About those city resolutions and university administrator statements …

Should mayors, city councils and school chancellors take stances on the war in Gaza?

We are lucky to live high in the mountains of Colorado, a bit over an hour’s drive to Denver, just over three hours flight time to Washington, D.C., and about 14 and a half hours to Jerusalem by plane. Despite the distance, serious issues in these places – matters such as the Israel-Hamas war that trouble people in those cities — trouble us. We care a lot.

But should our local officials take a stand on that war, casting votes that suggest that their views represent the views of most of us? And, beyond sending a message – one way or another– to Washington, D.C., do resolutions at their meetings do anything beyond making proponents feel good? Are they anything more than empty gestures?

In many places around the country, pro-Palestinian organizations have called on local government leaders to back their demand for a ceasefire in Gaza, winning support in at least 48 cities, including Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and Seattle. By contrast, leaders in at least 20 communities have passed resolutions condemning the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7th, with a handful more calling more broadly for peace.

Recently, the Denver City Council hosted a heated debate about a proposal to issue a proclamation calling for a ceasefire. Hours of public testimony were logged as citizens loudly made their voices heard. The mid-February proposal failed by an 8-4 vote.

A few days later, the council in Boulder shot down a similar proposal, with only two of the nine members urging it to be put forward. Both councils parted company on the matter with folks in Glenwood Springs, whose council members some days earlier unanimously endorsed a call for a ceasefire, becoming the first city in Colorado to do so.

Now, in today’s local paper, the Summit Daily News, a letter-writer called on officials in our neighborhood to press for a ceasefire. “Ending the killing should be a no-brainer,” writer Birrion Sondahl argued. “The least we can do in Summit County is call for an end to the killing.”

But is international policy and the conduct of other nations – even the actions of officials in Washington, D.C. — really within the purview of people elected to deal with issues such as local development, homelessness, municipal finances and even the proverbial potholes?

Source: Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

As Aaron Brockett, mayor of most-progressive Boulder, argued, don’t councils have enough on their plates already?

“We have so many huge problems right here in our town of Boulder, Colorado, dozens of people living out on our streets, people dying in traffic violence on a regular basis,” Brockett said, as reported by the Boulder Reporting Lab. There are “any number of major local problems and issues where the nine of us can have a very direct and immediate impact. And I feel that that is what we need to focus on as a council.”

Another council member, Matt Benjamin, concurred. “As Mayor Brockett pointed out, we have people dying right now in this community,” Benjamin said. “A lot of them,” he added, before referencing the homeless and formerly homeless people who died in Boulder County last year.

In their stances, the Boulderites agreed with editorialists at The Denver Post, who lambasted the failed local proclamation and others like it. They argued: “All of these resolutions and proclamations are misguided wastes of precious time that would be better spent on the business these legislative bodies can actually change.”Further, the Post writers noted that the war in Gaza has split local residents, saying debating such a proclamation “only deepened those divisions.” They added: “All of this would be worth the public pain and the precious time of our elected officials if it were going to do more good than harm, but this drop in the bucket will neither convince Hamas to release the remaining hostages nor soften Israel’s stance on bombings that have killed thousands of Palestinians.”

Chicagoans demand a ceasefire, source: Scott Olson/Getty Images via Prism

Just how divided are we? In Chicago, the city council vote in January on a resolution calling for a ceasefire was split 23-23 when Mayor Brandon Johnson cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of what Politico oddly called a “nonbinding resolution.” Indeed, who could be bound by it? The status of the resolution shows how impotent and pointless it is.

Such resolutions are reminiscent of the stances leaders of many universities took in the fall, with many condemning Hamas for its atrocities. As The Washington Post reported, Rabbi Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University in New York, argued that college presidents have a moral obligation to speak out. He circulated a statement about the war, headlined “We stand together with Israel against Hamas.” The statement also expressed solidarity “with the Palestinians who suffer under Hamas’ cruel rule in Gaza and with all people of moral conscience.”

I quite agree with the rabbi’s view of Hamas, a loathsome and murderous organization that needs to be stamped out, and it’s entirely reasonable for the leader of a Jewish university to take such a stance. I applaud him for doing so and I echo his views. Indeed, condemning terrorism is truly a no-brainer (though the Summit Daily News letter-writer pointedly didn’t do so).

But do leaders of public universities or private schools with no religious or community affiliation have such an obligation to offer condemnations (much as they may rightly feel the need to speak out against wanton murder)? Do their comments – one way or the other – do anything beyond alienating some members of their faculty and some students?

It’s one thing for faculty members to write open letters, perhaps differing with other faculty members. Indeed, as teachers and opinion-shapers on their campuses, faculty members should take stances. But it’s another thing for administrators to jump into the fray, pretending to speak for all their university constituents.

New York Times opinion writer Pamela Paul recently cited comments that Diego Zambrano, a professor at Stanford Law School, made at a conference on civil discourse at the California school. “What, he asked, are the benefits of a university taking a position? If it’s to make the students feel good, he said, those feelings are fleeting, and perhaps not even the university’s job. If it’s to change the outcome of political events, even the most self-regarding institutions don’t imagine they will have any impact on a war halfway across the planet. The benefits, he argued, were nonexistent.”

All that such statements do is “fuel the most intemperate speech while chilling moderate and dissenting voices,” Paul wrote in paraphrasing Zambrano. Moreover, “In a world constantly riled up over politics, the task of formally opining on issues would be endless.”

Such statements, she noted “ask university administrators, who are not hired for their moral compasses, to address in a single email thorny subjects that scholars at their own institutions spend years studying. (Some university presidents, such as Michael Schill of Northwestern, have rightly balked.) Inevitably, staking any position weakens the public’s perception of the university as independent.”

Northwestern University President Michael Schill, source: The Daily Northwestern

In October, Schill actually condemned the “abhorrent and horrific actions of Hamas,” saying they were “clearly antithetical to Northwestern’s values — as well as my own,” according to The Daily Northwestern. “Whatever we might feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our shared humanity should lead us all to condemn these barbaric acts.” But he also maintained that in attending a vigil organized by Jewish students to mourn lives lost in the war, he did so as an individual, not on behalf of the University.

In public universities, administrators who take stances on polarizing matters – whether dealing with politics or social issues – could jeopardize their jobs and school funding.

To be sure, it sometimes is necessary and relevant for them to take stances and it takes courage to do so: at the university where I taught for 14 years, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, former Gov. Pete Ricketts and few legislators drove out a superb chancellor, Ronnie D. Green, because of his support of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Even so, budget cuts followed, as conservative legislators sought to punish academics there whom they see as too liberal.

As budgets were slashed, Rodney Bennett, who succeeded Green, bowed to the will of his political overseers, moving to cut $800,000 from the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services, against the will of many on the faculty. Conservative politicians in many states have similarly pressured school officials to quash efforts at expanding diversity, equity and inclusion, a bête noire of the right.

We’re all entitled to our views on such campus affairs, as well as local, national and international matters – and those views will differ. So can the Summit County Board of Commissioners reflect my views on Gaza along with those of the county’s other 31,000 or so residents? And should it try to? I suspect it would fail miserably, and we are awash in plenty of issues it would be better off attending to. Leave global policy issues to those who can make a difference on them and let us each have our own takes on such matters.

Is the war on Hamas a hijacking of the Holocaust?

Israel’s battle for survival is no Hollywood production

Jonathan Glazer, source: Getty Images via Vox

No one doubts that the warfare in Gaza is horrific. The deaths of innocents are monstrous. But did a speech at the Academy Awards by Jonathan Glazer, the Jewish and English director of the Holocaust film “The Zone of Interest,” serve in any way to bring that awful bloodshed to a reasonable and enduring end?

In tortured and confusing language, Glazer lambasted Israel for “an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza. All the victims of this dehumanization. How do we resist?”

Noting that his German-language film showed where dehumanization leads at its worst, he suggested that Judaism and the Holocaust were being “hijacked” by that occupation, saying he and his fellow filmmakers “refute” such an expropriation.

But is the battle against Hamas really such a “hijacking?” Is it, in fact, rather a battle for the survival of the state of Israel against a group that would kill far more Jews than the 1,200 murdered on Oct. 7th, given the chance? In that sense, isn’t the fight against a repeat of the Holocaust?

For that matter, is the fight against Hamas really a fight, as well, for Palestinian innocents who would rather not have this ISIS-like group running their lives? For Palestinians in Gaza who have lived under the group’s thumb for nearly two decades?

Depending on his meaning, Glazer may have been correct in one respect: it is not within the psychology, the religion and the tradition of Judaism to dehumanize people, much less to kill noncombatants. Every human life is invaluable, Jews are taught, and the shedding of innocent blood is forbidden.

