My Word: Safe and unsound

That university students need to run away from debate is disconcerting; that some US congressmen can’t bear to hear a warning about the dangers of a nuclear Iran is frightening.

March 26, 2015 21:45

SOLDIERS LEAVE a bomb shelter in Kibbutz Mefalsim during a surprise drill near the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Of all the articles I read this week, the one that stood out didn’t deal with US President Barack Obama’s response to the reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu.

It shone light on a phenomenon I had not previously been aware of. A different mind-set, really.

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In an op-ed in The New York Times titled “In college and hiding from scary ideas,” reprinted in The Jerusalem Post on March 23, Judith Shulevitz writes about American campuses where instead of fostering forums for free expression, students are being offered refuges from distressing debate.

She gives the example of a debate at Brown University between Jessica Valenti, the founder of, and Wendy McElroy, a libertarian, discussing campus sexual assault. Katherine Byron, a senior and member of Brown’s Sexual Assault Task Force, was concerned that McElroy was likely to criticize the term “rape culture.”

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This, apparently, could be perceived as invalidating the experiences of rape victims and hence be traumatic in its own right.

Part of the solution was to provide a “safe space” for those who needed a respite from the debate.

As Shulevitz wrote: “The safe space, Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments ‘troubling’ or ‘triggering,’ a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play- Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma....”

That’s a much better equipped “safe space” than the shelters most Israelis of all ages have run to during rocket attacks in recent years.

I don’t like belittling the experience of the American university students who have to deal with threatening things like, well, different opinions. Obviously such students are poorly equipped to deal with my opinion that running to a room equipped like a kindergarten rather than face the emotional peril of a conflicting point of view is childish.

“Safe spaces,” wrote Shulevitz, “are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being ‘bombarded’ by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints.

Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better- known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material.”

It reminds me of the flurry of petitions by law students at Ivy League universities to postpone their exams last December because some were too traumatized by the Ferguson incident to study.

As Fox News reported: “Columbia Law School has agreed to delay final exams for students who face ‘trauma’ and disillusionment following two recent, racially charged cases in which grand juries declined to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men. And now, students at Harvard and Georgetown want the same dispensation, also saying they just can’t face their tests in the wake of the grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York.

“‘For some law students, particularly, though not only, students of color, this chain of events is all the more profound as it threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society to protect fairness, due process and equality,’ Robert E. Scott, Columbia’s interim dean, told the school in an email Saturday.”

During the years I studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the First Lebanon War was raging and like many students I was having to deal with very real fears and the deaths of friends and acquaintances.

I wonder how the American law students who can’t cope with the outcome of a grand jury verdict are being prepared to deal with real life.

THE RESPONSE by some on the Left to the reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister also raised questions about coping mechanisms.

Disgraced professor Amir Hetsroni is being investigated for incitement after his Facebook posting: “If we didn’t open our legs without selection to all kinds of Jews, questionable Jews and half-Jews from third-rate countries...

Buji [Isaac Herzog] would have taken it in a cake walk...”

Hetsroni later told Channel 10’s Tzinor Laila host Guy Lehrer that he plans to emigrate within the year: “I’m leaving you with all this garbage and getting out of here. I’m too logical, too smart and too successful for this country.”

Hetsroni seems to think he will be missed after he’s jumped to some safe haven of like-minded Israel-bashers.

Maybe he’ll have company on the flight out.

“Drink cyanide, bloody Neanderthals. You won. Only death will save you from yourselves,” writer and actress Alona Kimhi briefly posted on her Facebook page. Kimhi, not incidentally, wrote the controversial lyrics “killing is a matter of habit,” for a song about IDF soldiers performed by her partner Izhar Ashdot.

It’s strange that those who most need a reality check are often the ones who can’t deal with the reality – or the truth.

When Obama and a group of Democrat representatives boycotted Netanyahu’s speech on Iran, they were doing the equivalent of hiding in the “safe space.” That university students need to run away from debate is disconcerting; that some US congressmen can’t bear to hear a warning about the dangers of a nuclear Iran is frightening.

Obama seems to be finding it harder than Kimhi and Hetsroni to come to terms with the results of Israel’s democratic elections. The president of the United States this week didn’t accept the apology offered by Netanyahu to Arab citizens offended by his Election Day comment about Arab voters turning out “in droves” and being bused to polling stations by foreign-funded left-wing organizations.

The reprehensibly phrased comment, together with his statement that he doesn’t see a Palestinian state being established during his term of office, provided extra ammunition to those who didn’t want to see Netanyahu reelected and evidently want to do everything they can to bring him down.

The post-election reappearance of the allegations that Israel spied on the US over Iran was no great surprise; just as it was not a shock when the week before the election, Yediot Aharonot published a story (also denied) that Netanyahu had agreed in a previous term in office to redraw the borders on 1967 lines. Neither story is a great scoop.

They are both deliberate leaks, and readers can draw their own conclusions about who leaked them and why they chose that particular timing.

Incidentally, while Obama and the Joint List of Arab parties refused to accept Netanyahu’s apology, I note that the Joint List MKs have yet to concede that it might have been nonconstructive, and, yes, even offensive, to refuse to sign a deal to share excess ballots with any “Jewish” party.

At J Street’s annual conference in Washington this week, leader Jeremy Ben-Ami called for fund-raisers to keep their donations within the Green Line, essentially encouraging boycott of much of Jerusalem among other places. J Street frequently complains that it is being excluded from the mainstream Jewish community. Still, holding a protest rally on Monday, as reported by JTA, to try to shame Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut into attending the J Street convention despite his discomfort with its speakers and agenda represents a ridiculous “Step into our Big Welcoming Tent or else” approach.

Out of all the absurdities I read about last week, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women singling out Israel as the only country for condemnation was the most outrageous, in particular given that the commission’s member states include Sudan and Iran.

Apparently it’s Israel’s fault that Palestinian women aren’t free like, say, women in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or in any Shari’a-abiding country or community.

I wasn’t the only person who smirked when I heard Obama warning in a Huffington Post interview after Netanyahu’s comments that the Palestinian state won’t be born on his watch: “We take him at his word and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.”

The region is already chaotic, Mr. President. It’s largely the result of your foreign policy.

Obama is now warning that he will take an agreement on Iran to the UN instead of Congress. Perhaps he sees the United Nations as his safe room. It does not bode well for the world. But if you feel traumatized by anything in this column... Deal with it.

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