Letter to the Editor
I am one of the three ?controversial speakers? named in the article ?Committee to review at-issue speakers? [The Tartan, 9/26]. All across this country there is an effort by pro?Israel organizations to shut down any discussion or debate about the Palestine?Israel conflict and particularly any discussion that highlights Israel?s gross and well-documented abuses of human rights and violations of international law.
The Tartan reported, ?DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein and Palestinian-cause speaker Ali Abunimah rounded out the list of three speakers whose lectures allegedly included anti-Semitic material.? The article does not say
who made this allegation, nor what the content of my speech was that could be in any way construed as ?anti-Semitic.?
As your readers will be aware, there is little more damaging in our society than to be tarred with the accusation of anti-Semitism. Those who wish to lay such charges should have the courage of their convictions to do so openly.
Aaron Weil, the Director of the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center, is quoted saying ?the speakers brought messages of hate? and ?The position of our students has been, and remains to be, that while the Constitution guarantees the right of free speech, it does not guarantee right of venue, and that?s why we believe those speakers were inappropriate.?
Anyone who attended my speech will know that I delivered a message of peace. This ought to be no surprise because, although I am a critic of Israel?s policies, I believe fervently in full peace, mutual recognition and equality between Israelis and Palestinians, and have been advocating this for many years and have a long public record of doing so.
Regretfully, while on the CMU campus, I was subjected to abuse and harassment including being called a ?cockroach? by one student who was carrying a pro-Israel sign outside the lecture hall. Some students attempted to disrupt my lecture and prevent others from hearing what I had to say, and when I invited those students to come down to the podium to express whatever dissent they wished, they staged a group walk-out. I wonder if these are the same students who are now claiming that I somehow violated their rights by speaking at CMU!
I did not consider their atrocious behaviour to be in any way representative of CMU, because the vast majority of the hundreds of students who attended my lecture at [Carnegie Mellon] and another one the same day at the University of Pittsburgh (some of whom were overflow from CMU because the hall was filled to capacity) listened respectfully, accorded me the warmest and most gracious welcome, and engaged with me in a free and unrestricted debate in which they challenged me and held me to acount. I have to admit that this open, transparent engagement with students is the part of public speaking which I enjoy the most.
In February, shortly after my visit to CMU, Mr. Weil was quoted in the Pitt News making statements that I believed to be false and defamatory, and as a result, I felt compelled to contact my attorney. Mr. Weil actually claimed that I had advocated the use of terrorism. Mr. Weil acknowledged that this was untrue and retracted his comments in a phone conversation with my attorney. The Pitt News removed Mr. Weil?s comments from their website at that time and printed a letter from me. (Please see www.pittnews.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/02/09/4209b299955ebp.)
I do find it incomprehensible that Mr. Weil should still be advocating that I and other speakers should have been banned from the CMU campus. On what grounds? I have written to the Committee charged by President Cohon with the task of reviewing University policy on ?controversial speakers,? to offer my full cooperation.
I would be pleased to travel to Pittsburgh to meet the committee so that they and the University community can decide whether or not this censorship campaign is truly responding to a genuine concern that my speaking at CMU somehow curtailed anyone else?s freedom, promoted ?hate? or ?anti-Semitism? in any way whatsoever, or whether, as I suspect this is simply a campaign to make it harder for those who disagree with Israeli policies to air their views on the [Carnegie Mellon] campus.