Breaking news/a good day for free speech: despite extensive efforts by the new Amcha Initiative to get Israeli historian Ilan Pappe booted from Cal State University campuses, where he is scheduled to speak next week, the presidents of Cal State Fresno, Cal State Northridge, and Cal Poly have taken a strong, unanimous stand in support of free speech on college campuses.
If you’re near any of these campuses, please go hear Ilan Pappe speak the week of February 20th. He’s a brave, important scholar whose analysis and insights are invaluable to understanding Israel and Palestine. He’s speaking at Cal State Northridge, Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and Cal State Fresno.
In the attempt to censor Pappe, who is a Jewish Israeli, UC Santa Cruz Hebrew lecturer Tammy Rossman-Benjamin, under the aegis of her new group, “The Amcha Initiative: Protecting Jewish Students,” recently sent a letter to the president of the CSU system against Pappe and his CSU hosts. The letter is a prime example of doublespeak, emphasizing – using bold font and capital letters – that “are NOT asking that these three events be cancelled or that Ilan Pappe be censored.” (emphasis in original)
What, then, were they asking for? For the Cal State campuses and Cal Poly to “rescind all … sponsorship and support” from the Pappe events. What does that mean, exactly? Removing the events from campus and preventing the faculty from hosting Pappe in their official capacity. So no, that wouldn’t exactly be censoring Pappe – he could still speak off-campus, we presume – but it would surely be censoring the faculty who invited him, making a mockery of the freedom of intellectual inquiry and free speech that are so essential to college campuses.
There’s more to this story, too. The Amcha letter claims that Pappe’s event is propaganda, not education, and cites the political activism of the faculty who invited him (including the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at CSU-Fresno) as evidence. This claim that political people can’t be interested in education, or that people can’t simultaneously be committed to a political cause and to rigorous scholarship is both insulting and revealing. Revealing because it suggests on which side of the scale Rossman-Benjamin, an educator paid by the state of California, would fall.
And today, Rossman-Benjamin’s efforts failed. The presidents’ statement is strong and clear. In it, they state that “Universities are places where debate, discussion and free ideas are welcome and encouraged. … Academic freedom and freedom of speech are … cornerstones … of a functioning democracy.”
That’s right – free speech, higher education, functioning democracy are all deeply intertwined.
And moreover, they say, “Universities are charged with teaching students how to think for themselves….We seek to instill in students the tools to fairly and intelligently assess all data and views, as well as the personal integrity and values to come to a rational and reasonable conclusion.”
Exactly. They trust the learning process. They trust that students are intelligent and capable and have integrity, and can learn how to assess data and opposing, conflicting viewpoints.
That is, their educational philosophy is the opposite of Tammy Rossman-Benjamin, who has been the most visible leader behind a growing campaign to eliminate from college campuses virtually any criticism, however mild, of Israeli human rights practices.
In 2010, Rossman-Benjamin succeeded in getting Israeli peace activists kicked off of UC Santa Cruz campus. In March 2011, she – together with the SF Jewish Community Relations Council and the ADL – failed to do the same for a conference on Palestinians legal rights at UC Hastings (though they did get Hastings to pull its “name and brand” from the proceedings.
Also in March 2011, Rossman-Benjamin filed a complaint against UC-Santa Cruz, her employer, with the federal Office on Civil Rights, under the newly revamped anti-bullying guidelines (Eyal Mazor wrote a report on these guidelines for Muzzlewatch here. Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint alleges a “hostile environment” for Jewish students at UC-Santa Cruz and fills 29 pages with reports mainly about human rights activists speaking on campus. According to this complaint, any criticism of Israel is “anti-semitic” and “inciting hatred” against Israel – which, according to Benjamin, automatically means against Jewish students, too. We expect the Office of Civil Rights to dismiss this complaint: despite Rossman-Benjamin’s statement in the Forward suggesting that investigation itself proves the validity of her claim, if a complaint is filed, the OCR must investigate, like firefighters responding to a fire.
Which brings us back to the Amcha letter on Israeli historian Ilan Pappe- it says that hosting the Jewish Israeli historian on campus “cannot help but create a hostile environment for Jewish students” at these three campuses. That language sounds a lot like a threat, or maybe a promise. Are these campuses next on Rossman-Benjamin’s list for an Office of Civil Rights Title VI complaint?
And here’s the great letter from the Cal State Presidents: