Published: Sat, 24 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Sat, 24 Sep 2016 23:59:34 -0400
Mon, 19 Sep 2016 11:40:00 -0400The City University of New York (CUNY) released a report earlier this month, detailing an independent investigation conducted by former federal judge Barbara Jones and former federal prosecutor Paul Schechtman into whether the actions of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) had contributed to an intimidating atmosphere of anti-Semitism and violence on CUNY campuses. The extensive investigation—spurred by a letter written by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) that claimed SJP's actions had left Jewish students feeling "harassed, threatened, and even physically unsafe"—has led the authors of the report to conclude that it would be a "mistake" to "blame SJP for any act of anti-Semitism on any CUNY campus," and rejected calls to ban the pro-Palestinian group. Noting that many of SJP's theatrical protest tactics such as "die-ins," mock checkpoints, and its annual "Israel apartheid week," constitute protected speech, the authors wrote, "Political speech is often provocative and challenging, but that is why it is vital to university life. If college students are not exposed to views with which they may disagree, their college has short-changed them." This is precisely correct, and also leaves room for the university to take a stand against "hate speech," in the form of condemnation, but not officially sanctioned punishment. Also from the report: As a public university, CUNY is limited in the ways that it can respond to hate speech, whether the words are anti-Semitic, racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-LGBT. CUNY cannot punish such speech unless it is part of a course of conduct so pervasive or severe that it denies a person's ability to pursue an education or participate in University life. It cannot mandate civility or sanction isolated derogatory comments. But what CUNY cannot punish, it can still condemn. As a general rule, CUNY's Administrators and College Presidents have spoken out against anti-Semitic comments. That practice must continue; hate speech must be challenged promptly and forcefully lest it breed. Earlier this year, the University of California Board of Regents moved to ban "anti-Zionism" as a form of hate speech, and the New York State Senate voted to pass a bill that would defund student groups that so much as encouraged boycotts of certain countries (Israel among them). The bill died, but only because the New York State Assembly failed to vote on it before the legislative session ended. Pointing out the absurdity and seemingly arbitrary nature of a law that would ban college students from expressing themselves politically about some countries but not others, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) created the handy info-graphic below. FIRE's Adam Steinbaugh notes that because of the language of the bill, the Vatican, Sweden, India, all of Africa, and most of Asia would have been subject to calls for boycotts on-campus, but not Cuba, Pakistan, Venezuela, or Turkey. Three cheers for unproductive government, because had this bill made it into the Assembly, it would have very likely passed, and free speech on campus would have suffered a staggering defeat.[...]
Thu, 15 Sep 2016 14:55:00 -0400The U.S. State Department signed a "memo of understanding" with Israel yesterday that will provide the Jewish state with $38 billion in U.S. military aid over the next 10 years. This new agreement ups the annual U.S. aid to Israel from the current figure of $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion. But the real winner of this expanding taxpayer subsidy is the U.S. defense industry, which will eventually receive every cent of that aid package, according to the terms of this new deal. Previously, Israel had enjoyed a privileged status among U.S. military aid recipients, as the only country permitted to spend up 26 percent of its U.S. aid on its own defense industry—including research and development. This new deal begins the phasing out of that part of the deal. The Washington Post notes, "Israel was granted that exception in the 1980s so it could build up its nascent defense infrastructure. With Israel's defense industry now thriving, the Obama administration wanted U.S. aid directed to American companies providing goods and services." This agreement coming together in the waning days of the Obama administration comes as a bit of a surprise considering the long-fraught relationship between the president and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Netanyahu reportedly wanted a deal done prior to the U.S. presidential election. To ensure it all came together in a timely fashion, "Bibi" lowered his asking original asking price of "$4 billion to $5 billion a year," according to the Post. Some supporters of Israel don't want think it should be soliciting or accepting the U.S.'s "strings attached" aid, but considering that the past three U.S. administrations have been forceful in their opposition to the creation of illegal Israel settlements—which have nonetheless doubled in population since 1993—the U.S. has never withheld aid, and support for Israel in Congress is all but unanimous. But the Israeli economy is booming and has essentially doubled over the past decade, and despite the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) description of the billions in U.S. aid as "the most tangible manifestation of American support," there have even been calls from Israeli leaders to cut the cord of military aid, allowing the two allied countries to maintain their special relationship without such a grand subsidy. In 2014, I wrote an article for Reason titled "Death, Taxes, and American Aid to Israel" which included this passage: In 1996, Israel's prime minister addressed a joint session of Congress, offering thanks for "all that we have received from the United States (and) this chamber." He added, "But I believe there can be no greater tribute to America's long-standing economic aid to Israel than (to) achieve economic independence." He proposed "gradually reducing the level" of U.S. aid to Israel and ultimately ending it altogether. That Israeli Prime Minster's name was Benjamin Netanyahu. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UzyDVk3XDDw" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]
