Screenshot from YouTube

Princeton Hillel Apologizes for Canceling Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Speech


Princeton Hillel’s Center for Jewish Life (CJL) issued an apology on Wednesday for cancelling their event hosting Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

Eric Fingerhut, president of Hillel International, and Rabbi Julie Roth, executive director of the CJL, issued their apology in a letter published in the Jerusalem Post, where they acknowledged that they made “a mistake” in canceling her event.

“We did not treat the Israeli deputy foreign minister with the respect that her office deserves, and postponed the event,” Fingerhut and Roth wrote.

They explained that the event wasn’t vetted by the CJL’s Israel Advisory Committee, but they admitted that it was wrong to cancel the event on that reason alone.

“We should have engaged a broader range of students in this program from the beginning, rather than right before the event and we should have made a stronger case within our campus community that the event should go forward as planned,” wrote Fingerhut and Roth. “This is an isolated incident – and Hillel International stands squarely behind the value of hearing from the Jewish state’s elected leaders.”

After listing Hillel’s various programs, Fingerhut and Roth concluded their letter by stating that they would “do better next time.”

“We are also proud to work for a movement that when, amid the pressures and realities of today’s campus life, we make a mistake, we acknowledge it, learn from it and strive to do better next time,” wrote Fingerhut and Roth. “That is another value we are proud to be modeling for our students.”

Despite Hillel’s cancelation, Hotovely spoke at Chabad of Princeton. Hotovely criticized Hillel for “infringing on the fundamental academic freedom of the students” and “silencing the voice of Israeli democracy.”

The cancellation came amid sharp condemnation from The Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP), which accused Hotovely of being a racist.

Royce Hall at UCLA

Anti-Fascist Activists Shut Down UCLA Free Speech Panel


A UCLA panel titled “What Is Civil Discourse? Challenging Hate Speech in a Free Society” was forced to move to another room when members of the activist group Refuse Fascism shouted down panelists during the Q-and-A session.

The Oct. 17 event, presented by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Los Angeles Times, took place during “Free Speech 101: UCLA’s Week on Freedom of Speech.” Holocaust historian Edna Friedberg moderated the panel, which included L.A. Times Deputy Editorial Page Editor Jon Healey, UCLA School of Law professor Eugene Volokh and Rachel Brown, executive director of the nonprofit Over Zero, which focuses on resisting violence.

During the presentation portion of the event, which drew about 50 people, panelists discussed issues such as the meaning of the term “hate speech,” the role of technology in the rapid spread of incitement and whether social media platforms like Facebook have the responsibility to moderate extremism on their sites. Friedberg drew parallels between the current dynamics surrounding campus political speech and Nazi propaganda strategies.

“It’s not a coincidence that Nazi book burnings took place [on college campuses],” she said. “They knew college students were susceptible to their ideas.”

When panelists opened the forum an hour later to questions from the audience, fifth-year UCLA geography student and Refuse Fascism member Tala Deloria was the first to take the microphone.

“This panel is bull—-,” she said. “There is a fascist in the White House, and you’re normalizing it by talking about [hate speech] in the abstract. People are dying in the streets.”

Deloria continued speaking over Friedberg’s requests that she give other audience members a turn, prompting event operators to cut off her microphone and campus security to urge her to leave the venue. Deloria sat down in the auditorium aisle to resist her removal and accused a security guard of twisting her arm.

Three audience members affiliated with Refuse Fascism rose to join Deloria, chanting, “No Trump, no KKK, no Fascist U.S.A.” One activist offered the audience flyers advertising Refuse Fascism’s Nov. 4 march in downtown Los Angeles.

“We don’t only say, ‘Never Again’ about Jews,” explained UCLA graduate and Refuse Fascism member Luna Hernandez. “We say, ‘Never Again’ for everyone.”

Several audience members booed and cursed at the anti-fascist activists. Healy attempted to take an audience question but was drowned out by the chanting.

“This is a prime example of uncivil speech,” Friedberg said to the disrupters.

Event organizers announced that the Q-and-A would move to the room next door. There, panelists took uninterrupted audience questions about topics including controversial speakers on university campuses and Google’s decision to fire employee James Damore following his statements about the company’s diversity initiatives.

The Refuse Fascism activists remained outside the room to discuss the event with attendees.

“We’re Jewish, we’re gay and we hate Trump, too,” one audience member told Deloria before the Q-and-A resumed. “But we want to hear what these people have to say about how we can resist him.”

Deloria said in an interview that she did not enter the event with the intention to protest, but the panelists’ defense of speech rights for people like Charles Murray, a social science researcher who has been accused of scientific racism, put her over the edge.

“The disruption … opened up conversation in a way that I’ve rarely seen at a public program” — Edna Friedberg

“My heart didn’t let me sit there while they normalized death,” she said.

Refuse Fascism is a grass-roots, protest-oriented group seeking to drive President Donald Trump from power, according to its website.

Friedberg said she considered the event a success — not in spite of the disruption, but in part because of it.

“Look, it’s never good when conversation is shut down,” she said. “But I actually feel that the disruption in the audience tonight opened up conversation in a way that I’ve rarely seen at a public program. People were speaking from the heart.”

Friedberg said she was particularly grateful to hear honest inquiries from students, whose questions spanned the many perspectives regarding freedom of speech.

“Part of the reason that the [Holocaust Memorial Museum] seeks out partners like UCLA is to be present on a college campus,” she said. “It shows that our history is relevant.”

Ben Shapiro was not stopped from speaking at the Young America's Foundation. Photo courtesy of the Young Americans Foundation

Truly free speech absent at colleges


Words are not violence.

You’d think this truism would be easy for some on the left to swallow; the entire workability of the First Amendment rests on that principle. Because words are not violence, we say that in a civilized society, we should be able to speak freely, that we should be entitled to our opinion, and that anyone who reacts to our words with violence should be punished for that crime.

Yet that perfectly obvious logic seems to elude more and more of the left these days.

Several weeks ago, the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation invited me to campus to speak. For context, I spoke at the college in April 2016; there was no violence, and nary a protester. Instead, I spoke with several hundred students, many of whom disagreed. The event was cordial and friendly and fun.

Last week, UC Berkeley announced that it would not be able to ensure a venue for my scheduled speech in September. Officials said they didn’t have a venue available on the date in question, and then didn’t provide alternative dates. Only after a public hubbub did they pledge to allow me to speak on campus as well as covering the relevant fees.

What changed? Between April 2016 and July 2017, Berkeley saw several major violent protests held by opponents of President Donald Trump. First, in February 2017, alt-right provocateur and Trump acolyte Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at the campus. Anti-fascism protesters, allegedly along with some Berkeley students, crashed the venue, began destroying property and setting things on fire, and posed too much of a security risk for the event to continue as planned. Then, in April 2017, Berkeley canceled a planned event with Ann Coulter, moving the date and place for the event, alleging that the university had been “unable to find a safe and suitable venue.” That same month, anti-Trump protesters clashed with pro-Trump protesters who set up shop in Berkeley to stump on behalf of free speech.

Berkeley’s decision-making process has become more and more common across the country. As leftist protesters grow more outrageous, administrators seem more than willing to grant them concessions, up to and including cancellation of events that anger the protesters.

When I spoke at Cal State Los Angeles in February 2016, the administration attempted to cancel the event outright; I showed up, anyway. Protesters blocked the entrances and assaulted students who wanted to come to the event; they pulled the fire alarm. Students had to be spirited into the venue secretly, two-by-two. They eventually were trapped there until the crowd outside dispersed. Meanwhile, the police allegedly were told by the administration to stand down. When I spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, protesters invaded the speech in an attempt to shut it down. When I asked police to remove the protesters, they responded that the administration had told them that if they did that, they’d have to shut down the event entirely.

