On January 5, Modern Language Association Members for Justice in Palestine hosted a meeting at New York University entitled “Palestine and the Future of Academia.”
As I write, we do not know what might go into President Trump’s planned announcement on Jerusalem. But on at least some of our college campuses, protests are already being prepared.
Since 2002, student activists have tried to pass anti-Israel divestment resolutions at the University of Michigan. This month, they succeeded on a 23-17 vote of the university’s Central Student Government. But opponents of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement should not be demoralized by this result.
There is nothing natural about tolerating the views of others. If someone stands, as today’s righteous say, on “the wrong side of history,” why refrain from shutting him up? Yes, Justice Holmes warned against “attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death.” But it is a wonder that this dissenting view became conventional American wisdom. It is a wonder, too, that as a young man and proud Jew I was taught to think that neo-Nazis should be permitted to march on a public street in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in the United States. One can reject this teaching. One cannot deny that it is remarkable and fragile.
The excellent Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is out with a new survey of student attitudes toward free speech.
FIRE’s release comes soon after John Villasenor of the Brookings Institute published the results of a survey he commissioned, which suggested that “freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses.” Anyone paying attention to the steady stream of reports of students shouting speakers down and even disrupting classrooms will not be surprised by that conclusion. But surveys help tell us whether we are dealing with the attitudes of an obnoxious few or a wider disregard for freedom of speech among students.
It is tricky to assess the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. On the one hand, one does not want to underestimate the damage to Israel’s reputation done by even unsuccessful campaigns. The campus boycott movement, about which I have written extensively, succeeds not only when students actually vote to divest but also when onlookers, who have no dog in the fight between pro-Israel and anti-Israel activists, come away with the impression that Zionism is, if not a dirty word, at least suspect. We have been fortunate that BDS has done so much of late to discredit itself, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the campaign’s potential.
Late this May, Vida Samiian, Director of Middle East Studies at California State University, Fresno, resigned. Her complaint: “the unethical and discriminatory cancellation of the Edward Said Professorship [in Middle Eastern Studies] search.”