However, the monstrousness of Hamas – as demonstrated on October 7th, in the group’s ongoing imprisonment of hostages, and in its perverse and suicidal interpretation of Islam – has made it all but impossible for Israeli soldiers to avoid killing innocents. Israel faces a terrible choice: it either vanquishes Hamas or it will see the end of Israel, if not now then in time.

And the problem is that Hamas so immersed itself in Gazan society, since it was elected in 2006, that rooting it out has led to the deaths of thousands of innocents. The group burrowed into the social fabric in much the way it tunneled into the geography of the land, controlling all aspects of life in Gaza, from the medical establishment to all governing entities. Its grip has been reminiscent of the Nazi hold on Germany – a grip that took in even innocent Germans and that gave us WWII.

In the face of that burrowing, Israel’s military has done what it could to avoid civilian casualties, telling people to evacuate from areas that were to be attacked. Hamas stopped many from doing so, no doubt driving up the death toll.

In this, Israel has behaved far differently than some of its neighbors. For instance, the leader of Syria in 1982, Hafez al-Assad, killed tens of thousands of fellow Arabs in besieging the rebellious city of Hama as he sought to exterminate the Muslim Brotherhood (ironically, the philosophical parent of Hamas). The bloodletting led New York Times journalist Tom Friedman to coin the term “Hama rules” to describe the Syrian regime’s savagery.

It is possible that the death toll in Gaza will top the 25,000 believed to have been killed in Hama and may already have. But we may never know the true cost. The reported numbers of Palestinian deaths – more than 31,000 at this point – are suspect, as a Wharton statistics professor has argued.

Deaths reported in Gaza, source: Tablet

Wharton Prof. Abraham Wyner, in a piece in Tablet, contends that the amount of regularity in the figures the Hamas-controlled ministry reports shows that the “numbers are not real.” By plotting out recent reported tallies, he shows that a “graph of total deaths by date is increasing with almost metronomical linearity.”

Rather than the steady ascent of figures that we’ve seen, there should be daily variations and the lack of them suggests that Gaza authorities are fabricating their numbers, Wyner maintains. Moreover, he contends that the numbers of women and children killed – based on an estimate of 70% of the overall tally –are overestimated.

“Most likely, the Hamas ministry settled on a daily total arbitrarily. We know this because the daily totals increase too consistently to be real,” Wyner writes. “Then they assigned about 70% of the total to be women and children, splitting that amount randomly from day to day. Then they in-filled the number of men as set by the predetermined total. This explains all the data observed.”

In all wars, it’s been long observed, truth is the first casualty – a military maxim attributed to ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. And in the Israel-Hamas war, Hamas weaponizes reported “facts” to build sympathy around the world — including in Hollywood. As many commentators have observed, the climbing death tolls serve the group’s propaganda ends (see here and here for a couple commentaries). And, pathetically, the group’s lack of value for human life seems based in its perverse interpretation of Islam: its glorification of martydom.

Wyner says the true death figures may never be known. Even the Gaza health ministry admitted in November that the collapse of the health system and the numbers of bodies buried in rubble made it unable to count the dead precisely. The actual figures could be higher or lower.

Indeed, the Gaza ministry’s own numbers suggested in January that the daily counts then were shrinking. As The New York Times reported late that month, the “number of Gazans dying each day ha[d] fallen almost in half since early December and almost two-thirds since the peak in late October.” The newspaper attributed the decline to a reduction in Israeli troops and a shift in military tactics.

Whatever the actual number, the toll in death, injury and destruction is unquestionably awful. If Israel mounts a major move on Rafah, as expected, and if Palestinian civilians are unable to find safe harbors, the number could climb anew.

Source: Combating Terrorism Center at West Point

Tragically, the deaths of thousands of civilians are not unprecedented. Along with Hama, consider the WWII firebombing of Dresden (perhaps 25,000 deaths, perhaps more) and, worse, the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (perhaps 214,000 deaths together). With some justification, Israel’s defenders have argued that it’s hypocritical for the world to accept that such tallies from WWII were tolerable in destroying the Nazi and Japanese military regimes, but not in Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas.

Supporting the Israeli military view, Wyner maintains that Israel is doing much to prevent civilian deaths. “By historical standards of urban warfare, where combatants are embedded above and below into civilian population centers, this is a remarkable and successful effort to prevent unnecessary loss of life while fighting an implacable enemy that protects itself with civilians,” he holds.

That may be so. But one has to wonder how much misery it will take for Hamas’ murderous mentality to be extinguished, much as Naziism was almost entirely stamped out in Germany. Can the awful bloodletting that Glazer suggested he couldn’t stomach give way to some sort of peaceful coexistence someday?

It is a tragic irony that Israel, in continuing to try to eliminate Hamas, is doing the group’s bidding in killing civilians, in creating “martyrs” the group can showcase to the world. And yet, does Israel have much choice? Can the Glazers of the world not see the bind that a terrorist group — one no other nation would tolerate — has put Israel in?

Can Noise Give Way to Civility?

An exploration of the limits of free speech

Source: Democracy and Me

One my favorite legalistic maxims goes like this: my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. The idea, of course, is that we all have a marvelous amount of freedom in the U.S. – much more than in many other countries — but we also must live amongst others. And that “living amongst” part means our individual freedoms go only so far; they are not unlimited.

In physical terms, the limits are easy to define. Along with not having the unfettered ability to toss our hands about, we can’t drive the wrong way down a one-way street. We can’t run naked through our neighborhood, no matter how entertaining that might be for some folks. No matter how much we like the Stones, we can’t blast loud music at all hours in most communities. And we can’t, of course, shout fire in a crowded theater.

But when the subject is intellectual freedom, what are the boundaries? When does one’s ability to argue, to question or to demonstrate cross a line into harassment or intimidation? And what ideas or values are simply beyond the pale, too extreme to tolerate even on a college campus dedicated to academic freedom? When do noxious notions become the equivalent of shouting fire?

Since the atrocities of October 7th in Israel, we have heard much shouting, particularly by pro-Palestinian groups at campuses nationwide. We have also seen efforts to suppress or to contain such outpourings, in part because administrators fear violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires schools to provide all students an environment free from discrimination based on race, color, national origin or shared ancestry.

The noise has grown since the federal Department of Education on Nov. 7 issued a letter reminding schools of their obligations under the law. The DOE has also launched a bevy of investigations, including into a slew of K-12 districts around the country and at least 44 universities and colleges for alleged violations of that law. The allegations include incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia, often as a result of demonstrations that make Jews or Arabs feel threatened.

Source: Harvard Gazette

Indeed, at Harvard dueling investigations have been spurred by students or alumni who feel aggrieved. The DOE on Feb. 6 announced an investigation into whether the university failed to protect Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students and their supporters from harassment, threats and intimidation. This came on the heels of probe announced in November alleging that the school failed to respond to antisemitism on campus.

The Muslim Legal Fund of America filed the complaint that generated the early February inquest on behalf of more than a dozen anonymous students. A lawyer for the group told The Harvard Crimson that the students complained of “negative treatment by both the administration and Harvard officials as well as fellow students on campus.” The most common complaint was that students were verbally abused for wearing a keffiyeh, a scarf that has become a symbol of advocacy for Palestinians.

“When they simply walk around campus wearing the keffiyeh, they have been verbally attacked, they have had things thrown at them,” the lawyer said. “They have had students and others accuse them of being terrorists for what they’re wearing.”

On the flip side, the department’s investigation begun in the fall followed a complaint by several alumni that Harvard failed to protect students from antisemitism. And separately, a group of students at the school sued on Jan. 30 in federal court, alleging that Harvard “has become a bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.”

As the lawsuit describes it, Harvard seems like a hellish place.

“Mobs of pro-Hamas students and faculty have marched by the hundreds through Harvard’s campus, shouting vile antisemitic slogans and calling for death to Jews and Israel,” the suit says. “Those mobs have occupied buildings, classrooms, libraries, student lounges, plazas, and study halls, often for days or weeks at a time, promoting violence against Jews and harassing and assaulting them on campus. Jewish students have been attacked on social media, and Harvard faculty members have promulgated antisemitism in their courses and dismissed and intimidated students who object.”

While the lawsuit maintains that Harvard refused to “lift a finger to stop and deter this outrageous antisemitic conduct and penalize the students and faculty who perpetrate it,” in fact Harvard has created two presidential task forces to combat Islamophobia and antisemitism on campus. In a wrinkle curious because of its academic freedom overtones, one task force is co-chaired by Derek J. Penslar, who heads the school’s Center for Jewish Studies and who became a lightning rod for critics who damn him as too critical of Israel. Ironically, Penslar’s book “Zionism: An Emotional State,” was named a finalist for the 2023 National Jewish Book Award by the Jewish Book Council, and he was widely defended by scholars and rabbis.

