Harvard faculty repudiate the student newspaper’s endorsement of BDS

May 11, 2022 • 9:00 am

As I reported the other day, the Harvard Crimson, the school’s well known student newspaper, published an editorial supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, a movement that’s anti-Semitic in that it explicitly favors the elimination of Israel as a state. To me this highlighted the growing problem of anti-Semitism not just at universities (especially “elite” ones), but in the Progressive Left.

Now, however, over 100 Harvard faculty members (and counting) are signing a statement repudiating the Crimson‘s stand. You can find the statement by clicking on the screenshot:

Here are the first four paragraphs, with which I heartily agree.

As members of the faculty of Harvard University, we are dismayed by The Crimson Editorial Board’s enthusiastic endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. While we may not agree with every point in this statement, and there are many diverse perspectives among us on issues of Israeli policy, the boundaries of academic freedom, and the role of universities as political actors, we are united in our opposition to BDS and The Crimson stance.

We are deeply concerned about the long-term impact of this recent staff editorial on the morale and well-being of Jewish and Zionist students at Harvard, some of whom have already reported that they have become alienated from the newspaper on account of the inhospitable culture that prevails there.

We extend our full support to these students who may now be feeling marginalized and demoralized. We also express our steadfast commitment to Harvard’s ties with Israel, a country that is home to some of the world’s best universities. Our research and teaching missions benefit from these educational exchanges, and we encourage Harvard to grow them further.

While acknowledging the right of those within our campus community to endorse and advocate for BDS, we stand firmly opposed to this movement. In addition to calling for a wholesale boycott of Israeli academia, BDS compromises educational goals by turning the complex and intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a caricature that singles out only one side for blame with a false binary of oppressor versus oppressed.

And that last paragraph is the most trenchant. In fact, Palestine is much more to blame than Israel for the fact that it doesn’t have its own country. They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The demonization of Israel and the valorization of Palestine, a true apartheid state, is one of the biggest missteps the American Left has made, for it contravenes its own values of democracy and equality in favor of a false “oppressor/oppressed” narrative.

One more quote (you can read the full statement at the link above):

We are saddened and disheartened that both the Crimson and the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), to which the Editorial Board gave full-throated support in its editorial, are creating spaces on campus where Jewish and Zionist students are targeted and made to feel unwelcome. In its “Wall of Resistance” art installation at Harvard Yard, callously displayed over the Passover holiday, the PSC equated Zionism with “racism” and “white supremacy.” Such language is shameful and has no place at Harvard. We call out this rhetoric for what it is: anti-Jewish hate speech that is antithetical to the values of any academic institution.

Zionism— the right of the Jewish people to a homeland and self-determination—is a millennia-old tradition, with deep roots in Jewish history and religious practice. It is also a more recent political response to the utter failure to produce freedom and safety for Jews living in most places in the world. To treat Zionism as an illegitimate and oppressive movement, as BDS does, is to ignore history and to deny empathy, respect, and dignity to Jews.

I was pleased to see a friend’s name among the four people whom I take to be those who started the petition.

Initial signatories serve on the Advisory Board of the Academic Engagement Network:  

Gabriella Blum, Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Harvard Law School
Jesse Fried, Dane Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology
Lawrence H. Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus

Doubtless someone will point out that there are many Jewish names among the signers. Well what did you expect? Don’t you think that a petition calling for moving all African-Americans back to Africa would have a disproportionate number of black signers?

If you want a good overview of this pushback, don’t go looking for it in the New York Times or Washington Post.  The Times of Israel has a bit more information:

The statement was organized by the Academic Engagement Network, a pro-Israel non-profit group. The petition will remain open through the end of the week, and will be presented to The Crimson, Harvard’s president, and other university officials.

One current editor of The Crimson and several prominent alumni of the paper also blasted the BDS endorsement.

Natalie L. Kahn, a Crimson editor and the head of Harvard’s Hillel, in a response published by the Crimson on Wednesday, said the endorsement was one-sided and anti-Jewish.

“This editorial is part of a larger trend of singling out Jews, conveniently neglecting our half of the story — and by extension our right to self-determination — while claiming to ‘oppose antisemitism,’” she wrote.

“This editorial does not even affirm support for Jewish self-determination. Does the Editorial Board believe Israel even has a right to exist? Because, if so, that line is coincidentally missing,” she said.

