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Would HaLevi have Turned in Rushdie? Or Banished Spinoza?

I remember a lunch we once had in the East 50′s sometime after the Al Aqsa Intifada and certainly after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. “Yossi,” I asked, “how is your interfaith work coming along in Ha’aretz? Sadly, he told me that it was no longer possible for him to visit Gaza or parts of the West Bank safely.
Yossi Klein HaLevi

Yossi Klein HaLevi
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

My esteemed colleague, Yossi Klein Halevi, together with the Muslim chaplain at Duke University, Abdullah Antepli, have penned a defense of Brandeis’s decision to disinvite Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “What Muslims and Jews Should Learn From Brandeis.”

They write that Brandeis President Lawrence has provided an “essential teaching moment,” one that they hope will “prevent our descent into a holy war which would desecrate our faith and devour us all.”

In service to this messianic dream, Halevi and Antepli support the dishonoring of Hirsi Ali as a “renegade;” they do not see her as a “dissident” whose rights they might otherwise respect.

I wonder whether Halevi would have argued for the ex-communication of Spinoza on these same grounds. Perhaps, “renegades” are radicals and dissidents are “reformers.” We certainly need both points of view.

My colleague Yossi is truly a dreamer.

His most recent prize-winning book has “dreamers” in its title,  (and it is a book that I love). A previous Halevi book envisioned interfaith harmony between religions. Its title: “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God With Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.”

I remember a lunch we once had in the East 50′s sometime after the Al Aqsa Intifada and certainly after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. “Yossi,” I asked, “how is your interfaith work coming along in Ha’aretz?

Sadly, he told me that it was no longer possible for him to visit Gaza or parts of the West Bank safely.

Has Halevi found some new interfaith partners in America?  I am in favor of such alliances and am proud of my own.

But really: Who gets to decide who is a “renegade” and who is a “dissident”?  And do Halevi and Antepli honestly believe that this symbolic but resounding gesture of Brandeis’s can stop Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or the Muslim Brotherhood?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an important ally in the battle against Islamism–just as important as are religious Muslims such as Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser. Most of all, Western concepts of freedom of speech and academic freedom should protect, not banish truth-tellers who stand for women’s rights in fundamentalist cultures.

Halevi and Antepli go further and almost–but not quite–view the Jew-hatred in the Muslim world as morally equivalent to the kind of alleged insult to Islam represented by one woman. One woman. Who offers us reasoned argument and personal experience.

Hirsi Ali does not rant and rave, she is very cool and careful.

Sadly, neither Halevi  nor Antepli are “dissidents” or “renegades.” I am sorry that they cannot extend their generosity and compassion to a genuine hero at a moment of potential peril.

Reprinted with permission of the author.

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), for which she won the National Jewish Book Award in the category of memoirs. Her articles are archived at www.phyllis-chesler.com


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One Response to “Would HaLevi have Turned in Rushdie? Or Banished Spinoza?”

  1. A very good (and very sad text) text.

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