Too many leftist administrators are playing an inside-outside game in which they capitulate to violent protesters who seek to shut down free debate. They wouldn’t cave to such protesters from the right — if writer Ta-Nehisi Coates were victimized by violent protesters, you can guarantee that administrators would send the cops in force. But violence is a convenient excuse for excluding unwanted viewpoints.

And exclusion of unwanted viewpoints has become nearly universal on college campuses. Administrators now tell students that they can expect college to be a “safe space,” a protected area where they need never feel uncomfortable. To that end, all “microaggressions” must be policed. Microaggressions, as professor Jonathan Haidt of New York University states, are “small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless.” By thinking of words as violence, actual violence can be justified as a natural, decent response to verbiage you don’t like. In fact, one of the professors at Cal State Los Angeles, in anticipation of my speech, posted a note on his door saying as much: “The best response to micro-aggression is macro-aggression.”

We cannot have a political conversation with one another if we’re going to label one another’s arguments a form of brutality, to be prevented at any cost. That merely incentivizes violence as a rational response to words. It actually promotes the logic of violence, since the very act of violence in response to words now can be seen as an expression of righteous indignation: The more violent you are, the worse the microaggression must have been.

Furthermore, the microaggression culture that culminates in leftist rioting on campuses and administrative sycophancy to it generates a generation of mentally unhealthy people. As Haidt states, the use of “trigger warnings” — warnings designed to alert people to the risks of microaggressions — actually make students more paranoid, less prone to engage with the world, unduly emotional and upset. Instead, students should be exposed to ideas with which they disagree, and learn to control their emotional response to them. Get angry, by all means — but speak about your anger, rather than using it as an excuse to avoid thinking about the implications of views you hold or oppose.

I’m currently scheduled to speak at Berkeley in September, after testifying about the dangers of microaggression culture before Congress this week. The administration now says that it’s fully committed to the event moving forward. I certainly hope that’s the case. And I hope that leftists across the country stop burying themselves in the solipsism of the microaggression culture and heed the words of former President Barack Obama: “I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.”

We’ll be a better country if we stop the coddling, fight the violence and begin listening to one another once more. 


Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most-listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

People take part in an "I am Muslim Too" rally in Times Square on Feb. 19. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Crafting political activism


“Protest is the new brunch,” says the new slogan. I certainly hope not.

Shortly before the inaugural, a friend posted a question on her Facebook page. She lives in Orange County and has a couple of small children. She asked if she should attend the Women’s March in Los Angeles, or go to a smaller one in the O.C.? It would be quite a hassle to bring her children, but she wanted to see her friends. What should she do?

I responded as follows: “Think about it this way. Resisting this Regime is not an exercise for a day, or a week, or a month, or even a year. It will be a marathon, not a sprint. It seems to me that doing that work means joining an activist community that you will be able to work with on an ongoing basis, developing ideas for what you want to accomplish, and then working together to accomplish them. You aren’t going to schlep up here regularly to do that. Moreover, maybe your kids will meet other kids from Orange County so it will be easier for you to involve them. So as much as I would like to see you, at least if you are trying to effect change, staying there might be better.”

She might have thought her question was about convenience, but it really concerned effectiveness. Did it matter where she protested?

We all have seen and I have participated in many of the now ubiquitous protests, marches, meetings, etc., that constitute the resistance to President Donald Trump. How do we assess them? If activism is supposed to accomplish something, it must be tethered to a clearly enumerated set of objectives — in other words, it needs a coherent theory of change. Put another way, how does activism get us from point A to point B? Answering this question is particularly necessary now, when marches, protests and actions are occurring throughout the country — and will continue for the foreseeable future.

Demand for a theory of change has dictated my own preferred activist course: voter registration. In Southern California alone, there are five congressional districts held by Republicans that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Since I want to block President Donald Trump as much as possible, I would like to flip those districts to the Democrats. So I spend a good bit of my time going to these districts (in Santa Clarita and Orange County), trying to register more Democrats. If enough of these districts flip across the country, then the House will become Democratic. It’s a straightforward theory of change. That doesn’t mean that it will work or that it will be easy. A coherent theory of change doesn’t necessarily mean an effective one. But it cannot be effective unless it’s coherent.

Theories of change span the political spectrum, of course. Anti-abortion activists picket clinics because they hope to shame pregnant women into turning away — making it too emotionally difficult to end their pregnancy. Whatever you think of this tactic, it contains a coherent theory of change. Picketing leads to shame leads to emotional pain leads to turning away leads to preventing the abortion.

“Raising consciousness” or “speaking out” can represent a coherent theory of change — but only if it is married to concrete ends. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. chose to protest in Birmingham, Ala., precisely because he knew that the sheriff there, Eugene “Bull” Connor, would respond violently and brutally. The ensuing gruesome television images would, he hoped, catalyze complacent Northern opinion into seeing the ugliest face of Jim Crow and raise political pressure on Congress to act. It worked.

So I often get frustrated when activists say that they want to be a “voice” for change. What will that voice do? Simply being a voice can work only if the circumstances are right. A friend who organizes protests in Santa Clarita  explained her efforts to me this way: “This town has been Republican for so long that Democrats don’t think they have a chance. Protesting shows them that there are other Democrats here, and that we can win. So they will become more involved and get others involved in politics.” This is a coherent theory of change. 

“Raising consciousness” or “speaking out” can represent a coherent theory of change — but only if it is married to concrete ends.

You might be more of a change agent than you think. A few years ago, I read a master’s thesis that considered, among other things, what organizations can do to get more people to come to their meetings. That’s a very important question for any organizing. The answer? Not slick ad campaigns, nor charismatic leadership, nor lots of money, but rather providing food and child care. That’s common sense when you think of it. So, don’t want to knock on doors or give speeches or drive all over the place? Fine, can you watch the kids during the meetings or cook something? Then you are doing a lot.

I sometimes hear two primary objections to insisting on a theory of change that deserve answers.

Objection one: I’m not a social theorist!

Social change is hard and complicated. “I’m just a doctor/social worker/customer service rep/development officer/accountant/teacher, etc. How can you expect me to develop a whole theory of change?”

First, don’t sell yourself short; you’re a lot smarter than you think. You don’t need a fancy education or experience to figure out how to get from point A to point B. You probably do it in your life all the time.

Second, you don’t have to have a theory of change, but any organization that asks for your energy, your time, your resources or your support should be able to explain to you what its theory of change is. Ask the organization, “In 18 months, if you are successful, what has happened and how do you see it happening?” If it doesn’t make sense to you, it might not make sense to the organization either. Or it might not know. If it doesn’t, then maybe you should look elsewhere. The goal is to help you focus your energy on activism that can lead to real change.

Objection two: One person can’t change the world.

Many people engage in protest and activism not because they think they will change the world, but because they simply want to stand for what is right and lead an ethical life. Critics might call this “virtue-signaling,” but we also can see it as simple humility. I am doing what I think is right even though I don’t expect that I will change the world. Christians sometimes call this “witnessing”: just declaring your beliefs and values publicly without pretending that others will listen, although we can always hope for that.

This posture is attractive precisely because it combines modesty with realism. If you adopt this approach, however, be clear in your own mind that that is what you are doing. “I suppose I have joined the Resistance, but what I am really doing is connecting to God.” Be honest with yourself — and with others who are considering joining you. We always benefit from courageous and moral voices, but we must not allow developing such voices to become an excuse for inaction.

