A Crusade for Censorship at Harvard

On March 3-4, students at Harvard are organizing a “One State Conference: Israel/Palestine and the One State Solution.” I don’t want to delve into the charges of bigotry that can be leveled by either side. My concern here is about freedom of speech.

On David Horowitz’s Frontpagemag, Steven Plaut harshly condemned the conference in over-the-top terms, calling it an “academic pogrom” and accusing speakers of “violent bigotry,” whatever that is.

I asked Plaut exactly what he thought Harvard officials should do about the conference, and this was his response: “I think they should deny use of campus facilities to the organizers. Campus facilities are not an entitlement. Let the organizers stand on the street corner and scream their hate. Harvard Square has lots of cafes where they can sit. Let the campus authorities deal with the organizers the same way they would have dealt with pro-Nazi ‘organizers’ on campus after Pearl Harbor.”

In a university committed to academic freedom, access to campus facilities by student groups is an entitlement. It cannot be revoked for ideological reasons without endangering free speech for everyone.

Even if Plaut were right in every detail about the conference (and he plainly is not), he would be wrong on principle. This is not a difficult case at all; conferences should not be banned by administrators, anywhere, ever.

Harvard is under severe pressure to censor. Caroline Glick noted, approvingly, “CAMERA has launched an email campaign to try to fight Harvard’s descent into Jew hating insanity.”

Harvard officials have already criticized the conference. But the call for repression should disturb anyone concerned about academic freedom, no matter what their views on Israel and Palestine. Everyone should defend the right of students to organize a conference and invite the speakers they wish to hear.

3 thoughts on “A Crusade for Censorship at Harvard

  1. Yours is another illustration of selective free speech absolutism. Open anti-Semitic “conferences” are protected academic freedom. SO are conferences devotes to Holocaust Denial. But Harvard would be the first to enforce its speech codes and expel a student making a derogatory comment about homosexuals or black people!

    Would it be ok for the Harvard Crimson to run a piece insulting your mother?

    • Of course conferences about Holocaust denial are protected academic freedom. Has Harvard ever banned one? Has Harvard ever expelled a student for making derogatory comments about “homosexuals or black people”? Please, give me the examples. Of course, it would be wrong for the Harvard Crimson to insult my mother. But insulting a country is far different. And I certainly wouldn’t want Harvard administrators to ban a newspaper from insulting anyone, not even my mother.

  2. The controversy over the student-run conference on a one-state “solution” in the Middle East, to take place on March 3-4, occurs in a Harvard that is significantly different from the 1920s-30s Harvard that I discovered when researching my book Rude Awakenings: An American Historian’s Encounters with Nazism, Communism, and McCarthyism. Back then, the Harvard Crimson was staffed by anti-Semites, and the top levels of the administration exhibited the casual anti-Semitism of their social class. In April 1934, cub reporters at the Crimson mocked peace demonstrators by goosestepping in Nazi uniforms. A month later, official Harvard eagerly entertained officers of a Nazi warship on a “friendship” tour and effectively expelled a Communist student leader who challenged the ship’s sailors to defect. A month after that, Harvard welcomed Ernst Hanfstaengl, Hitler’s liaison with the foreign press, who came for his twenty-fifth class reunion. When anti-Hanfstaengl Communist demonstrators disrupted the commencement ceremony, President Conant refused to press charges despite his anti-Semitism. Harvard’s tradition of public speech–hateful or not–has continued. Whatever happens this weekend, opponents of the conference will do their cause most benefit by maintaining civility as they express their views. A good example of such behavior can be found in today’s editorial in the Harvard Crimson entitled “Deeply Wrong, But Not Anti-Semitic” (http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2012/3/2/israel-one-state/).

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