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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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December 22, 2015

Israel’s Choice: Incitement or Civility

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared in the Times of Israel.

As we see in America these days, when people are feeling vulnerable and insecure, politicians and demagogues play on those fears to offer solutions that are often anti-democratic and that will ultimately weaken, rather than strengthen society.

 So it is in Israel. The country faces continual terrorist violence against its citizens — more frightening in some ways than intifadas because of the random and intimate nature of the attacks. And as hostile anti-Israel campaigns grow around the world, some Israelis turn to simplistic solutions. Those include blaming terror on those who disagree with them politically and engaging in behavior that verges into incitement. Such trends risk stifling the culture of free expression that Israel can be so proud of.

In recent days, this phenomenon has manifested itself in the continued attacks on President Reuven Rivlin for his insistence on speaking to all segments of Israel’s diverse society. It has shown up in an ugly video created by Im Tirtzu, a right-wing advocacy group, to name and delegitimize left-wing Israeli activists as “foreign agents” in what can only be considered an act of hateful incitement. It also appears in a broader Knesset bill that would bar nongovernmental organizations funded by foreign governments from any contact with government and military authorities.

All of these together represent a serious threat to Israel’s robust democratic tradition.

Let’s be clear: when a group like Breaking the Silence airs alleged atrocities committed by Israeli soldiers abroad — instead of through the established legal channels for dealing with such allegations — it understandably raises the ire of Israelis who are proud of the Israel Defense Forces, the force that stands in the way of Israel’s destruction at the hands of its enemies. And it is fair to raise questions about whether such groups play a constructive role or contribute to Israel’s isolation in the world.

There is, however, a line that should not be crossed. And of late, there are too many crossings of that line.

President Rivlin has been a particular target of these attacks. Already during last summer, when Rivlin harshly condemned the arson attack in Duma, he was widely condemned on social media for speaking out. This included the posting of pictures of him wearing a keffiyeh and a Nazi uniform. Incitement of this nature is reminiscent of the attacks against former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that preceded his assassination 20 years ago.

 More recently, when the Israeli president spoke before the Haaretz conference in New York, which also featured a panel discussion with Breaking the Silence, Israel’s Channel 20 harshly criticized him on their Facebook page saying the president “mustn’t spit in the face of the soldiers,” and that his participation in the same conference with Breaking the Silence is “contempt of the presidency.”

The president used his podium to highlight the importance of speaking with groups with whom he strenuously disagreed, a principled example of the type of pluralism that define open societies. Indeed, he specifically called out his complaints against groups such as Breaking the Silence, as did former Minister of Justice and Knesset lawmaker Tzipi Livni.

 A troubling incident in the effort to delegitimize and stifle left-wing criticism of Israel was the egregious video produced by Im Tirtzu painting left wing activists as complicit in Palestinian stabbings.

 An organization has every right to be critical of political activities it deems harmful to the nation. But this kind of fear tactic — of blaming left-wing groups for the ongoing wave of Palestinian terrorism in order to delegitimize them — is a form of incitement that crosses over into hate speech. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the work of the nongovernmental organizations mentioned — and ADL strongly disagrees with groups like Breaking the Silence, which refuse to contextualize Israeli military actions and to consider the hostile climate to which they contribute — accusing them of supporting Palestinian terror is potentially libelous, and certainly undemocratic and dangerous.

This kind of incitement against President Rivlin or against left-wing organizations and activists should be rejected and condemned. Israel has tragically experienced what such incitement can lead to. Luckily, many have spoken up.

At the same time, responsibility for how one deals with delicate issues, particularly at a time of great vulnerability in society, falls on all sectors of society. Those on the left who are critical of Israeli policies have a right to offer those criticisms. But they also should be mindful of the impact of those criticisms on the average Israeli and on emboldening forces around the world who are hostile to Israel.

For civil society to work in a democratic country, civil liberties must be protected. The right to voice one’s views must be guaranteed, and one’s security in doing so must be reassured.

If civil liberties are diminished in Israel, Israel will be diminished.

But outside of Israel, it is essential to recognize that, in any society, if a citizenry’s sense of vulnerability and insecurity reaches a breaking point, public support for civil liberties diminishes accordingly, while calls for security increase. In fact, it is worth reflecting on the remarkable resilience of Israeli democracy in the face of the unrelenting external threats that it has faced since its establishment.

