Another mockery of the free and open exchange of ideas has unfolded in Indiana. Last week, Purdue University Calumet had the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), along with anti-Israel activist Sefi Samuel speak on campus. Yet the university’s history department, in conjunction with the local Jewish Federation, played a role in the cancellation of another speaker, Peggy Shapiro, two weeks ago. Ms. Shapiro is the Midwest director of StandWithUs, an organization "dedicated to informing the public about Israel and to combating the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues." She was a special appointee to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and is also the child of Holocaust survivors.
On Jan 24th, Ms. Shapiro was initially invited to speak by Marie Eisenstein, co-chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), a sub-organization within the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana. Mrs. Eisenstein was specifically interested in having Ms. Shapiro speak about the Nazi roots of contemporary anti-Semitism, because she was concerned that "’traditional’ Holocaust education does not educate individuals about the lingering effects that are still with us today in terms of anti-Semitism," Eisenstein told FrontPage. "That is, I think the Jewish community does a wonderful job of Holocaust education and we always tie it to other genocides that have occurred since that time, but we do not educate individuals that the problems faced during the Holocaust have continued to confront world Jewry, manifested by different countries and people than what occurred in the 20th century, and that this is something that affects both Jew and non-Jew."
Ms. Shapiro accepted the invitation the following day, informing Eisenstein that she had "spoken on the topic in my capacity as President of the Association of Children of Holocaust survivors and as Special Appointee (years ago) to the US Holocaust Memorial Council." Many venues were considered for the event, but Purdue University Calumet on March 26th became the agreed upon location and date.
Soon after, however, trouble began. On February 8th, Marie Eisenstein wrote to Shapiro, noting that there was "some concern about presenting politically sensitive topics on a campus" and that Michael Steinberg, executive director of the Jewish Federation, was "considering if it might be wiser to hold such an event at the Federation instead." Mrs. Eisenstein advised Ms. Shapiro that she did not speak for Steinberg, "and if I have misrepresented his concerns, I am sure that he can present it to you more accurately."
As preparations for the event began to unfold on that end, Mrs. Eisenstein’s husband, Maurice Moshe Eisenstein, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at Purdue Calumet, tried to get the history department at the university interested in sponsoring the event. Beginning on February 3rd, a series of email exchanges between Professor Eisenstein and history department head Richard Rupp initially indicated that the department was willing to do so, and Rupp wrote he was also willing to commit $250 towards Ms. Shapiro’s speaking fee. On March 9th, Rupp was contacted by Mrs. Eisenstein regarding a flyer prepared for the event, and Mrs. Eisenstein told Rupp that he could freely disseminate the flyer on campus.
Rupp’s reply was cause for concern. While promising to honor his commitment of $250, he revealed that after he had informed his department of the invitation, the faculty informed him that the event did not have their support. Rupp then said he would remove the line on the flyer indicating that the program would be jointly presented by the history and political science departments, but that the flyer would have the Purdue Calumet Logo.
Why did the faculty in the history department reject sponsoring the event? The minutes of the meeting attended by seven member of the faculty on March 2nd, during which their sponsorship was withdrawn, were vague: "Richard reported that Professor Eisenstein approached the department about sponsoring a speaker on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. After discussion, the faculty decided not to sponsor the event. Richard informed the faculty that the event could go forward without department sponsorship. Richard has already committed $250 toward the event," the minutes recorded.
Professor Rupp was not forthcoming with details when asked. "Peggy Shapiro’s name never came up," he said. "The general topic came up. The historians decided that they didn’t want to sponsor the issue." When asked why, he refused to say, noting only that "the university is involved in challenging issues" — issues about which Mr. Rupp would not elaborate.
Yet the history department was not the only entity to back off. The Jewish Federation rescinded its invitation as well. According to information Mrs. Eisenstein was privy to, there was concern on the part of the JCRC that, irrespective of the event’s educational merits, without the partnership of the history and political science departments, the event could face problems, specifically with respect to its potential to set off controversy given issues at the university.
Professor Eisenstein contends that the Federation was soured on the idea when Richard Rupp notified him that the flyer promoting the event had to be sent to university administrator Wes Lukoshus "for university approval." "They wanted to review the flyer to make sure it was politically correct, which I don’t know what that meant," Eisenstein contended. When contacted, Lukoshus said that he and his department "only approve the use of the university logo, not the content of the particular fliers."
However, "the main reason I’ve heard [for canceling] is that they were afraid or concerned that it would offend Muslims," Eisenstein claimed. He further contended that a faculty vote aimed at making it difficult, if not impossible, for someone to speak on campus, is unprecedented. "Any faculty member or group who wanted to invite someone [to speak on campus], it was just done," he said.
As for the "issues" that no one contacted about this case will discuss? Professor Eisenstein has been involved in a long-running battle with the Muslim Students Association and some faculty members angered by his religiosity, his conservatism, and his determination to confront Islamic jihad. The Muslim Students Association, along with several faculty members from his department, filed nine separate harassment claims against him for Facebook postings demanding justice for the killings of black Christians in Nigeria and alleged comments he made in class. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a free-speech advocacy group, came to his defense.
All nine charges were dropped after a three-and-a-half month investigation.
Eisenstein believes lingering animosity played a large part in the history department’s decision not to support Ms. Shapiro’s appearance and the Federation’s decision to back off as well. "The Muslim students and their liberal supporters are using me as a conduit to demonize any criticism of Islam and Muslims and their activities around the world," he contends. Mrs. Eisenstein agreed, noting that the Federation was "very concerned that Shapiro would not say anything to antagonize Muslims, because it would be like they were aligning with [my husband,]" she contends.
Whatever the real issues are, one thing is certain: some combination of anger, fear, revenge and/or pressure from a combination of Muslim students and Purdue Calumet faculty members has prevented Ms. Shapiro from appearing on campus on March 26th, and perhaps the foreseeable future as well. And whatever other conclusions one wishes to draw, Professor Eisenstein is spot on when it comes to one particular criticism. "What really bothers me about the Jewish Federation is that they backed out of a talk about the Holocaust. There is nothing about it that you should not be fighting to have on campus," he said.
Among Purdue University faculty members, as well as officials at the Jewish Federation, the courage and determination needed to present the history of the Holocaust — regardless of who might take umbrage with such a presentation — is in critically short supply.