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July 1, 2016

Free Speech and Fair Treatment for All

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, has joined the Aspen Ideas Festival to discuss the debate on college campuses and beyond about the meaning of free speech and language that crosses a line and actually diminishes, rather than fosters, open discourse.

This blog originally appeared on Medium

The tug of war betwJG @ Aspeneen ideas is not new on college campuses. The very nature of the university is to gain knowledge and to “unlearn [the] habits” of convention in the words of Leon Wieseltier. And yet, many argue that free speech is under siege. In recent years, these issues have flared up across the country, grabbing headlines as incidents at the University of Missouri, Yale University, and Princeton University have sparked a national conversation about the exchange of ideas and the footprint of history.

As Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway shared at the Aspen Ideas Festival yesterday, these were highly charged debates punctuated by intensely personal moments. Throughout our discussion, it became clear that a simple assessment of right versus wrong often doesn’t work. The clash of theory and practice confounds administrators and trustees who struggle with the complex realities of how to ensure the university is an inclusive environment and yet one that cultivates debate and dissent.

But sometimes, it’s actually very simple.

For example, the issue of Israel has been a flashpoint on many campuses for some time. While there is nothing wrong with debating its policies as a matter of practice, there is something profoundly wrong when some with strong views exploit academic freedom to shut down the free exchange of ideas and marginalize a segment of campus, in this case Jewish students. Yet this often happens when Israel is the topic. We have seen anti-Israel agitators intimidate Jewish students, shout down Israeli speakers and attempt to prevent Jewish organizations from even discussing issues of social justice.

Sadly, such incidents are not surprising. These are the tactics of the anti-normalization strategy taking hold in some circles, the idea that even talking to students who are Jewish constitutes an offense because of their potential views on Israel. Such discriminatory practices clearly fall far outside all societal norms but their influence can be felt in broader circles.

Anti-Israel Protest - U-Michigan

An anti-Israel protest by University of Michigan students

Indeed, in the halls of some of our most elite universities, student leaders are trafficking in vicious anti-Semitic stereotypes. Others bizarrely conflate Zionism with all the perceived ills at their institutions. We have seen attempts to exclude Jewish students from taking part fully in student life or suggestions that they only can do so if they would submit to oaths not required of their peers.

Such bigotry is not the norm across the span of higher education. Yet these incidents should serve as reminders that anti-intellectualism and intolerance on campus can congeal into hostile environments that intimidate and marginalize people based on faith or nationality.

University administrators can take concrete measures to prevent such occurrences. First, they can create appropriate time, place, and manner policies that allow those who want to protest a particular speaker to do so — but in a manner that does not infringe on the freedom of speech that should be accorded to the speaker and to the audience who wants to hear their views.

Univ-California Irvine - Anti-Israel

Second, the administration can use its own voice to respond to hateful speech. Finally, the administration can take swift punitive action when students physically threaten their peers, demonstrating that there is a price to pay when you physically intimidate others.

Campuses should be a place for debate not silencing. Hostile environments that impair the free exchange of ideas injure us all. When the topic is Israel, let’s do more to ensure that all students can take part and that prejudice is left out of the debate.

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July 1, 2016

Iranian Commemoration of Al-Quds Day Includes Anti-Semitic and Harsh Anti-Israel Expressions

Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, which takes place on the last Friday of Ramadan, was initiated in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran, as a show of solidarity with the Palestinians and to assert the Islamic claim over Jerusalem. While events are held around the world, in Iran, it is often marked by a hateful demonstration of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment, manifest in government organized rallies and other activities. Before this years’ Al Quds day (July 1), Iran’s leadership rallied the country.  Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called its commemoration and support for the oppressed Palestinians an important religious duty.

The Islamic Propagation Coordination Council in a statement called for widespread participation in Quds Day demonstrations and asked them to repeat the same slogans “Death to America, Death to Israel and Death to international Zionism and Imperialism.” It was reported that in one Quds Day demonstration, placards were held up which called for Israel’s destruction by the year 2040, and people chanting “Death to America” threw stones at a mock Statue of Liberty. In advance of Al Quds day, Iran’s Fars news agency published a wave of harsh anti-Semitic and anti-Israel cartoons, some with classical anti-Semitic themes, such as Jewish world domination, depicting the world under the control of a Jewish/Israeli octopus, worm or spider:

Others are of a more anti-Israel nature, yet similarly conspiratorial in that they imply Israel is a part of a broader, if not global, U.S. plot. One depicts Israel as a dog operated by the U.S. against Gaza, while another shows the U.S. and an Arab figure – most probably representing the Saudi royal family who are bitter rivals of the Islamic Republic – forming together a Star of David, as though they are working in the service of Israel and the Jews.

