Tyranny of the victimized

Pursuit of truth is possible only in an atmosphere that encourages free expression without fear of violence.

Ahinoam Nini (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ahinoam Nini
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Citing “security concerns” has become the most effective way of shutting down freedom of expression. All an institution has to do to avoid the trouble of hosting or providing a venue for a controversial speaker or performer is claim that to do so would likely result in violence. It works regardless of the ideological leanings of the speaker or performer.
Singer Achinoam Nini, who is known for her dovish positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was disinvited from performing at a Detroit-area synagogue with the shul’s board members claiming that threats by right-wing “security concerns” forced them to cancel her performance.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, a hawk who recently joined the Likud, backed out of an engagement at San Francisco State University after it emerged that the university had refrained from advertising the event and restricted the number of participants for fear they could not provide adequate security.
What lies at the heart of the “security concerns” claim is the idea that words or other forms of expression can drive people to violence. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Western society’s hypersensitivity to the perceived grievances of various groups has become the single greatest threat to freedom of expression. Political correctness, safe zones, charges of cultural appropriation are all used to stifle freedom of speech.
In the US, white people are engaging in “cultural appropriation” when they listen to rap music; a white woman who stands up for gender egalitarianism is denounced for ignoring the plight of colored people; the flying of the US flag is deemed to be insulting to refugees opposed to the immigration policies of US President Donald Trump.
These are, of course, extreme, though quite real, examples of hypersensitivity to groups who tout their victimhood as a way of shutting down freedom of expression.
On US college campuses, the willingness to stifle or censor speech in order to protect the subjective feelings of those who claim to be offended is particularly prominent. Scholarly inquiry is no longer truly free. Subjective identity trumps objective methodology. What can a white male know about colonialism, slavery or racial discrimination? A true community of scholarship united by mutually held criteria for investigating the truth becomes an impossibility.
Even freedom of speech has come under attack as “a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions.” This is what a group of self-defined black students from the Claremont Colleges wrote in an open letter to David Oxtoby, the outgoing president of Pomona College.
“It [freedom of speech] has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry,” the letter continued.
In this intellectual atmosphere, only “marginalized groups” with bona fide victimhood credentials have the right to free expression. All others must be silenced so they do not exploit a platform for the perpetuation of oppression.
It goes without saying that, in the eyes of the black students at Claremont Colleges, advocates of Israel are on the wrong side of justice. That’s why stripping Zionists of their right to free speech on college campuses is perfectly justified.
But a similar closing of the mind has afflicted the pro-Israel community. Any opinion seen as excessively critical of the Jewish state is labeled as outside the pale of legitimate opinion and is denied a platform.
In much of the Israeli Right the term “leftist” has become an anathema that needs no further qualification. Supporting BDS in any way or form is enough to get you disinvited or delegitimized.
For Nini, who publicly opposes and condemns BDS, it was enough to sing together with Mira Awad, an Arab citizen of Israel, for a joint ceremony on Memorial Day that was organized by Combatants for Peace, an organization that brings together IDF soldiers and Palestinian security personnel who have lost loved ones due to the military conflict.
Pursuit of truth is possible only in an atmosphere that encourages free expression without fear of violence. Caving in to the tyranny of the victimized is the greatest threat to intellectual freedom.