When Silence Isn’t Golden


The bias on college campuses among student groups and faculty who brand Israel as a pariah or “apartheid” state has reached a fever pitch following the recent conflict in Gaza. The problem hit close to home when a pro-Israel campus group recently cancelled the Saint Louis University appearance of Jacob Shrybman of the Sderot Media Center. The cancellation came on the heels of an event at DePaul University in Chicago at which Shrybman was reportedly escorted to his car by security personnel after protests became heated. The campus group at SLU, part of the StandWithUs organization, decided that it was unwise for Shrybman to appear at the campus because of potential anti-Israel demonstrations.


How low can things go? Shrybman is a resident of Sderot, the southern Israel town targeted by thousands of Kassam and Katyusha rockets fired by Hamas terrorists. These multi-year rocket assaults, which receive far less prominent coverage in the media than the Gaza incursion, form the rationale for Israel’s retailation against Gaza. And yet a resident and spokesman for that very town is pressured into silence rather than sharing his experience and perspective with a student audience.

The anger directed toward Israel, and the tendency to treat Hamas as a noble freedom-fighting organization, is epidemic on campuses today. Khaled Abu Toameh, a moderate Israeli Arab who frequently contributes to Israeli and American publications, titled his latest piece, “Are U.S. College Campuses Preparing the next Jihadis?” Toameh reports that during a recent visit to several university campuses in the United States, he “discovered that there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah, ” home of the Palestinian Authority.

Toameh goes on to report that he was told “that Israel has no right to exist, that Israel’s ‘apartheid system’ is worse than the one that existed in South Africa and that Operation Cast Lead (in Gaza) was launched only because Hamas was beginning to show signs that it was interested in making peace and not because of the rockets that the Islamic movement was launching at Israeli communities.” He added that on one campus he was “condemned as an ‘idiot’ because I said that a majority of Palestinians voted for Hamas in the January 2006 election because they were fed up with the Palestinian Authority.” Significantly, Toameh notes that the most viciously anti-Israel protesters and disrupters are not Arab or Muslim students, but members of fringe groups which single Israel out for hateful condemnation while they ignore the genocide in Darfur, or find a way to blame even that tragedy on Israel.

Such pro-Israel professors as Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School have been pelted with eggs or booed off of stages on several campuses in the United States. Adding to and compounding the anti-Israel hysteria are calls by such groups as the British Academic Union for all Western universities to fully sever any ties they might have with their colleagues on Israeli college campuses.

You have to ignore an awful lot of facts to advocate with a straight face the positions espoused by some of these radical groups. For instance, that Israel is a bastion of Western-style democracy in the Middle East; that almost two million Arabs live, work and recreate alongside their fellow Jewish Israelis; that the gender equality supported in Israel from the start is a pipe dream in a number of surrounding nations; and, of course, that Sderot and nearby communites had been pelted for years by rockets before Israel took the recent against against Gaza, whose residents had chosen a Hamas-controlled government.

Certainly any group is free to offer up any position it likes about the Middle East situation, as long as it does not advocate violence in furtherance of its views. But college campuses are supposed to be bastions of free speech, and efforts by any group to intimidate or threaten a school to deny a variety of viewpoints are both irresponsible and contrary to effective democracy.

Fortunately, our local universities, and a majority of American universities, have resisted such immoral pressures. A full-page ad, organized by leading university presidents and chancellors in The New York Times stated, “If you boycott Israel, boycott us.” The ad was signed by the chancellors of Washington University, the University of Missouri -Columbia and UM-St. Louis.

It is a sad day for academia and the vital traditions of academic freedom that it often is no longer physically safe for a pro-Israel speaker to appear on a college campus. We urge our university leaders to re-double their efforts to assure that any and all speakers are given the protection and respect needed to assure that our institutions of higher education will remain true marketplaces of ideas.