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US Jewish and Palestinian professors teach journalistic empathy together

Academics flip expected roles to teach history from the other side in innovative course at Columbia University.
Ittay Flescher
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Ari Goldman Gregory Khalil

Ari Goodman (left) and Gregory Khalil, from Columbia University (CNN)

Published: 11 July 2024

Last updated: 12 July 2024

If one had to choose one place in the US where a Jewish and Palestinian academic could co-teach a course on religion, journalism, and the Middle East, demonstrating respect and tolerance for differences, Columbia University might be the last campus most people would consider.

Yet since 2018, that’s exactly what Professors Ari Goldman and Gregory Khalil have been doing together in the Covering Religion course taught at its Graduate School of Journalism, a New York campus that has become notorious for its toxic climate surrounding Israel/Palestine.

Goldman is a Modern Orthodox Jew, a graduate of Yeshiva University, and describes himself as a “proud Zionist”. He believes in the necessity of a Jewish homeland and the importance of continuing the Zionist ideals upon which the State of Israel was founded.

Much of Khalil’s family still lives outside of Bethlehem. As a young lawyer, he spent years advising the Palestinian leadership on negotiations with Israel.

Over the northern summer Khalil visited, on several occasions, the Columbia encampment calling for the university to divest its endowment from companies profiting off what students see as Israeli apartheid and genocide.

Meanwhile, Goldman was with the Jewish students at Chabad and Hillel on campus. None of these differences has stopped them from teaching together, being friends, or serving as role models for their students who seek to hear the voices of the other with empathy and respect.

Khalil supports Jewish self-determination but opposes Zionism. He often says there “will be no good future for any Israeli or Palestinian without a reality that ensures security, dignity, safety, freedom, equality and justice for everyone.

He says that Zionism in practice now supports the indefinite Jewish control over millions of Palestinian lives, which in practice kicked three-quarters of the Palestinian nation off their land in the Nakba of 1948.

As a liberal Zionist, Goldman rejects the association of Zionism with Jewish supremacy, explaining that he opposes what he calls “Israeli extremists” who refute Palestinian national self-determination, saying their ideology is “not the Zionism of my prayerbook,” adding further that he supports the creation of a Palestinian state.

When the class on Zionism comes up, it is often taught by Khalil. Goldman will sometimes lead a discussion of Palestinian rights and history.

What’s most interesting for the students in their class, is that when the lesson on Zionism comes up, it is often taught by Khalil. Alternatively, Goldman will sometimes lead a discussion of Palestinian rights and history.

The reason they flip the expected is to role model to their students that good journalists need to be able to write, teach, and inform others about what they oppose, with no less passion and conviction than stories where they do have sympathy for the subject.

“We are transparent about our biases in front of the students. Even though we are misaligned on our politics, we are totally aligned on our mission to educate journalists to do their job properly,” Khalil explains. “Our ideal graduate journalist will be an incredible storyteller in the public sphere, avoiding false binaries, writing stories that are both critical and curious of the world around them.”

Even though we are misaligned on our politics, we are totally aligned on our mission to educate journalists to do their job properly.

Gregory Khalil

As one can imagine, their teaching together in such a manner hasn’t gone unnoticed, with the pair being the subject of multiple features this month on US television, including an extended interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN.

Interviewed by The Jewish Independent, both affirmed that a secret as to why they can keep teaching together in such a tense time is primarily the warm friendship they have built during the six years before October 7. Similarly, dialogue groups in Jerusalem such as the Sulha explained that the only reason they could continue bringing Israelis and Palestinians together at this time was the trust and respect they had built together over the past decade.

Both Goldman and Khalil have extended families that call the West Bank home, with Khalil’s relatives living in Beit Sahur near Bethlehem and Goldman’s family living in Israel proper, as well as in the settlements. They have met each other’s families in both New York and Israel and shared Shabbat meals together.

One of the primary aims of our course is to train aspiring journalists in empathetic objectivity.

Ari Goodman

“One of the primary aims of our course is to train aspiring journalists in empathetic objectivity,” said Goldman. “This means training journalists to go beyond dry objective facts to imbue each article with empathetic stories that humanise the subject to the reader, emphasising that multiple deep truths can be valid at the same time.”

Khalil believes that “internalising this understanding into our institutions and universities is not a sign of weakness, but rather our greatest strength and true resilience.”

Responding to claims of both side-ism, Khalil added that this doesn’t mean that, “one injustice cancels out another, but rather that both need to be understood for anyone to understand the bigger picture while linking very explicitly to the facts on the ground, which is why we take our students on reporting trips to Israel/Palestine so they can form opinions based on a shared set of facts rather than an imagined reality.”

Today there is little empathy among Gazan Palestinians towards Israeli bereaved and hostage families who suffered from the Hamas attack on October 7. There is also little empathy among Israelis over the immense destruction and homelessness caused by nine months of IDF bombing in Gaza, with both the Israeli and Palestinian media doing little to humanise the other.

Goldman and Khalil could serve as an inspiration for journalism schools in Jerusalem and Ramallah and generate reporters who can cover the other side’s narratives in conflicts with the same care they bring to their own.

While this approach might not boost ratings, it could offer something beyond confirming existing biases - a future where media depicts all people as fully human, striving for dignity, freedom, and justice.


Columbia removes 3 deans over text exchange deriding concerns of campus antisemitism (JTA)

About the author

Ittay Flescher

Ittay Flescher is the Jerusalem Correspondent for The Jewish Independent. For over twenty years, he has worked as an educator, journalist, and peacebuilder in Melbourne and Jerusalem. He is the co-host of the podcast ‘From the Yarra River and the Mediterranean Sea' and the author of the upcoming book ‘The Holy and the Broken.’ He is also the Education Director at a youth movement that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers who believe in building equality, justice, and peace for all.


  • Avatar of Fairlie Nassau

    Fairlie Nassau14 July at 03:45 am

    If only there were more who could emulate this respect and dignity for those with different political views.

  • Avatar of Fred Morgan

    Fred Morgan11 July at 07:26 am

    Very hopeful article & interview. The two professors are indeed modelling empathetic listening. They are demonstrating that treating others who hold radically different views with respect does not require an abdication of one’s own principles.

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