Invoking ‘Academic Freedom’ to Silence Debate

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Reprinted from New Jersey Jewish News.

Academic freedom, like democracy, is one of those things everyone supports because it can mean anything to anyone. In this sense, it is the opposite of anti-Semitism, which everyone opposes because it can be defined so narrowly that it means virtually nothing at all. What’s interesting is when the two concepts collide.

This is precisely what happened, for example, on Oct. 28 at Kent State University. Guest speaker Ishmael Khaldi, a former Israeli consul official, got a rough welcome when he visited to discuss his experience as an Israeli Bedouin. Professor Julio Pino, a Kent State historian, asked Khaldi hostile questions before leaving the hall shouting, “Death to Israel!”

Kent State’s president, Lester A. Lefton, responded quite well. Lefton wrote that it “may have been Professor Pino’s right to” shout at Khaldi, “but it is my obligation, as the president of this university, to say that I find his words deplorable, and his behavior deeply troubling.” Lefton did not try to censor Pino. But he announced that Pino’s behavior was out of bounds.

The influential Association of American University Professors, however, was incensed. Treating Pino as the victim, AAUP President Cary Nelson told Inside Higher Ed that it was Lefton who had stepped out of bounds. Nelson insisted that Pino’s behavior “falls well within the speech rights of any member of a university community.” This of course was not at issue, since Lefton had only voiced his own opinion.

Nelson, however, went on.

“More surprising, to be sure,” Nelson said, “is President Lefton’s invention of an absurd form of hospitality: you must not question the moral legitimacy or the right to exist of a guest’s home country.”

In fact, Lefton had said no such thing. But it is telling that the AAUP’s chief defends a supposed special right to delegitimize Israel. Natan Sharansky had included this supposed right in his famous “3D” test: criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism when it uses double standards, demonizes the Jewish state, or attempts to delegitimize it. This test is the basis for anti-Semitism standards adopted by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Ironically, it is Khaldi’s speech which some are trying to suppress. This is true not only in that his rude treatment may dissuade him from visiting other U.S. campuses. Four days before his Kent State speech, Khaldi appeared at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. There, approximately 60 students reportedly staged a walkout of Khaldi’s presentation in order to disrupt and embarrass him. Bilal Baydoun, who chairs one of the student protest groups, bragged to Arab American News that their disruption “succeeded in rattling the speaker and making him nervous; we sent the message that this campus doesn’t welcome him.”

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  • Imam Zubi

    Death to Kent State Islamofascists!

  • theleastthreat

    Isn't the influential Association of American University Professors supposed to be on a mission? I mean, the second invasion of Poland isn't going happen by itself, is it?

  • tagalog

    When it comes the First Amendment and all that, I always thought that universities, of all places, were places where there is a total dedication to CIVIL discourse. After all, the university is not the public square, where things are far more free for all and rough-and-tumble.

    But I'm a product of a university education in an earlier time, what do I know about today's standards?

  • mrbean
  • Dispozadaburka

    When our president sides with the Muslims,
    calls Netanyahu a liar,
    turns against our allies,
    sends weapons to mexican drug cartels,
    you best understand who his enemy is.
    Once he gets re-elected his agenda will Islamisize the world.

  • Beth

    I believe U.S. universities went downhill once 'middle eastern studies' departments were set up – paid mostly for by saudi arabia (according to some reports) – which is a slick act of treason.

    What is the most valuable asset of any nation? It's young – The enemies of America are quite aware of that fact and took advantage of it long ago. Now we are witnessing the results.

  • Matt

    You could go as far as saying that education has slowly morphed into indoctrination with learning being replace by brainwashing. No longer do we see 2 sides to a "story" being presented to an argument.
    Unless you subscribe to the accepted norm, which is rapidly moving further to the left & regardless of how wrong it may be, your out in the cold, so to speak.
    For instance; creationism verses evolution. Any one that believes in creation is viewed as a "kook". Regardless of which is right, both sides should be presented with the pro's & con's of each argument being given equal merit.
    Providing a young & easilly influenced mind to only one side of an argument is a recipe for disaster.
    Chickens coming home to roost, they are!