There is another school of thought that believes that neither the toleration by academia nor the lack of University statements is the problem. The real problem is the double standard to which these schools adhere. This point is illustrated in the [Tolerating Intolerance]video by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of [the University of California at] UC Santa Cruz as she recounts what happened when the university’s Women’s Studies Department sponsored Heidi Epstein to speak. Epstein, a Holocaust survivor, went to Palestine as a member of the International Solidarity Movement, which, according to its website, is a “Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land…” Epstein frequently compares Israel to a Nazi state.
The problem for Rossman-Benjamin however, is not that Epstein was invited to speak at the university but what took place afterwards:
Two weeks later a faculty group that I am affiliated with brought a journalist, an Arab journalist named Nonie Darwish, a woman who was speaking about the Arab-Israeli conflict from a woman’s perspective, a perspective which, it seemed to us, would actually bring much interest to a women’s studies department…
Darwish, raised in the Gaza Strip, lost her father, an anti-Israeli terrorist, when he was killed in the jihad against Israel. While her father became a martyr and hero in the eyes of the Jihadists, Nonie blamed the jihad and anti-Semitism for her father’s death. She has since become a well-known scholar who speaks about the Arab-Israeli conflict and opposes the culture of jihad and terrorism in the Middle East. With this in mind, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin thought that a speech by Darwish would be a perfect complement to the Epstein lecture. As Rossman-Benjamin explains, however:
We asked the Women’s Studies Department if, in the name of balance and academic fairness, and to bring a different perspective to what should be the free market of ideas…if they would agree to co-sponsor Nonie Darwish and they refused.”
It’s not merely the lack of balance in the types of on-campus speakers that irritates Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, however. The treatment of the few pro-Israeli lecturers that actually are invited to speak at UC Santa Cruz is another part of this double standard. She states as an example:
In March of 2005 our faculty group brought Itamar Marcus who’s the director of Palestinian Media Watch to our campus. It’s an organization that monitors all of the Palestinian media:
the television, the radio, the newspapers, the textbooks, to see the perspective within the Palestinian society that they put forth about Israel. When we put up flyers to advertise our talk the flyers were defaced with hate-speech and they were pulled down. Students even witnessed one professor, a woman who is a professor of the Community Studies Department and also a steering committee member of Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community, pull down one of our flyers…so everybody else has free speech…but when we try to bring a balancing perspective our free speech is neither supported nor respected nor tolerated.
So it seems that Tolerating Intolerance: Hate Speech on Campus, did its job of convincing the New York audience [at the documentary’s New York City screening] that anti-Israeli hate speech on college campuses is in fact a problem. By illustrating the various perspectives on what makes the speech on campus problematic, however, the video made it difficult to understand which message Stand With Us is trying to convey. Is hate speech not free speech? Should laws cease to protect speech that, as the video states, prevents students from feeling “comfortable” (a word disliked by the audience), on campus or as is stated by Vice Chancellor of UC Irvine, Manuel Gomez, is “more speech the anti-dote to free speech?” Should we be concerned not with stifling hate speech, but with allowing more pro-Israeli speakers to bring balance to the discussion?
With the September 19th audience’s constructive criticism in mind, the members of Stand With Us will re-enter the editing room hoping to emerge with a final product that will better answer all of these questions and more efficiently aid in improving the Jewish image on today’s college campuses.
Diane R. Macedo is a freelance writer in New York City.