Tue, 26 Jul 2016 15:54:00 -0400A big part of the reason Bernie Sanders stuck around in the primary process for as long as he did was to ensure the inclusion of a number progressive issues into the Democratic Party platform that otherwise stood no chance of being included. His stubborn (and often wrongheaded) longevity paid off in a number of ways—he got Hillary Clinton to embrace a $15 minimum wage, for example. But one plank his supporters could not get adopted to the platform was a call for "an end to [Israeli] occupations and illegal settlements" in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Though the five Sanders supporters on the platform drafting committee were able to get the language included in the draft, it was defeated 73-95 at a DNC conference earlier this month, and a substantial number of Sanders delegates have been sporting "I Support Palestinian Human Rights" signs, buttons, and stickers at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to express their dissatisfaction with the party's current policy. One of these Sanders supporting delegates, Ayman Eldarwish of Virginia (who described himself as an American-born of Arab descent) told Reason, "We are disappointed that it did not enter the platform of the Democratic Party. We understand the dynamics of our country (but) the justice scale has to find its resting place correctly." Eldarwish added, "Our unlimited support for Israel is very unreasonable and it distorts the understanding of the reality on the ground. There are people without a land and freedom. They have to find their place on Earth, just like the Israelis want." Walter Conklin from Rhode Island said he thought the U.S.' position regarding Israel and the Palestinians was "absurd," and that despite the violence perpetrated by both sides, there needs to better recognition of the fact that Palestinians "are people." Wife and husband delegates Aila Amany and Iyad Afalqa of California—both supporters of the democratic socialist from Vermont—were decked out in Robin Hood hats (get it?)—and told Reason of their disappointment with their party's platform. The Jerusalem-born Afalqa says, "Bernie Sanders was the only presidential candidate who acknowledged the human rights of Palestinians. At the same time, he acknowledged Israel's right to exist, and as a Jewish man that was a big deal." He added that he believes the U.S. has a responsibility to be an "honest broker" in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and that some of his fellow delegates were considering leaving the party because they see no hope that a Hillary Clinton administration will be that "honest broker." Clinton, Afalqa says, will not be a "peace president, she will be a war president," adding that under her husband Bill's administration, "we were not at peace." He cited the sanctions on Iraq as a form of "collective punishment" on civilians and said he would not commit to voting for Clinton in the general election. Afalqa's wife, the Iranian-born Amany, says one reason she supported Sanders in the first place was because he refused to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech before Congress opposing the Iran nuclear deal. The American political relationship with Israel is currently in a rockier state than it has been in decades, which can be seen not only in the pronounced personal tensions between President Obama and Netanyahu—which could very well have lasting implications for the once-intractable alliance between the two countries—but also because young American liberals are increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinian plight and no longer on board with U.S. support for Israel as a default position. At this year's American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Clinton went toe-to-toe with the many Republican presidential contenders in attendance in competition for who could be the most vocal supporter of Israel. In contrast, Sanders skipped the event entirely and gave a fairly measured but still controversial speech which condemned Hamas' attacks on civilians and[...]
Tue, 14 Jun 2016 12:37:00 -0400
(image) Continuing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's crusade against New Yorkers who don't support Israel, state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Nassau County) wants to ban public colleges and universities from funding pro-Palestinian student groups. A new bill sponsored by Martins would require state and city schools to defund any campus organization that supports efforts to "boycott, divest from, and sanction" (BDS) Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. The BDS movement has become popular on U.S. and U.K. campuses.
Martins' bill would also prohibit the funding of campus groups that support economic boycotts of any American-allied nation, although this bit seems designed to distract from his true goal: preventing anti-Israel sentiment on campus. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Martins referred to calls to boycott Israel as "hate speech" and "anti-Semitism" and said the state legislature has "no choice but to step in and prevent taxpayer dollars being used to promote" such sentiment.
It's unlikely that Martins' bill would pass constitutional muster. Selectively banning boycott-advocacy depending on the target is the essence of illegal content-based prohibitions on student speech. Regardless, it's interesting, if wholly unsurprising, to see an authoritarian like Sen. Martins appropriate progressives' pet term, "hate speech," to justify his restriction on progressive speech.
Martins went on to refer to students using their freedom of expression to push peaceful, market-based advocacy against Israel as "anti-freedom and anti-capitalism." (What's that saying about pots and kettles again?)
Earlier this month, Gov. Cuomo issued an executive order barring state agencies from doing business with companies that boycott Israel. "If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you," the governor stated.
