‘Perspectives on Zionism’ class canceled due to no enrollment

The class was opposed by student and community Jewish groups.

A proposed Honors College tutorial class entitled “Perspectives on Zionism,” which was greeted with criticism from students and the community, will no longer be offered in the fall 2015 semester.

The course, proposed by George Smith, professor emeritus in biological science, was canceled due to lack of enrollment. Smith said he was unable to recruit during the enrollment period and believes that is why there was no interest in the class.

“Professors have to work to recruit students to these courses,” Smith said. “Otherwise students would have to notice that (the class) was offered, and not many students do that.”

Smith had planned on teaching students in his class about the philosophy and political ideology at the core of the Zionist movement, which arose in the 1900s in response to anti-Semitism. Part of the core beliefs of Zionism is that the natural homeland of the Jewish people is the current-day state of Israel, which was once part of Palestine.

Smith said the course would not have delved into the history of Israel as much as it would focus on the ideas of Zionism, but, he added, “You can’t separate the two.” Key documents about Zionism and its creation were to be examined as well as two books, one written by a pro-Zionist and one by an anti-Zionist.

But the syllabus was not the reason this course was opposed by student and community groups. The class was also criticized because of Smith’s academic background and his personal beliefs. Smith said he is an anti-Zionist.

MU senior Chantelle Moghadam, president and co-founder of Students Supporting Israel at MU, said the group was against the class because the motives behind it were questionable. The group started a letter-writing campaign to Honors College Director Nancy West in hopes of getting the class canceled.

“Students Supporting Israel was against this class taking place at Mizzou because we were sure that ‘Perspectives on Zionism’ was simply going to be a front for Dr. George Smith to spew anti-Israel propaganda,” Moghadam said in an email.

Moghadam also cited how his degree and area of profession do not correlate with Smith teaching the course.

“He is a biology professor who holds no degree in International Relations, Middle Eastern Studies or any other related subject,” she said.

This had been examined by the Honors College’s curriculum committee, though, before they approved the course. The committee meets with professors who are proposing courses and asks them questions about the subject and their syllabus. After the meeting, the committee either approves or rejects the proposed course.

“Although George Smith is a biologist by profession, he has been studying the Israel/Palestine conflict, and Zionism in general, intensely for a dozen years (and less intensely for a decade before that),” West wrote in an email conversation with Provost Garnett Stokes. “He is very familiar with the standard secondary sources in English, especially from Jewish sources and to a somewhat lesser extent from Arab sources.”

Smith said the committee did question his qualifications for teaching the class because of his activism, as well.

“To his credit, Dr. Smith didn’t deny that activism can be seen as a disqualification,” West wrote to Stokes. “As he expressed it, teachers who use their power over students to proselytize for a particular political, religious or other viewpoint are abusing obvious standards of academic integrity. We are absolutely confident that Dr. Smith is not that sort of dishonest teacher.”

Smith said he would have looked for diversity in students’ viewpoints to create more discussion and maybe even arguments between him and his students.

“If I had recruited, I would have tried to recruit about the same number of students that were anti- and pro-Zionist, and it wouldn’t be a debate, but an intellectual study about the issues that currently form the concepts of the Zionist movement,” he said. “It would be useful to have people on both sides.”

Smith said he might propose the class again for the fall 2016 semester. If he does, he would have to go through the application process again, including the meeting with the Honors College curriculum committee.

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