BY HANK REICHMAN
In previous posts to this blog I have criticized the blacklisting activities of two pro-Israel organizations, the Amcha Initiative and Canary Mission. The former group published a list of 218 faculty members in Middle East studies at U.S. colleges and universities who signed a petition calling for an academic boycott of Israel and called on people to “share this list with your family, friends, and associates via email, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or word-of-mouth.” This initiative was condemned by a large group of prominent faculty members in Jewish Studies. Canary Mission, whose membership is anonymous, has gone further. It maintains a blacklist of faculty, students, and others who, the group claims, promote “hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on college campuses in North America.” The work of Amcha Initiative is deeply disturbing, but as I wrote in August “Canary Mission is nothing but a blacklist, pure and simple.”
Now a third group has begun to utilize the lists compiled by Amcha and Canary Mission to launch a public campaign of harassment and intimidation aimed at silencing voices critical of Israel and alleged to be anti-Semitic. It is the David Horowitz Freedom Center, run by David Horowitz, the infamous enemy of academic freedom (masquerading, of course, as its defender) who the AAUP knows all too well from his ill-conceived and deceptive efforts to promote a so-called “Academic Bill of Rights.” Last month the Horowitz Center took credit for the spread of posters that identified individual faculty members and students as “terrorists” at a wide number of universities. Among those reporting incidents of this type were Brooklyn College, Tufts University, San Francisco State University, Vassar College, the University of Chicago, the University of Tennessee, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Irvine. Some of the posters were styled as apparent recruitment posters for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). They asked, “Do you want to show your support for Hamas terrorists, whose stated goal is the elimination of the Jewish people?” Then “Join Us,” they implored, listing the names of SJP student leaders and faculty supporters.
According to its website, the Horowitz Center
is dedicated to the defense of free societies whose moral, cultural and economic foundations are under attack by enemies both secular and religious, at home and abroad.
The David Horowitz Freedom Center combats the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror. The leftist offensive is most obvious on our nation’s campuses, where the Freedom Center protects students from indoctrination and intimidation and works to give conservative students a place in the marketplace of ideas from which they are otherwise excluded. Combining forceful analysis and bold activism, the Freedom Center provides strong insight into today’s most pressing issue on its family of websites and in the activist campaigns it wages on campus, in the news media, and in national politics throughout the year.
The center’s work, the site explains, “includes several other programs, Jihad Watch, The Israel Security Project, and TruthRevolt. Jihad Watch, run by author Robert Spencer, is a watch dog site that traces the efforts of Islamic radicals in their terror campaign abroad and their efforts at home to infiltrate and subvert Western institutions and civic life and is the most popular website of its kind. . . . TruthRevolt is our newest program, run by Shillman Senior Fellow Ben Shapiro. Its goal is to unmask leftists in the media for who they are, destroy their credibility with the American Public, and devastate their funding bases.”
Apparently, this work now extends to publicly harassing individuals whose opposition to the Horowitz message has been “verified” by Canary Mission. Here is a poster found on the campus of San Francisco State University:
Last month the SF State campus was covered with such posters and others, specifically accusing faculty members and students of condoning terrorism. The posters employed the hashtag “JewHatred” and alleged that Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi is a “collaborator with terrorists.” Abdulhadi is a faculty adviser for the school’s General Union of Palestinian Students, a group advocating Palestinian liberation amid the decades-long sectarian conflict between Israel and Palestine. The posters also accused her of being a leader in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and allege it is run by Hamas, a Palestinian resistance group that is on the United States’ foreign terrorist organizations list.
Jonathan Morales, a spokesman for the university, said the posters were quickly removed. “I don’t recall anything like this,” Morales said. “Our students were very taken aback.”
SF State President Les Wong sent out a campus-wide email calling the posters targeting Abdulhadi vandalism and bullying behavior, “not an issue of free speech.”
“This attack happened to our whole campus community, and we must condemn these actions when an opinion or position has morphed into a personal attack. A line has been crossed, and we are investigating any legal recourse we have with the perpetrators,” the letter read. “In the current climate fostered by a divisive election season, we must remember to support each other as members of the San Francisco State University community,” Wong wrote in his email. “Although we disagree on many issues, we must defend each other from personalized attacks that serve no purpose but to incite fear and promote division.”
The message “does nothing to improve the campus climate,” according to SF Hillel, a Jewish organization on campus that also denounced the posters. These offensive messages were posted by individuals unaffiliated with San Francisco Hillel. They do not represent the views of Jewish students on campus, or Hillel’s values,” the group said in a statement. “Hillel condemns any acts or efforts to demonize any racial or religious group, or to single out individual professors, students or other campus community members for hateful ad hominem attacks.”
Simultaneously, on the other side of the country, posters appeared on the campus of Brooklyn College, part of the City University of New York. Here several different posters, including one that contained an image and the name of an individual Brooklyn College student, and one that implied that several named Brooklyn College students and one faculty member were connected to terrorist activity, were removed by the administration.
I unequivocally condemn the hateful content of these posters. The images and words were frightening and hostile to both supporters of SJP and advocates of free speech on campus, including many Jews. In particular, they targeted individual SJP leaders with the aim of bullying them and making them vulnerable to additional harassment or worse.