Setting up task forces to develop policies to curb Islamophobia and antisemitism has become a common first step at several campuses. But some schools have also taken aggressive action — action that troubles free-speech advocates.

MIT, Source: The Times of Israel

As reported by Inside Higher Ed, MIT, Stanford and Brown, for instance, have all cracked down on pro-Palestinian actions that they said flouted university rules. MIT, along with several other schools, recently suspended student groups for failing to follow rules about protests and Stanford quashed a 120-day sit-in on a campus plaza by first threatening disciplinary action and then by agreeing to talk over the student concerns. At Brown, 19 students taking part in a weeklong hunger strike for Palestine claimed that university officials removed “memorial flags” and washed away chalk messages at recent gatherings as they urged the university to divest its endowment from arms manufacturers.

The question this raises is: just what is acceptable speech and action on campuses? Where does one draw the line?

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression takes a maximalist view: “The mere expression of an opinion — however repugnant — is always protected. The authority to regulate ‘hate speech’ — an inherently vague and subjective label — is a gift to those who want an excuse to stamp out views they personally detest. FIRE knows from its long history defending free speech on campus how often both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian debate face censorship under this rationale. The target simply depends on who holds power at a given time and place.”

But when does free expression slip into harassment and intimidation? Some cases seem clear. For instance, at the University of Denver, religious items affixed to student doorposts – mezuzahs – were recently torn down from couple dorm rooms and one was defaced. Those are incidents of vandalism, not matters of acceptable expression, and the school administration deplored them. At one dorm there, moreover, pork, which observant Jews shun, was left at a student’s door – a clear case of harassment, it would seem.

Is that the same, however, as people marching and carrying banners that decry the deaths of members of various groups, whether Jews or Palestinians? Should it be illegal to stand up for one’s group, even loudly? And if those marches make members of one group or another feel threatened, should such feelings be the test? Is the freedom to speak one’s mind in an academic setting a value to be protected, regardless of whether it discomfits some students?

Surely, some expression can go over the line. For instance, would any responsible university tolerate students marching with Nazi banners? Indeed, would any tolerate marches with explicitly pro-Hamas or pro-ISIS imagery? The advocates for Palestinians seem mostly to avoid such sentiments as they instead protest “genocide”  or call for ceasefires or an end to the killing in the Israel-Hamas war. Sadly, they often seem ignorant, though, about how phrases such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” are calls for the eradication of Israel.

As Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University, contended in a recent U.S. News and World Report commentary, “Students can and should debate important matters like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the ethics of war in civilian areas.” Disagreeing, protesting and robustly exchanging ideas are appropriate, he suggested.

Still, as Rabbi Dr. Berman also noted, it would be useful to have “moral clarity” about the war on the agenda at campuses all across the U.S. Making his point, he argued that those who protest for a “free Gaza” should also want it free of Hamas. “In fact, being clear about this distinction could actually help calm campus waters and enable more productive conversations,” he maintained.

Certainly, defenders of Israel will agree that the nation has the right to quash a terrorist group whose barbarism is on par with that of ISIS or other similar groups. Indeed, that may be where well-informed faculty need to step up and educate those who are doing much of the shouting.

Of course, such schooling won’t end disagreements. If education could “calm campus waters” such that civil discussion can replace shouting, we’d all be better off. Sadly, however, at a time when many are dying, emotions are understandably running hot. And that makes free speech difficult.

“People are unrealistic when they say, ‘We want free speech, we want debate, we want difficult conversations,’” legal scholar Randall Kennedy recently told The New York Times. “But then we want all smiles.”

Source: The Philadelphia Citizen

Indeed, the arguments over free speech are slipping into debates over academic freedom, which has come under threat from conservative politicians such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. As the Times noted, DeSantis “has led the passage of laws that restrict what can be taught and spearheaded efforts to reshape whole institutions.”

As the newspaper reported, the Israel-Hamas War has upended longstanding campus arguments over whether conservative voices and ideas were being suppressed. Now, it seems, liberal defenders of Palestinians are making the case that they are being muzzled.

“Some ask why, after years of restricting speech that makes some members of certain minority groups feel ‘unsafe,’ administrators are suddenly defending the right to speech that some Jewish students find threatening,” the paper wrote. “Others accuse longtime opponents of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts of cynically weaponizing those principles to suppress pro-Palestinian views.”

Still, academic freedom, too, must have limits. Such freedom, some note, depends on expertise and judgment – and is not just the right to say whatever one wants. As legal scholar Robert C. Post put it, free academic inquiry depends on the notion that “there are true ideas and false ideas,” and that it is the job of scholars to distinguish them.

The protests and, perhaps, the counterprotests will continue. Arguments over Islamophobia and antisemitism will rage, too, perhaps to be clarified by lawsuits and policies that various task forces can develop. One hopes that amid all the noise, education about truth and falsity can emerge.

What Will It Take?

How can the murderous ideology of Hamas be extinguished to let peace reign?

Source: Arab Center, Washington, D.C.

As the Hamas-controlled health authorities count the Palestinian deaths in Gaza, the latest figures total 28,775, an appalling tally that includes an unknown number of terrorists as well as men, women and children who have gotten in the way of Israel’s missiles and bullets. For their part, the Israel Defense Forces say they have killed some 11,000 Hamas members, in addition to 1,000 within Israel on the day this round of death began in the atrocities of October 7th.

Even allowing for wartime exaggeration and laid against the total Gaza population of 2.1 million people, the number of non-combatants killed in the Israel-Hamas War is loathsome. Add in the 1,200 innocent Israelis murdered when Hamas began these horrors – in the largest single terrorist attack since the state was established in 1948 – and the hostages taken by the terrorists, and one gets a sense of the enormous cost of this fight.

Now, as Israel plans to move in a major way on Rafah and some 1.4 million Palestinians try to flee this last bastion of Hamas, the world waits to see how much more bloodshed will occur. While many condemn these plans, the Palestinians cannot turn for help from fellow-Arabs in Egypt, who instead have shunned their embattled brothers and who plan to pen them into a concrete enclosure, should some break through the border. Surely, the behavior of the Egyptians is repugnant.

Of course, all these deaths – along with countless numbers of those wounded – must be blamed on Hamas. Israeli guns are delivering the devastation, but it was Hamas that knowingly and deliberately pulled the trigger with its savagery of early October. The murderous and suicidal group, a spiritual bedfellow of ISIS and other Islamist death cults, seems to take sadomasochistic delight in making victims of its own people and then proclaiming how it’s all Israel’s doing. The hypocrisy of Hamas and it supporters is mind-boggling.

As Israel plans to move forward in what could be a crucial turning point in the war – perhaps one that will lead to Hamas’s extinction as a military force – it’s difficult to remain level-headed and emotionless about it all. Innocents have been killed and more will be, even as Israel permits civilians to move out of harm’s way. How can one not feel for them? How can one not sympathize with widespread calls for a cease-fire, even if that were nothing more than dangerous naivete?

Sadly, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, the fight must go on. “There’s no defeating Hamas and freeing the hostages without turning to Rafah,” the paper’s editorialists write. “Hamas hasn’t been toppled if it still governs territory. Hamas hasn’t been destroyed if its four Rafah battalions remain intact. Hamas can’t be destroyed while it has access to the Egyptian border and control of the flow of aid at Rafah.” Israel must deliver final crushing blows if it is to render Hamas powerless, especially in the eyes of the Palestinians, who need to be liberated from it both as a source of vile ideas and as a governing force.

Mosab Hassan Yousef, source: National Post

I’m reminded of the words of Mosab Hassan Yousef, a son of a founder of Hamas, Hassan Yousef. After engaging in Hamas activities that landed him in an Israeli prison, the younger Yousef repudiated the movement and began to work with the Israelis. He was granted asylum in the United States in 2008, but recently sat down in Tel Aviv for a conversation with a journalist for The Free Press. His take on Hamas is revealing. The group, he says, has created a generation of “people willing to destroy themselves. . . to cause the most destruction possible.” 

His language is unsparing about the atrocities of early October. “I was surprised not by Hamas’s brutality, but by the scale of the event,” Yousef says. “There is no human language that can describe the evil that took place on October 7. And that’s not just a war crime. It’s not just killing. It’s a genocide.” 

What makes such evil possible, asks The Free Press? The answer lies in the hate-filled beliefs that Yousef’s father helped spread. “Jihadists think that they are the sword of God on Earth,” Yousef says. “That they are actually manifesting the punishment against the Jewish people for being disobedient.”

This perverse ideology is one I saw in would-be recruits to ISIS in Minneapolis. These young Somali Muslim men, whose tales I recount in the book “Divided Loyalties,” yearned for martyrdom in Syria. They saw themselves as noble warriors defending innocent Muslims against various enemies, including the United States, and in their misguided religious zeal and post-adolescent immaturity they saw themselves as earning Paradise for themselves and their families. Like Hamas, they seemed to value death more than life.

