Barnard College
Shibley in ‘Forbes’ on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Campus Free Speech

By March 18, 2014

A handful of recent incidents at American colleges and universities illustrate a troubling pattern of students being censored or punished for participating in the debate over Israeli-Palestinian relations. Today in Forbes, FIRE’s Robert Shibley writes about how the longstanding conflict is part of a threat to free expression here in the United States.

Last week, for example, Barnard College removed a pro-Palestinian banner from Barnard Hall after some students objected to it. And at Brooklyn College, a group of Jewish students was kicked out of an event apparently for simply holding papers that advocated a viewpoint different from the event’s hosts. Robert writes:

While these actions to silence or punish one’s opponents will likely to do nothing to bring conflict in the Middle East to an end, they are certainly hurting us here in America. Every time we allow an opinion to be silenced, Americans’ rights to express their beliefs and freely hear the expression of others’ beliefs are damaged. And on college campuses, that means students’ educations are being damaged too.

… There will always be some who wish to sacrifice free speech for current political gain on one issue or another. But it’s the job of free people in a free society to resist the temptation to do so, and it’s the job of college campuses as the “marketplace of ideas” not to indulge that temptation.

As Robert points out, schools aren’t the only ones contributing to this problem: the American Studies Association announced a boycott of collaborations with Israeli academic institutions in December. In turn, several states are considering legislation that would cut funding to institutions that don’t boycott the ASA. Will Creeley explained here on The Torch why these steps are both problematic. But beyond the threat they pose to free speech, Robert notes that they are unlikely to push anyone toward a meaningful resolution:

Those engaged in the battle of ideas must remember that it’s foolish to expect opinions formed through silencing the other side to have the hardiness and lasting impact of actual persuasion.

Read the rest of Robert’s article today in Forbes.

Schools: Brooklyn College, City University of New York Barnard College