Protest, then, is not the new brunch. It is a particular tactic that (we hope) fits into a broader program of social change. What is that program? How does it work? We can’t answer that question unless we ask it. But now we have. Go and learn.


Jonathan Zasloff is professor of law at UCLA, where he teaches, among other things, property, international law and Pirkei Avot. He is also a rabbinical ordination candidate at the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

Free speech, hate speech: Where’s the line at UCLA?


Where does UCLA draw the line when it comes to speech and conduct protected by the First Amendment? When are words and actions punishable according to university standards?

Those are questions some Jewish and pro-Israel UCLA students and faculty have been asking since Lisa Marie Mendez, a UCLA student and former work-study employee at the UCLA Medical Center, posted multiple blatantly racist, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel comments on the Facebook page of Jewish actress Mayim Bialik, and on that of the group Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at UCLA. Mendez wrote posts that drew attention on Dec. 9, 10 and 11. 

“Go Murder some Palestinian children so you can have their parents arrested and move into their home,” Mendez wrote. “Greedy lifeless pieces of s— people. Capitalist colonizers who steal and kill from other races to promote your dead ideologies.”

“F—ing Jews,” she wrote. “GTFOH [Get the f— out of here] with all your Zionist bulls—, ” Mendez wrote.

“I live in the ghetto, and if you’re a Jew, you’re white. Not black, not middle eastern [sic], not Asian — white. Being a Jew is not a race — it’s a faith system that keeps you inbreeding long enough to believe you’re preserving your race, and keeps you thinking you’re entitled to take someone else’s land.” 

There’s much more, and her posts can still be found on Facebook and other websites. 

After SSI posted on its Facebook page an alert to Mendez’s comments, demanding a public condemnation from UCLA, Mendez (who changed her Facebook profile’s name to “Zatanna Zatarra,” a comic book superheroine) wrote a comment that reads, in part, “I can imagine that colonialists like you can’t have people like me with good jobs, especially when behind closed doors you treat us all like slaves. I’m Mexican, my family is from the land we stand on. You’re the foreigners, locusts who steal resources and oppress people … I work with you people everyday. I go to school with your rotten children who have screamed obscenities in my face … You never had your family dragged out of your house by the cops, or had to witness your children gunned down by them, have your family destroyed when they are deported, etc.”

Mendez did not immediately respond to an email or private Facebook message from the Journal requesting comment.

On Dec. 16, Janina Montero, UCLA’s vice chancellor for student affairs, sent an email to UCLA’s 42,000 students condemning Mendez and her comments, without naming her. “The hurtful and offensive comments displayed ignorance of the history and racial diversity of the Jewish people, insensitivity and a disappointing lack of empathy. Bigotry against the Jewish people or other groups is abhorrent,” Montero wrote.

On Dec. 17, Kelsey Martin, interim dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, wrote a letter “in regard to the reprehensible anti-Semitic Facebook post allegedly made by a student who also has a work study position in the University Health System.” Martin strongly condemned Mendez’s posts, but added that UCLA “cannot control the activities of individuals in their personal lives when not acting on behalf of the University, and that the First Amendment protects individual’s private speech, however reprehensible the University and the medical school finds it.”

In an interview this week, Liat Menna, president of SSI at UCLA, who was first to draw public awareness to Mendez’s posts, said she’s disappointed with UCLA’s reaction and believes its decision not to punish Mendez is inconsistent with its interim suspension of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the Alpha Phi sorority after they held a “Kanye Western” themed party on Oct. 6, during which, according to the Daily Bruin student newspaper, partygoers wore baggy clothes, plumped lips and dressed as “Kardashians.” 

There is “110 percent inconsistency between them suspending a group that indirectly attacked a minority and [not punishing] an individual who directly and blatantly attacked a minority group,” Menna said. “Had it been any other minority group on campus they would’ve taken it, I think, with greater heaviness, and would’ve put on an investigation to see when and where she was posting online.”

On Oct. 8, UCLA released a statement titled “UCLA statement on ‘Kanye West’-themed fraternity party,” in which it stated, in part, “Both Greek organizations allegedly involved have been placed on immediate interim suspension of all social activities pending the outcome of the investigation. While we do not yet have all the facts, the alleged behavior is inconsistent with good judgment as well as our principles of community.”

But on Jan. 12, a new explanation emerged for the groups’ suspensions, when UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez sent a statement to the Journal, explaining that the two Greek organizations were suspended not for the content of the party itself, but “for violating policies on properly registering a campus event,” adding that the sanctions on the fraternity and sorority end the week of Jan. 10.

“They were sanctioned for failing to properly register a social event,” the statement says. “The sanctions issued were consistent with those imposed for similar violations of Interfraternity and Panhellenic council standards. There is a difference between sanctions imposed on a registered student group for violating procedures when hosting a campus-related social activity and an individual expressing her own personal views on social media.”

On Jan. 7, in response to a request from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), UCLA wrote another letter condemning Mendez’s “reprehensible anti-Semitic comments,” adding that she “previously” had a work-study position within UCLA’s health system — a position that, according to her Facebook page, she began in October. Vasquez told the Journal on Jan. 12 that Mendez is not currently employed by the university, but did not give a reason.

The ADL’s published response on the matter stated there’s no evidence to suggest Mendez made the posts while at the medical center, or that she discriminated against Jews at work.

Arielle Mokhtarzadeh, a UCLA sophomore and vice president of Bruins for Israel, applauded the administration for quickly responding to Mendez’s Facebook posts, but said she is skeptical that “a response from the administration is going to actually change the realities on the ground for the experiences of Jewish students.”

Israeli officials condemn Breaking the Silence — and restrict its activities


They’ve been banned from Israel’s schools and forbidden from speaking to Israeli soldiers. Israel’s prime minister denounced them from the floor of Knesset. A right-wing group has accused them of being foreign moles.

The Israeli veterans’ group Breaking the Silence has been controversial since it was founded in 2004 by soldiers who had served in Hebron during the Second Intifada. The group’s goal is to give soldiers a forum to speak out about their service in the West Bank and Gaza, and to advocate against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. It publishes soldiers’ testimonies of alleged abuses during conflict, such as indiscriminate firing on civilians. It also runs tours of Hebron.

Figures on Israel’s political right and center have accused the group of taking testimonies out of context and distorting the truth. It’s drawn particular ire for publishing many testimonies anonymously, for releasing its reports in English and for taking veterans on speaking tours in Europe and the United States.

This week, Israel’s government mounted an unprecedented campaign against the group. Senior Israeli politicians have accused the group of slandering the IDF. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon banned the group from speaking to active-duty soldiers, calling the group’s work “hypocrisy and false propaganda” in a Facebook post Sunday. Two days later, Education Minister Naftali Bennett barred the group from appearing at schools.

“Breaking the Silence doesn’t care for the IDF’s morality,” Bennett wrote on Facebook Thursday. “It’s focused on defaming IDF soldiers across the world: In Belgium, in Sweden, in the U.N., in the European Union. Since when does someone who cares for the IDF go around the world spreading blood libels about our soldiers?”

Breaking the Silence has called the recent moves against it an unjust and undemocratic attempt at curtailing speech.

“This is a worrying and violent incitement campaign from the same forces calling to close [Israel’s] Supreme Court, who call the country’s president a traitor, and who work to shut down human rights organizations in Israel,” Breaking the Silence wrote in an email to supporters Wednesday.

Bennett’s and Ya’alon’s decisions to bar the group from schools and from contact with active-duty soldiers come as the Knesset is considering a bill to require NGOs like Breaking the Silence to declare their foreign funding sources. Ya’alon’s move also came the same day as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke ahead of the group at a conference hosted by the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz in New York on Sunday.

