Free the campus

Silencing speakers on campus reflects a broader tightening of academic freedom in general. Universities should be places where there is a free exchange of ideas in an honest pursuit of truth.

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November 7, 2017 21:47
3 minute read.
Students on the Princeton University campus

Students on the Princeton University campus. (photo credit: DOMINICK REUTER/ REUTERS)

 
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A left-wing Jewish organization at Princeton University succeeded in preventing Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely from speaking at the school’s Hillel House this week.

Under pressure from the Alliance of Jewish Progressives, Rabbi Julie Roth, executive director of the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton’s Hillel, decided to rescind an invitation to Hotovely.

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At the last minute, the campus Chabad House provided Hotovely with a venue.

The incident illustrates how a toxic atmosphere inimical to free speech has taken hold on college campuses in the US and elsewhere.

Silencing speakers on campus reflects a broader tightening of academic freedom in general. Universities should be places where there is a free exchange of ideas in an honest pursuit of truth. But for this to happen there must be an intellectual atmosphere of exploration based on commonly held values. Unfortunately, today there are no common denominators, no shared notions of truth and falsehood, no sense of community.

Many departments are dominated by faculty who have abandoned classic liberal positions on intellectual freedom and adhere to an ideology influenced by neo-Marxist thought that holds that there are “right” and “wrong” opinions.

If in the past it was the Communist Party that posited the “correct” political positions, while the “wrong” ones served capitalist, colonialist interests, today it is one’s identity which determines meaning.

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The extent of an opinion’s validity and legitimacy depends on who posits it and whose interests it serves.

The more a person is seen to be discriminated against, weak, a victim of white privilege, the more he or she is seen as legitimate and worthy of being given a stage.

Anyone who thinks differently is either living in a false consciousness or is a representative of rapacious capitalism, big business or white hegemony.

The most destructive component of this mode of thinking is the complete lack of faith in the individual’s ability to reach conclusions on his or her own.

Therefore, there is no value in promoting freedom of expression or an open atmosphere of discussion and debate. Rather the “right” causes have already been decided: gay marriage, anti-globalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, support of indigenous peoples and of the Palestinians over the Israelis.

Even the most extreme actions are legitimate in the fight against political positions deemed to be beyond the pale. Antifa exemplifies this approach.

These are the sorts of progressives who were behind pressuring the Center for Jewish Life’s Roth into disinviting Hotovely.

But members of the Left are not the only ones to blame for stifling free speech on college campuses.

Pro-Israel activists are also willing to forfeit the value of free expression in the name of protecting Israel from its many detractors. They do not realize that this tactic achieves the opposite result by giving the impression that Israel has an evil secret to hide.

Alliance of Jewish Progressives members pointed out in a letter to Roth ahead of Hotovely’s talk that under pressure from pro-Israel activists, the Center for Jewish Life has refused to co-sponsor talks by anti-Zionists and others critical of Israeli policies such as peace activist Penny Rosenwasser or filmmaker Shimon Dotan, who created a slanted film on settlements and settlers.

Under the circumstances, it would be unfair to invite Hotovely, alliance argued.

As a newspaper, The Jerusalem Post prides itself on providing a platform for the free exchange of ideas.

Since the founding of the paper in 1932, our editorial position has always been unabashedly pro-Zionist.

And while we support a two-state solution, we publish opinions by persons highly critical of Zionism as well as people like Hotovely who support a one-state solution and are opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

We do this because we believe that only through a free exchange of ideas in a respectful atmosphere is it possible to make informed decisions about politics. It is imperative that college campuses, bastions of the pursuit of knowledge, operate in a similar climate.

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