Censorship, Academic Freedom and Israel
The journalist Peter Beinart, author of “The Crisis of Zionism”, has written extensively about the disconnect between the powerful, old-line Jewish organizations and a younger generation of American Jews who do not show the same level of support for Israel the elders require.
The elders want uncritical hundred percent support or you risk becoming a “self-hating Jew.” Similarly, criticism of Israeli policies and actions voiced by a non-Jew makes that person an anti-Semite.
Beinart has felt the elders’ sting through efforts to censor him, such as bouncing him from a major book festival at an Atlanta Jewish community center last November.
The elders naturally deny censorship, proclaiming belief in free speech and academic freedom, but find one way or another of rationalizing their actions—which only exacerbates the younger generation’s disconnect.
The latest case in point is an eruption over a planned appearance at Brooklyn College by a pair of speakers from the radical BDS movement—which stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel. The Anti-Defamation League led the charge against their appearance, but was chastised by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg among others, including the New York Times.
“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kinds of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea,” said Bloomberg, who happens to be Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel.
The speakers did speak, but up popped a nearly full-page advertisement in last Friday’s Times cast as an open letter from Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL—among the most vociferous of the elders (though I defend his right to be).
Foxman spent hundreds of words trying to stake out his claim to being a civil libertarian and defender of free speech regardless of the extent to which he might disagree with someone’s viewpoint. He then circuitously tried to draw a line between mere criticism and “hateful” speech, in which case he said a university should withdraw sponsorship of the speakers and its president reject “messages of hate and anti-Semitism.”
What makes BDS hateful and anti-Semitic, he says, is they stand not only for Israel giving back the occupied Palestinian territories and giving Israeli Arabs full rights as citizens, but they seek the right of return for those Arab families who were forcefully evicted from Israeli land when the new state was founded. The last point is a longstanding demand of Palestinian organizations—and least likely to be granted because Israel’s Jewish majority ultimately would disappear, ending the Jewish state.
Most liberal Jews—myself included—don’t want to see that happen. We support a two-state solution, as do some in BDS, but discussion of the issue should not be censored.
Ironically, if the Israeli right had its way and took over the entire West Bank (what they call Judea and Samaria), the Jewish majority would eventually disappear and Israel would become either multicultural or an apartheid state or have a civil war.
Foxman and the elders damage their own cause by advocating censorship in any guise.
Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer
image King David Hotel, Jerusalem