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April 27, 2015 / 8 Iyar, 5775
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True Speech Versus Free Speech


Dear President Brodhead:
Greetings! I am writing to you as a member of Duke’s extended family of scholars. As you may know, my archives reside at Duke University as part of a distinguished collection of feminist intellectuals and activists. Indeed, my archives were Duke’s first major acquisition in this area. 

You have in your possession a treasure trove of my research, published and unpublished manuscripts, interviews, course curricula, and worldwide civil rights activism from the early 1960’s on. Duke acquired my papers in 1992 and I have continued to hand over materials ever since. Other important acquisitions that followed mine include those of Kate Millett, Alix Kates Shulman, Merle Hoffman, Robin Morgan, and others.

I am also one of 107 signatories to a letter recently sponsored by the Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell on behalf of the Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, (HR 4230), which would have the United States monitor and combat anti-Semitism world-wide.

Other signatories include current and former Senators, Congressmen, Ambassadors, theologians, and educators including the Reverend Dr. Joseph Hough, Jr., President of the Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Harold W. Attridge, Dean of the Yale University Divinity School, Dr. Maxine Clarke Beach, Dean of the Drew University Theological School, Sister Rose Thering, author James Carroll, and R. James Woolsey, Jack Kemp, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Cynthia Ozick, Richard Perle, and Gary Wills.

I understand that Duke University will be hosting a Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM) conference. I also understand that you and certain faculty members believe that doing so constitutes your commitment to free speech and academic freedom. Ironically, Duke will be supporting a group (which is also known as the International Solidarity Movement), which does not believe in free speech or democracy and which endorses violence, mass murder, Jew-hatred, and homicidal-suicide terrorism.

But, you might say, America prides itself on extending its civil rights, including that of free speech to racist groups and to their hate speech. Let me respectfully suggest that, post 9/11, America may no longer do so without risking grievous consequences both in terms of lives lost and truth abandoned.

President Brodhead: Would you proudly host a Nazi Party or Ku Klux Klan conference in the name of academic freedom? Given your commitment to the First Amendment, would you still allow the meeting to take place behind closed doors with no press allowed? I understand that this is what the Palestine Solidarity Movement conference planners have demanded. As you know, a free and vigorous press is one of our protections against tyranny. What issue cannot bear the cleansing light of scrutiny?

But why is Duke giving any intellectual credibility to what is bound to be a hate-fest? Under President Rudenstein, Harvard, which like Duke is also a private institution, resolved that it would not allow any hate-speech conferences. The Harvard Divinity School also returned United Arab Emirate monies from the Sheikh Zayed Foundation no doubt earmarked for such purposes. Perhaps Duke can consider doing this as well. The PSM/ISM are precisely the kinds of groups that European governments, beginning with Germany, have begun to monitor in terms of their terrorism potential. Why is Duke granting them an aura of intellectual respectability?

In my view, the masked and hooded members of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Fatah, and the al-Aqsa’s Martyrs Brigade (which the PSM and their allies support) are far more dangerous than the Nazis or the Klan ever were. Their terrorism against civilians, especially in Israel, but also worldwide, is both state-sanctioned and trans-national. Their propaganda against Jews and Israelis is based on doctored footage, photo-opportunity journalism, and sophisticated post-Orwellian lies.

About the Author: Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a professor emerita of psychology, a Middle East Forum fellow, and the author of fifteen books including “Women and Madness” (1972), “The New Anti-Semitism” (2003), and her latest, “An American Bride in Kabul” (2013). Her articles are archived at www.phyllis-chesler.com.


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