That day, Israeli TV Channel 20 called Rivlin’s appearance at a conference that also featured Breaking the Silence “a total loss of shame” and said he didn’t represent the country. Knesset Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday to denounce the channel’s comments.

Instead, Netanyahu criticized Breaking the Silence.

“Come to the podium and vocally denounce the Breaking the Silence organization, which slanders soldiers worldwide and works to tie the hands of the state of Israel when it defends itself, which defames the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said from the Knesset podium.

Opposition to the group isn’t universal. On Wednesday, left-wing Meretz party Chairwoman Zahava Galon criticized Bennett’s decision as a politically motivated move.

“Breaking the Silence is a patriotic organization that helps the IDF keep its moral character,” Galon wrote on Facebook. “They help us guard the human image as a society and army.”

Breaking the Silence has been embroiled in controversy before, drawing criticism from Israelis seen as moderate. In 2013, the University of Pennsylvania Hillel initially barred the group from holding an event in its building, but allowed the event following backlash from students.

After Breaking the Silence released a collection of negative testimonies in May from soldiers who fought in last year’s war in Gaza, centrist Yesh Atid party Chairman Yair Lapid formed a group of soldiers called “My Truth” to counter the allegations with positive accounts of IDF service. He called Breaking the Silence “anti-Zionist” and “radical.”

On Wednesday, the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu took the condemnations a step further, publishing a video accusing the heads of Breaking the Silence and other left-wing NGOs of being foreign “plants” and supporting terror against Israelis.

But even Breaking the Silence’s critics condemned the Im Tirzu campaign as a step too far.

“The name-calling from left and right — using terms like ‘traitors,’ ‘fascists,’ ‘agents’ or ‘McCarthyism,’ —  and demonization campaigns or personal attacks do not contribute to a healthy public debate,” read a statement by Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, a right-wing organization that opposes Breaking the Silence’s activity and investigates its funding. “This uncivil discourse is antithetical to Israel’s democratic values.”

After Twitter ruling, tech firms increasingly toe Europe’s line on hate speech


A little over a year after a French court forced Twitter to remove some anti-Semitic content, experts say the ruling has had a ripple effect, leading other Internet companies to act more aggressively against hate speech in an effort to avoid lawsuits.

The 2013 ruling by the Paris Court of Appeals settled a lawsuit brought the year before by the Union of Jewish Students of France over the hashtag #UnBonJuif, which means “a good Jew” and which was used to index thousands of anti-Semitic comments that violated France’s law against hate speech.

Since then, YouTube has permanently banned videos posted by Dieudonne, a French comedian with 10 convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews. And in February, Facebook removed the page of French Holocaust denier Alain Soral for “repeatedly posting things that don’t comply with the Facebook terms,” according to the company. Soral’s page had drawn many complaints in previous years but was only taken down this year.

“Big companies don’t want to be sued,” said Konstantinos Komaitis, a former academic and current policy adviser at the Internet Society, an international organization that encourages governments to ensure access and sustainable use of the Internet. “So after the ruling in France, we are seeing an inclination by Internet service providers like Google, YouTube, Facebook to try and adjust their terms of service — their own internal jurisprudence — to make sure they comply with national laws.”

The change comes amid a string of heavy sentences handed down by European courts against individuals who used online platforms to incite to racism or violence.

On Monday, a British court sentenced one such offender to four weeks in jail for tweeting “Hitler was right” to a Jewish lawmaker. Last week, a court in Geneva sentenced a man to five months in jail for posting texts that deny the Holocaust. And in April, a French court sentenced two men to five months in jail for posting an anti-Semitic video.

“The stiffer sentences owe partly to a realization by judges of the dangers posed by online hatred, also in light of cyber-jihadism and how it affected people like Mohammed Merah,” said Christophe Goossens, the legal adviser of the Belgian League against Anti-Semitism, referring to the killer of four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012.

In the Twitter case, the company argued that as an American firm it was protected by the First Amendment. But the court rejected the argument and forced Twitter to remove some of the comments and identify some of the authors. It also required the company to set up a system for flagging and ultimately removing comments that violate hate speech laws.

Twitter responded by overhauling its terms of service to facilitate adherence to European law, Twitter’s head of global safety outreach and public policy, Patricias Cartes Andres, revealed Monday at a conference in Brussels organized by the International Network Against Cyber Hate, or INACH.

“The rules have been changed in a way that allows us to take down more content when groups are being targeted,” Cartes Andres told JTA. Before the lawsuit, she added, “if you didn’t target any one person, you could have gotten away with it.”

The change went into effect five months ago, but Twitter “wanted to be very quiet about it because there will be other communities, like the freedom of speech community, that will be quite upset about it because they would view it as censorship,” Cartes Andres said.

Suzette Bronkhorst, the secretary of INACH, said Twitter’s adjusted policies are part of a “change in attitude” by online service providers since 2013.

“Before the trial, Twitter gave Europe the middle finger,” Brokhorst said. “But they realized that if they want to work in Europe, they need to keep European laws, and others are coming to the same realization.”

According to Komaitis, the Twitter case was built on a landmark court ruling in 2000 that forced the search engine Yahoo! to ban the sale of Nazi memorabilia. But the 2013 ruling “went much further,” he said, “demonstrating the increasing pressure on providers to adhere to national laws, unmask offenders and set up flagging mechanisms.”

Still, the INACH conference showed that big gaps remain between the practices sought by European anti-racism activists and those now being implemented by the tech companies.

One area of contention is Holocaust denial, which is illegal in many European countries but which several American companies, reflecting the broader free speech protections prevalent in the United States, are refusing to censure.

Delphine Reyre, Facebook’s director of policy, said at the conference that the company believes users should be allowed to debate the subject.

“Counter speech is a powerful tool that we lose with censorship,” she said.

Cartes Andres cited the example of the hashtag #PutosJudios, Spanish for “Jewish whores,” which in May drew thousands of comments after a Spanish basketball team lost to its Israeli rival. More than 90 percent of the comments were “positive statements that attacked those who used the offensive term,” she said.

Some of the comments are the subject of an ongoing police investigation in Spain launched after a complaint filed by 11 Jewish groups.

But Mark Gardner of Britain’s Community Security Trust wasn’t buying it.

“There’s no counter-speech to Holocaust denial,” Gardner said at the conference. “I’m not going to send Holocaust survivors to debate the existence of Auschwitz online. That’s ridiculous.”

Letters to the Editor: Figueres, Cuba, Charedim


With Gratitude

I received such a delightful surprise. I received a copy of your thoughtful article “Figueres” (July 12). I am grateful for your visit to Costa Rica. It is a lesson in itself.  I am grateful that, at a special time of need, you remind us of the truths of the dreams and their realities of Jose Figueres. You can perhaps understand my emotion if I share with you that I am the widow of Jose Figueres. Shalom. 

Karen Olsen de Figueres
Former first lady of Costa Rica


The Wonders of Cuba

What a wonderful article on tracing family roots to Cuba (“Cuba: Land of My Bubbe,” July 26). I was so moved after my first visit to the Jewish community of Cuba that I co-founded CHAI Missions, a nonprofit Jewish organization dedicated to humanitarian effort with a focus on Cuban Jews. We are now excited to be taking a group this coming November to share this amazing experience. Visit chaimissions.org for an insight on what a Jewish mission to Cuba looks like.

Randi Glasman Simenhoff
via jewishjournal.com

 

Thank you for such a wonderful piece by Isabel Kaplan on her family history. I recently traveled to Cuba and visited both Jewish cemeteries in Guanabacoa. There is so much more to see and discover about the Jews of Cuba. I just can’t wait till my next trip.

