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Suppressing pro-Israel views at the University of Chicago

The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once quipped: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Interior of Harper Memorial Library at University of Chicago, 20212. Credit: Rick Seidel via Flickr/Wikimedia Commons.
Interior of Harper Memorial Library at University of Chicago, 20212. Credit: Rick Seidel via Flickr/Wikimedia Commons.
Richard L. Cravatts
Richard L. Cravatts

The suppression of pro-Israel views on campus has been a troubling development in the ongoing cognitive war against Israel. Now, the silencing of pro-Israel voices even appears in college newspapers.

This week, the University of Chicago’s student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, followed that ignoble path by violating journalistic and free speech ideals in retracting an op-ed written by two students, “We Must Condemn the SJP’s Online Anti-Semitism,” who questioned the tactics and ideology of members of the University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a perennially toxic and corrosive anti-Israel group of radicals.

On Jan. 26, as the op-ed by Melody Dias and Benjamin ZeBrack noted, SJP had posted on its Instagram page the shocking admonition, “DON’T TAKE SH*TTY ZIONIST CLASSES.” Students were asked to “support the Palestinian movement for liberation by boycotting classes on Israel or those taught by Israeli fellows.” According to the SJP post, any students who enrolled in these classes would be “participating in a propaganda campaign that creates complicity in the continuation of Israel’s occupation of Palestine” and that, in its view, “Israeli-centered classes are designed to obscure Palestinian perspectives.”

Dias and ZeBrack made a number of accusations against SJP in their now-deleted op-ed, including their opinions that SJP posted the inflammatory post on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day as an insensitive, even cruel tactic; that asking their fellow students to boycott three particular classes about Israel and Zionism “taught specifically by Israeli fellows is xenophobic as Israelis cannot change their nationality, and this post demonizes that nationality by declaring all courses taught by someone affiliated with the nation as propaganda;” and, they noted, that “all courses listed are explicitly within the university’s Jewish studies center. This furthers the trope that Jewish courses and professors work to contribute to propaganda for Israel, which is a blatantly false narrative.”

Characteristic of their reaction to anyone who answers back to their corrosive activism, SJP was incensed that anyone had the gall to question their tactics and motives. Another post on the SJP Instagram account in response to the Dias-ZeBrack op-ed expressed the defective view often held by anti-Semites that “to frame this call as ‘anti-Jewish’ not only perpetuates the dangerous (and wholly false) conflation of Jewishness and Zionism, but also deliberately diverts attention from the ongoing ethnic cleansing that the israeli [sic] colony has been inflicting on Palestinian lands and peoples from its inception to the present.”

SJP then demanded of the Maroon’s editors, “in response to these offenses,” the “immediate deletion of the article,” a “public apology issued by the Maroon to SJP UChicago and to Palestinian students for the dissemination of misinformation and the disregard of journalistic integrity and factual reporting,” and, most ominously, “a public recommitment to ensuring that all columns and articles abide by expected standards of accuracy and truth, particularly those written by Zionist authors or on behalf of Zionist organizations.”

Astoundingly, in response to SJP’s absurd demands, two feckless editors—Kelly Hui and Elizabeth Winkler—not only deleted the offending op-ed but published a craven, apologetic editorial of their own. In it, they dissected the op-ed for its perceived factual inaccuracies and justified their decision by claiming that it was the op-ed written by the pro-Israel supporters that could be the source of campus enmity, not the original action of SJP in calling for a boycott of courses about Israel.

“We condemn the pitting of Jewish and Palestinian students against one another,” they wrote, “and we deeply regret the extent to which the op-ed’s factual inaccuracies—which we should not have published—perpetuated such a harmful dynamic.”

A careful and educated editor could go through SJP’s writing and find a litany of factual inaccuracies, distortions of history and fact, and pure propaganda meant to slander the Jewish state. Why have the editors not scanned the writing of SJP supporters for such counter-factual terms as “settler-colonial regime,” “apartheid,” “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” racism or “the liberation of Palestine”—terms that are inaccurate, inflammatory and part of a false narrative that inspires hatred of Israel, Zionism, and often, of Jews themselves?

It is a profoundly troubling notion that college newspaper editors now embrace the view that pro-Israel views are somehow immoral, oppressive, indefensible and even racist at their core, and should be suppressed, and that pro-Palestinian ideology—even when it is corrosive, counter-factual and sometimes anti-Semitic—is viable and can be promoted. The entire pro-Palestine campaign against the Jewish state, of course, is defined by its created narrative—a way of assessing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the use of feelings, emotional reactions, assumptions and lies, not facts.

SJP and other anti-Israel activists on campuses would prefer that nothing that might be construed as pro-Israel ever be uttered or taught or written about on campus. The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once quipped, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” something SJP has yet to realize or comprehend. They are certainly permitted to have their own version of history and their own narrative about the Israeli-Palestinian debate, but people as clever and even more clever than they also have their own narratives, facts and set of truths. And both should be—and must be—heard in the editorial pages of The Chicago Maroon and elsewhere.

Ironically, it was the University of Chicago that published a seminal set of guidelines for university free speech, the 2014 “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression,” often referred to as the Chicago Principles. Perhaps the Maroon’s editors should read them again before they decide to suppress the views of any campus group or individuals in the interest of protecting competing thought and expression.

“In a word,” the report read, “the university’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the university community to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the university community, not for the university as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.”

Editors at The Chicago Maroon might want to review those words.

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of “Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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