Who is silencing whom? It seems clear from the passion he brings to the topic that Marc Abizeid means well, in his article, “Silencing Debate on the Middle East.” Unfortunately, the reporter lets enthusiasm for one side in a dispute get the better of journalistic integrity, and the facts. As careful readers of his essay will discern — and as anyone who spends a day on this campus knows — there is no paucity of criticism of Israel and no silencing of debate, on the Middle East or anything else, on our outspokenly radical campus. There is however, a noticeable bias against any ideas that can be construed as conservative in some way, or not “politically correct” from a far-left point of view.
Painting those who are offended by the anti-Israel atmosphere on campus as attempting to “silence debate” is thus nonsense, for a couple of reasons. First, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, on the one hand, and the organizers of the conference, “Alternative Histories Within and Beyond Zionism,” on the other, have a disagreement about what constitutes responsible free speech in an academic setting, legitimate or illegitimate use of university funds for political advocacy, and what counts as advocacy. That’s not silencing, nor is having such a disagreement likely to silence anyone. To the contrary, that’s a minority on campus (SPME) giving voice to an opinion, prompting a debate about the form our discussions should take and what are our responsibilities as educators and citizens. Both the conference organizers and the members of the civic organization are highly respected educators, contributing to the give-and-take of civil society, while doing their best to look out for the well-being of our community, as each understands it differently. Second, it is voices sympathetic to tiny Israel, the only secular, pluralistic democracy in the vast Middle East, which are heard relatively rarely — though they are far from absent altogether — in the hallowed halls of UCSC.
This raises a lager point, implicit in Abizeid’s narrow perspective. Although you sometimes wouldn’t know it on this campus, there are in fact progressive intellectuals in the world who support Israel, and worry about the strategies and tactics of some of its detractors. See, for example, Mitchell Cohen’s recent critique of anti-Zionist rhetoric in the prestigious social-democratic journal Dissent online. Or take the writings of French
philosopher, Bernard-Henri Levy, who spoke at Stanford University this month, in moving tribute to Daniel Pearl, the young Wall Street Journal reporter, brutally murdered by terrorists in 2002. Anti-Zionism combined with anti-Americanism—to form the amalgam that Josef Joffe,editor of the German newspaper, Die Zeit, calls simply “anti-ism” — may have become the latest litmus-test for self-styled radicals everywhere. But people who believe in Western democracy and oppose totalitarianism and terrorism (with Paul Berman, for example, author of the important book, Liberalism and Terror) are not at all nonexistent. Indeed, they make up an important,
well-informed perspective on the sources of conflict and prospects for peace and respect for human rights, post-9/11. Samantha Power — the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide — is an advisor to Barack Obama, vigorously engaged in the struggle to halt genocide in Darfur, and another voice that students at UCSC, interested in serious political thought and action, might want to put beside the chorus of revolutionary postmodern Marxist “anti-ism” on this campus, which can lead to nothing real or desirable.
As neither a radical nor a conservative myself — but a merely a commonsense liberal, in favor of a two-state solution to the urgent problem of the suffering of the Palestinian refugees, on the one hand, and the need of the Jewish state for security on the other — I was dismayed by Abizeid’s inaccurate article, its patently false title, and the incendiary cover-photo that accompanied it. Citing as unexamined sources of information such extreme anti-Israel activists as the anarchist thinker, Noam Chomsky, and the recently dismissed professor of political science, Norman Finkelstein, as if these marginal ideologues were mainstream experts on the Middle East, or in any way representative of the range of responsible opinion on the subject — Abizeid flouts the journalist’s responsibility to help bring clarity and balance to the important issues he writes about.
In conclusion, I cannot begin to try to settle the honest dispute between my pro- and anti-Israel colleagues here, except to assert my firm belief that both sides support free speech, and neither proposes “silencing” — a basic point, which CHP’s irresponsible coverage should have noted prominently, but instead only obscured. The insinuation that some faculty want to limit the legitimate rights and academic freedom of others is scurrilous, utterly without merit, and even dangerous. Indeed, when attached to questions about Israel, this outrageous assertion comes perilously close to timeworn stereotypes, myths, and conspiracy theories, of a most unpleasant and unhealthy variety.
Instead of accusing one side of trying to manipulate, while forming part of some larger nefarious nexus out to “hassle” and “intimidate,” why not start by respecting all parties, explain who they are realistically, investigate the substance of the dispute fairly, and report on that? You — and your readers — might even learn something.
*Gabriel Noah Brahm, Jr.*