Recent events demonstrate that the Jewish community is fast losing the free speech wars. Those who wish to condemn Israel at public forums are seemingly immune to efforts at having an alternative view heard, while those who seek to talk tough about radical Islam are vulnerable to being blocked altogether.
In a widely reported incident in February, a symposium was scheduled at Brooklyn College by a campus group opposed to Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. It was to feature two leading figures in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Pleas from Jewish students that pro-Israel speakers be added for balance were rejected by the event organizers. As it turned out, four students identifiable as Jews and thought to be planning to sharply question the speakers were ejected from the room.
To make matters worse, an internal investigation as to whether the students’ free speech rights were violated concluded last week that while the students were wrongly ousted because there was no evidence that they created a disturbance – as organizers of the event originally claimed – there was also “no support for an inference of discrimination based on religion” because other Jewish students were allowed to remain at the event.
What nonsense. The issue here was not the students’ religion but their views on the Middle East conflict – which were suppressed. The investigative report did not comment on the fact that the Brooklyn College political science department co-sponsored the event and abdicated its responsibility to ensure freedom of access.
Similarly, efforts to block or at least add some balance in the wording to an award presentation last week to former president Jimmy Carter, a notoriously anti-Israel public figure, from an apparently independent student group at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, came to naught.
In contrast to this, a coalition of so-called interfaith leaders in Nassau County, including left-wing rabbis and liberal ministers led by a local imam – who used his official stationery, as a commissioner of the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights, in the effort – was able this past week to force the cancellation of a speech on the dangers of shariah law at the Great Neck Synagogue by blogger Pamela Geller, an outspoken critic of radical Islam. To be sure, synagogue officials resisted the pressure to cancel the speech until it became unbearable, but cancel it they did.
The solution to this problem is not readily apparent. But Brooklyn College is a publicly funded college and the imam is a Nassau County human rights commissioner. So while moral suasion may be appropriate in dealing with some benighted Cardozo students, perhaps official inquiries by New York City and Nassau County authorities to pursue the Brooklyn College cover-up and the imam’s use of his public position to intrude on the decision-making of a religious institution are in order.