In the case of some of the Somalis, it took the deaths of some of their friends and relatives in Syria – deaths that made their post-adolescent fantasies all too real — as well as stiff prison terms of up to 35 years, to change their minds.

The troubling question is, what will it take to destroy the bankrupt ideas that animated Hamas? How can the intellectual toxin of Jew-hatred be eradicated among the Palestinians? How can it be replaced with a longing for peaceful coexistence between two peoples, each with legitimate claims to the land? How can it be succeeded by desires for the sort of tolerance and harmony that some 1.6 million Arabs living within Israel’s borders now have with Jews there?

Post-war Berlin, source: BBC

Some have argued that one should look to the model of World War II with the ways Nazis and the supporters of Japan’s aggression were dealt then. There, it took such monstrous efforts as the firebombing of Dresden and the leveling of Berlin and much of the rest of the country, as well as the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to convince aggressors that they had been vanquished. Further, it took the Marshall Plan and long occupations of both Germany and Japan to pacify the people, to bring them into places where they would become the valued citizens of the world they are today. De-Nazification and its equivalent in Japan brought Germans and Japanese into civilization again.

It’s monstrous to think that something akin to that sort of destruction would be needed now in Gaza and in other Arab areas near to Israel. As many as 8.8 million Germans and 3.1 million Japanese died in WWII, and no one could stomach such numbers again, even figures proportionate to the smaller Palestinian population. It’s estimated that some 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, with the couple million in Gaza. What will it take to change the minds of those among them who support Hamas and kindred groups? Will 30,000 deaths make a crucial difference? Will that turn Palestinians away from the group that has brought them such devastation, so much suffering?

Even with many thousands of Hamas fighters dead, the U.S. estimates that up to 80% of their ranks remain. Will the capture of Rafah shrink that number dramatically? Will the survivors come to the senses and will they turn on their leaders? Will the battle of Rafah convince those remaining to lay down their arms, as German and Japanese soldiers did after their defeat? Certainly, we cannot expect the self-destructive leaders of Hamas to quit and Israel will likely not settle for anything less than their deaths.

In time, though, installation in Gaza of a government that includes peace-minded Palestinians and other Arabs – along with the rebuilding to come with something like a modern Marshall Plan – will likely be more effective than more bloodshed. As New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman suggests, the participation of Saudi Arabia and the U.S. likely will be essential in this post-war effort. It will also take a change in the leadership in Israel, something that the failure of intelligence in the country on October 7th makes likely anyway.

It’s tough in the middle of a war to see a way out of it. When so many are dying and being maimed, it’s difficult to see through the ugliness. And yet, with the destruction of Hamas and the eradication of its un-Islamic and morally bankrupt ideology, progress will come. Much remains for Israeli and Palestinians alike to do first.

Ugliness on Campus

A deeper look at the Israel-Hamas war protests

Source: Harvard Crimson

As we all know, many colleges erupted in protests and counterprotests following the October 7th atrocities in Israel. Some universities in areas with substantial populations of Jews and Arabs, particularly Palestinians, slipped into violence from scuffles, thankfully minor in most cases. Members of both groups raised alarms about fearing to walk on the campuses or even attend classes because of the tensions and some people even sued about it.

While most schools seem to have settled down, as the war goes on and the new term wears on, it’s reasonable to expect still more unrest. Pro-Palestinian student groups, including reorganized unofficial ones that replaced those banned at some schools, were disrupting classes at Harvard as recently as last month. At best, we can hope the tactics of such groups remain peaceful.

As I’ve prepared for a Jan. 24 presentation about the campus reactions for the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, I’ve been struck by a few key points about these protests. Let me share a few:

First, it is stunning that the pro-Palestine students refuse to condemn Hamas, both for the vile attacks of October and for the group’s heartless approach to the innocents of Gaza. Even women have turned a blind eye to the savagery targeting Jewish women. Hamas knew, of course, that it was inviting the retaliation it has gotten, seemingly unconcerned and willing to treat its own people as welcome cannon fodder.

Source: Spectre Journal

Instead of protesting against the terrorists, the demonstrators seem to either ignore their monstrous actions and their perversions of Islam or to celebrate them. It’s one thing to stand up for one’s people — the innocents in Gaza caught in the crossfire — but it’s another to misplace the blame. It’s as if the demonstrators’ moral calculations are upside down. And we see absurdities such as LGBTQ community members defending Hamas, a group that would toss them from the highest buildings if they lived among them.

Source: Nemo

The moral inversion of these protestors is just as perverse as South Africa’s claim that Israel is guilty of genocide and its backwards arguments before the International Court of Justice. To argue that a nation defending itself against terrorism is intending to wipe out a couple million people even as the terrorists continue to hold that nation’s citizens hostage is obscene — especially when that nation, Israel, has repeatedly warned Gazans to leave Hamas-infested areas. Why is Hamas not on trial instead for its barbarism?

Second, I’m struck by how widespread the ignorance about the complex history of Israel-Palestine relations is, particularly among young people. When they chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” many don’t seem to realize that is a call for the eradication of Israel, that it is the ultimate in antisemitism. As a recent column in The Wall Street Journal noted, many of the students chanting this nowadays don’t even know what river or sea are being referred to.

In addition, ignorance about the Holocaust is extraordinary only 80 years after that monstrosity. One-fifth of U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 believe that the Holocaust is a myth, according to a poll by Economist/YouGov.

And, as the Israeli military has grown into one of the most powerful forces in the region, there’s also a peculiar underdog sympathy taking hold – one that affects Jews worldwide, not just in Israel. A Harvard-Harris poll in December reported that 44 percent of Americans ages 25 to 34, and a whopping 67 percent of those ages 18 to 24, agreed with the statement that “Jews as a class are oppressors.” By contrast, only 9 percent of Americans over 65 felt that way. This is concomitant with a rise in antisemitic incidents, including over 500 on campuses since early October.

Derek Penslar teaching about the Middle East, Source: Penslar via Inside Higher Ed

On the positive side, some schools have seen a surge in interest in courses dealing with the Middle East. Among these are Bard College, the University of Washington, and the University of Maryland. Even at Harvard, Derek Penslar, a professor of Jewish History, has seen substantial demand for a course he teaches, for instance. “The students who walk in my door are not necessarily the same ones as those who are in Harvard Yard screaming,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “More often than not, my students are curious, intelligent, and they usually do have a political view at one point or another. But they’re open-minded or else they wouldn’t bother taking my class.”

Third and finally, the problems on campuses are both short-term and long-term. In the coming few months, the challenges will be to allow for free speech — an essential part of a university experience — but also to assure student safety. Both Arab and Jewish students need to be able to feel physically safe and comfortable enough to have civil conversations inside and outside class. The war is ugly enough without bringing its effects here.

Longer-term, the challenge is for universities to teach more students — especially those most in need of knowledge — about the complexities of the Middle East and about the ugliness of antisemitism. One approach is to improve diversity, equity and inclusion programs to include mandatory sessions about Jewish and Arab history, much as they do now about Blacks and whites. After all, what is higher education about, if not education?

We’ll have a chance to look in depth at these issues in the upcoming FJMC webinar. It’s likely that this will be a sobering look, but an informative one, I hope.

Truth and Lies

Misinformation abounds in the Israel-Hamas war

Al Shifa Hospital, source: Haaretz

As Israeli forces move in on the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza, they and the world will soon learn whether their intelligence, corroborated by American information sources, is correct that the facility masks an elaborate underground Hamas command and control center. The denials by Hamas leaders about the site and their rejections of the charge that they use human shields – in this case, vulnerable patients – to protect their operations will either be validated or shown to be more disinformation.

But will the Arab world see or believe the reports? Or will it see what it chooses to see and is often fed, a nonstop parade of Palestinian victims in videos served up on CNN and other outlets? Will that world see mostly the propaganda shared by Qatari-owned Al Jazeera that, instead of displaying the savagery of October 7th in Israel, airs clips of Hamas terrorists nuzzling Jewish babies?

As The New Yorker so capably reported, much of the Arab audience is seeing heroic and compassionate fighters, as Al Jazeera displays them. In one oft-downloaded clip, the so-called “bismillah” video, a terrorist vigorously pats the back of a crying baby pressed against his shoulder—the same shoulder carrying his Kalashnikov.

“Another fighter, wearing a camouflage uniform, bandages the foot of an Israeli boy of toddler age, then puts the boy on his lap while jerking the crying baby back and forth in a stroller,” the magazine reported. “A camera zooms in on the confused face of the boy as an unseen fighter, speaking broken English, instructs him to repeat the Arabic word meaning ‘in the name of God.’ ‘Say bismillah,’ the fighter says. The boy complies, in a soft Hebrew accent.”

