It’s Not About Free Speech

Reading in the New York Times, Members of Jewish Student Group Test Permissible Discussion on Israel, one could easily make the assumption that an all-powerful Jewish organization controls what American college students are allowed to say and think about Israel:

At Harvard, the Jewish student group Hillel was barred from co-sponsoring a discussion with a Palestinian student group. At Binghamton University, a Hillel student leader was forced to resign his position after showing a film about Palestinians and inviting the filmmaker’s brother to speak. And on many other campuses, Hillel chapters have been instructed to reject collaboration with left-leaning Jewish groups.

The issue has nothing to do with free speech. Hillel is not preventing debate about Israel. Even if that was their goal — and there is no evidence whatsoever of this — there is no way that they could stop critics of Israel from speaking out, whether on campus or anywhere else. The very fact that many American university campuses have become hotbeds of anti-Israel extremism proves that those who hate Israel have found a place to spread influence.

The real question is whether Hillel, an international non-profit with the goal of supporting Jewish values including support for Israel, should sponsor those who attack and delegitimize the country.

In a manifesto, the Swarthmore Hillel students proclaimed: “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.”

Support for Israel is one of Hillel’s core principles. Why should they give their name to those who are against the values that they stand for? Let an anti-Israel group — which are very prevalent on college campuses — fund the lecture.

And while the Times does include a quotation from Professor Alan Dershowitz explaining this point, the rest of the article goes against what he is saying, essentially making it out to be a free speech issue.

But that has more to do with the New York Times double standard when it comes to Israel. Can you think of another example of an advocacy organization being criticized for not sponsoring a lecture that contradicts what they advocate? Should the NAACP be taken to task for not sponsoring campus events led by racists?

Certainly not in the New York Times.