History News Network | Every 30 or 40 Years We See Flagrant Attacks on Free Speech. Here We Go Again.

While the present attack on academics who speak out against Israel is not as egregious as those that happened during the McCarthy Era, they are just as damaging to free speech. The critics are usually denounced as anti-Semitic and under that guise they are discredited as racist. On those grounds those defending Israel feel justified in their efforts to destroy the careers of those academics (the Salaita case is just the most prominent). The problem is that this is to confuse antisemitism with actions of the state of Israel (some may have done so intentionally as a way to shut down opinions that they do not like). One doesn’t have to be an anti-Semite to object to the actions of the state of Israel.  I find antisemitism abhorrent (and I have said so often), but I also find some of the actions of the Israeli government abhorrent as well. And there have been many Jews who have spoken out against the Israeli government on this topic as well. One of the most powerful statements comes from Theodore Bikel, who wrote in the Jewish Journal against “the death of Arab children.” “People see suffering and unless it is Jewish suffering they are silent. How dare they?” We should follow Theodore’s example and take a stand against injustice no matter who is committing it.
The Israeli government does not and should not get a free pass just because of the long history of antisemitism.
The historian Lawrence Davidson points out that attempts to shut down speech is a historical pattern that is unlikely to end. But he believes that we can “minimize the consequences of these repeated assaults” if we “continuously defy them. In other words, only by maintaining a counter-pattern of vigorously defending and using the right of free speech and academic freedom can space be sustained for critical voices. If at any time we fail to sustain this space we risk the possibility of being overwhelmed by a combination of closed-minded ideologues and the mass indifference of the majority.” Please read his article at the HNN:

History News Network | Every 30 or 40 Years We See Flagrant Attacks on Free Speech. Here We Go Again..

See also: “Did Salaita Cross the Line of Civility?” The New York Times


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