Israel and Censorship at Harvard

That’s the title of an op-ed just published in The Harvard Crimson by J. Lorand Matory ’82, a professor of anthropology and of African and African-American studies. According to Matory, Harvard is no stranger to censorship:

Two years ago at Harvard, a social scientist who was the most widely cited in his area of study but who had, in a popular book, criticized the U.S.-Israel alliance, became the subject of insinuations that he was anti-Semitic—insinuations that were likely fatal to his candidacy. In recent years, at least three professors—Oxford’s Tom Paulin, DePaul’s Norman Finkelstein, and Rutgers’ Robert Trivers—have been invited to speak at Harvard and then disinvited after complaints that they had spoken critically of Israel or disagreed sharply with Harvard Law School Professor Alan M. Dershowitz regarding Israel’s military conduct.

In a 2006 faculty meeting, Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature Ruth R. Wisse vocalized the underlying rationale of such censorship as few other professors have dared. Denying that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are separate phenomena, she declared anti-Zionism—that is, the rejection of the racially-based claim that Jewish people have a collective right to Palestine—the worst kind of anti-Semitism. For such defenders of Israel, any acknowledgment that Zionism in principle and in practice violates Palestinian rights is tantamount to an endorsement of the Holocaust.

(The Magnes Zionist, an excellent blog from Jerusalem and worth bookmarking, offers a comprehensive response to Wisse’s recently released book, Jews and Power, which proposes, as sympathetic reviewer Anthony Julius said in the NYT, that “Zionism is the solution to Jewish powerlessness; Israel is the guarantor of the Jews’ safety. Further, the Jewish nation’s resumption of sovereignty in 1948 created opportunities for the Jews to bring benefits to humanity as a whole.” Presumably her thinking has evolved somewhat since 1988 when, according to Matory, she called Palestinian refugees “people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery”. )

Matory asks about Harvard in particular:

How can one engage in a critical and nonetheless loving conversation about Zionism with a community as gravely traumatized as the Jewish people? The question has become particularly difficult to answer since Harvard’s previous president publicly declared that petitions against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza were a form of anti-Semitism, comparable to vandalizing Jewish gravestones.

My aim here is not to preach but to insist upon my right, and others’, to a conversation full of respect and free of intimidation, one that presumes no monopolies on suffering, one in which all racism and anti-Semitism—whether against Semitic Jews, Semitic Christians, Semitic Druzes or Semitic Muslims—is equally impermissible.

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