Thu, 05 May 2016 15:00:00 -0400San Diego State University students are furious with their president—and some think he should resign—because he failed to protect them from hurtful words printed on campus flyers. Members of the Muslim Student Association surrounded President Elliot Hirshman's vehicle last week and trapped him in place for an hour. They demanded that he apologize for issuing an inadequate denunciation of a pro-Israel flyer. The spectacle bore some similarity to the persecution of Yale University's Nicholas Christakis last fall, who was surrounded by irate students and accused of refusing to protect them from offensive Halloween costumes. Christakis's job was to "create a place of comfort" for students, the protesters claimed. Similarly, the anti-Hirshman crowd maintained that it was his job to harshly denounce speech that offended them. But the speech in question, a flyer, was obviously protected political expression. The flyer accused anti-Israel students of sympathizing with Hamas and allying themselves with Islamic terrorists. It also listed the heads of SDSU's pro-Palestinian group by name. That's a harsh tactic—and an obvious example of hyperbole—but left-leaning campus activists often do the same to their conservative and libertarian opponents, and it is simply not the case that putting someone's name on a list is the same thing as threatening or harassing them. The flyers are a production of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a pro-Israel group. Horowitz defended their content in a statement to The College Fix, saying, "They’re not ignorant college kids. They’re willing and committed campus agents of Hamas. Big difference. We singled out the leaders of an organization founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood whose sole mission so to spread Hamas’ genocidal lies about the Jewish state and spearhead the Hamas-inspired and Hamas-funded BDS campaign which is a genocidal campaign to strangle the Jewish state. Calling them innocent would be a insult to their intelligence and malice." The students saw matters a different way. "My friends are not terrorist, and if their names are being posted around campus that’s an issue of security,” one student, Jeanette Corona, told The San Diego Union Tribune. “No student should be demonized. ... It’s (Hirshman’s) job to ensure the safety of all students on this campus.” "We wanted the president to come to our defense as students," said another student, Osama Alkhawaja, whose name appeared on the flyer. But Hirshman did come to their defense, as best he could. He sent a campuswide email noting that everyone had a right to make controversial statements, asked for civility, and questioned whether naming individual students was an effective tactic. That's all he can do. Anything more would have given the false impression that students aren't free to put up controversial flyers. It wasn't enough for the Muslim students, who launched a petition yesterday calling on Hirshman to resign. According to the petition: “It is the Job of the President of any body of people to make sure that those people feel safe and secure but in this case Elliot Hirshman didn't do that,” said President of National Action Network Reverend Shane Harris. “Even after we gave him 48 hours to condemn the hate speech on those flyers he didn't do that which is why he must go.” Keep in mind that the students who surrounded Hirshman last week didn't just engage him in a dialogue: they actually prevented him from leaving. When he finally got out of the car, apologized, and tried to leave, they began chanting insults at him. I can understand why pro-Palestinian students were upset to learn that Horowitz's supporters had publicly branded them as terrorist collaborators. But this is pure political activism, nast[...]
Thu, 07 Apr 2016 14:54:00 -0400When it comes to political activism regarding Israel/Palestine on American college campuses, ideological combatants on both sides often fail to respect the right of those with whom they disagree to have their fair say. Last month, the University of California (UC) voted to include anti-Zionism (broadly defined as opposition to the idea that Israel is the rightful national homeland of the Jewish people) as a form of banned "intolerant expression," and last week a bipartisan group of New York lawmakers demanded that the City University of New York (CUNY) ban the pro-Palestinian group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) from its campuses, alleging that SJP's activism had contributed to a climate of violence and intimidation against Jewish students. In both instances, the evidence that pro-Palestinian political activism is responsible for violence is flimsy at best, but the consequence of such reactions is an environment on college campuses where the freedom to engage in robust and impassioned political speech is chilled. But that doesn't mean pro-Palestinian activists always respect others' right to free expression. Just yesterday, activists "aligned" with SJP shouted down Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat's attempt to give a speech at San Francisco State University, where he made a stop on a brief tour of US college campuses sponsored by the Jewish student group, Hillel. A member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party, Barkat supports a "united Jerusalem" in Israeli hands. Since Israelis and Palestinians both consider Jerusalem to be their capital, such a sentiment combined with the increase of Israeli settlements in the largely Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem are considered by many to be a huge impediment to the rebooting of any legitimate peace process. A few minutes into his address, Barkat was forced to abandon the podium as SJP-affiliated protesters chanted things like "Free, Free Palestine," "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," and "Intifada!" width="560" height="340" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/zLppXswX9e0" frameborder="0"> After the majority of the audience cleared out, Barkat sat among the few dozen students and teachers who remained and tried to resume his speech, while the activists congregated in the back of the room, continuing to shouting and chant in the hopes that even the truncated audience wouldn't be able to hear the speaker they came to see. width="560" height="340" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/My-V_EftVgo" frameborder="0"> Aruta Sheva reports, "Campus and city police were called, yet they stood idly by, allowing the unruly protesters to drown out the mayor’s address." The mayor's support of a "united Jerusalem" deeply offends advocates of the Palestinian cause, but the idea that "Palestine" consists of the land "from the river to the sea" surely offends Israelis and their supporters, as the river to the sea encapsulates both the Palestinian territories and the state of Israel. Both sides can claim that each of these ideas de-legitimizes the rightful existence of the other. Following yesterday's incident, San Francisco Hillel released a statement reading in part: There is a concerning trend that college campuses are not spaces where diverse viewpoints are tolerated. Recently, we have seen acts of outright hostility and physical aggression when one person did not agree with the views of another on campus. This characterization is true, but it is not confined to pro-Palestinian activism. As Reason's Robby Soave reported last December, the mere act of hanging a Palestinian flag in a dorm room window was deemed "disrespectful" to the George Washington University campus community, and the offending standard was ordered removed (watch an accompanying video report of this incident below). Advocates on each side of this complicate[...]
