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July 1, 2016 6

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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May 20, 2016 2

Isi Leibler: Wrong on All Counts

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Jerusalem Post Blog

Isi Leibler gets it wrong on almost all counts in his crit­i­cism of my appear­ance in April before J Street U, the stu­dent arm of J Street.

As I made clear pub­licly in accept­ing the invi­ta­tion to speak, I did so both because of my con­vic­tion that it is vital to engage with all mem­bers of our com­mu­nity, even and espe­cially those with whom we might disagree.

I used this stage to deliver a dou­ble mes­sage.  First, that ADL is com­mit­ted to ensur­ing Israel remains a safe and secure, Jew­ish and demo­c­ra­tic state; and sec­ond, that peace can­not be brought about by apply­ing pres­sure only to one side of the conflict—Israel.  This in many ways is the crux of our dis­agree­ment with J Street—that fur­ther iso­lat­ing Israel at a time of great tumult and regional volatil­ity is bound to make peace less likely.

There­fore, Leibler’s accu­sa­tion that I made a moral equiv­a­lence between Israel and the Pales­tini­ans when I called for acknowl­edge­ment of “respon­si­bil­ity of both par­ties” turned my point on its head. In speak­ing to a group that is often crit­i­cal of Israel, I was mak­ing clear that “cham­pi­ons of Pales­tin­ian self-determination must hold the Pales­tin­ian lead­er­ship to task for its fail­ures as well.” Leibler ignores—or worse—willfully dis­torts my message.

What is more out­ra­geous is that any aspect of my remarks to these stu­dents could be mis­con­strued as “indi­rectly gave a seal of approval for the Obama admin­is­tra­tion to impose solu­tions on future bor­ders that could dra­mat­i­cally com­pro­mise Israel’s security.”

Rec­og­niz­ing that there are steps Israel can take to ensure the via­bil­ity of a two-state solu­tion bears no resem­blance to sup­port­ing an imposed solu­tion. I deliv­ered that mes­sage even while reit­er­at­ing that a rea­son­able approach must have expec­ta­tions of the Pales­tini­ans as well.

In talk­ing about the need to rec­og­nize two nar­ra­tives, I was, of course, not refer­ring to the Pales­tin­ian rejec­tion of Israel’s legit­i­macy, which ADL con­demns over and over again, but that there is a Pales­tin­ian peo­ple and pop­u­la­tion whose future has to be dealt with in order to have peace and secu­rity for Israel.

And in call­ing out the need for Israel to pro­tect the rights of all its cit­i­zens, I was not chal­leng­ing the fact that Israel is one of the great demo­c­ra­tic soci­eties in the world. Instead, just as we do in that other great democ­racy, the United States, we urge our­selves to do bet­ter, to make sure that all seg­ments of soci­ety are full par­tic­i­pants in our democ­racy and enti­tled to the full ben­e­fits of rights—a noble ideal, but hardly a betrayal of Israel.

As to the crit­i­cism of my deci­sion to speak to J Street U, I have no apolo­gies. I do not know if Leibler ever both­ered to attempt to meet these young peo­ple, but I was impressed: They are a group of deeply thought­ful col­lege stu­dents whose com­mit­ment to Israel is gen­uine and whose pas­sion on the issues is impres­sive. Whether Leibler likes it or not, these are future lead­ers in our com­mu­nity and in our country.

Again, while I may dis­agree with many of their par­ent organization’s posi­tions and tactics—and ADL has expressed such sen­ti­ment pub­licly in the past—if we are going to main­tain a true sense of com­mu­nity and inclu­sion, par­tic­u­larly among younger Jews, then we must engage those with whom we have dis­agree­ments and explain our posi­tions. We cer­tainly must be wary of those who cas­ti­gate those who are will­ing to engage broadly.

Israel con­tin­ues to face many threats from ter­ror­ists and extrem­ists, as well as in the form of calls for boy­cotts, divest­ment and sanc­tions. We must stand against all. But there are also dan­gers to Israel from those who do not want a two-state solu­tion, from those who do not worry about main­tain­ing Israel as a Jew­ish and demo­c­ra­tic state.