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February 12, 2015

The Right to Be Forgotten Has No Place in the U.S.

right-to-be-forgottenThe right to be forgotten—the right of Internet users to request that search engines remove links to outdated or embarrassing information about themselves from search results—is once more in the headlines in Europe. Recently, following up on a previous European Court of Justice ruling that individuals have the right to ask search engines to remove links to “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant” information about themselves online, European regulators and judges have called for Google and other search engines to apply the Right to Be Forgotten around the world, regardless of which country the search engine serves and where the search takes place. However, the Advisory Council that Google appointed to look into the issue has recommended that Google limit its response to European-directed search services, such as (used in France) and (used in Germany) and not extend it outside the European Union. That Council, in a new report, found that there is “a competing interest on the part of users outside of Europe to access information via a name-based search in accordance with the laws of their country, which may be in conflict with the delistings afforded by the ruling.”  ADL agrees with their recommendation.

Last November the Anti-Defamation League adopted a policy position that “individuals should not have the right to have links to old and/or embarrassing information about themselves removed from Internet search results.” Doing so is tantamount to taking a scalpel to library books, allowing people to tear from public record things about themselves from the past that they simply do not like. The Right to Be Forgotten could allow, for example, a white supremacist to erase all traces of his history of bigoted rhetoric before running for public office, denying the public access to make a fully informed decision.

The Internet has provided the largest and most robust marketplace of ideas in history, opening lines of communication around the world. As the Internet brings the world closer, however, countries must be cognizant of the impact that their laws and regulations have in other parts of the world. In the United States the First Amendment provides much stronger protections for free speech than the laws do in Europe. Americans, and search engines based in the United States, should continue to respect the laws and founding principles of our country, denying the right to be forgotten here.

El Derecho a Ser Olvidado No Tiene Lugar en Estados Unidos

El derecho a ser olvidado —el derecho de los usuarios de Internet a solicitar que los motores de búsqueda eliminen de los resultados de búsqueda los vínculos a información desactualizada o vergonzosa sobre sí mismos— está una vez más en los titulares europeos. Recientemente, a consecuencia de un fallo anterior de un tribunal de justicia europeo según el cual los individuos tienen el derecho de pedir que los motores de búsqueda eliminen los enlaces a información en línea “inadecuada, irrelevante o no pertinente” sobre sí mismos, los jueces y reguladores europeos han pedido a Google y otros motores de búsqueda aplicar el derecho a ser olvidado alrededor del mundo, independientemente del país del buscador y de donde se realiza la búsqueda. Sin embargo, el Consejo Asesor que designó Google para investigar el tema, ha recomendado que Google limite su respuesta a los servicios de búsqueda enfocados a Europa específicamente, como (utilizado en Francia) y (usado en Alemania), y que no la aplique fuera de la Unión Europea. El mismo Consejo, en un nuevo informe, encontró que hay “un interés conflictivo de parte de los usuarios fuera de Europa por acceder a la información mediante una búsqueda basada en el nombre de conformidad con las leyes de su país, que pueden estar en conflicto con la opción de eliminación ofrecida por la sentencia”. La ADL está de acuerdo con su recomendación.

En noviembre pasado la Liga Antidifamación adoptó una posición política según la cual “las personas no deberían tener el derecho a que los enlaces a información vieja o vergonzosa sobre sí mismos sean eliminados de los resultados de búsqueda en Internet”. Hacerlo equivaldría a aplicar un bisturí a libros de la biblioteca, permitiendo a la gente arrancar de los archivos públicos cosas sobre sí mismos que simplemente no les gustan. El Derecho a Ser Olvidado podría permitir, por ejemplo, que un supremacista blanco borrara todos los rastros de su historia de retórica intolerante antes de postularse para cargos públicos, negando al público la posibilidad de tomar una decisión completamente informada.

Internet ha proporcionado el mercado más grande y robusto de ideas en la historia, abriendo líneas de comunicación alrededor del mundo. Sin embargo, a medida que Internet acerca al mundo, los países deben ser conscientes del impacto que sus leyes y regulaciones tienen en otras partes del mundo. En Estados Unidos, la Primera Enmienda proporciona garantías a la libertad de expresión mucho más fuertes que las leyes en Europa. Los estadounidenses y los motores de búsqueda con sede en Estados Unidos deben seguir respetando las leyes y principios fundacionales de nuestro país, negando el derecho a ser olvidados.


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