Tue, 05 Apr 2016 11:30:00 -0400New York State Assemblymen Dov Hikind and David Weprin, both Democrats, penned a letter last week (co-signed by a bipartisan group of 33 state lawmakers) to the chancellor of the City University of New York (CUNY) demanding the suspension of the pro-Palestinian activist group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) from all CUNY campuses. Accusing SJP of orchestrating a campaign of "intimidation and fear" against Jewish students, the letter demanded the "toxic" organization which denies "Jewish history and legitimacy" be immediately shut down. CUNY responded by launching an investigation into alleged incidents of anti-Semitic harassment, including what the right-wing Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) described in a letter to CUNY as incidents of students "being pushed, spat upon and having objects thrown at them." But, the Forward reports, ZOA's letter is "vague as to when and where several of the most clearly anti-Semitic episodes took place, and as to what witnesses are making the charges." In an extensive investigation published last week, the Forward found that there is indeed some evidence of anti-Semitism on CUNY campuses, but no clear connection that SJP is behind any of it. Further, regarding some of the cases of alleged harassment, "the question is one of semantics — whether public expressions against 'Zionism' or 'Zionists' constitute anti-Semitism." Of one protest led by SJP: The ZOA letter claims that protesters were also shouting "Jews out of CUNY!" It’s a call heard nowhere on the video. But this discrepancy and arguments over it may miss a bigger issue. What are the protesters actually demanding when they chant "Zionists out of CUNY?" First, there is the worst possible implication — which is the one that at least some Jewish students heard. Asked if by 'Zionists out of CUNY,' her group actually meant that Jews, or non-Jews, who identify as Zionists should not be allowed to get, or give, an education at CUNY, Nerdeen Kiswani, vice president of SJP’s chapter at Hunter, who said she was leading those chants, noted that they were "protesting the ideology of Zionism — not people." The College Fix quotes Assemblyman Weprin as saying, "Hate Speech is not Free Speech and I call on CUNY to keep their campuses hate-free by taking concrete action on SJP." Equating anti-Zionism with hate speech is not confined to New York. As we've noted at Reason, the University of California's (UC) board of regents has recently voted to ban "anti-Zionism" on campus. Even if "anti-Zionism" is motivated by religious hatred or racial animus (which is arguable and difficult to prove in many cases), hate speech is indeed protected free speech, and incendiary political speech (the kind favored by activists on both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict) is the most protected speech. If any group engages in organized physical harassment on campus, that organization deserves to lose its right to officially engage in campus life. But short of that, even what Assemblyman Hikind describes as the "malicious rhetoric" of a group that disagrees with his worldview deserves the First Amendment protections afforded to groups like Hillel, the Jewish student group whose CEO, Fmr. Congressman Eric Fingerhut (D-Ohio), demanded that debates over Israel within his own organization take place "within the context of a love of Israel, an unequivocal support of Israel." "Unequivocal support of Israel" offends plenty of people, and a case could be made that such a position "de-legitimizes" the Palestinian people's right to self-determination. But it's unimaginable that a group of US lawmakers would demand the removal of a group like Hillel from campus primarily because of their political beliefs, just as the notion that SJP be removed from campus for their beliefs should be considered an untenable proposal. [...]
