A shocking/not-shocking story from Goucher College outside Baltimore. Students wanted to bring in two (Jewish) speakers on Israel/Palestine: Josh Ruebner of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and Rabbi Brian Walt of Fast for Gaza, hardly a bombthrower. The Goucher president, Sanford Ungar, a former establishment-journalist and freedom-of-speech type, blocked the invitations, saying they were unbalanced.
The school paper, the Quindecim reports [Emphasis mine]:
In an interview with The Quindecim, Goucher President Sanford J. Ungar defended his decision, citing a history of anti-Israel speakers on campus, several of which have resulted in complaints from students, alumni, and parents. "We don’t want Goucher to end up on a list of schools with a reputation of bringing vehemently pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli speakers to campus," said Ungar. "I don’t think it would be good for enrollment."
Echoing a similar refrain from other administrators, President Ungar also emphasized the need for a range of views on the panel. "For something to be a Goucher public program, it needs to meet a set of requirements, one of which is balance." Asked if he was aware of any student plans to bring a pro-Israeli speaker to campus, Ungar replied that he did not, but that his office is in talks to bring the Israeli ambassador to Goucher.
After the college faced a severe backlash in the wake of Anna Baltzer’s first appearance on-campus, including a newspaper attack ad listing his phone number and e-mail address, Sandy Ungar wrote an impassioned defense of free speech in The Goucher Quarterly, the college’s alumni magazine. “We at Goucher did not consider for one moment canceling the program that had provoked the uproar. If we yielded to this assault on free speech, what would be next? Objections to certain politicians — say, Governor Ehrlich? As I had asked at the time of the protest over his appearance, if we were to start down that slippery slope, who would compile the lists of which speakers were acceptable and which ones were not?"
Good question, Ungar. The newspaper’s editorial:
The administration’s decision to prevent Josh Ruebner and Rabbi Brian Walt from participating in dialogue on human rights in Gaza and the West Bank is troubling. There is no doubt that what we are witnessing is a classic struggle for academic freedom, a classic struggle between students and an administration. In the opinion of this newspaper, the administration has violated one of the essential principles of a liberal education: academic freedom.
…What are Rabbi Walt’s political views? The stated goal of Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza, of which he is a co-founder, is to “end the Jewish community’s silence of Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza.”…
Josh Ruebner takes a much harder line on Israel, and many of his views fall squarely outside of the [consensus-manufacturing cliche eliminated to save readers of this site valuable time]. Among his published essays is an account of how he burned his Israeli draft card (he is a citizen of Israel by virtue of his father’s citizenship) in front of the embassy in Washington D.C. because he refuses to serve in “an army of occupation and oppression.” Ruebner is quoted by stand4facts.org, a pro-Israeli fact checking site, as saying, “Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is a moral outrage and a blight on the soul of the Jewish people.”
Couple comments. I always say that students will lead us on this issue. They see the hypocrisy and it’s upsetting to them. It makes them flock to the issue. This was the exciting energy in the Yale debating society’s vote a year ago to end the special relationship with Israel. Also note that an educational institution dedicated to free speech is falling into line on the lobby’s anti-Goldstone line: Let us assert that the killing of 300 children, many of them in a ghastly manner, was acceptable, and not give a platform to anyone who has a different opinion. And still those children are dead, and the world knows about it.
Let me be plain about my view of why this happens: This is about the Jewish community. If a speaker wanted to go on campus and criticize George Bush for the Iraq war and Obama for Afghanistan, he or she would be welcome. This is all about raising money; even the "enrollment" issue is a signifier for that. Note Ungar’s fundraising plans.
Ungar is a strong advocate of free speech and investigative journalism. He is an outspoken advocate of Judith Miller. Steadfastly supporting the New York Times journalist, he called her an American Hero.