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Banning Dissent in the Name of Civility
Posted on Dec 21, 2014
By Chris Hedges
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I had been invited to talk next April 3 at the University of Pennsylvania at a peace conference sponsored by the International Affairs Association, but last week after Truthdig published my column “ISIS—the New Israel” the lecture agency that set up the event received this email from Zachary Michael Belnavis, who is part of the student group:
Being banned from speaking about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, especially at universities, is familiar to anyone who attempts to challenge the narrative of the Israel lobby. This is not the first time one of my speaking offers has been revoked and it will not be the last. However, the charge of Belnavis and the International Affairs Association that I do not believe in coexistence between the Palestinians and Israel is false. I oppose violence by either party. I have condemned Hamas rocket attacks as war crimes. And I support Israel’s right to exist within the pre-1967 borders. The charge that I oppose coexistence cannot be substantiated by anything I have said or written. And those of us who call on Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders are, after all, only demanding what is required by international law and numerous U.N. resolutions.
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Our universities, like our corporate-controlled airwaves, are little more than echo chambers for the elites and the powerful. The bigger and more prestigious the university the more it seems determined to get its students and faculty to chant in unison to please its Zionist donors. Student groups that resist are often banned, as has happened to numerous chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, including one at Northeastern University. Some are denied meeting spaces, and at times student activists are prohibited from participating in any campus student organizations—even those that have nothing to do with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Many students have been made to attend re-education seminars run by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Criticism of Israel is equated with anti-Semitism.
I spent seven years in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent, five of them as the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. I speak Arabic. I was frequently in Gaza and lived for two years in Jerusalem. What frightens the Israel lobby is not my critique, but my expertise. It is impossible to spew out the usual Israeli propaganda, half-truths, distortions and lies—as retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz once tried to do when he and I appeared at a Columbia University event—to someone who has spent years in the Middle East reporting on the conflict. What the Israel lobby fears most are facts.
The struggle by students, including some at the University of Pennsylvania, to bolster the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which I support, has been met by fierce internal resistance on campuses across the country. A national BDS conference in 2012 at the University of Pennsylvania, which to the university’s credit the school administrators permitted, saw the usual outpouring of venom and character assassination. The attacks included a letter to The Daily Pennsylvanian newspaper from professor Ruben Gur of the departments of psychiatry, radiology and neurology. Gur called the BDS movement a “hateful genocidal organization” and accused it of being anti-Semitic. He said the student organizers were concealing “Hamas and Hizballah daggers” and referred to Omar Barghouti’s book “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: the Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights” as the organizers’ “version of ‘Mein Kampf.’ ” He said groups in the BDS movement were similar to those “organized by the Nazis in the 1930’s to boycott, divest and sanction Jews and their businesses.” He compared Jewish students who support the movement to “Capos in the extermination camps.”
The University of Pennsylvania’s Hillel chapter has hosted speakers such as Daniel Pipes and Nonie Darwish who peddle disturbing racist stereotypes of Muslims and justify indiscriminate violence against Muslims. The chapter once organized a university talk by the right-wing extremist Effi Eitam, a former Israeli military commander. Eitam, infamous for personally overseeing and taking part in brutal and sometimes deadly beatings of Palestinians in the occupied territories when he was in the military, declared in a 2004 article in The New Yorker that Palestinians were “creatures who came out of the depths of darkness” and he branded the Palestinian people as “collectively guilty.” “We will have to kill them all,” he said of those with “the evil in their heads.”
The political science department of the University of Pennsylvania, along with Hillel, invited Dershowitz to attack the BDS movement in a 2012 lecture titled “Why Israel Matters to You, Me, and Penn: A Conversation With Alan Dershowitz.”
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