Film Screening and Discussion with the Director: “Some of My Best Friends Are Zionists” (March 25, 7PM)

Directed by Bruce Robbins
March 25, 2016 | 7 PM
Martin E. Segal Theatre
The Graduate Center, CUNY

Some of My Best Friends are Zionist pdf

About the Film
How do people change their minds? On a subject like the Middle East, positions are so entrenched and feelings run so deep that it sometimes seems no change is possible. Yet, even in the heart of the American-Jewish community, there is more diversity of opinion than one might imagine from the statements ofthe official Jewish organizations or the reports of the mainstream media. Change appears to be happening. “Some of My Best Friends Are Zionists” interviews both young people like 11th grader Jesse Lieberfeld, who won the Martin Luther King Award in 2012 for an essay comparing uncritical support for Israel to the role played by segregationists in the white south, and notable Jewish artists and intellectuals like Tony Kushner, Judith Butler, James Schamus, and Gary Shteyngart, asking them what they were told about Israel as they were growing up, why that world view was as compelling as it was, and how they came to change their minds. The film is not about the history of the issue; it’s not a polemic for one political position or another. It’s about how people change their minds.

About the Director
Bruce Robbins is the Old Dominion Professor in the Humanities in Columbia University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature. In 2012 he published Perpetual War: Cosmopolitanism from the Viewpoint of Violence, a book of essays on figures including Anthony Appiah, Noam Chomsky, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Edward Said, framed by a discussion of the concept of cosmopolitanism and how it has developed over the past three decade.

Introduction: Oyku Tekten (English Department, The Graduate Center)
Moderator: Tony Alessandrini (Kingsborough Community College & The Graduate Center)

Screening Co-sponsors:
KAF Collective (Brooklyn/Istanbul/Tel Aviv)
Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (CUNY Graduate Center)
Middle Eastern Studies Organization (CUNY Graduate Center)
Critical Palestine Studies Association (CUNY Graduate Center)
The Center for Place, Culture, and Politics (CUNY Graduate Center)
The Committee on Globalization and Social Change (CUNY Graduate Center)
The Space Time Research Collective (CUNY Graduate Center)

Faculty Letter to President Robinson Concerning Dr. Bakalian’s Replacement // Show Your Support!!

We are sharing below the faculty letter to President Robinson expressing concern over the replacement of Dr. Bakalian after her retirement. You can read the letters on the same issue by MA and PhD students here. If you are not affiliated with MEMEAC but would like to show your support, please sign the letter of support here.


March 1, 2016

Dear President Robinson:

We the undersigned CUNY faculty are writing to express our grave professional concern about the CUNY Graduate Center’s plans to replace the Associate Director of MEMEAC Dr. Anny Bakalian, after her retirement, with a part-time college assistant. This proposed change in staffing will have a devastating impact on MEMEAC, an intellectual and interdisciplinary home for many faculty in Middle Eastern Studies at CUNY, and on its MA program, which is a nationally and internationally recognized academic success, a prestigious asset, and highly profitable for the Graduate Center.

While we recognize that under any circumstances it would be difficult to find someone with Dr. Bakalian’s talents, expertise and dedication to the position, our experience tells us that for MEMEAC and its MA program to continue to grow and flourish Anny must be replaced with a full-time HEO of similar qualification, able to serve under the same terms of reference. We understand the Graduate Center’s need to cut costs where possible, but feel strongly that trying to save money with this position would be fundamentally counter-productive. With no central line Graduate Center faculty hired to teach in the MA in Middle Eastern Studies program, and with MEMEAC’s director engaged with many other teaching, administrative, and advising tasks, to have the day to day administration, coordination, and advising of the MA program run by a part-timer and perhaps a rotating cast of graduate student helpers would, almost certainly, ensure the slow demise of that program. The duties of the Associate Director are myriad and include working with international students, coordinating teaching and activities across various CUNY campuses, as well as running the MA program and coordinating our offerings with various PhD programs and their students.

More widely, MEMEAC’s academic and cultural credibility, which relates to the all-important matter of fundraising, depends significantly on the nationally and internationally-rated cultural and scholastic events that have become its trademark. These are the dedicated responsibility of the Associate Director, demanding a specialist facility, long and flexible hours, diplomatic and many other related skills, and self-evident contemporary authority likely to be far beyond what can be reasonably required from a part-time college assistant. By making the latter sort of appointment, these value-added but essential functions of MEMEAC will quickly deteriorate, eventually leaving little of what has been achieved during the last fifteen years.

Over and above the MA program, MEMEAC has consistently been one of the top centers in New York for cultural and academic events related to the Middle East. It now easily competes with Columbia and NYU in that regard, despite having fewer resources. MEMEAC’s unique place in New York, without a full-time HEO Associate Director, would quickly be diminished. This would not only have a negative impact on the morale and intellectual lives of CUNY’s MEMEAC affiliated faculty, but would also jeopardize the Center’s attractiveness to future donors, visiting scholars, presenters and performers. Should MEMEAC become less active in this outreach role, other centers, such as ALWAN and the increasingly active New York campus of the Lebanese American University, would quickly take its place, and in relatively close-knit Middle Eastern circles this would soon be widely known, compounding the rate of MEMEAC’s decline.

At a time when the Graduate Center is actively seeking ideas for new MA programs, it defies logic to destabilize one of our most successful and flourishing programs. We urge you to reconsider the decision to replace Dr. Bakalian with a part-time college assistant and respectfully request a meeting at your earliest convenience to further discuss the matter.

Yours sincerely,

52 faculty across 15 CUNY campuses signed this letter, including distinguished professors.

Open Letters by MA and PhD Students to President Robinson about the Replacement of Dr. Bakalian, Associate Director of Middle East & Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC)

10 March 2016

Dear President Robinson,

We the students of the Master’s Program in Middle Eastern Studies (MA-MES) at the Graduate Center, CUNY, have serious concerns regarding the replacement of Dr. Anny Bakalian, the Associate Director, with a part time college assistant upon her retirement. We believe this decision would have a deleterious effect on the quality of our education and negatively impact the number of master’s students in the future.

The Associate Director assumes a series of mediations that begin with prospective applicants when we consider applying to the MA-MES Program. Her guidance becomes even more crucial when we enroll and start taking courses, and eventually complete the 30 credits and graduate. Students’ time in the master’s program follows widely divergent trajectories; however, the Associate Director is the one person who connects each student to the Graduate Center and makes sure that their experience is personalized and positive. Services offered include individualized advising depending on each student’s future goals, such as locating a thesis advisor for those taking the PhD route, or choosing
an internship and focus on a capstone project for those seeking professional employment. The language requirement of the program entails many conversations with the Associate Director—where to study Arabic or another Middle Eastern language; summer abroad experiences, and which universities issues graduate credits for transfer. Many of us remember our encouraging exchanges with Dr. Bakalian before deciding to join the program. Further, out of state and international students recall helpful advice on managing the move to New York City, as well as taking advantage of its vast resources such as institutes, museums and performances at affordable prices. We have met many of
the MA-MES alumni who regularly return to the Graduate Center for MEMEAC activities and we are grateful for this amazing networking opportunity. In short, the Associate Director is the glue of the program, connecting students, faculty, alumni and the Graduate Center. For the students this position ensures we get the most out of our master’s degree. The absence of a similarly qualified Associate Director would not only severely impede our ability to locate and utilize the considerable but far-flung resources available to us in the CUNY system, it would also jeopardize the existence of the program. Only a full-time person could try to fill the responsibilities necessary for the MA-MES Program to excel.

We understand that the Graduate Center is expanding master’s programs like our own in order to provide revenue because of the CUNY fiscal crisis. Considering that paying students expect a top-notch education and quality academic services, if this is neglected then future potential students will look elsewhere, and enrollment is sure to suffer. We think it is in the academic and financial interests of the Graduate Center to find a qualified replacement for Dr. Bakalian. Certainly, her responsibilities go beyond the MA program, but we are able to speak directly to her role in our success and the pride of our degree.

The MES Master’s Students

This letter has 25 signatories.


29 February 2016

Dear President Robinson,

We, the undersigned, Ph.D. students at the Graduate Center, CUNY, affiliated with the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC), are writing to express our grave concern regarding the decision to replace the Center’s Associate Director, Dr. Anny Bakalian, with a part-time college assistant following her retirement in summer 2016.

There are over 55 “MEMEAC Ph.D. students” at the Graduate Center in at least 13 programs, including Anthropology, Comparative Literature, English, Ethnomusicology, History, Political Science, and Sociology. Our dissertations focus on the Middle East and North Africa and their diasporas; consequently, MEMEAC functions as our area studies home. More importantly, MEMEAC has filled a number of gaps in our disciplinary programs. For example, the shortage of professors in each program specializing in the Middle East makes many MEMEAC Ph.D. students feel underrepresented in their departments and at a disadvantage in comparison to their peers working on other area studies. Our departments often do not provide the resources and networks – ranging from language instruction and faculty mentorship to opportunities to meet renowned scholars and access to grants – specific to the study of the Middle East and necessary for a rigorous and immersive intellectual experience. MEMEAC has therefore served to supplement our disciplinary programs. In the past decade, several doctoral programs have enticed strong prospective students who work on the Middle East to choose the Graduate Center by selling MEMEAC as an added value.

MEMEAC’s Associate Director has been the catalyst in building an academic Middle Eastern Studies community within the Graduate Center. The Center offers graduate students advisors and mentors, a connection with students and faculty specializing in the Middle East across disciplines, professional development opportunities, research assistantships, student conferences, workshops, and relationships with other Middle East institutes and centers at nearby universities. In light of the increasingly competitive job market, it is imperative that doctoral students on the job market demonstrate the kind of interdisciplinary knowledge fostered by such a program. Further, Graduate Center alumni specializing in Middle Eastern Studies maintain ties with the Center and are invited to speak. Active alumni are invaluable for current MEMEAC Ph.D. students as models and mentors, and they provide important information about job openings and invitations to present at panels at the Middle Eastern Studies Association and other conferences. It should thus be evident that the many responsibilities and functions of the Associate Director cannot be fulfilled by a part-time college assistant.

With prominent scholars such as Talal Asad, Ervand Abrahamian, Stephen Blum, Marvin Carlson and Vincent Crapanzano having recently retired or retiring, the Graduate Center is left weakened, less attractive in disciplinary programs, and even more impoverished in Middle Eastern Studies. Replacing the Associate Director with a college assistant working 20 hours per week will diminish a thriving center that serves several stakeholders in the university. While we are aware of the gravity of the fiscal crisis, we firmly believe that terminating the position of MEMEAC Associate Director is shortsighted and will in the long term be harmful to the interests of the Graduate Center and its current and future doctoral students working on the Middle East.


This letter has 59 signatories.