Yael Gadiela Gillette
via jewishjournal.com


Charedi Too Powerful

David Suissa grossly understates the problem and seems unaware of the enormous power Charedi leaders crave and have over their beknighted minions (“Charedim Need More Judaism,” July 26). Nothing will change until Charedi women are fed up with their plight and declare enough is enough.

JJ Gross
via jewishjournal.com


Gender Equality

I agree that pretending genders do not matter in life has gone too far (“Do Men and Women Matter?” July 19). However, I cannot follow your leap that this is the root of LGBTQs engaging in loving relationships outside of the male-female coupling. LGBTQs are different genders. I believe we should have six gender choices: male, female, gay male, gay female, female-to-male transsexual, male-to-female transsexual. All are different and distinct, and each should be entitled to equal rights and treatments under the law. The writers of the Torah, with their divine influence, had not yet recognized this fact.

Alex Romano
via jewishjournal.com

Dennis Prager responds: Mr. Romano writes that “we should have six gender choices.” He has well articulated the progressive ideal that I described in my column.

 

The war is on to destroy the gender constructs that made our marriage culture possible and the subsequent family unit that it produces, which is the very foundation of a strong and moral society. We are wandering into uncharted territory.

We look to Europe and secular societies in Asia and the trend is the same — people are choosing to forgo marriage and procreation.

Why have a child if it keeps you from pursuing your passions? Why have a child if it keeps you from going out every night with your friends or from traveling the world?

Europe’s demographic collapse is even more severe when you then notice that each passing generation favors smaller and smaller family sizes. These reinforcing mechanisms, compounded by the passing of time, creates a culture that is antithetical to the family unit.

But what happens when, in addition to their secular-inspired, anti-family preference, they then drop gender constructs altogether? It will only escalate both their irrelevancy and their disappearance from humanity as well as the gene pool. We truly are wandering into uncharted territory.

There is a part of me that wants these people to take their dumb ideas with them to the grave. But their collapse will be destructive to our survival, especially when their ideas have also impregnated the minds of many Americans. The vacuum they leave will be the cause of much chaos and cruelty. We are between a rock and a hard place.

Howard Fines
via jewishjournal.com


Free Speech Not Free

Well, free speech bit the dust here (“In Orthodox Community, Offensive Billboard Taken Down,” July 26). Between America and Israel, it seems the Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox and Charedi have a limited capacity to control themselves and need the secular world’s help. Enough already!

Suzy Lenkowsky Krikorian
via jewishjournal.com


Correction

An article about BTS Communications (“Second Chances at Beit T’Shuvah’s Creative Company,” July 26), a project of Beit T’Shuvah, incorrectly stated that it had received a $250,000 grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. It was from the Jewish Community Foundation as part of its Cutting Edge Grants program, paid out over three years, not four as the article stated.

Univ. of California president defends Farrakhan appearance on campus


University of California President Mark Yudof defended Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s right to speak at the university’s Berkeley campus.

Farrakhan’s speech Saturday was billed as being about black empowerment, but was also peppered with anti-Semitic and hate speech, students told The Daily Californian student newspaper.

A petition circulated after the speech by Jewish student leaders, which opposed Farrakhan’s speech and character, but not the Black Student Union’s right to bring him to campus, garnered more than 350 signatures, the student newspaper reported.

“Louis Farrakhan is a provocative, divisive figure with a long history of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic speech,” Yudof said following the speech, which was part of the Afrikan Black Coalition Conference. “It was distressing in the extreme that a student organization invited him to speak on the UC Berkeley campus.”

“But as I have said before we cannot, as a society or as a university community, be provoked by hurtful speech to retreat from the cherished value of free speech,” Yudof said.

The remarks come two days after Yudof condemned the disruption of an event on the University of California, Davis, campus featuring two visiting Israeli soldiers.

“I condemn the actions of those who would disrupt this event. Attempting to shout down speakers is not protected speech,” Yudof wrote in an open letter.

Opinion: Are haters hiding behind free speech?


Imagine a college student being subjected to verbal abuse, being spat at, and being the focus of harassment because of their gender, religion, national origin, race or simply because of their political beliefs?

Recently, college students on many campuses across the country were once again subject to such harassment and intimidation due to a hatefest known as “Israel Apartheid Week” that has become an international, annual event. Anyone walking through the heart of campus was confronted by a barrier of offensive signs, such as depictions of Jews as bloodthirsty barbarians intent on harming innocent Palestinian women and children, or photos of 13-year old Anne Frank wearing a kefiah (the headscarf worn by Yasser Arafat); one might even have encountered event organizers laughing about the Holocaust. Needless to say, such sentiments have been the basis for anti-Semitic attacks and pogroms for generations.

University administrators facing this issue, to date, have been unable to intervene, because such acts of hatred may be protected by free speech. One young Jewish woman, Jessica Felber, a former student at UC Berkeley, who chose to challenge the status quo, filed a Civil Rights lawsuit against UC Berkeley in federal court alleging that, due to her political views, “…certain individuals and organizations have repeatedly exceeded the boundaries of free speech, engaging in conduct that amounts to harassment, intimidation, threats…both on Sproul Plaza and elsewhere on the Berkeley campus…”

This past December, the presiding judge, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg, from the northern district of California, while addressing one of the issues of the lawsuit wrote, “As offensive as spitting at someone may be, it very well could constitute protected, expressive conduct, depending on the precise circumstances…”  What are Judge Seeborg’s “precise circumstances” in which spitting at someone is acceptable? And even if it is a legally protected act, is this the atmosphere that we want to nurture on our college campuses?

Under the constitution, a university is legally obligated to protect free speech. That is a given, especially significant at a university such as Ms. Felber’s alma mater, UC Berkeley, where the free speech movement was born in 1964. At that time, on the very same steps of Sproul Hall, students led by Mario Savio and others sought the right to express their political activism. Ultimately they persuaded the university to change its rules, and the steps of Sproul Hall have been the scene of free political expression ever since.

The spirit of those times fomented a breakthrough in how Americans are able to freely express themselves. Where is that same spirit today when it comes to challenging hate? The shift in policy was never intended to provide a breeding ground for the harassment of students because of their identity. Jessica Felber claims that, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the university should have protected her from such a hostile environment. As a result of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s discussions with UC President Mark Yudof, we know that he is well aware of the complexities of this issue – the conflict between free speech versus hatred run rampant.

What is society prepared to do about the evolving ethos that permits hateful forms of expression to hide behind free speech rights?


Rabbi Aron Hier is Director of Campus Outreach for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles.  July Hodara is a graduate of UC Berkeley and an intern for Campus Outreach.

Letters to the Editor: OneLA, Free Speech, High Holy Days


The health care issue

The recent OneLA Healthcare Summit would have been more relevant if those from the single-payer movement — e.g., Health Care for All (HCA), Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) — were included (“Fighting to Preserve Obamacare,” Sept. 30). The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a euphemism for reform, is generating ever-higher premiums even before it is fully implemented in 2014. AB 52 is also not the answer. The bill is complex and burdensome with countless exclusions and required fiscal information from both the applicant and health insurer. The premium hike trigger is 10 percent (15 percent for individuals). The health insurer is very good with numbers and can “doctor” financial statements to its advantage. AB 52 will not help if the premium rate hike is 9.9 percent (14.9 percent for the individual). If invoked, the bureaucratic delays work for the insurer and against the consumer.

We do not need more layers of bureaucracy now but a concerted, organized effort for single-payer by the faith-based community and everyone else. OneLA needs HCA, PNHP, unions and the general public to effect the changes we all desperately need. Single-payer will force the government to control the exorbitant premiums, hospital expenses, and drug and medical supply prices as is the case in all other democratic nations. 