Experts quoted by The New Yorker derided such clips as ham-fisted propaganda. Michael Milshtein, a retired Israeli intelligence official, told the magazine that the bismillah video “demonstrates Hamas’s arrogance toward the West—that they think all Westerners are stupid, that, if they show images of these barbarian terrorists holding babies and hugging them, people in the West will say, ‘Oh, they are so sweet. We were wrong about them!’ It’s ridiculous.” 

But the cruel nonsense gains traction in much of the Arab world. Ghaith al-Omari—a former adviser to the Palestinian Authority and a longtime opponent of Hamas—told the magazine that such videos had convinced many Arabs that the group’s fighters, unlike ISIS, “are humane and respect Islamic laws of war.” He added, “It has resonated throughout the Arab world. This is now the line you see not only in Hamas media but in most Arab media, in Jordan, Egypt, and North Africa. The dominant narrative has become the narrative of Hamas.”

Indeed, to Palestinians and other Arabs, the crass video hit the target. “It was posted to Al Jazeera’s Facebook page for Egypt, and has been viewed more than 1.4 million times,” The New Yorker reported. “Nearly seventy-five thousand viewers have liked it, and nearly three thousand have left comments, many of them admiring. One commenter praised ‘the morals of the fighters of the Islamic resistance.’”

Much as American audiences can choose to view media that confirm their prejudices, the rest of the world can do so, as well. And a good part of that world isn’t seeing the truth – as best as honest journalists can discover it – but is getting propaganda, as best as Hamas and its supporters can craft it.

Misinformation abounds. The New York Times reported on how imagery from other wars is being widely circulated under headlines about the Israel-Hamas war, for example. “A heap of dead children swaddled in white, described as Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. (In fact, the children are Syrian and the photograph was taken in 2013.),” the Times recounted. “A young boy trembling in the dark, covered in a white residue and grasping a tree, cast as ‘another traumatized child in Gaza.’ (In fact, the video was taken after a recent flood in Tajikistan.)”

For the most part, major Western news outlets have been careful to check the imagery and information they get and they avoid publicizing it. However, some have been embarrassed by revelations that they employed photographers who were cheerleaders for Hamas. CNN and AP, for instance, used freelancer Hassan Eslaiah, who provided video from the October 7th attack, suggesting he went along for parts of the ghastly ride.

“He captured images of a burning Israeli tank and filmed the terrorist infiltrators entering Kibbutz Kfar Azza, as can be seen in a video,” according to National Review. In Arabic, Eslaiah said: “Everyone who were inside this tank were kidnapped, everyone who were inside the tank were kidnapped a short while ago by al-Qassam Brigades [Hamas’ armed wing], as we have seen with our own eyes.”

Hassan Eslaiah being kissed by a Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, source: TheWrap

After an image of Eslaiah being kissed by a Hamas leader was distributed by HonestReporting, a pro-Israel outlet, both CNN and AP cut ties to him. Earlier, The New York Times was outed for using the work of Soliman Hijjy, a photographer who had been fired by the outlet a while ago because he had praised Hitler on social media. It’s not clear if the paper still uses his work, as his last archived efforts came around the time his rehiring drew critical headlines. That work perpetuated the fiction that an Israeli missile had hit the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza.

Beyond such partisan efforts and misinformation, getting true representations is tougher in this war because of AI-generated imagery that goes beyond crude Photoshopped efforts. Reuters reported, for instance, about how a photo of Atletico Madrid fans purportedly displayed a giant Palestinian flag. It was a fake. Similarly, Reuters fact checkers turned up a false image of Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi holding such a flag.

Much of this is spread via social media, particularly on X, formerly known as Twitter. As RFA (Radio Free Asia) reported, a “verified user” on X falsely claimed that The Wall Street Journal had reported that U.S.-made bombs were dropped on Gaza’s AI-Ahli Hospital. This lie got nearly six times more views than the newspaper’s genuine tweet about the story earlier that day. (RFA is a U.S. government-funded news outlet whose Asia Fact Check Lab seeks to expose disinformation).

In Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, misinformation is rife. Voice of America, another U.S.-government information service, found that millions there watched a video on X entitled “Armed Hamas men infiltrate an Israeli music festival using a paraglider and launch a massive attack resulting in numerous casualties.” As VOA reported, the video was later revealed to depict Egyptian paratroopers flying over the Egyptian Military Academy in Cairo.

London Armistice Day March, source: Getty Images, via NPR

Given all the distortions, it’s no wonder tens of thousands came out on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, to march in London, calling for “Freedom for Palestine.” While police pegged the size of the crowd at 300,000, organizers claimed 800,000, likely another example of misinformation.

A day later, in Paris, a crowd estimated by police to total 105,000 marched with leading French politicians to decry the wave of antisemitism that has gripped France. The country has recorded more than a thousand incidents since October 7th, including the stabbing a Jewish woman in her home in Lyon. Antisemitic incidents have also occurred in Austria, Germany and Spain.

The raft of antisemitic incidents around the world gives the lie to the distinction some intellectuals make between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. How can slurs or physical attacks on Jewish institutions and on Jews be regarded as criticisms of Zionism, but not of Jews? They are one and the same.

As the Israel-Hamas war proceeds, sorting the real from the unreal will be an ongoing challenge. And, to defenders of terrorism, the facts may not matter much. They all too easily can rationalize away the existence of Hamas tunnels beneath apartment buildings and hospitals, perhaps seeing them as desperate measures by desperate people.

But it is sheer hypocrisy for the terrorists to prevent civilians from leaving areas when the Israel Defense Forces have told them to leave because of planned attacks. It seems the group values Palestinian deaths more than lives, seeing their own people as props in grisly propaganda.

Their lack of value for life in general is clear in documents found on the bodies of terrorists who attacked on October 7th. As The Washington Post reported, in one kibbutz town a dead terrorist carried a notebook with hand-scrawled Quranic verses and orders that read, “Kill as many people and take as many hostages as possible.”

Intelligence officials, piecing together tidbits such as that, have concluded that Hamas planned “not just to kill and capture Israelis, but to spark a conflagration that would sweep the region and lead to a wider conflict.” The group, apparently seeking just the sort of bloodshed now seen in Gaza, wanted “to strike a blow of historic proportions, in the expectation that the group’s actions would compel an overwhelming Israeli response.”

It is all rather sadly reminiscent of the title of a book about jihadists in Britain published a few years ago. The title: “We Love Death as you Love Life.” The quote hails from interviews given in 2014 by a pair of Hamas leaders: Muhammad Deif said: “Today you [Israelis] are fighting divine soldiers, who love death for Allah like you love life, and who compete among themselves for Martyrdom like you flee from death.” And Ismail Haniyeh said: “We love death like our enemies love life! We love Martyrdom, the way in which [Hamas] leaders died.”

Is Free Speech Really Free?

Taking stances can cost one a job

Doxxing truck, source: Harvard Crimson

As anti-Israel forces on and off campuses continue to protest, some employers are launching counterprotests of their own – firing or refusing to hire those who go public with pro-Palestine stances. The trend reflects an unsettling truism about free speech: it may be anything but “free,” as speakers have to live with the consequences.

Take, for instance, the cases of two global law firms – New York-based Davis, Polk & Wardwell and Chicago-based Winston & Strawn. Davis Polk revoked job offers to three law students at Columbia and Harvard because they were leaders in student organizations that had backed letters blaming Israel for Hamas’s savage Oct. 7 attacks. Similarly, Winston & Strawn revoked an offer to an NYU student, the former president of the school’s University Bar Association, who had written a message to the group, saying “Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life.”

Neil Barr, chair and managing partner of Davis Polk, told The New York Times that the firm did not want to employ anyone who endorsed the Hamas atrocities.

“The views expressed in certain of the statements signed by law school student organizations in recent days are in direct contravention of our firm’s value system,” the firm said in a statement. To ensure that “we continue to maintain a supportive and inclusive work environment, the student leaders responsible for signing on to these statements are no longer welcome in our firm.”

Davis Polk noted that in two of the cases, it was considering reversing course and hiring them because they said they had not endorsed the criticism of Israel. The letters blaming Israel for Hamas’s attack did not include individual names. It’s not clear what the law firm knew or didn’t know about the students, other than that they were leaders in the group or groups that backed the statements.

Ryna Workman, source: ABC News

As for the NYU student who lost an offer at Winston & Strawn, that person has doubled down on the criticism of Israel. Ryna Workman, who appeared on ABC defending Palestine and criticizing Israel, was caught on camera covering up posters of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas with pro-Palestine signs. Appallingly, Workman repeatedly ducked questions about whether she – or “they” as Workman prefers – had any empathy for Israeli victims.

