• Banning such events, speakers and displays is not the answer. It is a stance not only intellectually bankrupt, but one that solidifies a dangerous precedent: the intolerance of free speech.

  • Removing dissent -- however morally intended -- is intrinsically antithetical to education, especially at a university.

  • The greatest problem with the current lot of anti-Israel voices is not that they are "offensive" or "mean;" it is that what they say contains outright lies and falsehoods.

  • However malicious or misguided, the speech and conduct of those who oppose Israel --who cannot or will not see the difference between an open, tolerant democracy and repressive, authoritarian governments -- should be refuted, not suppressed.

In 1902, the Russian Jewish author and early Zionist leader, Ze'ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940) responded to a fellow journalist's effort to label Zionism as "historically retrograde", "politically reactionary" and "unworkable". "Defame it if you must!" he wrote. "The dream is greater than its slanderers. It need not fear their calumny." [1]

In 2015, the pro-Israel campus movement, through its collective attempt to combat anti-Israel forces, risks failing to uphold Jabotinsky's proclamation.

Supporting Israel is now labelled an act of "racism" by some professors and certain campus organizations, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Opposing Israel, however, is not considered the actual act of racism that it more likely is.

Hamas, which openly promotes genocide -- not only of Israel, but of all Jews -- is apparently considered justified in its behavior. Meanwhile Zionism, which has never even touched on the subject of genocide, is now thought of as a genocidal creed by the anti-Zionist groups on campus. In 2011, SJP founder Hatem Bazian organized the "Never Again for Anyone" speaking tour, which abused the memory of the Holocaust and claimed that Israel's actions toward its Arab neighbors resembled the actions of the Nazis. So how could Hamas not take up arms against "occupation"?

UC-Berkeley Professor Hatem Bazian addresses an anti-Israel rally on July 20, 2014, appearing in front of a man carrying a sign saying, "We captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza". (Image source: YouTube video screenshot)

Students on campuses across the country are then left to decide how to respond. A select few on the pro-Israel side have attempted to carve out an argument that would call for censoring the "offending parties." Some have called for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to be blocked from receiving school funding; others have called for racist or bigoted speakers to be banned from campus.

Groups such as SJP gave up on the concept of coexistence long ago, in favor of a policy of "anti-normalization," in which dialogue with "Zionists" is forbidden. To cooperate with "Zionists," the thinking seems to go, would be to legitimize their rights. The Anti-Defamation League accurately branded "Anti-normalization" a "Strategy of Rejection."

The hatred of groups such as the SJP is starting to manifest itself on campuses across the globe in "Israeli Apartheid Week," in which Israel is demonized as a racist state on a par with apartheid South Africa. The week is billed as an "international series of events that seeks to raise awareness about Israel's apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign," according to the campaign website. Campuses are rocked with incessant posturing, events and even large displays of "walls," representing Israel's defensive security barrier, but described as "apartheid walls."

Banning such events, speakers and displays, however, is not the answer. The flaws in such proposals are twofold. To begin with, they make it seem as if people, rather than defend their own views, would prefer to shut down the ability of those on the other side to express their views. It is a stance not only intellectually bankrupt, but one that solidifies a dangerous precedent: the intolerance of free speech.

Life in an echo chamber is not an education. Removing dissent -- however morally intended -- is intrinsically antithetical to education, especially at a university.

As long as the anti-Israel, or anti-anything, actors operate within the campus rules -- which, among others, require that they properly reserve their space and respect the space of others -- their speech should be protected. When intolerant individuals act out of line, such as the Temple University student who punched a classmate in August 2014, then a response is certainly warranted. The student who threw the punch was rightly charged by the Philadelphia District Attorney's office.

In addition, speech often can and should be offensive. As Trevor Burrus wrote in Forbes, "Offensive speech contributes to the marketplace of ideas by expanding its borders." The greatest problem with the current lot of anti-Israel voices claiming to represent the Palestinian cause on campus is not that they are "offensive" or "mean;" it is that what they say contains outright lies and falsehoods.

Speakers such as Max Blumenthal or Ali Abunimah, who compare the state of Israel to Nazi Germany, or claim that Israel has a policy of ethnic cleansing, should be heard and called out as the malicious slanderers and vilifiers they are. Last summer, Abunimah infamously tweeted that, "Making Yom Kippur a UN holiday to honor the genocidal "state" of Israel would be sure way to increase global anti-Jewish sentiment." Blumenthal has mocked Jewish prayer by pretending to pray to a bloodied image of Benjamin Netanyahu. That students claiming to speak for human rights would sponsor such speakers uncovers their real intent.

One needs rigorously to challenge speakers such as Blumenthal and Abunimah in the marketplace of ideas. As Harvard professor Steven Pinker put it recently, "It is only by bruiting ideas and seeing which ones withstand attempts to refute them that we acquire knowledge." If the pro-Israel community in unwilling or unable to refute the most heinous challengers of Israel it risks relying solely on dogmatic reasoning and the reverberations of the echo-chamber, at a serious intellectual cost.

After the recent Israeli elections, countless students and organizations -- both Jewish and non-Jewish -- have again accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being a "racist" or "marginalizing Arab-Israeli citizens." Rather than also marginalizing those critical of Israel or its leaders off-hand, the pro-Israel campus movement would do well to examine such claims in an objective, dispassionate fashion.

Those who understand the moral breach between Israel and its enemies should welcome debate and exchange in the open campus space. However malicious and misguided, the speech and conduct of those who oppose Israel -- who cannot or will not see the difference between an open, tolerant democracy and repressive, authoritarian governments -- should be refuted, not suppressed.

Daniel Mael, a senior at Brandeis University, is a fellow at the Salomon Center.


[1] Halkin, Hillel. Jabotinsky: A Life. New Haven: Yale UP, 2014. Print.

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