Dr.  Jerome P. Helman
Venice


Why Happiness Matters

I’m an avid reader of Prager’s columns because I so rarely, if ever, agree with his weltanshauung, but this time he hit the nail spot on.

His message about happiness being an inside job was a terrific reminder about choice and responsibility (“For a Happy New Year, Here’s What to Do,” Sept. 30). I even go along with his idea that happiness is a moral obligation because projecting a sense of well-being and joy is in itself infectious.

Occasionally, a column from The Jewish Journal will be cut out and placed in one of the family prayer books. Months later, I rediscover it, so I revisit the gifts of such greats as Yehuda Lev, Marlene Adler Marks and Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. I’ve saved nearly half a dozen of Rob Eshman’s over the years. Now, I am very happy to be able to add this Prager column to the collection.

Josie Levy Martin
Santa Barbara


What Is ‘Free Speech’?

In “Avoid Zero-Sum Thinking” (Sept. 30), David Myers argues that the conviction of Muslim students for their “premeditated … shout[ing] down” of the Israeli ambassador’s speech is “the criminalization of free speech in Irvine.” Suppose a group of students who disagreed with Myers’ political positions entered his office and screamed slogans in his ears while he was typing the piece, thereby preventing him from finishing his article? Suppose these students, by prior agreement among themselves, stood up in one of his classes at UCLA and shouted continuously so that Myers couldn’t carry on teaching? Would Myers defend their “right” to do so on the ground that to prevent them would “criminalize free speech in Westwood”?

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles


Middle East Relations

Your readers might not be aware that another Holocaust museum was opened under the auspices of a Muslim in Nazareth (“Holocaust Truth Is Told on Muslim Soil,” Sept. 30). Khaled Mahameed opened the museum at his own expense in order to show empathy for the Jewish experience in the hope that it would contribute to the peace process. Can Israelis and American Jews reciprocate by no longer denying the pain of what the Palestinians call the Nakba — the catastrophe — that they felt when Israel became a state, whether or not we concur with their narrative? 

Gene Rothman
Culver City


Horowitz Freedom Center Ad

While reading the High Holy Days issue of The Jewish Journal (Sept. 30), I was appalled to come upon the hate-filled advertisement from The David Horowitz Freedom Center calling President Obama “The Most Anti-Israel President in American History.” Mr. Horowitz may be of this opinion, but for The Journal to include such a tirade, filled with numerous inaccuracies and statements bordering on the slanderous, in the issue between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is unconscionable. During this time of thoughtful reflection, repentance and forgiveness, The Journal should not dignify such hateful rhetoric by including it in its pages. I realize that The Journal seeks to include all opinions, but it has a duty to see that those opinions, when presented as “truth,” are vetted or at least countered.

Barbara Bilson
Santa Monica

CORRECTION

An article on Reboot (“10Q Project: Answer Life’s Big Questions Online … Then Reread Next Year,” Sept. 30) gave an incorrect title for Amelia Klein; she is the acting executive director of Reboot.

Free speech on campus


Free speech and radical Islam


At a lunch last year celebrating his 25th anniversary with Jyllands-Posten, Kurt Westergaard told an anecdote. During World War II, Pablo Picasso met a German officer in southern France, and they got into a conversation. When the German officer figured out whom he was talking to he said:


“Oh, you are the one who created Guernica?” referring to the famous painting of the German bombing of a Basque town by that name in 1937.

Picasso paused for a second and replied, “No, it wasn’t me, it was you.”

For the past three months Westergaard and his wife have been on the run. Westergaard did the most famous of the 12 Muhammad cartoons published in Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 — the one depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban (above).

The cartoon was a satirical comment on the fact that some Muslims are committing terrorist acts in the name of Islam and the prophet. Tragically, Westergaard’s fate has proven the point of his cartoon: In the early hours of Tuesday morning Danish police arrested three men who allegedly had been plotting to kill him.

In the past few days, 17 Danish newspapers have published Westergaard’s cartoon, which is as truthful as Picasso’s painting. My colleagues at Jyllands-Posten and I understand that the cartoon may be offensive to some people, but sometimes the truth can be very offensive. As George Orwell put it in the suppressed preface to “Animal Farm”: “If liberty means anything, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Sadly, the plot to kill Westergaard is not an isolated story, but part of a broader trend that risks undermining free speech in Europe and around the world. Consider the following recent events: In Oslo, a gallery has censored three small watercolor paintings showing the head of the prophet Muhammad on a dog’s body, by the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has been under police protection since the fall of 2007. In Holland, the municipal museum in The Hague recently refused to show photos of gay men wearing the masks of the prophet Muhammad and his son Ali by the Iranian-born artist Sooreh Hera; Hera has received several death threats and is in hiding. In Belarus, an editor has been sentenced to three years in a forced labor camp after republishing some of Jyllands-Posten’s Muhammad cartoons. In Egypt, bloggers are in jail after having “insulted Islam.” In Afghanistan, 23-year-old Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh has been sentenced to death because he distributed “blasphemous” material about the mistreatment of women in Islam. And in India, Bengal writer Taslima Nasreen is in a safe house after having been threatened by people who don’t like her books.

Every one of the above cases speaks to the same problem: a global battle for the right to free speech. The cases are different, and you can’t compare the legal systems in Egypt and Norway, but the justifications for censorship and self-censorship are similar in different parts of the world: Religious feelings and taboos need to be treated with a kind of sensibility and respect that other feelings and ideas cannot command.

This position boils down to a simple rule: If you respect my taboo, I’ll respect yours. That was the rule of the game during the Cold War until people like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Andrei Sakharov and other dissenting voices behind the Iron Curtain insisted on another rule: It is not cultures, religions or political systems that enjoy rights. Human beings enjoy rights, and certain principles like the ones embedded in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights are universal.

Unfortunately, misplaced sensitivity is being used by tyrants and fanatics to justify murder and silence criticism. Right now, the Organization of Islamic Countries is conducting a successful campaign at the United Nations to rewrite international human-rights standards to curtail the right to free speech. Last year the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution against “defamation of religion,” calling on governments around the world to clamp down on cartoonists, writers, journalists, artists and dissidents who dare to speak up.

In the West there is a lack of clarity on these issues. People suggest that Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen and Kurt Westergaard bear a certain amount of responsibility for their fate. They don’t understand that by doing so they tacitly endorse attacks on dissenting voices in parts of the world where no one can protect them.

We need a global movement to fight blasphemy and other insult laws, and the European Union should lead the way by removing them. Europe should make it clear that democracies will protect their citizens if they say something that triggers threats and intimidation.

Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Jyllans-Posten, is writing a book about the challenges of free speech in a globalized world. This essay originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Who is Roger Diamond?


Put yourself in the shoes of this Jewish man. You’re a lawyer representing the interests of a strip club called Skins, which has been in a long, drawn-out battle with the city and neighborhood groups to operate their club at the southern tip of the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, several blocks from Hamilton High School.

It’s a cold Monday night in late January, and you are facing about 600 angry people — residents, parents, neighborhood activists, teachers, a few rabbis — who have gathered in the Hamilton High auditorium to express their outrage. The battle has come down to the wire: This will be the final town meeting before a decision is made in a few weeks on whether Skins is entitled to get a permanent police permit.

I arrive early and find a seat in the front row. The atmosphere reminds me a little of what it felt like when I arrived early at a boxing match in Las Vegas: people milling around, conversations kept short, security guards asking loud questions, a reporter in the corner interviewing someone who looks important, people rushing to get seats�” and everyone expecting fireworks.

