Ending pro-Israel rhetoric in Duke

The recent action by the Duke Student Government (DSG) to deny recognition to a new group of pro-Israel students seems to confirm that academic freedom of expression is not always free depending on who speaks. On November 9, DSG chairwoman Christina Wang took the outrageous decision to veto recognition of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) after the group released a response to a sophomore from the anti-Duke. Israeli, Elyana Riddick, who captioned a now deleted Twitter post. about SSI by writing: “My School Promotes Settlement Colonialism”.

“To Yana and others like her,” SSI posted on her Instagram account, “please allow us to explain to you what ‘settler colonialism’ really is and why Israel is not coming in. not at all in this category. These types of narratives are what we strive to fight and condemn, which is why Duke’s Chapter of Students Supporting Israel was officially created and is here to stay, ”the post read.

While denouncing Israel, as Riddick did, as a racist colonial occupier of stolen Arab land is perfectly acceptable, SSI’s response to it was obviously totally unacceptable, violating, it seems, her sensitivity and her right to express her contempt for groups with which she does not agree.

Riddick posted his comments on Twitter, a social media platform open to everyone. Thus, she could not and certainly should not have what lawyers call an “expectation of confidentiality” since SSI did not quote her in statements she made in a private conversation or exchange of information. emails, for example, where she had not agreed to have her opinions. publicized.

And, more specifically, his counterfactual claim that Israel is an example of settler colonialism is precisely the type of slander against the Jewish state that groups like ISS are tasked with responding to, especially when this kind of characterization of Israel is both historically and factually inaccurate. Israel’s enemy campuses have routinely tried to prevent pro-Israel views from being heard or even debated in honest dialogue with those with pro-Palestinian views, and the DSG’s decision to abandon recognition of the SSI to Duke resulted in this very situation, making it impossible for SSI to correct the lies that are at the heart of the anti-Israel campaign in Duke and elsewhere.

In justifying his decision to withdraw recognition from SSI, Wang unconvincingly suggested that SSI’s messages to Riddick were “proof that the group singled out an individual student on his organization’s social media account.” in a manner unacceptable to any group of students and seemed contrary to the group’s stated mission to be welcoming and inclusive to all Duke students, and educational in mission and purpose ” [emphasis added].

One group at Duke, in fact, appears to have escaped the watchful eye of student government censors, a “group exhibiting similar behavior” which regularly displayed “potentially hostile or harmful” behavior – namely, Duke of the virulent militant group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). On more than 200 campuses where it has branches, SJP claims to be a group seeking social justice for longtime Palestinians; however, in universities today, being pro-Palestinian, by definition, has come to mean being anti-Israel.

SSI was created at Duke, as it has been on other campuses, for the exact reason to respond to this type of rhetoric and ideology launched relentlessly against Israel, and to counter these accusations with facts, a history, context and rigorous debate – exactly what universities hope will take place within their respective communities.

If Duke’s SJP speech and behavior were assessed in the same way that SSI’s only social media post was in response to a critic’s slander against Israel, this organization could also lose to justifiably acknowledging it, assuming things are assessed fairly.

SJP was almost giddy when he learned that SSI had been canceled, knowing that awkward and opposing views on Israel and the Palestinians would still be absent on the Duke campus. A long and tendentious SJP letter of November 13 published in Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, “It’s good to support Palestine,” used the announcement of SSI’s elimination to ridicule the group for its clumsy social media skills and to once again attack the Jewish state with a series of lies, distortions, historically inaccurate claims and a lack of context. . The column also contained an overall caustic tone in which they mocked SSI by repeating the phrase at the center of the controversy on Twitter – “settler colonialism” – no less than 13 times in the article, as well as making at least seven references to “Israel”. settlers ”to reinforce the accusation.

With a surprising lack of self-awareness, SJP called on the Duke administration to restrict the targeting of any group of students and protect them from the “violence” of speech and ideas that could “harm” them, as Riddick claimed to have been injured after her. was called in for her baseless criticism of Israel.

“To the Duke administration,” SJP wrote, “we ask you to speak on behalf of the students for whom you are obligated to create a safe environment,” ignoring, of course, the fact that for years SJP has been singularly responsible for creating a hostile climate for Jewish students on the campuses where they are active. In addition, SJP asserted: “This case of targeted harassment [towards Riddick] is not isolated. It’s not entirely unique or new. Rather, it is the product of the fundamental nature of the Zionist organization. In other words, according to SJP – a group that has publicly announced that it seeks to expel Zionists from campuses and end all pro-Israel dialogue (and is proud of its role in this regard) – to be pro-Israel. Israeli means having to target others. with opposing views. When the SJP attacks its opponents and targets them, of course, that is acceptable activism in a campaign for social justice. However, when SSI does this on behalf of Israel, it is harassment and morally questionable.

The SJP’s letter also includes unsustainable claims that appear flippantly in anti-Israel rhetoric, but constitute a misreading of history and facts on the ground. For example, the letter denounces “the historical and continued displacement of the Palestinian peoples and the appropriation and occupation of Palestinian lands”, ignoring the fact that the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria (casually referred to as the West Bank) have never was Palestinian land, and, like Israel proper, was a land that included the Mandate for Palestine and gave all of those areas to a Jewish homeland.

In its statement regarding Duke’s situation, SSI National expressed concern that the decision to close the Duke Chapter due to a single social media post in which the group defended Israel against a criticism posted untruth. represents a threat to academic freedom of expression. and the right of individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian debate to be heard. “We would like to know if other clubs on the Duke campus have also reviewed their social media by the student government?” The organization rightly asked. “Do other clubs have to apologize for writing statements that some may disagree with?” “

“If not, then this is a clear distinction from the new pro-Israel club,” they concluded, “and we wonder if Duke’s students really have the right to freedom. expression. “

Apparently, in the case of those who wish to defend the Jewish state, the answer is, unfortunately, no.

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of “Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews”.

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