Yesterday, I attended two public events on the UCLA campus, one of which I participated in.
The first was a lunchtime event with Sarah Leah Whitson, the North Africa/Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch, who went through the standard litany of accusations against Israel, some of which may be true and some of which are clearly not. Then, she rehearsed the standard complaint of human rights activists who comment on the Middle East: one cannot criticize Israel in American public discourse, that HRW has been threatened, that whenever you criticize Israel you are labeled anti-Semitic, etc. etc. It’s the standard Steve Walt, Tony Judt, William Fulbright argument: look how brave we are to speak out when no one else can because the immense power of the Israel Lobby will destroy their careers.
The second was a faculty panel discussion at UCLA Hillel concerning the Middle East peace process after Gaza, with me, David Myers, and Judea Pearl as the panelists. Judea, whose son Daniel was, of course, brutally murdered by Islamic terrorists, rehearsed his own complaints about the culture of fear, which he had earlier written about in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal:
Colleagues told me about lecturers whose appointments were terminated, professors whose promotion committees received “incriminating” letters, and about the impossibility of revealing one’s pro-Israel convictions without losing grants, editorial board membership, or invitation to panels and conferences. And all, literally all, swore me into strict secrecy — we have entered the era of “the new Maranos.”
I suppose that both sides could be right: Israel’s defenders are intimidated on campuses and Israel’s critics are intimidated in political circles.
But maybe there is a culture of victimization in the whole discourse. Is everyone being pushed into the shadows? And if so, how come everyone is yelling at each other? Why do so many people take so many opportunities to talk about how they are being silenced?
One might call this the “Coulterization” phenomenon. Ann Coulter, of course, appears on national television several times a week and writes a syndicated column that appears in dozens of newspapers. She uses these media venues to talk about how she is being silenced and ignored by the national electronic and print media.
So here’s the takeaway advice:
If you write or talk about the Middle East conflict, prepare to be insulted. You’re a racist, anti-Semite, colonialist, imperialist, terrorist sympathizer who draws dangerous moral equivalences in service of brutal US hegemony. Now that you’ve gotten that into your head, just say what you are going to say and have done with it.
Obviously, if someone is denied a position because of their political positions, that is very serious, but it’s better to point to specific examples and have actual evidence before making accusations. But this is contested ground — both literally and figuratively. Be prepared for some emotion.