The official who chairs the meeting starts by summarizing the people’s concerns about having a strip club in their neighborhood — risk of drugs, prostitution, gang violence, traffic congestion, etc.�” and then invites Roger Diamond, the lawyer representing Skins, to respond.

It’s one man against 600.

In his rumpled beige suit, Diamond walks over to the microphone. His eyes are intense and defiant. He starts by raising a couple of legal technicalities, which doesn’t go over well with the audience. Then, a few feet from where I’m sitting, he starts to strip.

That’s right, he starts to strip.

He throws his suit jacket to the floor, and as he starts taking off his shirt — to the loud gasps and heckling of an astonished crowd and the repeated calls from the hearing officer of “You are out of order, Mr. Diamond!” — all I can think of is: My God, I’m in the middle of a Tom Wolfe novel.

After a few minutes, the heckling and boos got so loud that Diamond decides to stop before his trousers come down, but not before everyone saw what is on his T-Shirt: the logo of Hamilton High, where he graduated some 45 years ago. Diamond was trying to make the point, he told us, that when he attended that very same high school, there was a lot of discrimination against people who were “unpopular,” like blacks and gays. Strip clubs might be unpopular, he shouted, but what makes America great is that it protects the rights of everyone, even the tasteless, the vulgar and the unpopular.

His words had no effect on the hostile audience, except to precipitate his concluding remarks — namely, that his client had followed every regulation in the book and that the negative effects of the strip club were grossly exaggerated.

His strange performance did have an effect on me, though, so a few days later, I tracked him down in his old-school, cluttered office on Main Street in Santa Monica.

I got to know a quirky, passionate Los Angeles native who never dreamed he’d become a counsel to skin merchants nationwide and the reviled bête noir of neighborhood groups everywhere.

Diamond, who graduated from UCLA Law School in 1966, stumbled on the adult industry when he was engaged in a one-man crusade against air polluters in 1969. While employed at a major law firm, he filed, on his own, a class-action suit against 294 smog-producing companies such as General Motors, Texaco and Union Carbide. Because some of the companies were clients of his law firm, this created a conflict and he had to quit his cushy job and go off on his own. At the time, he and his wife had one daughter and his wife was pregnant with their second child.

Looking to pay the bills, Diamond’s secretary showed him an ad in the L.A. Free Press for “a young aggressive attorney” needed to “fight an injustice.” It was for an adult bookstore owner in East Los Angeles being prosecuted for a misdemeanor battery. Diamond took the case, fought it all the way to the State Supreme Court and won. That started his career in the adult world.

But while he was making a name for himself defending some of society’s unseemly elements, he never stopped fighting for his pet causes. For 20 years he successfully fought off-shore oil drilling; he helped get the state’s first propositions to ban indoor smoking on the ballot in 1978 and 1980; and he wrote the Clean Environment Act, which was voted down in 1972.

While we were sitting in his legal library, Diamond, a trim, youthful-looking 66-year-old who comes to work in sneakers, kept jumping from his seat to pull out another book of records from the Appellate Courts, either to prove a point or show me the numerous precedents he’d helped establish. His passion for legal complexities was no less than what I’ve seen with talmudic scholars.

After three hours of absorbing his fascination with legal rights and the protection of the environment, I couldn’t resist asking him if he saw a contradiction in his work, since one can easily argue that strip clubs contribute to a different type of pollution — that of the mind.

I don’t think he appreciated my question, but he finessed it by saying that we have a choice in life to keep our minds clean or polluted, but we cannot choose whether or not to breathe polluted air. His focus on the tangible and his deep faith in the first-amendment right of free speech might lead you to believe that Diamond doesn’t give much weight to things like speech pollution.

But when I asked him if there was something in his youth that presaged his interest in defending the unpopular, he recalled a homely looking Jewish kid in grade school named Jerry Solomon. Everyone in school would torment Solomon by calling him “Horseface.”

Everyone, that is, except for his only friend: Roger Diamond.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Over-clamor over Coulter’s comments


Almost a decade ago, James Gleick observed that “the acceleration of just about everything” was going to have less than sanguine impacts on how the traditional news cycle filters events. What used to take weeks now takes days or hours. It’s been less than a week since Ann Coulter made her unfortunate remarks to Donny Deutsch on CNBC’s “The Big Idea,” but the frantic back and forth of blogging, e-mailing, and TV commentary has already somewhat died down. Certainly the din has stilled sufficiently that a few observations can be safely made.

The online release of the video — mere hours after the event but well after pundits had already pecked out odes to their own indignation — mostly confirmed that Deutsch is either overly enamored with taking offense or that he is the single most obtuse human being on cable news. Personally we’re leaning toward the former, if only because that field is already so crowded.

The video makes clear that Coulter — at worst — was doing the rhetorical equivalent of an exasperated eye roll. She had made an off-handed comment about Christianity. Deutsch had gone into paroxysms so severe that he eventually ended up comparing her to “the head of Iran” who says “let’s wipe Israel …” Deutsch actually meant to compare her to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is very much not the head of Iran, but what’s a little ignorance when one is fully engaged in the moral exhibitionism of feigned outrage? Coulter did the only thing that anyone can do when confronted by hysterics grounded in willful misinterpretation — she sarcastically congratulated Deutsch on cracking her plan and invited him to church so she could convert him.

The left-wing Media Matters site had the transcript online in admirable time. The blurb on their press release jumped from Coulter’s humorous description of New York as heaven to her sarcastic concession to Deutsch that he had figured out her plot. In a neat example of plausible deniability, Coulter’s repeated attempts to explain that “perfected” has a very precise New Testament meaning were left out of the blurb but kept in the fuller transcript. Coulter — desperately trying to genuinely explain her beliefs — had quickly unpacked “perfected” as theological shorthand for saying that Christians believe that they achieve salvation by believing in Jesus, while Jews have to do it by obeying the Commandments of the Old Testament. In addition to being an admirable attempt to soothe unintentional offense, this explanation also had the upshot of being obviously true.

The National Jewish Democratic Council outdid even Media Matters with their sound bite: “While Ann Coulter has freedom of speech, news outlets should exercise their freedom to use better judgment.” That’s funny, because we were saying the same thing about Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia not a month ago — and from what we remember, the left’s response was that we were being un-American by denying a non-American his non-existent Constitutional rights. American citizen Ann Coulter is out of bounds, but Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial apparently contributes to public dialogue.

There are at least three other salient political and stylistic differences between Coulter and Ahmadinejad. The most important is that he’s a genocidal anti-Semitic bigot committed to an apocalyptic Islamic eschatology and she’s not any of those things.

The next is that she’s a biting satirist, while we’ve always found his prose overworked and plodding.

And finally, Coulter believes that “Jews go to heaven.” She explained that “Falwell himself said that, but you have to follow laws.” In addition to raising the possibility that Christians really are endowed with extra patience — we certainly couldn’t stomach explaining the same trivial theological point to Deutsch over and over again — we suggest that this represents a meaningful difference between her and Ahmadinejad.

Underneath this manufactured scandal is a genuine issue of religious and cultural sensibility. The attacks on Coulter combine the worst elements of pedantic liberal sophistication: the banality of multiculturalist tolerance, the humorlessness of scolding identity politics, and the blubbering of righteous indignation. It’s the shallow beginning and the myopic end of the belief gap. Her liberal opponents take their own fashionable, spineless detachment from the world — “believing too much in something is so unsophisticated.” They follow it to its logical conclusion of vapid multiculturalism, where asserting passionate belief is an attack on some incredibly fragile Other — “believing too much in something is intolerant.” It’s a tic with these people. “Tolerance” serves as everything from a catechistic defense mechanism to an empty catchphrase attached to anything liberals like (antonym: “neoconservative”). They can’t help themselves.

