Monday, February 1, 2010

Poster Child

Cecilie Surasky once more draws her sword of righteousness to smite a grave violation of free speech. And lo and behold, yet again her ire is aimed at those who respond to provocative materials (in this case a poster) in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement!

It goes without saying that Muzzlewatch is the Website of Cecilie and her friends at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and they are free to do with it as they want. Similarly, we here at Muzzlewatch-Watch are free to point out that the only times that Cecilie and Co seem to get hot and bothered about free speech issues is when anti-Israel partisans (particularly those in Club BDS) are limited (or even mildly criticized).

Back in the day before Muzzlewatch muzzled their audience by removing their comments section (from a recent visit, it looks like they’ve recently removed access to their archives as well so that people cannot even peruse exchanges from the past when other voices were allowed in), some of us asked rather pointed questions about the Muzzlewatchers reaction to frequent attempts by JVP supporters to shut down events featuring pro-Israel speakers through heckling, harassment and – occasionally – physical violence. I also responded to two pieces in which JVP members celebrated getting (presumably obnoxious) pro-Israel Web sites shut down, as well as asked why JVP was taking part in a muzzling lawsuit against local activists and the press in Boston.

With the exception of this final issue, Cecilie and Co never saw fit to explain this apparent contradiction, although they did find time to post dozens of entries before, during and since that characterized even mild criticism of the JVP party line as some kind of censorship.

Now getting back to the Carleton University issue, I will admit that my preference to telling students they cannot use this or that poster is to allow all voices (and posters) in the debate. In fact, this version of the controversial Israel-Apartheid Week poster would seem the appropriate antidote to the ugliness of those who are trying to hide their own nasty agenda behind suffering schoolchildren.

But that is just my opinion, and until I become the administrator of a large and diverse university (which is free to place certain limits on the student body, even in areas related to speech), it’s not entirely clear to me where to draw the line. No one would argue that racial slurs and sexual harassment have no place on a college campus (or anywhere else), but beyond that the grown-ups responsible for college campuses face tough choices when dealing with student activists who feel that their own cause is so important it gives them the right to trample on the opinions and feelings of others.

And keep in mind that Carleton is a Canadian (not a US) university and in Canada the debate over free speech has been dominated over the last year by discussions and even trials of people who have dared to speak or publish materials critical of radical Islam. And unlike 99% of what Muzzlewatch presents as stifling of free speech (most of which consists of other people using their free speech rights to criticize the opinions held by JVP), what’s been going on in Canada is a textbook definition of censorship (i.e., the use of government power to shut down discussion of a particular topic).

No doubt, divestment will fail at Carleton as it has in every college in North America over the last ten years. But that will never deter JVP and its allies from either declaring victory or claiming that the umpteenth failure of BDS was due to an administration that refused to allow them to launch a campaign based on childish provocations of the rest of the student body.

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