field.
The executive director of the Baruch College Hillel, Abe Tawil, a long-time faculty member, was less alarmed by the choice of Mr. Hedges’s book. While Dr. Tawil said “some passages are objectionable,” he expressed his regard for those who selected the book and for the selection process. “Overall, the book was selected for its anti-war and anti-violence themes,” he said, “but no process is infallible.”
This is not the first time Mr. Hedges has aroused strong feelings. He was booed off the stage in May 2003 when he delivered an anti-war commencement address at Rockford College in Illinois. In the address, Mr. Hedges said Americans were becoming “tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. Isolation always impairs judgment and we are very isolated now.”
Mr. Hedges did not return an e-mail message sent through his agent yesterday.