by Mitchell Plitnick
I’d like to pose a question. Do you believe that someone who writes the following letter should be forced out of his position as chaplain at an Ivy League university?
To the Editor:
Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond.
The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.
As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.
(Rev.) BRUCE M. SHIPMAN
Groton, Conn., Aug. 21, 2014
One can, to be sure, disagree with the opinion Bruce Shipman, a former chaplain from Yale, expressed—I certainly do. Anti-Semitism is not the same as opposition to Israeli policies, the two are quite distinct and plenty of Jew-haters fully support even more aggressive and brutal policies either because they hate Muslims and Arabs more than Jews or because they have some apocalyptic vision of where such Jewish behavior might take the Jews.
Anti-Semitism does not increase due to Israel’s behavior. Anti-Semitic activity might, as haters see an opportunity to cloak their hate in something else. But bigotry has a life of its own. More to the point, Israelis will not behave like “good Jews” in order to stem a theoretical rising tide of anti-Semitism. That’s not why Israel should end its occupation, should end its siege of Gaza, and should recognize, with full faith, that Palestinians have the same national, civil and human rights as Israeli Jews. Politics doesn’t work this way, but civil society should be pushing for these things because they are a moral imperative. And Israel should pursue such a course because it is the only way its citizens will ever know peace and security.
So, yes, I think Shipman was wrong. But he was hardly expressing hatred towards Jews. He was speaking out of obvious concern for both Israelis and Palestinians and a hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. He may have been wrong about Israeli actions causing anti-Semitism, but he is not the only person who believes this and there is room for reasonable debate on that point. In any case, he was certainly not saying that Israel’s actions justified anti-Semitism. And yet, he was forced to resign.
Is this really where we’ve ended up? Yes. Ideas are fully policed on this issue. Academia, which is precisely the place that disagreements, and especially controversial ideas, are supposed to be debated with civility, has become one of the most heavily policed arenas. The recent controversy at the University of Illinois, where Professor Steven Salaita was “de-hired” because of his outspoken statements on Twitter about Israel’s massive onslaught on Gaza, has now grown to the point where it is threatening the university’s administration. Yet they have not reversed their decision to date.
It’s not like controversial views on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict are under such attack. Thane Rosenbaum, for example, called on Israel to kill Palestinian civilians. His op-ed in the Wall Street Journal generated a lot of controversy, but his position at New York University’s School of Law was never in danger, and I wouldn’t want it to be.
Opinions, even hateful ones, need to be out in the open. How can they otherwise be countered? Instead, when it comes to Israel, we have gone entirely in the other direction, but only on one side of the question.
Bruce Shipman, apparently, resigned “voluntarily,” not wanting to create or be in the middle of further controversy at Yale. But there never should have been any such pressure on him. There is no conceivable stretch that can turn what Shipman wrote, regardless of how much anyone disagrees with him, into hate speech. Short of that, any individual should be able to express an opinion. That is especially true about community leaders, which school chaplains obviously are, and the academic world.
So enough with the false allegations of anti-Semitism, which are insulting to those like myself who have experienced physical violence from anti-Semitism. Enough with the extremists supporting the worst Israeli policies who—apparently knowing that their case cannot withstand open debate—threaten and pressure those who raise opposing opinions (I have received death threats from such people as well).
It’s high time for everyone to agree that ideas can and should be debated. Islamophobes and others who do not acknowledge Palestinians’ basic human rights have a national platform with FOX News. More legitimate defenders of Israeli policies and those who are deeply opposed to those policies should also be able to voice their views in public. Everyone who is interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict should agree with this fair and just principle. The only ones who can’t, it would seem, are the naysayers who oppose legitimate debate. I wonder why.