Tue, 22 Mar 2016 10:20:00 -0400Much has been made about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) being the only candidate from the two major political parties to skip this year's American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference. To some, he's a self-hating Jew, to others, his absence is a form of quiet protest that positions him as the conscience of progressivism. The democratic socialist senator had been strongly urged by prominent leftist pro-Palestinian activists (including anti-Zionist writer Max Blumenthal and former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters, who has endorsed Sanders) to skip the event that they claim promoted "the racist, militaristic, and anti-democratic policies of the most right-wing government in Israel's history." Sanders' campaign made no reference to those calls, instead blaming his absence on a busy campaign schedule that had him traveling in Utah yesterday. Sanders had offered to speak via video to the conference, but was refused by the event's organizers. However, in 2012, AIPAC made exceptions for two candidates who were too busy campaigning for president to make it to the hugely influential lobby group's annual meeting, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The latter's disengaged performance via video screen (he literally fell asleep while waiting to speak and addressed a panel that was not there) might have had something to do with AIPAC's insistence this year that all the presidential hopefuls wishing to speak be physically present. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ZlW23ul5uv8" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> In her remarks to AIPAC, Hillary Clinton subtly jabbed at Donald Trump, who had previously promised to be "neutral" in any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians when she said, "We need steady hands, not a president who says he's neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything is negotiable." For his part, Trump's speech to AIPAC made no mention of neutrality, saying "The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable." Three of the four presidential candidates in attendance took shots at what Clinton blasted as the "alarming" Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement, saying "Particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world, especially in Europe, we must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people." In statements fraught with chilling ramifications for freedom of speech and protest, Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) promised to "use the full force of the White House to fight this scourge" of BDS, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went so far as to say that any college that participates in BDS will lose federal funding and, if in legal violation, "will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." At a rally in Salt Lake City, Sanders gave a speech he almost certainly would not have delivered to AIPAC, but which addressed his Middle East policy in depth. Leading off by mentioning the indisputable fact that he is the only major presidential candidate to have ever spent time living on an Israeli kibbutz, then extolling the historical and cultural ties between the US and Israel, Sanders said Israel requires "the unconditional recognition" of its right to exist from "the entire world" and that Hamas and Hezbollah must "renounce their efforts to undermine the security of Israel." Next, Sanders pivoted into a bit of pragmatic realism that would have been a non-starter at AIPAC: But peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for the Palestinian people. Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed upon borders,and pulling back settlements in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza – once cons[...]
Thu, 17 Mar 2016 16:10:00 -0400The University of California (UC) Board of Regents is considering adding "anti-Zionism" to an ever-growing list of unacceptable forms of "discrimination" that will be outlawed on the state university system's 10 campuses. The new proposal is an addendum to UC's still-under-consideration "Statement of Principles Against Intolerance," which Will Creeley of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said in 2015 had the potential to lead to "a kind of race to the bottom, sooner or later, by public universities punishing students or faculty for a particular viewpoint." The AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit devoted to battling anti-Semitism on American college campuses, was the driving force behind the addition of anti-Zionism to the list of banned forms of "intolerant" expression, after deeming the previous UC statement to have insufficiently addressed anti-Semitism. In lobbying for the additional speech code, AMCHA cited a number of recent incidents where Jewish students were targeted, including the spraypainting of swastikas on the outside of a Jewish fraternity house at UC Davis. The latest report from the regents working group states: Opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance toward Jewish people and culture. Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California. The UC regents are scheduled to discuss the report on March 23, but it seems that the working group is trying to have it both ways, because later in the report, they add that the university "will vigorously defend the principles of the First Amendment and academic freedom against any efforts to subvert or abridge them." It's hard to see how UC plans to square this circle, especially since Zionism, unlike Judaism, is not a religion but a specific political philosophy based on the belief that the land of Greater Israel is the rightful national homeland of the Jewish people. Zionism is not embraced by every person of the Jewish faith, nor is Zionism itself a monolith. There are plenty of self-described Zionists who are vocally critical of the government of Israel's policies, which presently include building settlements in the occupied West Bank, actions that are officially opposed by nearly every nation in the world, including the US. Additionally, holding the belief that the state of Israel's creation was misbegoten or unjust is a political position, one that is frequently debated in academia. While controversial, it is not necessarily motivated by anti-Semitism any more than someone opposed to Hamas running a de facto Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip is motivated by Islamophobia. On the legitimacy of debating Israel's right to exist, Eugene Volokh writes at The Washington Post: Whether the Jewish people should have an independent state in Israel is a perfectly legitimate question to discuss — just as it’s perfectly legitimate to discuss whether Basques, Kurds, Taiwanese, Tibetans, Northern Cypriots, Flemish Belgians, Walloon Belgians, Faroese, Northern Italians, Kosovars, Abkhazians, South Ossetians, Transnistrians, Chechens, Catalonians, Eastern Ukranians and so on should have a right to have independent states. The regents' proposal bears the hallmarks of a classic case of overcompensation and would likely result in legitimate political grievances being prosecuted under the umbrella of "hate speech." The roots of this prospective policy stem from a 2010 US State Department memo which attempted to define how "anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel." The memo lists the demonization of Israel, applying a double standard for Israel, and de-l[...]
