Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Patina of the Jewish Community Supporting Intellectual Honesty and Freedom Takes a Hit – From the Jewish Student Organization Hillel

The True Test of Freedom of Speech Advocates is Supporting Hostile, Offensive Speech

One of the many good things of having Jewish heritage (as this author does) is the glory of open and honest intellectual debate.  Jewish culture has a long and deep history, particularly in the United States of being an bastion of open query, regardless of the subject.  But some in the Jewish community are abandoning that culture when it comes to hostile speech.

Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times
Swarthmore’s Hillel group decided not to abide by guidelines prohibiting collaboration with speakers or groups deemed unsupportive of Israel.

At Harvard, the Jewish student group Hillel was barred from co-sponsoring a discussion with a Palestinian student group. At Binghamton University, a Hillel student leader was forced to resign his position after showing a film about Palestinians and inviting the filmmaker’s brother to speak. And on many other campuses, Hillel chapters have been instructed to reject collaboration with left-leaning Jewish groups.

And a Jewish scholar as famous as Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard legal giant who should know better, apparently doesn’t.

Alan M. Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School who was once a faculty adviser for the Harvard Hillel, said in an interview: “I don’t think this is a free-speech issue. The people who want divestment and boycotts have plenty of opportunity to speak on campus. The question is a branding one. You can see why Hillel does not want its brand to be diluted.”

But some students, to their great credit, are going ahead anyway.

Joshua Wolfsun, a student on the Swarthmore Hillel board, said, “There are a lot of really smart people across the political spectrum on Israel that we want to talk to, and we feel that Hillel should not have a political litmus test on who is allowed and who is not.”

In a manifesto, the Swarthmore Hillel students proclaimed: “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.”

And if Hillel wants to preserve its brand, it can best do so by being a beacon of open thought and debate.  After all the best way to defeat those who oppose Israel and would destroy the Jewish state is to bring them into the light of day, bring their hatred and desire for oppression into public view.  Doing that would strengthen the Hillel brand.  Suppressing free and open debate will only destroy it.  And if Hillel is successful in its campaign to stop students from engaging in discussions on any topics with anyone then it deserves the damage that will be done to its brand and it can join the other irrelevancies, like Rush Limbaugh, whose concept of open and unrestricted debates is one that contains only one side, 

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