No, this wasn’t in the West Bank. This happened in London on Monday, 14 May. The Palestine Society of the University of London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) held an event at the Khalili Lecture Theatre, advertised with these words: “I am Palestinian! Representation and Democracy in the Arab Revolutionary Age.” The event was open to the public, and – as is often the case – was being videorecorded by people in the audience.
Blogger Richard Millett was one of those using a video camera – for the first few minutes. About 8 seconds into the presentation, Millett was prodded in the shoulder and ordered to stop recording. When he refused, a man got in his face, demanding he stop recording, and said “You’re a typical Israeli, you know.” (Millett is not an Israeli, and it’s not even clear he’s Jewish. I have no personal acquaintance with him.) As that confrontation unfolded, a very large man seated in front of Millett got up, towered over Millett, ordered him to leave, and snatched Millett’s backpack, walking out of the auditorium with it. The audience began rhythmic clapping, shouting at Millett to leave. Millett tried to make the case for his presence at a meeting open to the public, being held at the taxpayer funded University of London facility, but the audience continued to shout at him: noise for noise’s sake; noise to drown him out and preempt any rational discourse.
Eventually, Millett did leave, in part to ensure the recovery of his personal belongings. The audience clapped ecstatically for his departure.
If you go through Richard Millett’s website, what you will see is documentation of a number of such events (at most of which he was able to stay and record throughout). Millett is critical, no doubt about that, but all he does is document exactly what the anti-Israel – and often anti-Semitic – activists and lecturers themselves do. He quotes them accurately and gets them on video when he can. There is nothing unfair about his coverage; it is scrupulously honest.
The University of London should certainly look into this, and ensure that public events can be attended peacefully by anyone, and that videorecording is allowed to all or denied to all equally. Such enforcement may have little effect, however, on a group mindset that resents not just criticism but the simple truth. If a civic or political group, meeting publicly, is not willing to have its activities and statements recorded truthfully by critics, its purpose is suspect. Forcible suppression of truth only works one way: those who practice it have wrong intentions. There can be no good purpose for preventing third parties – i.e., the whole of society, whether friendly or critical – from seeing what is said and done at a public event sponsored by the Palestine Society.
The flip side of preventing the coverage of pro-Palestinian events is silencing supporters of Israel and those who make a pro-Israel – or even just a balanced – case in the matter of Israeli-Palestinian relations. College campuses in the United States are the scene of a growing number of such attempts.
Quite a few of the most noteworthy have taken place in California (although by no means all. On a slightly different head, see here for a Rutgers event to which putative Israel supporters were denied entry, based on blatant profiling by the sponsors. And here for the attacks on Israel supporters who mounted political displays at UCLA and Penn State). Back in 2010, writers for the American Thinker summarized a series of events at California universities at which critical or pro-Israel speech was shouted down – including an event made infamous for this exclamation by Dr. Jess Ghannam, a psychiatry professor at UC-San Francisco (emphasis added): “Now, every single Israeli military official and politician will be afraid to speak publicly. It’s huge!”
In a similar vein, Israeli soldiers giving a presentation at UC-Davis in March 2012 were relentlessly heckled by Palestinian-activist students. One accused the Israelis of having turned “Palestine into a land of prostitutes, rapists, and child molesters.” He hollered at the soldiers (emphasis added):
“How many women have you raped? How many children have you raped? You are a child molester!” And he admitted freely: “I can embarrass myself all I want. I will stand here and I will heckle! My only purpose today is that this event is shut down!”
The joker in all this, however, is that the passionate heckler turned out to be a student who admitted to having been paid $50 to do the heckling, and who was given a script to follow for his performance. The authorities made no effort to quiet the hecklers during the event, or advise them that the invited guests had a right to be heard. Read the full CAMERA story; it’s a doozy.
It’s a good question how many universities realize the hit their academic reputations take from these events. It’s one thing for the citizens to have to effectively subsidize the propagation of views they disagree with at the state-funded institutions. But it’s another altogether for those state-funded institutions to silence speech on the taxpayer’s dime.
Not all the universities in question are taxpayer funded, of course. But if you assembled the actual taxpayers for these events, they would behave much better than the student activists, faculty, and officials at almost any university. (Fans at a minor-league hockey game would behave better.) The best in the legacy of the English-speaking peoples – letting everyone have his say, tolerating dissent, prizing courtesy toward political opponents – is decreasingly in evidence in our most celebrated institutions of higher learning. When the ordinary people are way better than the leaders of academia in this regard, it becomes a serious question why the taxpayers should keep funding the institutions’ sophomoric privileges.