“Dialogue is not the goal of BDS or student anti-Israel groups, who have refused conversation and rely instead on substanceless platitudes,” she said. “Their goal is demonizing Israel and delegitimizing its right to exist.”

If you doubt the last sentence, do a bit of digging about BDS and its history, though it’s mantra (“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”) says it all.

 

h/t: Norm

MIT faculty worried about chilling of speech

November 8, 2021 • 11:00 am

I wrote yesterday about the Academic Freedom Alliance’s concern with colleges making official statements about ideology, politics or morality. The reason they shouldn’t do this is that such declarations impede free discourse by discouraging those who disagree with the statements from speaking up.  If your department has an official statement about the college or the country being “structurally racist”, for instance, what student or untenured professor would disagree publicly? Why risk your degree or your tenure by going up against an official statement? There are the brave ones, but they’re scarce as hen’s teeth.

This is why the University of Chicago bans such statements, though lately they’ve been going up on departmental websites under the radar of the administration.

The same kind of chilling of speech has apparently been at work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), probably exacerbated by the MIT’s disinviting Dorian Abbot, one of my own University’s geophysical scientists, from giving a prestigious lecture after people discovered that he was questioning the wisdom of many diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives of American colleges. (Abbot’s proposed lecture, by the way, had nothing to do with DEI; they were simply punishing him for his extracurricular and “non-woke” views.)

The MIT Free Speech Alliance now has an entire page about the Abbot affair, which also includes a link to all the press that MIT got for its suppression of speech.  Most of it, I was glad to see, was bad press, which shows that Americans sensed a fundamental unfairness about what happened to Abbot.

And somebody took a survey:

MIT, like many universities, has recently turned hostile to free speech, free expression, open scientific inquiry, and viewpoint diversity.  For example, in October 2021, MIT canceled the speaking invitation of leading geophysicist Dorian Abbot for expressing the view, regarded as simple common sense by most Americans, that personal identity should not supersede merit. The barrage of negative press and public outrage resulting from MIT cancelling Dr. Abbot led MIT faculty chair Lily Tsai in November 2021 to poll the faculty on two questions:

  •  60% responded “Yes” to “Do you feel on an everyday basis that your voice, or the voices of your colleagues are constrained at MIT?”

  •  83% responded “Yes” to “Are you worried given the current atmosphere in society that your voice or your colleagues’ voices are increasingly in jeopardy?”

That a large majority of MIT faculty feels that their voices are constrained at MIT reveals a crisis demanding decisive action. The MIT Free Speech Alliance (MFSA), a chapter of the national Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA), was formed to call for such action, beginning by investigating the current climate on campus, and recommending how MIT can restore free speech, open scientific inquiry, and a tolerance for viewpoint diversity.

I don’t know what “Chair of the Faculty” is or does, but it seems prestigious and part of MIT’s administration, so this is no left-wing initiative to make the University look bad.  And the figures do look bad for MIT. When 60% of the faculty think they can’t speak freely, and 83% are worried about that pressure increasing, something should be done. (Note that no sample size is given for the faculty response.)

One thing the MIT Free Speech Alliance urges you to do is this:

 Sign our Change.org petition that enumerates first steps needed to restore the values that made MIT a world-class science and engineering research university.

Here’s what they’re calling for:

If we are to believe that freedom of expression is a “fundamental value” at MIT, MIT needs to:

  1. Clearly and publicly state, without qualification, that cancelling Professor Abbot’s Carlson Lecture was counter to MIT’s values of free speech and expression.
  2. Re-schedule Professor Abbot’s Carlson Lecture for the general public as soon as possible.
  3. Formally adopt the University of Chicago of Principles, as have 87 other colleges and universities, to affirm MIT’s commitment to free speech and expression.
  4. Annually re-affirm in writing to faculty, administrators, staff, and students MIT’s commitment to freedom of speech and expression and open inquiry, its importance for any educational and research enterprise, and especially MIT, which aspires to the highest standards of academic excellence.

That seems reasonable to me, although annual affirmation may be asking a bit too much. We don’t do that at Chicago, as we have a permanent page that affirms our “Foundational Principles,” all connected with free speech and academic freedom.

Now I don’t have a lot of faith in Change.org petitions to effect change, but I signed it anyway, and if you agree with it, I urge you to sign, too. There are only 100 signatures over there with a target of 200, and that is WAY too few.  So go here and sign on if you agree.

Dueling petitions about banning “Irreversible Damage” by Abigail Shrier

November 19, 2020 • 9:15 am

As you may remember, Abigail Shrier’s new book, Irreversible Damage, about the dangers of uncritical support for young girls who want to transition to boys, has met with a lot of criticism as “transphobic”. For a while its sale was banned at Target stores (it’s now reinstated.)  Nevertheless, there’s a change.org petition afoot to ban the book everywhere. Click on the screenshot to read it:

An excerpt:

Shrier makes a number of egregious leaps of logic in order to invalidate transgender boys to suit her conservative values. A frequent false-association she creates is in regards to the attempted suicide rate of trans people coinciding with regretting transitioning or even expressing the urge to detransition. She blatantly ignores the fact these statistics much more coincide with transgender individuals feeling ostracized and attacked in a modern society that insists something is wrong with them.

. . . I am calling for the book’s immediate removal from everywhere it is sold. The blatant misinformation and hate speech that endangers the lives of thousands of growing transgender boys. The removal of the text will protect those men from abusive parents who may use the text to justify emotional abuse.

The main point of contention here is that the petitioner says that the suicide of transgender males is not connected with the urge to de-transition, or with regrets, but is due to their ostracism by society. One could argue that the regret/de-transitioning claim is not Shrier’s main point: that she’s dealing with those who have gender dysphoria, not necessarily those who have already transitioned (I don’t know as I haven’t yet received the book.) Also, gender dysphoria could be a symptom or part of a complex of other mental problems, like a general failure to fit into society, and suicide could result from that—not from either regret or ostracism.

At any rate, you can’t ban a book from “everywhere it is sold” because you take issue with one of the book’s contentions. Nevertheless, 1760 people have signed the petition out of a goal of 2500.  In my years of writing on this site, I don’t remember seeing a request for a book to be banned from “everywhere it is sold,” though there are plenty of instances of books being banned from schools or school districts. This is an attempt to erase the book completely.

In a dueling petition, also at change.org,  there’s a call to not ban the book, which I’ve signed. Reassuringly, it’s gathered more signatures: 4340 out of a goal of 5000. I have signed it, because though I haven’t yet read the book, I’m opposed to any banning of books. Click on the screenshot if you want to read the petition and/or sign it.

An excerpt:

I am calling for you to refuse to give in to pressure from ill-informed random people on the internet to remove the book from your listings when the best they can do to bolster their cause is attempt to tie Shrier and her book to the harassment and abuse of transgender people and to their emotional issues, when it is unlikely that anyone who carries out such abuses has even heard of the book. Vanillian has not provided any proof of the alleged misinformation or hate speech and no amount of signatures on a petition based on lies and appeals to emotion is going to change that.

Please don’t pay attention to people who use emotionally manipulative language and horrible scenarios to try to stop people from learning about the harm being done in the name of a worthy cause. Don’t ban books, discuss them. And don’t give in to pressure from astroturfed mobs. Abigail Shrier’s book deserves scrutiny, not a blanket ban in case some people get upset. If you give in to this, sooner or later every book will have to be banned.

Although the counter-petition doesn’t answer the claim that the suicide of transgender males has nothing to do with the urge to reverse course and destransition, the way to resolve these conflicting claims is not to ban the other side, but read both sides of the argument, look at the data (if they exist), and judge for yourself.  It’s an unfortunate characteristic of woke activists, many of whom uncritically valorize the urge to change gender, even in children, that they demonize the other side as “transphobes” rather than dealing with their arguments. And the only way to judge arguments is to hear both sides and look at the evidence.

Shrier’s book is likely seen as “hate speech” by many, since it’s viewed, erroneously, as “transphobic” (Shrier is not at all opposed to transsexual changes in older people.) And this is one of the reasons why we must fight against the possible resurgence of “hate speech” laws should they be suggested during a Biden presidency or crop up in universities.

In the meantime, all the kerfuffle about Shrier’s book (click on screenshot for Amazon link) has created a Streisand effect, propelling it to #45 among all among books, with an expected bimodality of ratings but an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Amazon is surely not going to ban it, so the opponents of the book have simply increased its sales.

The book-banning petition will have no effect (has a change.org petition ever accomplished anything?), save help sell more books. But it is a sign of the Zeitgeist that so many Americans favor this kind of censorship.