Suppressing free speech in Ashland

Letter: At length

Rachel Corrie and Tony Judt share a common fate. They wrote different types of personal statements critical of Israeli policies in Palestine. The fate they share is that censorial opponents have had great success in denying them (and others) public forums for their views. Their censors are those Americans who offer unqualified support for the policies of the state of Israel, especially in regard to Palestine.

Tony Judt is an American-British-Jewish history professor at New York University, highly regarded in American and international intellectual circles. In 2003, he published an essay in the New York Review of Books, “Israel: The Alternative,” in which he called for a single-state solution to end the Israel-Palestine tragedy. Such a solution is anathema to those who support only the concept of a “Jewish State, which Judt regards as an “anachronism.”” This made him persona non grata among the censors.

Last year, his scheduled public lecture at the Polish Consulate in New York on October 5 and one set for October 17 at the Holocaust Center of Manhattan College were both canceled after pressure was exercised on the Consulate and the College by such groups as Jewish Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee and, in the later case, by the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.

Judt has written, “I began to realize that there was a sort of suffocating silence not only about what was happening in the occupied territories and in Israel and Israeli political culture, but also that the suffocating silence was largely focused on the illegitimacy of speaking lest they be accused of anti-semitism.”

It is just such a suffocating silence that enveloped “My Name is Rachel Corrie” in Ashland recently. That dramatic reading of her letters and diary excerpts depicts her compassionate work and peace efforts in Palestine. Despite lame and duplicitous efforts — depending solely on official Israeli accounts — to depict her as somehow implicated in “terrorism,” the reading was clearly blocked, not because of any “factual disagreements” concerning her brutal death, but because of the zealous open and covert objections of those who see any criticism of Israeli policies as anti-Israel or, worse, anti-Semitic.

Rachel Corrie thus joins Toni Judt, and scholars like John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Joel Benin whose public lectures have been recently canceled and derogated because they criticized, explicitly and implicitly, Israeli policies. It is a suffocating shame. No “contextual framework” can change that reality.

Gerald Cavanaugh

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