Workman was ousted by NYU law school Dean Troy McKenzie as head of the student bar association. Other members of the group had quickly distanced themselves from Workman, saying they mourned “the tremendous loss of human life,” while sidestepping any specific condemnation of Hamas. Subsequently, all members of the association quit, saying they feared for their safety, and the group disbanded.

As many American business leaders remain horrified by the Hamas atrocities, some say they will refuse to hire students who take stances similar to Workman’s. Some major Wall Street investors, including hedge fund chief William Ackman, have called on companies to blacklist members of groups that have taken pro-Hamas stances. Ackman, a Harvard graduate, also demanded that Harvard release the names of such students.

As reported by Forbes, Ackman tweeted that “a number of CEOs” approached him, asking for the student names to ensure “none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.” One CEO, Jonathan Neman of the healthy fast casual chain Sweetgreen, responded to Ackman’s post on X, saying he “would like to know so I know never to hire these people,” to which healthcare services company EasyHealth CEO David Duel responded: “Same.”

David Velasco, source: ArtReview

Still other outfits have canned those who refused to condemn Hamas or backed Palestinians. Artforum fired its top editor, David Velasco, after a call for a ceasefire, signed by thousands of artists, appeared on the publication’s website.

“We support Palestinian liberation and call for an end to the killing and harming of all civilians, an immediate ceasefire, the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and the end of the complicity of our governing bodies in grave human rights violations and war crimes,” the letter said.

As reported by ARTNews, a sister publication, Artforum publishers Danielle McConnell and Kate Koza in a statement wrote, “On Thursday, October 19, an open letter regarding the crisis in the Middle East was shared on Artforum’s website and social platforms without our, or the requisite senior members of the editorial team’s, prior knowledge. This was not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process. Had the appropriate members of the editorial team been consulted, the letter would have been presented as a news item with the relevant context.”

Velasco was fired soon after high-profile dealers, artists, and other signed another letter that referred to “an uninformed letter signed by artists who do not represent the artistic community at large,” ARTNews reported. This new letter, titled “A United Call from the Art World: Advocating for Humanity,” referred to the Hamas attack, but not to Gazans caught up in the warfare.

For his part, Velasco, who had worked at the publication since 2005 and served as editor since 2017, was unrepentant in comments in The New York Times. “I have no regrets,” he told the paper. I’m disappointed that a magazine that has always stood for freedom of speech and the voices of artists has bent to outside pressure.”

As the Times reported, the initial letter was widely condemned, drawing responses by figures in the art world. On WhatsApp, campaigns were organized to dissuade advertisers from working with the magazine.

Similar actions are occurring at other media outlets. The board of the British-based biomedical and life sciences journal eLife fired editor-in-chief Michael Eisen, after he praised The Onion for a satirical post headlined “Dying Gazans Criticized For Not Using Last Words To Condemn Hamas.”

As reported by NBC News, Eisen, who is Jewish and has family in Israel, posted that he had been fired “for retweeting a @TheOnion piece that calls out indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians,” he wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“I expressed my opinion, an opinion about the way that American institutions, especially universities, have been kind of not expressing equal concern for the deaths of Palestinians as they have Israelis, which I think is a moral mistake and a political mistake,” Eisen told NBC. “I don’t think that Israeli scientists should feel like the scientific community does not have their backs. The support has been very strong — I thought it was obvious. People don’t always express themselves well in these situations. I wish I made clear how I empathized with them, too.”

Similarly, PhillyVoice.com canned a sports reporter after he tweeted his “solidarity” with Palestine. The Philadelphia 76ers organization tweeted on X: “We stand with the people of Israel and join them in mourning the hundreds of innocent lives lost to terrorism at the hands of Hamas,” along with the hashtag #StandWithIsrael. As The Guardian reported, journalist Jackson Frank, who covered the team, responded: “This post sucks! Solidarity with Palestine always.”

And then there are the doxxing trucks. Operated by the group Accuracy in Media, these mobile billboards have shown up at campuses including Columbia, Harvard and Penn showcasing the faces of members of anti-Israel campus groups. The trucks are emblazoned with legends such as “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites.”

Adam Guillette, source: C-Span

While AIM leader Adam Guillette argues the trucks merely “amplify” information, they have drawn heat as amounting to harassment. The Harvard Hillel Jewish center “strongly condemns any attempt to threaten and intimidate” students who signed the letter, Harvard’s student newspaper the Harvard Crimson reported. And the University of California Berkeley law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky called the truck “despicable,” the New York Times reported. Columbia University president Minouche Shafik issued a statement before the latest truck appeared on the university’s campus, saying some Columbia students “have been victims” of doxxing, calling it a “form of online harassment” that will “not be tolerated,” according to Forbes.

Some demonstrators at Drexel and Penn universities covered their faces and declined to speak publicly, saying they feared being targeted by university officials or losing financial aid, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Some noted the doxxing trucks and pointed to a man filming demonstrators on his phone. A Penn alumna at the rally complained, “The surveillance, harassment, and intimidate of these young people is like no other.”

In the academic world, few would dispute that the free exchange of ideas – even noxious ones – should be free of punishment. Students, especially, should be able to speak their views and debate without fear.

However, employers are also free to shun those whose views they find reprehensible. The world off campus is a lot harsher.

As the New York Times reported, in another social media post, hedge fund manager Ackman said he was “100% in support of free speech.” But, he added, “one should be prepared to stand up and be personally accountable for his or her views.”

If Not Now, When?

Dissension on campuses over the Mideast makes for a teachable moment

Demonstrators at Columbia University, source: Getty Images via NBC New York

As backers of Israel and Palestine mount increasingly strident opposing demonstrations on campuses and angry donors withhold their funds, educators find themselves in a bind more difficult than anything they’ve seen since the Vietnam War. For university leaders and academics, the Mideast war raises troubling issues of free speech and the teaching of history, and matters of simple civility. It even poses threats of physical danger.

Consider Columbia University, which cancelled its annual fundraising campaign because of turmoil on the campus. An Israeli student suffered minor injuries on Oct. 12 after a young woman hit him with a stick, breaking a finger, when he approached her as she tore down posters of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas in its Oct. 7 assault. The university also closed its campus to the public because of competing rallies on its grounds.

The school drew international headlines when Columbia business school professor, Shai Davidai, on Oct. 18 delivered an impassioned video in which he decried the university’s president for failing to speak out against student groups that support Hamas. Davidai, an Israeli, said such groups look on his 2-year-old and 7-year-old children as legitimate targets in the war. “You can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine and anti-terror,” he said. “I know, because I am.”

On the same day, Columbia’s president, Minouche Shafik, appeared to strive for even-handedness in a statement:

“Unfortunately, some are using this moment to spread antisemitism, Islamophobia, bigotry against Palestinians and Israelis, and various other forms of hate,” said Shafik, an Egyptian-born British-American economist. “I have been disheartened that some of this abhorrent rhetoric is coming from members of our community, including members of our faculty and staff. Especially at a time of pain and anger, we must avoid language that vilifies, threatens, or stereotypes entire groups of people.”

While conspicuously avoiding any criticism of Hamas, she blasted so-called doxxing efforts, in which students have been shamed publicly for supporting statements that blamed Israel for the Hamas attack. A group recently drove a truck near the Columbia campus displaying the names and faces of such students on a mobile billboard. A similar truck had appeared near Harvard University and was condemned by the campus Hillel, among others.

Pro-Israel rally, source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Then there’s the University of Pennsylvania, where leading Jewish donors were first incensed about a Sept. 23 Palestinian literary conference that featured prominent antisemites and later were enraged at the administration’s slowness in condemning the Oct. 7 Hamas atrocities in southern Israel. University officials waited three days before issuing a statement calling the assault “horrific” and “abhorrent” – a reaction some donors regarded as too little, too late. Donors of tens of millions of dollars are now withholding funds and demanding that administrators resign.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Penn, Drexel and Temple University pro-Palestinian students on Oct. 25 rallied against what they argued was a lopsided pro-Israel atmosphere on their campuses. “Folks have to censor what they say,” a Drexel graduate student told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “They have to not speak about certain things because they’re afraid of how professors will react, they’re afraid of how the administration will react – and the reason this fear exists is because they’ve seen it happen to others.”

All this has been red meat for opportunistic politicians, who are calling for deportations of any students who support Hamas.

“In the wake of the attacks on Israel, Americans have been disgusted to see the open support for terrorists among the legions of foreign nationals on college campuses. They’re teaching your children hate,” former President Donald J. Trump said in a speech in Iowa. “Under the Trump administration, we will revoke the student visas of radical anti-American and antisemitic foreigners at our colleges and universities, and we will send them straight back home.”