Thoughtful people on all sides condemn this act. Nadya Drukker, executive director of Tanger Hillel at Brooklyn College, for instance, emailed to emphasize, “This type of action does not represent the views of Jewish students on campus, and it does not represent Hillel’s values.”
About a week after the posters appeared, Anderson noted, a student found four swastikas carved into a bathroom stall. The irony that a campaign allegedly directed at anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism would give rise to precisely those sentiments was not lost on the President, who wrote:
And although the posters were designed to intimidate the leaders of SJP, they were at times read as expressing hatred of Jews, which pained others. One Jewish student emailed me to express sadness and alarm at the hashtag “Jewhatred” on the posters. . . .
Let me underscore: Antisemitism has no place at Brooklyn College. Islamophobia or other forms of bigotry directed against Muslims or Arabs also has no place here.
While Anderson, like Wong at San Francisco, strongly condemned the sort of personal attacks and the blacklisting that produced it, she also acknowledged the need to protect genuine academic freedom:
As a public university, Brooklyn College is bound by the strictures of the First Amendment. We cannot suppress speech with which we disagree based on its content or viewpoint. As the Jones/Shechtman report indicates, under the Constitution, “CUNY cannot punish such speech unless it is part of a course of conduct so pervasive or severe that it denies a person’s ability to pursue an education or participate in University life.”
Moreover, as an institution of higher education, we are deeply committed to robust discourse. We cherish open dialog and engagement with ideas that test and even contradict our own. We understand that speech can harm, but we believe that the vast majority of harmful speech is best countered with more speech. We trust that reason will persuade, even with regard to the most challenging geo-political conflicts of our time.
Academic freedom not only prevents the suppression of dissident views; it also forces us to confront those whose beliefs are antithetical to our own. The opportunity to have one’s beliefs challenged, to reflect, and to consider change is the very purpose of a university. Free speech, debate, and the open exchange of ideas are the oxygen of our existence on this campus. We must engage.
I encourage every one of us to reach out beyond our comfort zone and encounter someone who is different in some way. Exchange greetings of peace and spend some time talking and trying to understand the world from their perspective. Our ability to understand perspectives different from our own is crucial to developing our analytical skills and navigating an increasingly complex and interconnected world. Let us not just reject hate; let us approach one another with openness and compassion.
On November 1, Barbara Bowen, President of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), an AAUP affiliate that represents faculty and staff at all of CUNY’s campuses, wrote to CUNY Chancellor James Milliken calling on him also to publicly “denounce all attempts to intimidate CUNY students, faculty and staff, all actions that endanger individual members of the University community.” Wrote Bowen:
The posters [the Horowitz Center] put up and then publicized are designed to foster hate, silence political speech, and intimidate the college community. By naming individual students and faculty, and associating the names with terrorist acts, the posters and subsequent website reports invite retribution against individuals. They are dangerous. The climate of fear the posters are designed to create is especially damaging on a college campus, where the freedom to think and speak is essential. . . .
The central University administration must speak out. President Anderson’s letter, “We Stand Against Hate,” is an important statement, as is the independent report on allegations of anti-Semitism the University commissioned, which found that the charge of “unchecked anti-Semitism” at CUNY was baseless. . . .
As chancellor of a university that is remarkable for its diversity and its practice of collaboration across differences, you have an obligation to make clear the central administration’s condemnation of bigotry, hate speech and repression. Every attempt to silence free speech at CUNY and every act of bigotry against any members of the University community must be condemned. Failing to condemn the most recent, egregious acts of intimidation will make other acts of intimidation more likely.
On behalf of the membership of the PSC, I call on you to denounce all attempts to intimidate CUNY students, faculty and staff, all actions that endanger individual members of the University community. Everyone at CUNY suffers when anyone at CUNY feels unfree to think, learn, speak and thrive.
In her letter Bowen referred to a resolution passed by PSC’s Delegate Assembly just days before the Horowitz posters appeared. That resolution reaffirmed PSC’s “unequivocal condemnation of all forms of systemic discrimination, including racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia” and called “on the CUNY administration, New York City and New York State to treat all accusations of discrimination and repression seriously and equally, and to affirm its support for freedom of speech and assembly for all faculty, staff, and students at CUNY.”
In discussing the Amcha Initiative list two years ago, I wrote:
Certainly the principles of academic freedom should not bar private citizens from criticizing ideas and positions advanced by faculty members, whether individually or in groups. And it should not prevent those citizens, in the case of public institutions, from raising concerns with university officials and even legislators. But just as I believe boycott advocates have the right to press their case, but I oppose academic boycotts, so too do I think that Amcha has the right to criticize the views of faculty members but should not be organizing a kind of counter-boycott, which is what this list effectively does.
Moreover, there is considerable evidence that lists of this kind can have serious negative consequences for the academic freedom not only of those on the list but of all faculty members. To be sure, it is the responsibility of college and university administrators and trustees to resist efforts to establish political litmus tests for faculty and insofar as they fail to do this and bow to outside pressures it is those administrators who are guilty of violating academic freedom, not those who have pressured them.
Now the Horowitz Center has gone even further. For their actions have moved from boycott to blacklist and onward to outright harassment and intimidation. And that’s not academic freedom at all, but entirely its opposite. It’s an effort, hopefully a failed one, to silence expression and limit freedom of thought when the very essence of such freedom demands dialogue. It merits sweeping condemnation.