Mon, 07 Mar 2016 12:00:00 -0500Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher, derived what he called the categorical imperative, one formulation of which says—pardon the paraphrase—that we should act only according to rules that could be applied universally. Which brings us to Israel and gay marriage. Both of those issues have turned up in this year's Virginia General Assembly, although one has received far more attention than the other. Israel turns up in a bill that takes a swipe at the BDS movement, which urges boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. The BDS movement is woefully misguided and deeply flawed. But it has every right to be. Nothing in the Constitution protects the rights of only those who are correct on the merits of an issue. Yet a bill in the House of Delegates (HB1282) would have prohibited state contractors from boycotting goods from Israel. As the Virginia ACLU pointed out, that bill would have violated fundamental First Amendment principles by "target(ing) core political speech and infring(ing) on the freedom of business owners to express their political beliefs." After all, boycotts have a long and proud tradition in the U.S. They are, as the ACLU says, designed to bring about change through speech, association, assembly, and petition—basic constitutional rights. Fortunately, the bill was rewritten and now requires only that the state's secretary of commerce and trade work with the Virginia-Israeli Advisory Board to "ensure free, fair, open, and consistent business practices." That's better than the original bill—but it still looks like a thumb on the scale. During a recent Editorial Board meeting with opponents of the legislation, one BDS activist pointed out that, after all, people should be free to do business—or not do business—with anyone they pleased. The government should not tell people with whom they must conduct commerce. And that is a valid argument. But many of those who might sympathize with that argument regarding BDS find it abhorrent in another context. The House of Delegates has passed a religious-freedom measure that some call a "license to discriminate." It stipulates that a government entity cannot take action against a person who holds a religious objection to gay marriage. The Virginia ACLU's Claire Gastañaga made a good case against the bill in the Times-Dispatch a couple of weeks ago. She notes that the measure singles out certain types of belief—and only those types of belief— for special treatment. Moreover, its own language affords those beliefs protections "in addition to the protections provided under the United States Constitution, the Constitution of Virginia, and federal and state law." That, she correctly concludes, is a "grant of special rights" that "prefers one set of beliefs over others." But this is as much a complaint that the bill is too narrow as that the bill is too broad. A more ecumenical bill—one stipulating that government could not take action against a person for any religious belief, or the lack of belief—would not privilege one faith over another, so that objection would go away. But to get back to Kant. A boycott consists of declining to engage in commerce with someone who is complicit in what the boycotter considers immoral. Boycotts usually are aimed at companies, but there is no law that says they must be. You could, say, boycott an individual artist by refusing to purchase Eminem's albums because of his misogynistic lyrics. This raises a question: Under what general rule can the government allow someone to withhold his commerce from an Israeli exporter, on the basis of his moral and political objections to Israel's treatment of Palestinians, but forbid him to withhold his commerce from a gay couple on the basis of his moral and political objections to gay marriage? Pleas[...]
Thu, 21 Jan 2016 00:00:00 -0500What a bad week for the war party. Darn you, Iran! The country that the armchair warriors most love to hate refuses to play the villain's role assigned by the neoconservatives, "humanitarian" interventionists, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the establishment media. First Iran quickly released 10 U.S. sailors whose armed boats had violated Iran's territorial waters near the militarily sensitive Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf. (Never mind why the boats were there; the official explanation keeps changing, but don't dare suggest the reason was anything but innocent.) Next Iran was found in full compliance with the nuclear agreement, killing its nonexistent nuclear-weapons program. Then it released five Americans held in Iran in exchange for seven Iranians held in American prisons. (None of the 12 should have been jailed.) What's a war party to do when the Official Enemy won't act like it? Where are militarists who seek the presidency to turn if they can't count on their tacit allies, Iran's hardliners, to sabotage the constructive actions of the reasonable Iranian president and foreign minister? The U.S. government and its closest ally, Israel, have threatened to attack Iran for decades. Meanwhile they have conducted covert, proxy, and cyber war against the Islamic Republic. But Iran wouldn't take the bait. George W. Bush hoped to bomb Iran into regime-change before he left office, but the U.S. intelligence apparatus documented that Iran was not building a nuclear weapon, leaving Bush's plans in tatters. The warmongers just can't catch a break, but Iran's un-enemy-like conduct doesn't deter them. As true-believers, they are unfazed by facts. Hillary Clinton is to be included in this group. In one of her presidential debates she listed Iran among the enemies she's most proud to have made—odd coming from a former secretary of state who says she helped prepare for the nuclear talks. In the midst of the good news last weekend, she called for new sanctions because Iran had tested a long-range allegedly nuclear-capable missile