Will Brandeis Withstand Being Intimidated, Shamed, in the matter of the Israeli Ambassador’s Right to Speak?
The world is watching. Will Brandeis turn out to be another version of the University of California at Irvine, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco, or will it continue to model individual achievement over mob rule? Will it defend genuine free and academic speech?
Michael B. Oren, the distinguished historian and author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East and Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present, the co-editor of New Essays on Zionism, and Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, has been invited to deliver the keynote address at Brandeis’s 2010 commencement exercises.
It is shocking but not surprising that a number of Brandeis students and faculty have denounced this choice while others applaud it. The denouncers claim that Ambassador Oren will be “political,” and as such “divisive” and “polarizing.” According to long-time activist and professor Gordon Fellman, “His role obligates him to defend Israeli policies. … [T]hat includes defending the Israeli incursion into Gaza, housing policies of the occupation, and so on. I think for many people that’s a third rail. Why mess up a commencement with a third rail?”
I dunno. In 2006, Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal delivered the keynote address at graduation. Students did not protest Jordan’s human rights record vis a vis the Palestinians both in 1970 and in 2010, or in terms of torturing its own citizens, nor its abysmal record on honor-related violence, including honor killings. Indeed, no one held Jordan accountable for its systematic past desecration of Jewish holy places and for its evacuation of Jews from the Jewish quarter in 1948. A prince who represents a country and a regime that behaves in this way is as “political” as Oren could ever be. The only difference is that one man is an Arab, Muslim prince, while the other is an intellectual Jew and an American-Israeli. Students did not create online petitions to debate the merits of choosing Jordan’s prince as a speaker.
The Justice, Brandeis’s student newspaper, has published a range of views on Ambassador Oren. In a roundup of opinion, Jackie Saffir, senator for the class of 2010, is quoted as having said she was “disappointed” (even before she heard what Oren might have to say), that his “perspective is not a fresh one….worse, allowing him to speak might actually give people the idea that Brandeis is a Jewish school.”
Imagine the shame of that!
Brandeis students on both sides of this divide have now launched petitions and Facebook groups. The fact that an almost equal number of students support and oppose Oren’s right to free speech has led some students to conclude that this alone “is reason enough for him not to speak.”
Please understand: I write this as the mother and mother-in-law of two former Brandeis students who both loved the school and as someone who once happily taught a course there. I have the fondest memories of Brandeis and deeply appreciate its commitment to high standards; diversity; debate; gender, religious, and racial equality; and its ability to make everyone feel warmly embraced.
However, this problem is bigger than this one instance; Brandeis has done nothing wrong. True, Brandeis has indulged many opposite points of view, including that of left liberalism, a view which has now turned on Israel with a vengeance. The question is only whether or how well the Brandeis community will now withstand the politically correct tides of anti-Semitism, censorship, and self-censorship, which threaten to engulf the world and the tiny Jewish state.
In 2003, I published The New Anti-Semitism. It effectively ruined my reputation as a pioneer feminist among my rapidly Palestinianized colleagues. But, I saw it then and I see it even more clearly now: This is open season on Israel, not only at the United Nations (which has legalized Jew hatred), and at every international human rights organization, but also in the media and on too many campuses in both the Islamic and Western worlds. Israel is the pariah Jew of the world, the designated scapegoat. Israel is the “Nazi, Apartheid state.” No one dares say the truth, which is that Islam is the largest practitioner of both gender and religious apartheid in the world and it is coming our way sooner rather than later. In Paris, mobs shouted “Kill the Jews” when Dreyfus was (falsely) accused and found guilty and they shouted this again in the early twenty first century.
As I’ve noted, what’s going on is so much bigger than Brandeis University and Ambassador Oren. Do the dissenting students and faculty at Brandeis really understand what is going on?
I fear not. Israel’s critics are as merciless and unbalanced in their criticism of Israel — only. Such critics fervently believe that their criticism is all that keeps both Judaism and Israel vital and honest. While holding an endangered Israel’s feet to the fire, these very critics practice compassion and understanding towards the non-Jewish barbarians of the Middle East and Islamic world. From their point of view, they are doing God’s work. The secularists and atheists among them believe that only Man (humanity) has the power and the mandate to change the world because there is no God. They plan to do just that no matter how many dead Jews and other civilians it will take.
What students and professors fail to understand, Orwell understood all too well. Israel is the world’s “Goldstein,” the one who is blamed for everything and whose permanent punishment is what diverts people from noticing who their real oppressors might be.
