David Israel is both a thoughtful and astute commentator. In his recent piece, “Emulating Anti-Zionist Academia, Im Tirtzu Busts Talk by Jewish American Scholar (June 6),” he questions and criticizes Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots organization and a presence on most Israeli campuses, for actions that Isaac believes mimic the behavior of the anti-Zionist left.
In other words, two wrongs don’t make a right, and do not do to your neighbor that which is hateful to yourself.
This is a fair comment. But as much else in life, it is in the details that we can assess the nature of things, and ultimately make our judgments.
Here, the details are fairly stark. The speaker in question, Daniel Boyarin, is both an eminent Talmudist and an unabashed hater of the State of Israel. Not its government, not its policies, no revulsion about Judea and the Shomron. The man wishes Israel to be gone, period.
As Israel noted, Boyarin co-authored a book, The No State Solution, which advocates for the destruction of the State of Israel. Give the man his due: he does not pull his punches.
So, now we come to the matter at hand. A man intent on dismantling the State, sending us to our various fates in a world without Israel, wants to have a platform at a publicly funded institution in that country he so despises, for the purposes of demonizing it?
Are we so morally obtuse that we need to be complicit in our own demise? I have learned that democracy is not a suicide pact, and that the US Supreme Court famously opined that free speech notwithstanding, one cannot shout fire in a crowded theater.
The issue here is why should a public institution give such a platform to such a worldview? Would we support having speakers from Hamas or Hezbollah appear in the name of free speech and the unfettered exchange of ideas?
The prospect of Boyarin’s appearance prompted a grassroots reaction, featuring a petition in short order signed by close to 500 people. This was hardly strongarming. This was public outrage.
The University realized that it had hit a nerve of anger and made the appearance a Zoom speech. Im Tirtzu and others did not fight this idea, for our goal was simply not to provide a public platform to delegitimization.
Finally, let us distinguish between tolerating views we disagree with, and giving succor to one seeking our extinguishment. With all due respect, they are not the same.
Im Tirtzu relishes debate, discussion and yes, disagreement. We regularly invite left wing speakers to panels of our own, we regularly engage with those we disagree with in debate.
In the current case, we did not throw chairs, block entryways and threaten Boyarin or anyone else. There were no faux Antifa tactics here.
Instead, there was a strong sense of the hypocrisy of a Boyarin using the hospitality and facilities of a public institution to advance the goal of its own dismantlement.
There is a world of difference between trying to cancel someone because you don’t like his or her opinions or policies, and refusing to be complicit with one’s own dismemberment.
Im Tirtzu certainly realizes that in a democracy, the most hateful, destructive and self-destructive ideas can be held and articulated. But that does not mean that the public need provide, at its own expense, a platform to one who would like to see that platform float out to sea.