in supposed violation of a UN resolution. (The Obama administration obliged, although Iran protests that the missile is not nuclear-capable.) It unclear why the arms-merchant United States and its Mideast allies are allowed to have long-range missiles, but Iran is not. It's also unclear why that UN resolution is so special when the U.S. government has no problem with Israel's 50-year-old defiance of UN resolutions regarding the oppressed Palestinians. Israel, of course, is the Middle East's nuclear monopolist, refuses (unlike Iran) to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and thus is not subject to inspections, as Iran long has been. One also wonders what Iran could do with a long-range missile armed with a conventional warhead except to perhaps deter the long-threatened U.S. attack. Iran has a small military budget and no offensive capability. The Republican presidential contenders saw aggression in everything the Iranians did last week and appeasement in everything President Obama did. We should be accustomed to such nonsense by now. You'd have thought Iran crossed into American waters or repeatedly threatened the United States. If under similar circumstances an American president did what the Republicans apparently think Iran should have done—presumably, ignore the intruding boats—they'd be screaming for impeachment. If, as they say, Turkey was justified in shooting down Russian military jets that briefly violated its airspace (it wasn't), why are they upset when Iran peacefully apprehends armed U.S. naval craft in their waters? Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio all struck tough-guy poses, demonstrating once more why they and Clinton must be kept far from U.S. military power. [...]
Thu, 14 Jan 2016 06:00:00 -0500
(image) Israel's Education Ministry has rejected a request by teachers to include Dorit Rabinyan's novel Borderlife in the curriculum for high school literature students. The novel deals with a romance between a Jewish Israeli woman and an Arab man. "Marrying a non-Jew is not what the education system is educating about," said Dalia Fenig, the ministry official who leads the committee responsible for the decision.
Tue, 29 Dec 2015 14:55:00 -0500Libertarians are often accused of being "isolationists," but we know better. Far from choosing to hide behind YUGE walls in Fortress America, we'd rather substantially increase immigration, tear down barriers to trade and travel, and engage in cultural exchange (and not ahem...appropriation). We've rounded up ten of the year's most vital stories in the nebulous catch-all realm of foreign affairs that will likely influence America's policies, perceptions, and maybe even that election thing, in 2016. January: Charlie Hebdo Massacre Terrorists armed with automatic weapons killed 11 people and injured 11 others in an attack on the offices of Paris' wildly irreverent satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Days later, world leaders converged on the City of Light, ostensibly in solidarity with the victims and their spirit of defiant free expression in the face of murderous religious barbarism. The "Je Suis Charlie" meme went internationally viral almost immediately but was met with plenty of pushback from mostly "liberal" thinkers who had never heard of Charlie Hebdo before the attacks, or had even a passing knowledge of the French tradition of take-no-prisoners satire, or were aware that the editors of Charlie Hebdo were planning an anti-racism conference the very day they were massacred at their desks. It's been almost a year and the arguments over who is allowed to "punch up" or "punch down" in art continue, as do the arguments about whether the world is too dangerous to tolerate free expression anymore. Secretary of State John Kerry even wondered aloud whether there was a certain "legitimacy" to the massacre, because after all, the cartoons offended some people. March: Netanyahu's Speech to Congress Makes Support for Israel a Partisan Issue When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted then-Speaker of the House John Boehner's invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress, without consulting the Obama administration, he was signaling to his right-wing base back home that he was the kind of hardass who would even stand up to his country's most stalwart ally and benefactor if he felt he had to. Bibi was rewarded for his belligerence by squeaking out an electoral victory later that month, aided by a last minute get-out-the-vote plea to his supporters where he invoked the spectre of busloads full of Arabs heading to the polls and promised to never allow a Palestinian state on his watch. Obama and Netanyahu made sure to keep up conciliatory appearances after the election, but the prime minister's breach of protocol was a thumb to the eye of the Democratic Party's man in charge, and the long-term repercussions could very well mean the end to the bipartisan rubber stamp of billions in annual military aid to Israel, as well as the US' unwavering support of Israeli policies at the UN Security Council. The recent rash of stabbings and revenge attacks in Israel and the West Bank has made the possibility of a third Palestinian intifada very real. If sustained violence were to reignite during the dog days of the American presidential election, it's unlikely that Hillary Clinton or any of the Republicans would rebuke Israel, but the seeds of discord have been planted among younger liberals who may not want to fund Israel's wars in the future. March: Japan Stands Up to China Over Disputed Territory When Japan decided to engage in joint military exercises with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, it sparked a sort of naval cold war between China and several other East Asian maritime nations over disputed resource-rich islands and shipping lanes. The US is obligated by its post-World War II security pact to defend Japan in case of a[...]