Indeed, the times are diabolically Orwellian. In the name of anti-racism, Jews are the only group whom it is fashionable, even necessary, to critique, even to “hate.” If you stereotype Jews and believe that the Jewish state should be destroyed or abolished, you are exercising free, politically correct speech. Thus, you will be funded and you will not lose your politically progressive reputation and friends. If, on the other hand, you support Jews and the Jewish state, you are deemed a racist and a fascist (except in insular Jewish groups). You will lose your friends and funding. And you will be heckled and menaced on campuses coast to coast and all across Europe, assuming that you are still invited to speak.
In February of 2010, political science professor Martin Sherman found himself “disinvited” by the Israel Studies Program. Apparently, they feared that Sherman might be (gasp!) too much of an advocate for Israel and not enough of a harsh critic. Sherman is academic director of the Jerusalem Summit and research fellow in Security Studies Program at Tel Aviv University. He is the author of The Politics of Water in the Middle East and Despots, Democrats and the Determinants of International Conflict, as well as articles in journals such as the Middle East Quarterly, The Journal of Strategic Studies, The Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, The Journal of Theoretical Politics, Nations and Nationalism, and Nationalism & Ethnic Politics. Like Professor Sherman, many others have also been disinvited or never invited. I was disinvited as a keynote speaker by the Cambridge University Women’s Studies program at their tenth anniversary celebration. I consider it an honor.
Even if a speaker might want to address a subject other than Israel (as Ambassador Oren conceivably might do), once it is known that one supports rather than condemns the Jewish state, one loses their credibility and their right to free, academic speech.
This has happened to me and to many other truth-tellers as well — Jewish, Christian, Muslim, ex-Muslim, and secular. We have all been heckled and menaced, interrupted, jeered and challenged as we tried to speak. We have all been condemned as “fascists,” “racists,” and “neo-conservatives.” Now, we all have to appear on campus with bodyguards. Yes, in America, land of the free and home of the brave.
Recently, Ambassador Oren got a taste of campus life at the University of California at Irvine where his speech was constantly interrupted; the choreographed disruptions led to 11 student arrests. Now, he must be wondering what it will be like at Brandeis. At least Oren’s invitation has not been rescinded. In 2002, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech in Montreal at Concordia had to be canceled for security reasons.
How did this all come about?
First, it took years and years of Soviet, Arab League, Saudi, and Soros funded hate propaganda, doctored footage, and Big Lies, all of which were meant to toughen people up for the simultaneous and subsequent legal, social, cultural, economic, and military blows against Israel. And against Israeli officials.
Just as President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton publicly shamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — but not Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah or Iran’s President Ahmadinejad; just as academics Mearsheimer and Walt condemned what they described as the Israel Lobby but did not mention the far more powerful Saudi Lobby; just as academics the world over continue to argue for boycotts against Israel, including against leftist Israeli academics (but do not suggest boycotts against Sudan, Iran, or Congo); just as intellectuals and First Amendment freaks are busily romanticizing sophisticated misogynists and fascists such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Tariq Ramadan (but not the feminist hero Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was offered no post in Women’s Studies when she fled Holland for her life) — so, too, have the Islamist-ized mobs set upon individual Jewish and non-Jewish civilians as well as Israeli diplomats.
Just days ago, a pro-Palestinian mob tried to attack an Israeli diplomat outside the University of Manchester in the UK after she lectured at the university. Israeli Deputy Ambassador Talya Lador-Fresher believed that the mob of 300 “genuinely wanted to physically hurt me. If I had not had the police and security team, I would have been beaten up … no foreign diplomat should have to go through what I went through.” Lador-Fresher’s previous speech had to be canceled for security reasons.
When the world stood by and did nothing to stop the Palestinian airplane hijackers and homicide bombers who attacked Israelis, that intifada, that jihad, went global and we all inherited the whirlwind. As I wrote in 2003, “now we are all Israelis.” And, as we stand in long lines at airports the world over, our shoes in hand, our clothing in boxes, we do not curse the bombers and terrorists. That would be … profiling. If anything, we blame it on … Israel. For, if Israel did not exist (God forbid), then Al-Qaeda would lie down with the lambs, Sunni and Shia Muslims would stop blowing each other up while they pray, and Hamas and Fatah — the tribes of Afghanistan too — would simply all get along.
This is delusional thinking. We must stand up for the truth and for the Jews — no matter the cost. We must name and reject radical evil. Heroism is now our only alternative if we want Western civilization and the values of the Enlightenment to survive.
The world is watching. What will Brandeis do?