The UN Declaration of Human Rights defines free speech as: “Everyone having the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontier.”
For some reason, however, the topic of “free speech” gets twisted in relation to Israel (like many double standards that aim to delegitimize the nation). Alan Dershowitz summarizes this theme very well through the motto held by many anti-Israel academics — “Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee!” In plain terms, he writes that, “If you’re against Israel then they want you to have complete freedom to speak against the Jewish state (as they certainly should and do). If, on the other hand, you’re perceived as pro-Israel (or pro-American, for that matter), then suddenly you have no right to free speech.” This notion has never been clearer on college campuses across the United States.
Just a few days ago, UC Irvine exemplified this motto at an event held by Students for Justice in Palestine, a student organization on campus that brought a panel of Jewish members of the community fighting for justice in Palestine. The panel was made up of two women from Jewish Voices for Peace, a “progressive” organization that isn’t exactly pro-Israel, and a young Israeli in support of Palestinian activism (also a member of Anarchists Against The Wall). Note that there is nothing wrong with being Jewish, pro-Israel and simultaneously being critical of Israel’s policies, but the type of discourse held that evening did not leave much room for critique, as much of it was just bashing on the Jewish state.
“Palestine is the festering wound of the global anti-imperialist struggle we are witnessing today … the Israeli government dictates over a disenfranchised Palestinian population.”
This was just one of many quotes made during the event, yet there was no mention of injustice on the other end of the spectrum (i.e. terrorism against civilians on both sides of the conflict, Hamas-run Gaza, etc.). A member of the panel went so far as to say that the pro-Israel students have long complained about feeling threatened on campus, suggesting that they should rightly feel unsafe supporting the “apartheid” state.
The three Jewish speakers also made it very clear that they find nothing wrong with interrupting a speaker with whom they disagree. In fact, some of them took part in interrupting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in New Orleans not too long ago. In regard to Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UCI just last year, the three said that they would have done the same to interrupt him, labeling his speech as being part of a “thoughtless and useless discourse” and praising the “Irvine 11” in their valiant efforts — the 11 students who chose to disrupt the Israeli Ambassador from speaking (some of whom did not even attend this university) because they believed it was within their free speech rights to do so.
Well, what about my free speech? How about Michael Oren’s free speech and everybody who were there to listen to the intellectual discourse that evening?
I believe we can better be regarded as “Number 12.” The Number 12 represents the students, community members, and others who were stripped of their free speech that evening and many events that take place just like this. This is not something that just affects the Jewish community. Any individual whose freedom of speech is taken away in this sort of manner is a “Number 12” just like me. It is one thing to demonstrate outside of an event with posters, placards and that whole business, but once such a protest is brought into the arena of the speaker and posters turn to shouts, then that is my free speech you are impeding upon.
Dean Chemerinsky of the UCI School of Law has stated that, “Freedom of speech never has been regarded as an absolute right to speak out at any time and in any manner.” He continued, “The government, including public universities, always can impose time, place and manner restrictions on speech. A person who comes into my classroom and shouts so that I cannot teach surely can be punished without offending the First Amendment.”
So, how come this all takes on a different meaning in regard to pro-Israel advocacy? As a part of Anteaters for Israel, I can tell you that it is a question we ask ourselves often and a question that continues to be battled on many U.S. college campuses.
What can you do?
Unfortunately this isn’t a trend that will dwindle out anytime soon. For more information, please visit http://www.whoisnumber12.com. This is by no means a direct response to the Irvine 11, but rather a movement of solidarity with anyone and everyone who has had their free speech silenced.
Cathy Shutaya is a third-year public health policy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.