Saturday, January 30, 2016

Speech, Safe and Not-Safe - an alternative position

In response to my previous posting regarding speech and limits on speech, an interesting article with a different approach, by Liel Lebovitz, author of "Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen," was passed on to me.

Below is an excerpt that has his essential points, with a link to the full article following:

"...some of my dearest friends and many others I greatly admire and respect—signed up to join Open Hillel’s academic advisory board, supporting the nascent organization’s commitment to allowing even Israel’s fiercest critics to speak in front of Jewish groups on campus, something that Hillel itself opposes. Too often, this debate between Hillels, open and otherwise, is portrayed as a referendum on free speech and tolerance, with the parent organization accused of blocking out difficult and unpalatable opinions rather than having the courage to listen, reason, and discuss. The truth, however, is grimmer and more difficult to resolve. 

Hillel’s refusal to allow BDS activists to address its members isn’t an act of censorship—one, after all, hardly lacks safe spaces for Israeli-hating on college campuses these days—but the rational, even obvious, course of action. Just as you wouldn’t expect a gay student group to invite a practitioner of gay conversion therapy to give a talk, say, or a black student group to welcome a white supremacist arguing for the reversal of Brown v. Board of Education, so you shouldn’t be surprised when a Jewish student group refuses to let in those who ignore all of the world’s evils and all of Israel’s virtues to insist that Palestinian nationalism be lauded while its Jewish counterpart be banned.

Why, then, do so many smart, sensible people solidly support Open Hillel? Maybe because sensible and smart folks have a very hard time dealing in absolutes. To declare that something is irredeemably evil and something else good is a failure not only of the imagination but also of the moral instinct, which, like every good compass, is only worth a damn if it is able to capture the tiniest shifts in direction.

All this is true until, sadly, it is not: There are some moments, rare and arduous, in which our survival depends on our ability to clearly tell black from white. These moments offer little nuance, a dearth of depth, none of the pleasures a well-trained mind expects when it inspects the folds of a complex situation. These moments don’t call for disquisitions; they demand action, a decisive move that defines us against those who wish us real ill. This is why we oughtn’t indulge supporters of the BDS movement in dialogue but fight them with any means at our disposal...."