David N. Meyers on Free Speech in Israel and America

Today’s L.A. Times has a stirring defense of academic freedom by David N. Myers (“In defense of academic freedom“).  It looks like the Department of Politics and Government of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is about to be shut down by the Likudniks. No surprise, given that the professors there have criticized the government, one professor going so far as to urge a boycott of Israel in order “to overcome the deep structural inequities between Jews and Arabs in Israeli society and the occupied territories, and to force the government back toward the goal of a two-state solution.”

Of course, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for how Israel is turning away from Western values and returning to its deep Jewish roots — high walls between Jews and non-Jews typical of Jewish society throughout history (often labeled ‘apartheid’ in the Israeli context) and ethnic warfare (i.e., ethnic cleansing of Palestinians),  as opposed to Western liberal values like democracy and individualism where group status is theoretically irrelevant.

Myers relates all this to the U.S. by discussing the attempts in the 1950s to force professors to “sign a loyalty oath requiring them to forswear any allegiance to the Communist Party.” The hero of the piece is Ernst Kantorowicz, a professor at the University of California, who refused to sign the oath. Kantorowicz was not a communist; according to Myers, Kantorowicz’s background “as a medievalist and his experience as a person of Jewish origin in Nazi Germany led him to conclude that ‘history shows that it never pays to yield to the impact of momentary hysteria, or to jeopardize, for the sake of temporary or temporal advantages, the permanent or eternal values.'”

Kantorowicz’s Jewish motivation may well have been a little more complex than that, since at the time it was well-known that Jews continued to be the mainstay of the Party throughout the 1950s (see the  current TOO featured article, “Joe McCarthy and the Jews: Comments on Jewish Organizations’ Response to Communism and Senator McCarthy, by Aviva Weingarten (2008)“. Kantorowicz as a non-communist is therefore ideal for being portrayed as a warrior on behalf of principle (“eternal values”) when in fact his principles coincided quite well with his ethnic interests. Just as communist Jews continued to identify as Jews (see previous link), non-communist Jews like Kantorowicz continued to identify with their ethnic brethren who were communists. And, like the Jewish organizations, they realized that overturning laws requiring professors to sign loyalty oaths was a Jewish ethnic interest.

Myers relates all this to the current situation in the U.S. Whereas in the 1950s Jewish organizations were on the defensive because of the well-known Jewish role in communism, today Jewish organization s are leading the charge against free speech.  Myers highlights the recent California Assembly Resolution on Anti-Semitism—a thinly veiled attempt to prevent criticism of Israel on campus that was promoted by activist Jews (see discussion here). Myers is silent about the role of Jews in promoting this resolution, nor does he mention the critical role of Jewish organizations in promoting “hate speech” laws around the world (see “The Hate Crimes Prevention Bill: Why Do Jewish Organizations Support It?“).

So there is a certain consistency: When Jews have power, they seek to curb free speech, whether in Israel or the Diaspora. Obviously, there is no tradition of free speech within traditional Jewish societies which were run like Hassidic communities are today. Non-conformists beware.

It should also be noted that Myers’ concern about “eternal values” seems a bit hollow. I don’t recall getting any support from him when the (Jewish-funded) SPLC and the ADL were engaging in a well-publicized  effort rying to get me fired from my position as a professor at CSULB. Indeed the CSULB Department of Jewish Studies led the campaign against me on campus. A word from him as a professor of Jewish history at UCLA would have been very helpful.

To be sure, Western societies have a history of giving in to the forces of censorship, especially in times of crisis,  even though free speech is uniquely a Western value. Such was the perceived situation in the 1950s. Right now free speech is hanging on by a very shaky 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court. Another Obama appointment with the values of Elena Kagan should make Jewish organizations very happy indeed.

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