And there are those within our own com­mu­nity who seem to for­get that dis­agree­ment and dis­sent are not just Jew­ish ideas – they are Jew­ish ideals.

The chal­lenge for all of us is how to be a strong advo­cate for Israel while respect­ing a broad range of views on how best to move forward.

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April 20, 2016 8

Why I’m Speaking to Students at J Street U

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium on April 17, 2016.

J Street U

This morn­ing, I will speak to stu­dents at the J Street U National Assem­bly, the annual gath­er­ing of more than 200 young lead­ers from across the coun­try who con­verge on Wash­ing­ton D.C. to dis­cuss the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, and to exchange views about what they can do on cam­pus to advance a two-state solu­tion. J Street U reached out to me seek­ing to engage with the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, eager to estab­lish a rela­tion­ship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which it has never had.

As I begin to chart the course of my lead­er­ship, I felt it was impor­tant that I accept this invi­ta­tion. I feel this way because of my con­vic­tion that it is vital to engage with all mem­bers of our com­mu­nity, even and espe­cially those with whom we might have disagreements.

We can’t talk only to those who are aligned with us on every point.

In our time of hyper-polarization and the ero­sion of civil dis­course, I believe it’s imper­a­tive that the orga­nized Jew­ish lead­er­ship mod­els the traits that we want to define the broader pol­i­tics in our coun­try. When I started my tenure as CEO, the coun­try was locked in a bit­ter debate over the Iran deal. More than any­thing, the expe­ri­ence showed me that our com­mu­nity suf­fers from an inabil­ity to thought­fully and respect­fully engage across polit­i­cal divides.

I saw it first­hand as Jews who sup­ported the deal as well as those who opposed the deal both were attacked viciously for their views, par­tic­u­larly by fel­low Jews. I was dis­mayed by the self-destructive behav­ior — tak­ing out news­pa­per ads, plas­ter­ing munic­i­pal buses, exco­ri­at­ing oth­ers with ad home­nim attacks — such attacks don’t advance the debate. They dimin­ish all of us.

For a peo­ple who ele­vated the notion of dis­sent as a bedrock prin­ci­ple of our reli­gious prac­tice, the unwill­ing­ness to coun­te­nance oppos­ing views is counter to the best tra­di­tions of our peo­ple. As a leader, I will not engage in these tac­tics. Instead, as the CEO of ADL, I will be an active advo­cate for civil­ity and avoid the pol­i­tics of per­sonal destruction.

Build­ing from this frame, I see my remarks today as a major oppor­tu­nity for ADL to accom­plish two things.

The first is to deliver the mes­sage that, at ADL, we are com­mit­ted to ensur­ing Israel remains a safe and secure, Jew­ish and demo­c­ra­tic state, as enshrined in its procla­ma­tion of inde­pen­dence. It was that remark­able Zion­ist vision expressed from the cra­dle of Israel’s birth that cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and the world, the notion that Israel would be a coun­try unlike all others:

“…based on free­dom, jus­tice and peace as envis­aged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure com­plete equal­ity of social and polit­i­cal rights to all its inhab­i­tants irre­spec­tive of reli­gion, race or sex; it will guar­an­tee free­dom of reli­gion, con­science, lan­guage, edu­ca­tion and culture…”

Frayed Israel Flag

That is why ADL has had a pol­icy of sup­port for a two-state solu­tion for decades. This means advo­cat­ing for the legit­i­macy and secu­rity of the Jew­ish state even as we sup­port Pales­tin­ian dig­nity and equal­ity of Arab cit­i­zens in Israel. These ideas should not be in con­flict. Rather, they are con­sis­tent with our cen­ten­nial com­mit­ment to civil rights and social justice.