Others parroted his sentiments. On “The Megyn Kelly Show,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that “any of those students who are here on visas, those visas should be canceled, and they should be repatriated back to their home country. That’s a no-brainer.” As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, he told a Fox News interviewer, “You don’t have a right to be here on a visa. You don’t have a right to be studying in the United States.”

Florida officials went even further. The head of the Florida state university system, Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, acting in conjunction with DeSantis, ordered campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine to shut down. Rodrigues’s letter said it was felony in Florida to support a terrorist organization. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, the University of Florida and the University of South Florida host such chapters, though other campuses may have chapters that are not recognized as official student organizations.

Ben Sasse, source: CNN   

Several university officials, particularly in Ivy League schools, have been criticized either for refusing to condemn the terrorists who attacked Israel on Oct. 7 or for doing so late. This came in stark contrast to an email to alums from University of Florida President Ben Sasse, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska, who earned national attention for his blunt reaction shortly after the attack.

“I will not tiptoe around this simple fact: What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism,” Sasse wrote. “This shouldn’t be hard. Sadly, too many people in elite academia have been so weakened by their moral confusion that, when they see videos of raped women, hear of a beheaded baby, or learn of a grandmother murdered in her home, the first reaction of some is to ‘provide context’ and try to blame the raped women, beheaded baby, or the murdered grandmother. In other grotesque cases, they express simple support for the terrorists.… This thinking isn’t just wrong, it’s sickening. It’s dehumanizing. It is beneath people called to educate our next generation of Americans.”

Sasse added that he expected anti-Israel demonstrations on campus, which he promised would be protected as a matter of free speech. And, indeed, pro-Palestinian students staged a walkout and demonstration on Oct. 25. During that protest, one man briefly tried to lead the chants, shouting, “Long Live Hamas,” the public radio station WUFT reported. But, as it reported: “The large crowd then became silent, with audible pushback coming from within the group. The man then left in anger.” An organizer said the man was not part of the event.

At some schools, such as Manhattan College and Fordham University, interfaith organizations have tried to bring pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students together to try to find common ground, an effort met with mixed results, according to Inside Higher Ed. Fordham’s Muslim Student Association, for instance, refused to take part in a vigil planned after the Hamas attack as a symbol of solidarity with Palestinians, arguing that there have been no such vigils for long-suffering Palestinians.

As Israel bombards Gaza and seems to be inching toward an invasion aimed at uprooting Hamas, competing passions on university campuses are sure to grow. They will test the ability of university leaders to be morally clear about such matters as Hamas’s savagery, as well as compassion for Gazans who have long suffered under the terrorist group and who now are suffering more as a result of its actions.

Indeed, the war sadly raises the need on campuses for better education about the Mideast conflict, a bloody story of two peoples with legitimate claims to the same land – much as either might deny the other’s claim. Well-schooled academics should refute Palestinian claims that Israel is a case of “colonization” by Jews, who after all have been in the land for millennia. But they also need to recognize and teach about the rights of Palestinians who should be able to share the land.

Some of the most illuminating views on the Mideast recently have come from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who touched on the campus demonstrations. He chided pro-Palestinian protesters for the “anti-colonial” pap they espouse, even as he criticized Israeli West Bank settlements that he has no use for. Friedman wrote: “These progressive demonstrators seem to believe that all of Israel is a colonial enterprise — not just the West Bank settlements — and therefore the Jewish people do not have the right either to self-determination or self-defense in their ancestral homeland, whether it’s within post-1967 borders or pre-1967 ones.”

“To reduce this incredibly complex struggle of two peoples for the same land to a colonial war is to commit intellectual fraud,” he wrote. “Or as the Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi put it in The Times of Israel on Wednesday: ‘To blame the occupation and its consequences wholly on Israel is to dismiss the history of Israeli peace offers and Palestinian rejection. To label Israel as one more colonialist creation is to distort the unique story of the homecoming of an uprooted people, a majority of whom were refugees from destroyed Jewish communities in the Middle East.’”

Ned Lazarus, source: WJLA

And then there are insightful scholars such as Ned Lazarus of George Washington University, an international affairs professor who had long worked for Seeds of Peace in Jerusalem. There, he promoted peaceful conflict resolution between Palestinians and Israelis, and he has since written extensively about Israeli-Palestinian peace-building efforts. He bemoans the loss of innocent lives in Gaza, but in clear-eyed fashion he fixes the blame for that squarely on Hamas.

In a recent Atlantic piece, Lazarus sadly wrote: “I don’t see how the cycle of hatred, killing, and suffering ends while there is a fundamentalist terrorist organization explicitly dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews—read its 1988 founding charter; the message is not subtle—equipped with legions of fighters ready to kill and die to achieve its goals, an arsenal of missiles, and a powerful state sponsor, Iran, that enables its violence and shares its explicitly genocidal agenda.”

The war is testing the rights of all on campuses to free speech, even when their arguments may be ill-informed, wrong-headed and blind to Hamas depravity. As the folks at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression put it, tearing down posters on campuses or otherwise stifling expression is misguided and unacceptable.

“While FIRE takes no stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we staunchly support free speech and oppose censorship in all its forms,” the group said. “In doing so, we oppose tearing down expressive materials and meeting speech with violence, no matter how upsetting public discourse or current events may be. Such tactics stifle debate and chill conversation, and they have no place anywhere in a free country, least of all on a college campus.” 

Unsettling as the campus protests are, they also present a teaching moment for anyone who cares about innocents on both sides and who cares about history and justice. Some may argue that now is not the moment; emotions are running high and raw. But, if not now, when?

When Journalists Write about Terrorists

What are the “rules of war” for media?

Alison Leigh Cowan, source: The New York Times

Alison Leigh Cowan, a veteran of BusinessWeek and The New York Times, puts the Times in the crosshairs this week for its coverage of Gaza. In an unsettling piece in Commentary, she cites a pair of “grave journalistic errors.” Noting she had spent 27 years as a reporter and editor at the paper, she observes that the outlet’s “brazen self-assuredness and moral blindness in moments like these is breaking my heart.”

The issues she raises are troubling ones for the Times, in particular, and for journalism in general.

First, Cowan blasts the paper for rehiring a freelance videographer, Soliman Hijjy, an admirer of Adolf Hitler. On Facebook, a few years ago, he had posted such messages as, “How great you are, Hitler.” As reported by National Review, he also posted a photo of himself in the Middle East with the caption: “In a state of harmony as Hitler was during the Holocaust.” That same year, the NR reported, he also said he was “in tune like Hitler during the Holocaust.”

Soliman Hijjy, source: New York Post

For such sins, the Times had fired Hijjy a year ago. But, desperate for someone who could file material from Gaza, the paper turned to him again after the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7 and it got what it asked for, sympathetic coverage from the Palestinian side. Hijjy’s work had been saluted in publications such as The Electronic Intifada, a Chicago-based outfit that has been described as a “cyberpropaganda” source for Palestinians. Presumably, the Times editors saw his pro-Palestinian work as balancing its other coverage.

Never mind that Hijjy was lambasted by Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan. Erdan derided the Times for spreading antisemitism through such hires: “The @nytimes has just rehired a NAZI. Let that sink in. Soliman Hijjy praises Hitler, and the NYT rehired him,” Erdan posted on X. “We all saw how the NYT immediately parroted Hamas’ lies regarding the al-Ahli hospital (which Hijjy contributed to) and still refuses to retract these fabrications.”

Indeed, the inaccurate Oct. 17 hospital explosion coverage — including the videographer’s efforts — reflects terribly on the Times and other media outlets influenced by it. It also draws Cowan’s fury and disappointment.

As she recounts, the Times issued an alert that day, citing the anything-but-independent Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza in saying “an Israeli strike hit the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, killing at least 200 Palestinians.” The paper repeatedly used the words “massacre” and “carnage,” Cowan noted.

The loaded language and mislaid blame helped fuel a furor in Arab world and undergirded Palestinian protests on campuses across the U.S. It sank a meeting between President Biden and Arab leaders.

Cowan criticizes the paper for updates larded with such potent terms. They characterized the “attack” as “staggering,” “horrific” and “devastating,” and a possible act of “genocide.” Hardly the neutral language the Times claims to prefer.

Then, too much later, came the corrections. A day after the blast, the paper added a correction to an update, saying: “An earlier version of this article described incorrectly a video filmed by a woman at the hospital after the blast. The hospital itself was not ruined; its parking lot was damaged most heavily in the blast.” 

Subsequent reports in the Times and elsewhere carried the news that U.S. (and Israeli) authorities had determined that the “strike” at the hospital was in fact the effect of a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket. Because it relied on Hamas, the early reporting was simply wrong. Of course, the damage wrought by the poor reporting had been done and Hamas had enjoyed a propaganda boon.

