Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Violent Tactics of the Anti-Israel Movement

The individuals and groups that are anti-Zionist, that is to say dedicated to the elimination of national self-determination for the Jewish people, comprise a wide philosophical spectrum. There are those who hold as their ideal a world without nation-states, but feel that the first step towards that must be the end of the only Jewish state. For others, it's not quite as universal: other distinct peoples can have their own countries in their own homelands, but the Jews either have their own status as a people denied, or are told by academics like Tony Judt that their national aspirations just came too late (never mind all of the other countries that were created after World War II). Others who promote the "Palestinian cause" agree with those who rejected a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state in 1947, and in 2000, and in 2008-- insisting that the Palestinians can only exercise their own national aspirations if Jewish national rights are eliminated. There are those who have genuine concern for the plight of the Palestinian people but have been seduced by the lies into believing that the conflict is one of unblemished good against pure evil. Finally, there are those with a much more sinister motivation-- ranging from the far left at International ANSWER's hate rallies , to the far right neo-Nazis of Stormfront, to the radical Islamists in Tehran, Gaza, and throughout the Islamic world, their motivation is much more straightforward: they just hate Jews.

In the relatively insular and intense environment of college and university campuses in North America, these various forces have combined to create an atmosphere that is too often intolerant of those who support and defend the cause of Zionism. The hostility can come from faculty, such as Joseph Massad at Columbia or William Robinson at UC Santa Barbara , or from Muslim student groups at institutions such as UC Irvine . Now we're witnessing an escalation of their deliberate, organized tactics--beyond hate speech into intimidation, verbal disruption, and physical violence.

Recent episodes on American campuses where Israeli government representatives had their talks disrupted by protestors did receive media attention. However, there may be a more dangerous phenomenon developing than the use of verbal force against representatives of, or supporters of, Israel-- the threat or use of physical violence merely to prevent a pro-Israel viewpoint from being heard. A fire was set in a building at Boston University 15 minutes before Nonie Darwish was scheduled to speak there in December. York University in Toronto was the scene of an assault on Jewish students in February during a pro-Israel presentation. (This was not the first time that violence has taken place against Jewish students on Canadian university campuses. Last year the Hillel lounge at York was barricaded by attackers yelling anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slogans. In 2002 Concordia University in Montreal was the scene of a riot which prevented Prime Minister Netanyahu from speaking on campus.). Earlier this month, Husam Zakharia, a member of UC Berkeley's Students for Justice in Palestine was arrested for assaulting a leader of Tikvah, the University's pro-Israel student group; Zakharia had also been arrested in 2008 for assault against another Tikvah student on campus.

Now a few incidents of assault certainly don't comprise a trend-- but the response of the administration at York will help make it one. Rather than place restrictions on the hate speech of the anti-Israel groups that perpetrate the violence, York has instead developed its own version of "blame the victim" by putting onerous restrictions on pro-Israel programming--when the Christians United for Israel group wanted to present a panel of pro-Israel speakers, the university required security to be paid for by the group, along with prescreening of speakers and agreement not to advertise the program on campus! In the meantime, the groups presenting anti-Israel hate speech were free to do so without restriction. As David Frum pointed out in Canada's National Post, "The logic is impressively brazen: Since the anti-Israel people might use violence, the speech of the pro-Israel people must be limited. On the other hand, since the pro-Israel people do not use violence, the speech of the anti-Israel people can proceed without restraint."

The threat of violence against pro-Israel students and speakers has already paid off at York. Yet even before this, we have seen incidents in which Israel advocacy groups have voluntarily censored themselves in the face of objections by Muslim student groups. Last November, Princeton University's Tigers for Israel withdrew its sponsorship of an appearance by Darwish after Muslim groups objected; last month, the Israel Society at Cambridge withdrew an invitation to noted Israeli historian Benny Morris, citing fears of "being portrayed as a mouthpiece of Islamophobia" (Morris does not write about Islam, he writes about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict--draw your own conclusions).

If universities are willing to protect free speech even when it clearly crosses the line into hate speech either by faculty or by Muslim student groups, then they must also vigorously protect free speech against the threat of violence. Despite the bizarre claims of the Muslim students at UC Irvine that they were just exercising their own freedom of expression in forcibly disrupting Ambassador Oren's talk, that freedom does not include the right to use or threaten force (verbal or physical). Universities which claim to foster open discussion and debate must therefore act both swiftly and vigorously when faced with individuals or groups that attempt to create an atmosphere of intimidation by force. Rather than punishing the victims, the ones who need to be restrained are those who carry out an orchestrated campaign of verbal disruption, who threaten when faced with an alternative viewpoint, and who carry out assaults against those who disagree with them. Those are the true perpetrators of "muzzling".

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