Sec­ondly, I see an oppor­tu­nity to deliver an impor­tant mes­sage to these impas­sioned stu­dents who are gal­va­nized by the imper­a­tive to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. At ADL, we equally want to see a res­o­lu­tion of the con­flict. Israel must take real, mean­ing­ful mea­sures to pro­mote an end to the impasse. How­ever, the idea that peace can be brought about only by apply­ing pres­sure to one side of the con­flict — Israel — is a strat­egy bound to backfire.

Fur­ther iso­lat­ing Israel at a time of great local tumult and regional volatil­ity will only rein­force the polit­i­cal psy­chol­ogy of Israelis who eye con­ces­sions made in the con­text of nego­ti­a­tions with the Pales­tini­ans as inevitably endan­ger­ing them. And this fear is real. It is sub­stan­ti­ated in the unrav­el­ing of the mod­ern Mid­dle East, the rise of vio­lent non-state actors com­mit­ted to the destruc­tion of Israel, ter­ror­ist groups like Hezbol­lahISIS and Hamas, and the regional power of Iran whose rev­o­lu­tion­ary ide­ol­ogy remains firmly rooted in anti-Semitism. As Israelis look around they see regional chaos engulf­ing their neigh­bor­hood: whole­sale slaugh­ter in Syria, chaos in Sinai, chal­lenges to the sta­bil­ity of their friends in Jor­dan. Any rea­son­able approach to solv­ing the con­flict in order to be cred­i­ble in the eyes of Israel must bear in mind this new reality.

Given these facts, it is only the con­stancy of Amer­i­can guar­an­tees of moral and phys­i­cal sup­port that will under­gird an even­tual agree­ment. And under­min­ing that sup­port endan­gers the prospects of peace. While a respon­si­ble approach should rec­og­nize that there are steps that Israel must take to ensure the via­bil­ity of a two-state solu­tion, a rea­son­able approach must have expec­ta­tions of the Pales­tini­ans as well.

Ignor­ing the steps they also must take, com­pro­mises they too must make to achieve peace, does a deep dis­ser­vice toward that goal.

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The fact is that the Pales­tini­ans, under the lead­er­ship of Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Abbas, twice rejected seri­ous Israeli peace offers, once in 2008 dur­ing direct talks between Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen, and again under the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion — an admin­is­tra­tion which I was a part of. When Pres­i­dent Obama offered Pres­i­dent Abbas an Amer­i­can frame­work doc­u­ment for the res­o­lu­tion of the final sta­tus of the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, Abbas decided to ignore it entirely. That is an incon­ve­nient fact for some who wish to por­tray the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict as a sim­plis­tic story of Israel’s unwill­ing­ness to make peace. But it is a fact that can­not be ignored.

The cham­pi­ons of Pales­tin­ian self-determination must hold the Pales­tin­ian lead­er­ship to task for its fail­ures as well.

But even as I will make these points, I want to stress that despite this, we must find the areas where we can be partners.

It is vital to be in con­ver­sa­tion with these stu­dents and the next gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Jew­ish lead­ers because it they who can cred­i­bly bro­ker crit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions on cam­puses rooted in a com­mit­ment to peace, while unmask­ing the dam­ag­ing effects of BDS and anti-normalization.

The imper­a­tives for social jus­tice today do not lie in the Israeli-Palestinian nego­ti­a­tions alone. We can­not let our dif­fer­ences over how to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace keep us from work­ing together to address so many other chal­lenges fac­ing our nation. There are vital issues of struc­tural racism that we must address now, mat­ters of press­ing racial injus­tice that wrack our own soci­ety. There are dem­a­gogues ris­ing to power in Europe and the intro­duc­tion of a ter­ri­ble new type of polit­i­cal dis­course that threat­ens our fun­da­men­tal values.

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 with an endur­ing mis­sion that still rings true today: to stop the defama­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all. For more than 100 years, we have worked to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of big­otry even as we equally have fought for civil rights and social jus­tice for Jews and other mar­gin­al­ized people.

But it always has been a shared strug­gle, one that we have not waged our­selves but that has been a prod­uct of alliances, coali­tions and part­ner­ships. And the work is not yet com­plete. There is still much to do be done. Hope­fully we can do it, together.

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