After that, it took the newspaper six days to issue its wan mea culpa. It published an editor’s note on Oct. 23, saying it had relied too heavily on Hamas sources, and didn’t make it clear that its information was unverified – i.e., it had run material without knowing it was true or not, a cardinal sin in journalism. In language far more subdued than the terms used in the hospital explosion reports, the note said: “Times editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation, and been more explicit about what information could be verified.” No apology, no statement of regret.

It may be that journalists can’t be expected to avoid taking sides in a war. That’s especially the case when they report on atrocities such as the Oct. 7 horrors committed by Hamas in southern Israel – events that truly deserve to be called massacres. If they have hearts, they can’t avoid being appalled by the ugliness, as Graeme Wood of The Atlantic was when he viewed video of the attacks that originated with Hamas and was then screen for reporters by the Israel Defense Forces.

Graeme Wood, source: The Atlantic

“The videos show pure, predatory sadism; no effort to spare those who pose no threat; and an eagerness to kill nearly matched by eagerness to disfigure the bodies of the victims,” Wood reported. “In several clips, the Hamas killers fire shots into the heads of people who are already dead. They count corpses, taking their time, and then shoot them again. Some of the clips I had not previously seen simply show the victims in a state of terror as they wait to be murdered, or covered with bits of their friends and loved ones as they are loaded into trucks and brought to Gaza as hostages.”

Were those videos propaganda by the IDF? Clearly, they didn’t originate with the Israelis and weren’t false. Certainly, such imagery reinforced the view that Israelis had been subjected to extraordinary viciousness. And certainly, the IDF released the assemblage of them – albeit only to journalists who were not allowed to record them with cameras – in hopes that the screening would engender support for the Israeli military actions to come.

But that’s not the same as the lies Hamas fomented over the hospital explosion. Tragically and disgustingly, the videos were genuine.

Journalists, especially those covering wars, need to walk fine lines. Thus, many avoid using terms such as “terrorist,” instead opting for the seemingly neutral “militants.” However, what should one reasonably call the Hamas “fighters” who conducted the Oct. 7 massacres? Clearly, those men murdered innocents and clearly they were using terror as their weapon of choice. Also, Hamas is regarded by the U.S. and other countries as a terrorist group.

Not surprisingly, the neutral language has drawn criticism. Rachael Thomas, a member of the Canadian Parliament, slammed the Canadian Broadcasting Company for failing to take sides against the horrors of Oct. 7 and for avoiding terms such as “terrorist.” Her demand for a review of the CBC’s coverage failed after some members argued – sensibly – that Parliament shouldn’t police what members of a free press do.

In fairness, war journalists have to be mindful of the language they use, as well as the stories they tell. Hamas, in particular, has a history of intimidating journalists who stray too far from their views of the conflict. The group’s tactics have in the past drawn condemnation from the Foreign Press Association. For their own safety, journalists have to strive toward neutrality, at least publicly.

Thomas Friedman, source: The New York Times

Even as many journalists develop sympathies, the best can be relied on to deliver true and accurate accounts and fair analysis. Journalist-turned-commentator Thomas Friedman supports Israel’s right to exist, for instance, but he also takes issue regularly with the country’s policies. Indeed, he fears that impending military action in Gaza by the IDF could backfire disastrously. And Bret Stephens lays the blame for the many deaths – recently and to come — squarely on the heads of Hamas, a conclusion that even Palestinian sympathizers would be hard-pressed to deny, if they are intellectually honest.

Both Friedman and Stephens offer their insights as columnists for The New York Times. Before becoming an opinion-writer, Friedman was a distinguished shoe-leather journalist covering the Mideast. For his part, before joining the Times, Stephens was a foreign affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor at The Wall Street Journal, where he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2013. From 2002 to 2004, he was editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

No Hitler-loving videographer could equal their work, of course.

Cowan acknowledges the good work of many war correspondents, but she also sagely warns about the dangers of swallowing inaccuracies any side might provide. “We all stand in the debt of courageous correspondents who pursue the most dangerous and searing wartime stories out there,” she writes. “But journalism’s warriors must stick to the facts and leave the making of propaganda to someone else.”

Does the Truth Matter?

In the Israel-Palestine conflict facts can be elusive and, maybe, pointless

Aftermath of attack on Al Ahli Hospital, source: Newsweek

In war, it’s said, truth is the first casualty. Indeed, the late journalist and professor Phillip Knightly wrote a book about misinformation in wartime that is must-reading for serious reporters. Given the Al Ahli hospital explosion in Gaza, his work is especially apt.

The explosion, which American and Israeli intelligence officials have persuasively contended was triggered by a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket, has been a PR bonanza for Hamas. Across that Arab world, Anti-Israeli forces rushed to embrace the terrorist claims that only an Israeli missile could have caused the disaster, dismissing Israeli counterclaims out of hand. Even as American intelligence sources confirmed those counterclaims, the fury has continued.

But the effects went well beyond the demonstrations. Several Arab leaders cancelled their planned meeting with President Biden, depriving everyone involved of a chance for face-to-face diplomacy that could have been helpful. Outside of Israel, the explosion also pushed into the background the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7, the killings of more than 1,400 people, where the terrorist group exulted in savagery unprecedented in the long conflict. The 199 people children, elderly and others taken hostage have all but disappeared from the headlines.

American media outlets are striving to verify the American and Israeli findings about the explosion. That is as it should be. Ever since the Pentagon Papers, at least, independent verification is essential, and skepticism is warranted. Persuasive as the latest evidence seems to be, checking is crucial, especially as misinformation has abounded in this war.

However, the sad reality is that the truth may not matter except, maybe, as a historical point of interest. Even if Islamic Jihad’s ineptitude was at fault, Israel’s critics will likely argue that the assault Israel has mounted on Gaza is the underlying cause and, thus, the blame falls to Israel. Of course, Israel would not be bombarding Gaza if not for the attack by Hamas to begin with, something the anti-Israel forces appallingly ignore.

The reality is that in the eyes of its haters, Israel can do nothing right. Indeed, they deny its right to exist. The fashionable argument, which appears all too often on Linked In, X and elsewhere, is that Israelis are just Western colonizers (an absurd but common contention in Palestinian academic circles in the U.S., one that ignores the long history Jews have had in the land).    

Source: WGN, Chicago

Moreover, the inability of Palestinian sympathizers to demonstrate even a shred of compassion for Israelis is simply stunning. The claims of some that they are rallying against “genocide” of the Palestinian people is obscene in light of a true genocide, the Holocaust.

It bears repeating that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have one purpose. That is to kill Jews (or at least drive them out of the land). And, staggeringly, they think nothing of sacrificing their own people as they pursue this. Thus, their efforts to discourage Gazans from evacuating areas Israel has said they should leave, reportedly even to the extent of blocking them. The heartlessness of the terrorists – much like that of ISIS – knows no bounds. Their misuse of Islam to justify their murderousness leaves one agog.

Tragically, many more people will die in this war on both sides. Israel seems determined to uproot Hamas and Islamic Jihad, perhaps through a ground invasion and, one hopes, a short-lived occupation. Even critics of the likely invasion, such as Thomas Friedman, implicitly acknowledge that replacing the terrorists with a legitimate government could be helpful (I would suggest essential).

Source: WFAA

Of course, the enormous question is, what comes after the terrorists are crushed or routed militarily? Who will run Gaza and care for its 2 million people, most of whom are innocents trapped in what critics understandably call an open-air prison? Certainly, Israel doesn’t want to be responsible for the place again. Indeed, if not for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Gaza would likely be a more open and accessible place, with arrangements such as that of the West Bank, whose residents can work in Israel. Since Israel left Gaza in 2005, Hamas has squandered any opportunity to build its economy and move toward peaceful coexistence.

Some observers, such as Bret Stephens, argue that moderate Arab regimes could replace the terrorists in overseeing Gaza. Indeed, given the overtures Saudi Arabia had been making toward Israel, the kingdom could play a powerful role there, along with Jordan and, perhaps, Egypt. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such nations rose to aid their fellow-Arabs? It appears that President Biden is thinking along those lines, at least in terms of the need to vanquish Hamas.

Even as Jewish-Arab strife enters its second century in and around Israel, it remains the case that wars do end in time – sometimes more quickly than one can imagine. Just look at Germany, Japan and the U.S. and the rest of Europe not so long ago. Is it Pollyannish to think that horrific ugliness Hamas has committed — and the response it is generating it — could ultimately lead to some sort of resolution? Might this battle over Gaza be a final one, or close to it? Might the innocents in Gaza get humane government?

First, though, a lot more ugliness is imminent. And it will be the media’s job to report on it – as fully, accurately and thoroughly as possible. That job involves sorting through inevitable misinformation and outlets such as the Associated PressReuters and The New York Times are doing their best to combat it. Fact-checking is necessary, but whether it makes a difference in hard-set public attitudes is arguable.