Just because the content of speech is legal does not make it proper or immunize it from criticism.
By JONATHAN ROSENBLUMPublished: SEPTEMBER 3, 2009 15:40Advertisement
The Swedish government refused to condemn a totally unsupported article in the country's largest-circulation newspaper alleging that Israel routinely kidnaps and murders Palestinians to harvest their organs. To comment, said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, would be a violation of the country's principles of free speech.
Those who called for donors to withhold giving to Ben-Gurion University after BGU Professor Neve Gordon penned an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, in which he advocated an international boycott of Israel, were accused of violating academic freedom.
Those responses share a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of freedom of speech and academic freedom. Just because the content of speech is legal does not make it proper or immunize it from criticism. I have the right to express my thoughts. But I do not have a right to have The Jerusalem Post publish them, or to demand that it not publish letters ridiculing its "haredi apologist."
Freedom of the press and speech protect Aftonbladet from sanctions by the Swedish government. But the Swedish government has its own interests - or so one would have hoped - in disassociating Sweden from ancient anti-Semitic stereotypes, as the Swedish ambassador to Israel rightly recognized. Had a major Swedish paper printed anything offensive to Muslims of a violent bent, the government would have fallen over itself to express its regrets. And while an academic has the right to his opinions, private donors who find his views or research repugnant are equally entitled not to support that research. Given the fungibility of money, that might mean withholding support from the university that employs them.
Nor do professors' statements become immune to criticism because they are uttered in a classroom. Professors, like everyone else, should expect to have their work evaluated. Just as parents and students have an interest in knowing which professors have a tendency to get too friendly with female students, so do they have a right to form judgments about which professors are using their classrooms for political indoctrination, not education.
GROUPS LIKE Campus Watch and Israel Campus foster such informed judgments by publicizing both the published utterances and classroom statements of university lecturers.
In general, it would be foolish to refrain from contributing to a university based on the views of one faculty member. Doing so would eliminate every potential recipient.
But Neve Gordon is not a solitary rogue professor on the BGU campus. The BGU Department of Politics and Government, which he chairs, fits the description of former Minister of Education Amnon Rubinstein of academic departments in Israel in which no traditional Zionist could be appointed. Before he published his Los Angeles Times piece, Gordon shared his message with his department colleagues. According to Professor Fred Lazin, there was a "unanimous decision not to let him step down [as chairman]."
BGU President Rikva Carmi professed to be "shocked" by Gordon's boycott call. But she has in the past defended him as a "serious and distinguished researcher into human rights," and lashed out at academic monitors of his output, which appears regularly on anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial sites and Aljazeera.com, as "Kahanists."
Nor did Gordon's boycott call come out of the blue. For years he has described Israel as an "apartheid state." He once joined 250 International Solidarity Movement members serving as a human shield in Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound, where he was photographed holding hands aloft with Arafat and quoted expressing doubts about the latter's involvement in terrorism.
Gordon is the last person entitled to hide behind the cover of free speech and academic freedom. He once labeled his former army commander Aviv Kochavi a "war criminal," forcing Kochavi to forgo graduate studies in England for fear of prosecution. Gordon filed a libel suit against Haifa University Professor Steven Plaut over the latter's sharp criticism of his ISM escapades and of Ha'aretz's choice of Gordon to write an effusive review of Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry, which alleges, inter alia, that the number of those murdered in the Holocaust is greatly exaggerated. Before filing, Gordon then went forum-shopping to Nazareth, where neither he nor Plaut live, in search of a suitably sympathetic Arab judge.
ISRAELI AND Jewish Israel-bashers constitute a major, perhaps insuperable, obstacle to any attempt to defend Israel in the court of world opinion. Anyone attempting to defend Israel abroad will inevitably be confronted with some statement characterizing Israel as a racist, apartheid state, perpetrating war crimes against the Palestinians, from the mouth of an Israeli academic or journalist. The fact that the source is Jewish or Israeli is assumed to provide credibility.
Sadly, many Jews who care deeply about Israel's existence help fund its delegitimization. The New Israel Fund raises millions of dollars annually from American Jews. Donors are told that New Israel Fund supports Israel as a Jewish state and opposes the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, and that the NIF does not fund organizations that engage in propaganda or support boycotts of Israel.
None of these claims are true, as two recent studies of NIF grantees prepared by the Center for Near East Policy Research demonstrate. The Coalition of Women for Peace recently sponsored a speech by Naomi Klein in support of the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BSD) against Israel. Six NIF grant recipients - including CPW, Mossawa, and Machsom Watch - petitioned the Norwegian government for sanctions against Israel.
Ittijah, an umbrella group of Israel Arab NGO's, issued a statement prior to its attendance at Durban II in Geneva in which it charged that "the Jewish character of the state of Israel contradicts international law" and referred to the "racist character" of the State. The draft constitution prepared for Israel by Adalah, the Legal Center for Minority Arab Rights in Israel, another NIF grantee, calls for Israel to recognize responsibility for the Nakba of its creation and to recognize "the right of return." Adalah participated actively in the preparations for the UN sponsored Israel-bashing fest in Durban and in the drafting of the conference resolutions.
The director until recently of I'lam - the Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, Balad MK Hanin Zoabi was one of the signatories of the Haifa Declaration calling for the negation of Israel's Jewish character. She supports Iran's quest for nuclear weapons and has participated in Israel Apartheid week activities in the United States. The organization's Empowerment Coordinator calls for the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes, and its director of International Relations describes Hamas as "a genuinely emancipatory liberation and resistance movement."
Perhaps the best indicator of the NIF's real agenda was unwittingly supplied by a 2001 letter to The Jerusalem Post. Evalyn Segal recounted how she was a "devout Zionist" until she made the "haj" to Israel on a 1989 NIF study tour and had her eyes opened to the "racist contempt of the Israel government . . . towards the Palestinians [and] how the founders of Zionism schemed from the start to take over, by any means necessary, the whole of Palestine and to cleanse it of Palestinians."
The prophet Isaiah (49:17) long ago foresaw that "your ruiners and destroyers will come from amongst you." But generous American Jews, committed to Israel's existence, should not be supporting the destroyers' efforts.
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