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Israel, Academic Freedom And Free Speech


An editorial in Tuesday’s New York Times provides an important perspective on how Israel is viewed by our country’s liberal elites.

According to the editorial, titled “Litmus Tests”:

One dispiriting lesson from Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary is the extent to which the political space for discussing Israel forthrightly is shrinking. Republicans focused on Israel more than anything during his confirmation hearing, but they weren’t seeking to understand his views. All they cared about was bullying him into a rigid position on Israel policy. Enforcing that kind of orthodoxy is not in either America’s or Israel’s interest.

Brooklyn College is facing a similar trial for scheduling an event on Thursday night with two speakers who support an international boycott to force Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories. While this page has criticized Israeli settlements, we do not advocate a boycott. We do, however, strongly defend the decision by the college’s president, Karen Gould, to proceed with the event, despite withering criticism by opponents and threats by at least 10 City Council members to cut financing for the college. Such intimidation chills debate and makes a mockery of the ideals of academic freedom….

The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests. J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that was formed as a counterpoint to conservative groups like the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, has argued for vibrant debate and said “criticism of Israeli policy does not threaten the health of the state of Israel.” In fact, it is essential.

Of course, contrary to what the Times would have its readers think, those of us who oppose the Hagel nomination are not at all interested in enforcing some kind of pro-Israel orthodoxy. Rather, we are concerned that both Mr. Hagel and his defenders on the Times editorial board apparently fail to recognize that Israel faces a stacked deck in the international arena – one fashioned by a virulently anti-Israel bloc of states and its supporters. And this stacked deck has come to dominate the work of virtually all international institutions.

Indeed, can anyone mistake the significance of the recent series of UN actions bending the rules as to the requirements for statehood when faced with applications from the Palestinian Authority? Or of the almost exclusive focus on Israel by UN human rights units despite the horrible carnage committed by other nations?

The Times is also wrong in its fundamental premise concerning the Brooklyn College controversy. Critics of the event have expressed concern that the political science department is a co-sponsor. But there is no “litmus test” we seek – only acknowledgment that academic freedom does not entail conferring an official imprimatur on the boycott Israel crowd.

And for the Times to bemoan, in this context, “intimidation” that “chills debate” is beyond parody. For years now Jewish and other pro-Israel speakers have been routinely shouted down at debates on campuses across the country. That kind of real intimidation sparks virtually no concern in “progressive” circles, but critical reaction to an officially sanctioned one-sided pro-Palestinian presentation at a publicly funded institution has the Times implying that nothing less than the very survival of academic freedom and free speech is at stake.

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2 Responses to “Israel, Academic Freedom And Free Speech”

  1. The third goal of the BDS movement is the total destruction of Israel – which they consider to be an illegal entity. That is not an opinion – it is a war crime – advocating the ethnic cleansing of Jews is just that a war crime. Brooklyn College is a city funded public institute and they do have the right to have a say.

    It is the leftists that feel that nobody else has the right to speak.

  2. The third goal of the BDS movement is the total destruction of Israel – which they consider to be an illegal entity. That is not an opinion – it is a war crime – advocating the ethnic cleansing of Jews is just that a war crime. Brooklyn College is a city funded public institute and they do have the right to have a say.

    It is the leftists that feel that nobody else has the right to speak.

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