• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Show a Film, End Up on a Watch List

In a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee earlier this year, Hillary Clinton, who vehemently opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement warned against anyone who tries to “to shut down debate, especially in places of learning like colleges and universities.” Her concern, of course, was with reassuring pro-Israel students that she stood behind them as they battled efforts to criticize Israel from the left.

It is certainly sportsman-like of Clinton to be open to debate, but the reality is that the free exchange of ideas on campus is currently under assault, not from the left but from the right. Consider the following incident from here in Ohio.

On September 21, the Case Western Reserve University Radical Student Union showed a documentary titled “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States,” which is available to all members of the university community through the Kanopy streaming service. Today, the RSU stands accused by the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit pro-Israel group, of engaging in an “antisemitic expression” that “condoned terrorism,” simply for showing the film in public. One radical student critical of Israel’s policies likened the climate of fear on the CWRU campus with respect to this issue as akin to be “stalked.”

The RSU decided to host the film to raise awareness and in the words of its president, Gabriel Murcia, to give “voice to people who don’t have a voice.” Although some 100 people attended the screening, the RSU decided at the last minute not to have a formal discussion after the film when an email raising the specter of antisemitism emerged from the president of a pro-Israel student group.

I have watched this film at least four times now. There is absolutely not one shred of gothamunboundevidence of antisemitism in it if by that word we mean hatred or discrimination against the Jewish people. The film does, however, take Israel to task for engaging in a dishonest campaign of public diplomacy. These efforts have tended to cast the problem in Israel/Palestine in terms of terror instead of territory, and have made it seem as if Palestinians are on the whole just prone to violence instead of people with legitimate grievances about displacement and dispossession of land.

After the movie, a student fellow of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a group formed after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, noted that though “every student on this campus is entitled to express their opinion” the film was biased and “unacceptable to be presented by a student organization at our university.” The student then expressed her opposition to the BDS movement and argued that the president of CWRU had made opposition to academic boycotts the institution’s official stance.

The student’s reference is to a 2013 statement in which the president and provost, like many university administrations across the country, communicated their personal opposition to the academic boycott of Israel following the American Studies Association’s endorsement of it. They argued that the boycott compromised academic freedom. Never mind that the academic boycott was set up to help Palestinian scholars achieve academic freedom while under the Israeli occupation. The AMCHA Initiative liked their statement so much that it still links to it on its website. The statement was not, however, the official position of CWRU, simply the personal opinions of its two highest administrators.

The statement by the CWRU administration and the letter from the CAMERA fellow recall, as I pointed out in a letter to the student paper, Edward Said’s comment, nearly 40 years ago, that politically speaking, the Palestinian in the United States “does not exist.”

I thought the matter was at an end, but to my surprise the Cleveland Jewish News ran a story about the movie screening. A university administrator who directs a continuing education center dedicated to “the heritage of Jewish learning” condemned the film and the RSU, as if a radical Jewish tradition did not exist. He also implied that faculty drove the group’s agenda, implying that the students were not bright enough to think for themselves. The chairman of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Gary Gross, meanwhile, called the film a bunch of “lies and distortions” without providing any evidence in support of the assertion. In fact, the film is about a policy of using lies and distortions to advance the interests of a foreign government. Gross added that he supports free speech, but then ominously intoned, “We will follow what’s happening on [the CWRU] campus through our partner agency, Cleveland Hillel.”

The reference to Hillel was not an idle one. Cleveland Hillel just partnered with CWRU on the creation of the new Albert & Norma Geller Hillel Student Center which includes within it classrooms available for undergraduate courses. Some students on the left are dismayed that they are forced to take classes in a building run by a group that offers “Israel advocacy training.”

This incident is part of nationwide trend. Universities all over the country are under surveillance, most famously at the University of California, Berkeley, where a student-led course titled Palestine: A Settler-Colonial Analysis was canceled after AMCHA coordinated with other groups, including CAMERA, to pressure administrators. The course was later reinstated, but the intimidation continues online. An anonymous website called the Canary Mission, established in 2015, targets those on campus critical of the Israeli occupation. The site’s main goal is to harass student activists and attempt to block their admission into graduate school.

If Hillary Clinton really does care about academic freedom, she should step up and publicly condemn the blacklisting of students and faculty concerned about Palestinian human rights. And so should the university presidents who invoked academic freedom as the rationale for their opposition to the ASA’s endorsement of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. These leaders should also learn something from the experience on the Berkeley campus and stop caving in to people who have trouble tolerating a perspective that challenges them to think.

When I informed Mr. Murcia about his group’s inclusion on the AMCHA website he was saddened. As he put it, “All we did was show a movie.”

Ted Steinberg teaches history and law at Case Western Reserve University. He is the faculty advisor to the Radical Student Union and the author, most recently, of Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York.

More articles by:

Ted Steinberg teaches history at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
David Rosen
21st Century Conglomerate Trusts 
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
Ron Ridenour
Denmark Peace-Justice Conference Based on Activism in Many Countries
Douglas Bevington
Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail
Gary Leupp
“Escalating Tensions” with Iran
Jonathan Power
Making the World More Equal
Cesar Chelala
The Social Burden of Depression in Japan
Stephen Cooper
Imbibe Culture and Consciousness with Cocoa Tea (The Interview)
Stacy Bannerman
End This Hidden Threat to Military Families
Kevin Basl
Time to Rethink That POW/MIA Flag
Nicky Reid
Pledging Allegiance to the Divided States of America
Louis Proyect
A Second Look at Neflix
Martin Billheimer
Closed Shave: T. O. Bobe, the Girl and Curl
David Yearsley
Hard Bop and Bezos’ Balls
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail