Anyone who knows me at all knows how strongly I feel about my alma mater. I loved every second I was there; it was the place where I found myself intellectually, grappled with complex issues surrounding religion and faith, and most importantly met my wife. My best friends to this day remain the ones I made in college, and I try to stay involved with the university by donating what little money I can afford, getting involved in different alumni committees and groups, and going back to visit any chance I get. I have degrees from three different universities and will soon add another from a fourth, and I don’t feel a genuine heartfelt affinity for any of them save the first. Unfortunately, it turns out that the place I love so much also happens to house an idiotic, hypocritical, shameful group of fools. That’s right Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine, I’m looking straight at you.
Is it because I object to a Palestinian state? Nope. Is it because I want Israel to continue to occupy the West Bank? Certainly not. Is it because I think that Jewish life is more valuable than Palestinian life? Wrong again. It is because I have zero patience at all for a group that thinks the best way to combat anti-democratic behavior, suppression of free speech, and silencing of dissent is to exhibit anti-democratic behavior, suppress free speech, and silence dissent. Please, someone explain to me the logic behind this brilliant tactical disruption of a panel of Knesset members, including Israel’s first Arab cabinet minister, to show that Israel’s alleged intolerance of dissent is best countered by committing the exact same offense yourself. Please explain to me why a protest against discriminatory policies should be carried out by announcing a vigilante-enforced parallel discriminatory policy against any Israeli official with the nerve to want to attend or speak at a Brandeis-sponsored event. I wonder if these paragons of liberal virtue have the basic skills of logic and reasoning to understand that their actions to disrupt the free exchange of ideas are the very antithesis of liberalism. I wonder if they comprehend that the effort to obnoxiously silence others and attempt to exclude an entire class of people from an imagined political or social community not because of anything they themselves have said or done but by virtue of who they are is the real display of fascism here.
The response to objectionable speech is not censorship, but more speech. If you are confident that you are right, then let your argument win the day. If, however, you are a cowardly bunch of simpletons who think that shouting down your opponents and preventing them from expressing their ideas in a public forum is somehow a vindication of any values you profess to uphold, then keep on doing what you’re doing. Time to grow up, Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine, and to think about the meaning of this quote from the man who lent his good name to your group: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
Great post, Michael. Thanks for highlighting the absurd actions of this group. While I have been enjoying all of the posts, this one compelled me to post a comment. Too often it seems, as if this organization is more focused on being “activists” than on helping to bring about positive long term change and results.
The sad thing in my mind though, at least from my Brandeis experience, is that college student groups and individuals on all sides of this issue, and a myriad of others, all too often resort to this tactic of trying to silence those who share a different point of view rather than engage in honest dialogue. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find young, college educated individuals who recognize the value in the exchange of ideas. Considering that this seems to be borne from a mindset that everything is black and white with one definitive correct answer, it does not bode well for our future.
Brandeis students as a whole, and people everywhere, would be served well by educating themselves a little bit on the philosophy and teachings of their university’s namesake.
Agreed, of course. I’m not entirely sure that the problem is limited to college students either. In any event, I am a free speech absolutist, so I think this type of behavior is abhorrent no matter who is doing it. It’s unfortunate to see Brandeis students making asses of themselves in public.
I don’t disagree in principle that disruption is a poor way of going about protest, but I do think that getting to the “discourse in a public forum” place is difficult, in particular at Brandeis. When ideas that are generally unpopular are brought up, particularly about Israel, they are boo’d extensively, and op-eds are written as to “why these people are given the time of day” (I remember this being a theme of many who disagreed with anything but the Israeli status quo). Being one of the few white non-Jews at Brandeis, I felt I had a less biased view of the discussions around Israel, and found there to be a lot of inherent anti-Palestinian/anti-Arab views. This isn’t surprising, but I think when you look at a group like the one you’re describing, you have to recognize that they have probably dealt with a certain amount of disdain and prejudice, and have been relegated to “shouting from the rafters” to a certain degree. This is mainly because they’ve been marginalized by the mainstream pro-Israel groups at Brandeis. I’m not really pro/con in terms of their cause, I just think dismissing them outright is part of the reason they tend to be so disruptive in the first place. Vicious cycle…
That might be, but let me stress again that the proper response to being dismissed outright or marginalized is to keep on making your argument rather than to prevent the other side from being able to counter you. What they did is not by any reasonable definition “discourse in a public forum” – it is in fact the precise opposite of discourse. I have zero sympathy for any group on either side of an issue that tries to shut down opposing speech rather than counter it.
I think that their struggle is a just one, but I also think that they fell in love with the struggle. I am afraid that this affection blinds them from seeing the cause they stood up for the first place.
That is unfortunate. They accomplish nothing by trying to bully the other side or deprive them of the right to be heard. If they are confident in the justness of their cause, then the appropriate response is to debate in a public forum rather than refusing to face any ideas with which they disagree. Bill Maher had a great op-ed in the Times last week asking when people decided that they have an absolute right to never encounter anything that offends them, and that applies here too.
There is just in their struggle, and what motivates them is just but they fell in love with the struggle. I am afraid that this affection blinds them from seeing the cause they stood up for the first place.