Other cartoons depict an Israel on the verge of destruction.  One depicts an Israeli figure running away just before a dam with a Star of David collapses, as a result of a mass of people, with the caption “Death to Israel”. Another cartoon shows an Israeli soldier drowning in blood represented by the red part of the Palestinian flag.

Other cartoons demonize Israel by deforming the appearances of an Israeli soldier shown with satanic ears and with teeth shaped like nuclear missiles, while another of former Israeli president Shimon Peres depicts him as a demonic figure.

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April 13, 2016

Anti-Semite Ken O’Keefe On A U.S. Speaking Tour

Ken O’Keefe, an anti-Zionist ex-Marine and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist with a substantial following on YouTube, is currently on a national tour of the United States titled “F-ck the USSA/TSA/ Homeland Security Tour.” He is scheduled to visit cities all over the U.S., as well as Canada.

O’Keefe proudly announced that he would embark on this tour, taking Amtrak instead of flying. In announcing the tour, he claimed that the security polices of the TSA and Homeland Security violate people’s rights by “ordering” them to undergo a body scan, which he termed “radiation crap.” However, while ostensibly focused on security policies, his talks mostly promote anti-Semitic and anti-Israel themes.

Ken O'Keefe

Ken O’Keefe

For example, at a talk in Berkeley, California, on March 17, hosted by the conspiracy theorist group 9-11Truth.org, O’Keefe promoted a vast array of conspiracy theories vilifying Jews and Israel. He alleged that a small group of individuals—later referred to as Jewish bankers—controls the world’s money. He called these individuals traitors, psychopaths, sociopaths, pedophiles and “otherwise corrupt, immoral, lacking in empathy people” who “bought everything and everyone that can be bought.”

He went on to say that Jews control the media and Hollywood. He also claimed that Israel operates within “Talmudic dictates” and alleged that the Talmud allows for Jews to rape non-Jewish three-year-old girls.

Later, when talking about Israel’s 1967 accidental attack on an American ship, the U.S.S. Liberty, O’Keefe asserted that Israel can do anything with impunity. He added, “They even abduct, torture, have sex with and ritually sacrifice young children.” He also promoted the conspiracy theory that Israel would take the “Samson option,” and exterminate the world “if it feels that its existence is threatened.”

Earlier in the week, at a program in San Diego, also hosted by the 9-11Truth.org, O’Keefe expounded on similar anti-Semitic themes. He claimed that Israel and Mossad were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. O’Keefe’s tour continues into the end of April, and he has stated that he plans to reach 17 cities across the U.S. and into Canada.

In 2014, O’Keefe attended Iran’s New Horizon Conference, which drew anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers from the U.S. and other parts of the world. He has also appeared on Press TV, the anti-Semitic English language station run by Iran, and has written articles for Veterans Today, an anti-Semitic conspiracy-oriented website.

O’Keefe has been an anti-Israel activist for many years. His YouTube videos, some of which have garnered hundreds of thousands of views, feature anti-Jewish and anti-Israel themes. He supports the Palestinian cause and has claimed both Irish and Palestinian citizenship. He was on a flotilla in 2010 that was stopped by Israel before the ship made it to Gaza. A number of activists on that ship were killed by Israeli armed forces and O’Keefe was arrested and deported. In addition, he was on a flotilla that entered Gaza in 2008. He was also jailed by Israeli authorities in 2004 when he attempted to enter the Gaza Strip to discuss with Palestinian representatives his proposed plan to bring 10,000 activists to the West Bank and Gaza.

As O’Keefe travels the country, it is likely that he will continue to promote virulent anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to his audiences. The sponsors of his talks often tout him as a peace activist and ignore his anti-Semitism. In some cases, they have been receptive to his anti-Semitic tropes, as they were in Berkeley, and even applauded his rhetoric.

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