This is bad for a country and bad for a religion. Its only result can be the pathetic oversensitivity of fragile insecurity, which in turn generates genuine intolerance. This point was made earlier this year by Rabbi Jacob Neusner. In the Forward, he insisted that people of good will must “meet head-on the points of substantial difference” between Christians and Jews. Of course Christians think that Jews are unperfected Christians. Of course Jews think that Christians are wayward Jews. How could that not be the case? And how can a person who’s confident in their faith find that offensive?

Normally we’d write off Coulter’s attackers as disingenuous leftists trying to even the score after Democratic military guru Wesley Clark blamed the Iraq war on “New York money people” and the left’s anti-war base was repeatedly photographed carrying signs like “Nazi Kikes Out of Lebanon.” But what we can’t understand is why Jews are helping them compare Coulter to actual genocidal maniacs. Sure, it demeans Coulter for no reason — and that should weigh on the consciences of good people. But it also elevates Ahmadinejad, turning him from a pathological, genocidal maniac into just another guest on just another insipid news program. It de facto brings him and his positions into the spectrum of public debate. And for that, Coulter’s attackers on the left and their silent partners on the right should be ashamed of themselves.

Omri Ceren is not technically in love with Ann Coulter, but he would not decline sharing with her an evening of rowdy drinking. He is a doctoral student studying rhetoric at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and can be contacted at omri@mererhetoric.com. His blog, Mere Rhetoric, focuses on American, Israeli and international controversies in the context of the global war against political Islam. It can be read at

Mating Call or Terrorist Revenge?


A new weapon may have emerged in the Palestinians’ battle against Israel — the "siren call."

In several ads in New York’s Village Voice newspaper, Palestinians — or people posing as Palestinians — solicit romantically available Jews or Israelis to take them "home" to Israel.

"You stole the land. May as well take the women," reads one ad. "Redhead Palestinian ready to be colonized by your army."

Another makes a similar point: "Shalom baby! Hot Palestinian Semite gal hoping to find my perfect Israeli man. Let’s stroll the beaches of Akka and live and love in Jerusalem. No Fatties."

Some Jewish leaders say the unusual barrage of ads — at least 18 in the one February issue — is some kind of publicity stunt. Others fear a more serious ploy to infiltrate Israel and realize the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to homes they fled in Israel.

Still others remember the incident last year when a Palestinian woman struck up a cyber-romance with an Israeli teenager to lure him to Ramallah, where he was murdered.

Kenneth Jacobson, associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said that before Sept. 11, he might have dismissed the ads as a gimmick. Now he’s a little more skeptical. "It’s as if some in the Palestinian world [may be looking for] ways to begin to inject more and more Palestinians into Israel proper," Jacobson said.

For its part, the Village Voice said this was the only phone call they received about the ads, and that the advertising department would "review the ads in question," said the paper’s public relations director, Jessica Bellucci.

"We feel they don’t raise any red flags," she said, but "we’re going to continue to monitor [them] and then take appropriate actions necessary."

That could mean pulling ads if they are fraudulent.

Jacobson said the ADL hasn’t received many calls on the ads, but after Sept. 11, "When we see something we might dismiss as ludicrous, today we have to give it some due attention, because we know crazy and dangerous things have happened and can happen again," he said.

Ido Aharoni, spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York, said the ads are a "kind of guerrilla P.R. warfare that" reflects negatively on those who placed them.

Yet, he doesn’t think the ads warrant further concern.

"I don’t think it’s serious. I don’t think it’s for real," Aharoni said. "Here’s a relatively inexpensive way to reach hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers."

In addition, he noted, such ads are protected under the First Amendment’s free speech provisions.

Bellucci of the Village Voice said the paper sees "trends from time to time" in the personal ads that may highlight religion, for example, or sexual orientation.

The Palestinian ads are "in keeping" with the background and interests of the Voice’s diverse readership, she said.

Free Speech or Harassment?


When UCLA librarian Jonnie Hargis this month sent out an e-mail to everyone on the library’s list, he had no idea the chaos he’d cause on campus.

Hargis wrote in his e-mail that United States taxpayers "fund and arm a state called Israel, which is responsible for untold thousands upon thousands of deaths of Muslim Palestinian children and civilians." He ended his message with: "So, who are the ‘terrorists’ anyway?"

Library officials promptly suspended Hargis from work for a week without pay because his e-mail was in violation of university library policy, which prohibits unsolicited messages containing political, religious or patriotic messages to be sent to library department lists.

"Your recent e-mail, which was distributed to the entire unit, demonstrated a lack of sensitivity that went beyond incivility and became harassment," Lorraine Kram, head of reference and instructional services at the library, wrote Hargis in her letter of suspension: "Your comments contribute to a hostile environment … for your other co-workers."

The incident brought to the forefront the issue of free speech on campus.

A student backlash broke out, and the eruption also became an impetus for further anti-Israel sentiment. Angry students wrote letters to the Daily Bruin denouncing Hargis’ suspension and supporting his views on Israel.

"Many people in the United States over the years have been persecuted for expressing displeasure with the United States aiding and abetting the Jewish State," wrote student Tom Moran. "This is just one more example of the spiteful campaign against anyone who dares to tell it like it is about Israel," he wrote.

As UCLA students tried to make sense of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the administration, during a UCLA memorial service, urged students to refrain from blaming ethnic communities and discriminating against them. While discrimination against the Muslim and Arab American populations at UCLA was mentioned in particular, verbal attacks on the Jewish population and the policies of the United States toward Israel also received attention.

UCLA for some years has been a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment and activity, escalating last year with the start of the al-Aksa Intifada. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) held a weeklong student government-sponsored anti-Zionist campaign offering propaganda that equated Zionism with racism, hatred and murder. Billboards all over campus gave statistics on Palestinian death tolls and compared Israel to apartheid South Africa. Despite protests from UCLA’s Jewish population that these rallies — paid for by student money and upheld by student government — were not only anti-Zionist but anti-Semitic, nothing was done because of free speech issues.

This year, MSA has been quiet on the topic of Israel, concentrating instead on hate crimes directed toward Arabs and Muslims, and generally keeping a low profile. Hillel at UCLA, which usually responds to anti-Israel propaganda from the MSA by promoting educational programming and holding discussions on the situation in Israel, does not anticipate much anti-Israel activity, says its director, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller.

That situation is mirrored nationwide. "Hillel directors at universities throughout the United States report a quieting of anti-Israel rhetoric in recent weeks," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently reported.

Bruins for Israel, an advocacy group associated with American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), plans to address the issue of anti-Israel sentiment on campus this year by trying to educate students. Bruins plans a pro-Israel week and hands out fliers daily to help Jewish students become knowledgeable enough to respond to anti-Zionist propaganda.

While instances of anti-Israel activity are not nearly as abundant as those in previous years, the question arises: At a public university, where should the line between free speech and discrimination be drawn?

UCLA has always and without exception strongly upheld the right of free speech, said Albert Carnesale, UCLA’s chancellor. "Academic freedom is a bedrock of education in a free society. Through open debate, discourse, and study, more speech, not less, is a way in which all views may be explored and argued," Carnesale said.

The suspension of Hargis prompted many UCLA students to feel that free speech was under attack, while others believed the suspension was necessary in order to end discrimination and make the university a safe place for all.

Carnesale said, "It is my hope that the faculty and staff at UCLA will encourage discourse among those groups who seem to be at odds with one another. It is through discussion and debate that our understanding of one another will allow us to create an environment of both welcome and safety for all of our students."

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