During the early part of November, the Israeli press extensively covered yet another cancellation of a pro-Israel speaker in America. This time the outrage occurred at Princeton University, one of America’s most elite universities, and was perpetrated by Hillel, the world’s largest Jewish campus organization! This isn’t trivial. It’s an example of the widespread assault on the 1st Amendment right of free speech.
Disclaimer: I quit the ACLU in 1978 when it protected the “right” of the neo-Nazi Nationalist Socialist Party of America to march in the heavily Jewish town of Skokie, IL. “Right” or not, it was a disgusting decision which, in my opinion, violated the spirit of the 1st Amendment.
Seeing the many articles in local Israeli papers about the Hillel chapter’s refusal to allow a speaker from Israel’s government to speak on campus, I thought I might write about it. I reasoned that our American friends must be outraged by yet another instance of the shutting down of free speech. I was wrong.
Why? Because they probably weren’t even aware of it. This incident didn’t appear in the mass media; not the New York Times, not the Washington Post, not the Philadelphia Inquirer, nor via the major broadcasting networks (based on a Google search). While searching the Internet I found nothing about the cancellation of the speech at Princeton except a slanted article on The Forward, which is a former Yiddish language, communist paper – now a very left wing newspaper read mostly by Jewish progressives. Though an incident such as this may appear to be relatively insignificant, the danger to the First Amendment is not.
Hillel, and many other institutions, has a policy of not sponsoring speakers who may foster incivility or promote racism. But the onus seems to be on pro-Israel speakers to prove they aren’t racists, instead of the policy being applied only to speakers obviously beyond the pale, such as members of terrorist organizations or their spokespeople (like neo-Nazis).
According to the Jerusalem Post, “Princeton University’s Hillel House on Monday (12/6) canceled a planned address by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, following a petition by a progressive Jewish group on campus. In a letter to the Israeli Consulate in New York, Rabbi Julie Roth, executive director of the Center for Jewish Life on Princeton’s campus, stated ‘The Center for Jewish Life at Princeton decided to postpone the program with Member of Knesset Tzipi Hotovely until we can properly vet the program through our Israel Advisory Committee.’” (jpost.com)
Rabbi Roth’s organization failed to assume that an Israeli minister wasn’t a racist. This was a different approach from oft-used excuses (see below) that the talk wasn’t announced in time, or that the speaker couldn’t be properly protected from unhappy “students,” or that the cost of security for the speaker would be too high, etc. In the end, the Princeton Chabad organization stepped into the breach and hosted Ms. Hotovely, as Chabad organizations have done in other, similar instances.
Campus newspapers regularly feature disgusting op-eds about Israel. Recent examples include Brown, UCLA, UC-Berkeley, UC-Irvine, U of Chicago, George Washington U, Trinity College, Hampshire College, Penn, Virginia Tech, Williams College, etc. (businessinsider.com)
Unfortunately, Americans are not learning enough about how college campuses have become so intolerant of pro-Israel representatives that some non-profit government organizations (NGOs) have succeeding in forbidding opinions differing from their own to be promulgated. This is one of the worst instances of political correctness plaguing colleges today, and not just in America.
This behavior turns the whole idea of a college education on its head: instead of a college education to open one’s mind, colleges are allowing liberal – but intolerant – groups to close students’ mind to contrary ideas.
When I’ve asked American friends about the antisemitism on US campuses, they often plead ignorance. I realize that I live in Israel, where news concerning our country or fellow Jews is critically important. Nevertheless, it’s very problematic if people are paying often exorbitant sums to educate their children (or grandchildren) and don’t realize that they are being equipped to shut out information, not ingest it and vet it for themselves.
Yes, the president of Hillel and Rabbi Roth did apologize for their “mistake” in canceling the Hotovely speech, but their apology was not based on a critical appraisal of their guidelines. (timesofisrael.com) Yet, it should be noted that in the scale of things, Hillel looks good compared to the cowardly, incompetent administrations which are running so many colleges and universities today.
After writing the above, I read an article in the Jerusalem Post by Carolyn Glick, the insightful, American-Israeli Middle East pundit. Among other things, Glick pointed out that Rabbi Roth, as well as her husband, are members of Jewish groups with a decidedly anti-Zionist slant. Quoting Israeli journalist David Bedein, Glick noted that Roth has canceled previous pro-Israel events.
Despite that, Roth and Eric Fingerhut insisted that Roth’s cancellation was “an isolated incident.” Indeed, Hillel’s record is very spotty on protecting the free speech of pro-Israel speakers on college campuses. Glick makes the point that Jewish students need protection from so-called freedom of speech champions who express their Jew-hatred as anti-Zionism. (jpost.com)
Let’s hope that the overabundance of political correctness, which has gone so far as to turn many college campuses into bastions of intolerance (as well as to hamper the West’s battle against jihadist terror) is but a passing phase that will be remembered as a regrettable lapse of Americans’ good sense.