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  • Democracies don’t demand censorship, do they?

    by Sunny
    27th August, 2009 at 10:54 am    

    Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy magazine writes:

    Last week, the Los Angeles Times published a courageous and moving op-ed entitled “Boycott Israel” by Israeli political scientist Neve Gordon, in which he reluctantly endorsed the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) campaign against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Gordon is a tenured lecturer and department head at Ben Gurion University, and the author of several important scholarly works, including the recent book Israel’s Occupation (2008). He is a committed Zionist who was wounded during his military service in an elite IDF paratroop unit. He is also a long-time member of the peace camp in Israel.

    As one would expect, his article has provoked a firestorm of controversy. Israel’s consul-general in Los Angeles wrote a letter to the president of Ben-Gurion University, Dr. Rivka Carmi, warning that Gordon’s remarks could undermine fund-raising efforts. He suggested that the university create a Center for Zionist studies to “help dispel the lies disseminated by Gordon in the name of your university.” But instead of defending the core principle of academic freedom, President Carmi said that Gordon’s views were “destructive,” “morally reprehensible,” and an “abuse [of] the freedom of speech prevailing in Israel and at BGU.” Even more disturbingly, she went on to say that “academics who entertain such resentment toward their country are welcome to consider another professional and personal home.” A spokesman for the university added “We’re proud to have a full range of political views at the university, and I want to live in a country that protects freedom of speech, but Gordon’s remarks are beyond the pale.”

    Sounds like attempts at censorship to me. Like Mr Walt I’m not a supporter of the boycott campaign, for the reasons he gives. He lists three points, of which the second one is:

    Any and all criticisms of Israel’s conduct get attributed to either enduring anti-Semitism (when made by gentiles) or labeled as treason or “self-hatred” (when made by Jews).

    Hmm, now where have I seen that before? But actually, any intelligent observer should be able to tell that this is common in any group that feels constantly under attack.

    I don’t buy it but I can see where it arises from. Most don’t want to. So you have this case where Muslims are constantly asked to denounce religious extremists within their midst by newspapers that constantly run lies about them. And then you get the Israel / Palestine discussions where both sides feel under attack and prefer to want the opposition to denounce their extremists while playing down extremism on their side. It’s worth pointing this out continually.

    (As a sidenote, I’ve not seen any firestorm of controversy over attempts to muzzle Neve Gordon. I thought people believed in free speech?)

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    Filed in: Current affairs,Media,Middle East

    13 Comments below   |  

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    1. pickles

      New blog post: Democracies don’t demand censorship, do they?

    1. bananabrain — on 27th August, 2009 at 11:20 am  

      As a sidenote, I’ve not seen any firestorm of controversy over attempts to muzzle Neve Gordon.

      i only just heard about it, thanks. look, the guy is obviously a bit of a maverick and seems intent on biting the hand the feeds him. i dare say he feels entitled, but i don’t think he’s helping. certainly if the result is to batten down the hatches this will only increase the polarisation of debate and the feeling that you can only really do criticism from outside the camp. i think that is a real shame - it would come better from someone who didn’t describe themselves as an anti-zionist, even if he is an ex-paratrooper.



    2. Joel — on 27th August, 2009 at 11:31 am  

      Those demonstrations were a violence risk- always will be when they whip up hatred. The worst that can be said of Neve Gordon’s sentiment is that it “undermines fundraising efforts”. And as for Hannan, I don’t like what he says but I’d defend his right to say it. (Not Voltaire).

      The bit that got me was “an abuse of freedom of speech”. Surely no exercise of freedom of speech can abuse it; only restricting it can do that?

    3. James Richards — on 27th August, 2009 at 11:39 am  

      Democracies clearly DO demand censorship.

      As a Labour Party member at a constituency meeting I was asked to support a motion to ban any teacher from becoming a member of the BNP.

      Let me be clear, I HATE the BNP. But I don’t like the idea of fighting fascism with fascism. It’s undemocratic.

    4. Katy Newton — on 27th August, 2009 at 1:21 pm  

      You have indeed seen this sort of thing before, Sunny, and it’s not limited to people who criticise Israel, as you say. Why, Faisal got accused of being a self-hating Muslim, apostate, Zionist agent etc by a number of trolls on a daily basis when he wrote for this site, if I remember correctly.

      It’s outrageous that a university should be threatened with withdrawal of funds over one of its tenured academic’s views.

    5. Shatterface — on 27th August, 2009 at 1:39 pm  

      Gordon would restrict communication with Israeli academics so there isn’t a great enthusiasm among free-speech advocates to defend him. It’s not hypocritical, it’s weighing up the free speech of academics from an entire country against the free speech of a censor from another.

    6. req1 — on 28th August, 2009 at 3:24 am  

      The daft thing is, expelling someone for their political opinion is essentially what the BDS movement wants: a boycott of academics with the wrong views.

      Two sides of the same stupid coin.

    7. Naadir Jeewa — on 28th August, 2009 at 5:33 pm  

      Nobody cares about academics. We only care about public intellectuals who don’t know shit but feel inclined to cause all kinds of havoc with their “edgy” bestselling views.

    8. Naadir Jeewa — on 28th August, 2009 at 5:35 pm  

      I call for a boycott of public intellectualism.

      We will not buy £8 tickets to hear them speak at the ICA.
      We will not attend book readings in Waterstones.
      We will not tune into Newsnight
      We will only buy books from publishing houses with the words “university press”

      Who’s with me?

    9. falcao — on 29th August, 2009 at 2:14 pm  

      Israel behaves like the old aparthied south africa in many ways. Its ironic you have Benjamin Netanyahu going around europe this week calling for “crippling sanctions” to be made against iran. Bit rich that, seeing as israel routinely abuses palestinians, confiscates land, bulldozes palestinian homes, has its own nuclear arsenal, and defies countless UN resolutions. Looks like we know who should really be slapped with sanctions and be boycotted mr netanyahoooooo!

    10. chairwoman — on 29th August, 2009 at 7:42 pm  

      So everything’s hunky dory in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

      Well that’s alright then. Phwew.

      Interesting spelling of Netanyahu BTW.

    11. Naadir Jeewa — on 30th August, 2009 at 1:04 pm  

      Told you no one cared.

      I did actually buy Gordon’s “Israel’s Occupation” last year when it came out, but never got round to reading it. Will do now.

    12. anobody — on 30th August, 2009 at 3:35 pm  

      Naadir Jeewa,

      maybe nobody is with you because a lot of these self-appointed, self-righteous intellectuals/experts in the public domain, who are in the business of making a career out of it, are amongst you right now :)

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