Tue, 15 Dec 2015 14:45:00 -0500
In October, George Washington University police demanded student Ramie Abounaja remove the Palestinian flag hanging from his dormitory window, claiming that they had received multiple complaints from other students. Abounaja complied with the cop's demands but wondered why the police targeted his flag for removal—and not any of the other national flags hanging from dorm windows across campus.
GWU President Steven Knapp did eventually issue an apology to Abounaja. But the incident is still a reminder of how college students use police and administrators to censor people with whom they disagree. Left-leaning commentators like Glenn Greenwald and Matthew Yglesias contend that free speech advocates overlook the censorship of pro-Palestinian voices. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently fired Professor Steven Salaita for his anti-Israel tweets, and the University of California is attempting to suppress criticism of the state of Israel as part of an overly broad restriction of anti-Semitic hate speech.
But the censorship runs both ways. There are plenty of examples of pro-Palestinian students trying to shut down pro-Isreal speech on campus. In fact, students from all sorts of political groups try to censor their opponents—and university administrators are all-too-eager to comply.
So who’s the biggest loser in the campus free speech wars? It’s a question that’s nearly impossible to answer and one that ultimately misses the point. If one person’s free expression rights can be crushed underfoot by an overzealous administrator, campus security officer, or emotionally insecure student, then everyone on campus is in danger. And since “hateful” and “offensive” are subjective terms, we cannot protect the kinds of speech we like unless we also safeguard the kinds of speech we utterly despise.
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Sat, 28 Nov 2015 12:00:00 -0500In late October, a young Palestinian woman named Danya Irshid, only 17 years old, tried to stab an Israeli soldier at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and was shot to death. Within hours, another young Palestinian living in Hebron, the 22-year-old Raed Jaradat, uploaded an image of Danya's body to his Facebook page, adding the Arabic caption, "Imagine it is your sister." The same day (or, some accounts say, the next day), Jaradat, armed with knife, attacked another Israeli soldier in Hebron, and Raed too was shot to death. At Jaradat's funeral on November 1, Raed's father publically asked Danya's father for her hand in marriage, on behalf of his late son. The betrothal was accepted on the spot: the late Danya Irshid became Danya Jaradat in the eyes of the families, the tearful fathers were raised onto the shoulders of dancing celebrants, as they might be at a wedding of the living, to the sound of upbeat wedding music. The two martyrs were announced as having married in heaven. The reports about this singular event all agree, by the way, that Raed and Danya had never met. There's a brief, subtitled video of all this here; we'll take a closer look at it in a moment. Posthumous marriage between the living and the dead is not unknown; it's allowed in some places for various legal—or even just sentimental—reasons. France has allowed it since the 1950s, where its legal status is an extension of proxy marriage. Even marrying the dead to the dead has a history: the Chinese once practiced so-called "Ghost Marriage," in which they wedded the dead to other dead partners (or sometimes to living ones), often to placate spirits with a reason to be unhappy, though such events have become very rare. The Sudanese have a form of Ghost Marriage where a living brother stands in for a dead one; any children of such a marriage are considered as the offspring of the dead brother. In Islam, the marriage of unmarried believers in heaven is apparently part of the expectation of Paradise, at least according to this Koranic excursus, which purports to be authoritative (though one should assume scholarly debate on such a matter), and which addresses aspects of heavenly marriage in great detail. "The believing men and women who died before they got married in the world will be married in Paradise; all of the single people will be married there," it says. However, that description suggests the wedding of deserving souls according to divine will, and as a divine reward; it would seem to have nothing to do with the wants or actions by the living families. What happened in Hebron, on the other hand, was the result of family intervention, and looks a lot like old Chinese Ghost Marriage, but with a doubtful Islamic twist. At any rate, this posthumous marriage of Palestinian martyrs seems to have been a first among modern Palestinians, or at least that is how a Palestinian news agency in Gaza described it. (Quick aside: Since so many Westerners seem fixated on paradise's dark-eyed houris, let's note that the excursus' scholar promises that wives in paradise will be the houris' sultanas.) Now back to that video of the funeral/marriage. What's going on there? Is martyrdom being rewarded? Are the souls of the dead being placated? Actually, it rather looks as if the event is political. The opening moments of the subtitled video show a man at a podium leading events at Raed Jaradat's public funeral. He announces that Jaradat's father is asking Danya Irshid's father "for his daughter's hand in marriage for [his son] the martyr in Paradise." Even as this man is speaking, however, the camera swoops from him to a row of seated mourners, where it rests on the father of Danya Irshid[...]