Free Speech

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Free Speech For Me, Not You

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/05/2021 - 12:50am in

They say that Americans love two things: freedom … and guns. The trouble with guns is obvious. The trouble with freedom is more subtle, and boils down to doublespeak.

When a good old boy defends his ‘freedom’, there’s a good chance he has a hidden agenda. He doesn’t want freedom for everyone. He wants ‘freedom for himself, not you’. I call this sentiment freedom tribalism. It’s something that, given humanity’s evolutionary heritage, is predictable. It’s also something that has gotten worse over the last few decades. And that brings me to the topic of this essay: free speech.

When the talking heads on Fox News advocate ‘free speech’, they’re using doublespeak. What they actually want is free speech for their own tribe … and censorship for everyone else. This free-speech tribalism extends far beyond the swill of cable news. It’s clearly visible (and growing worse) in the pantheon of high thought — the US Supreme Court.

To make sense of this free-speech tribalism, we need to reframe how we understand ‘free speech’. And that means reconsidering the idea of ‘freedom’ itself. Behind freedom’s virtuous ring lies a dark underbelly: power. Free-speech tribalism, I’ll argue, amounts to a power-struggle between groups — a struggle to broadcast your tribe’s ideas and censor those of the others. When you look closely at this struggle, it becomes clear that ‘free speech’ is not universally virtuous. In modern America, free speech has become a kind of slavery.

And with those incendiary words, let’s jump into the free-speech fire.

Fire!

FIRE! Fire, fire… fire. Now you’ve heard it. Not shouted in a crowded theatre, admittedly, … but the point is made.

That was the inimitable Christopher Hitchens addressing the elephant in every free-speech room: shouting fire in a crowded theatre. The metaphor has come to symbolize speech that is so ‘dangerous’ it must be censored. It’s a fair example, since people have actually died from false shouts of fire in crowded theatres.1 But more often than not, the shouting-fire metaphor is used to justify censorship of a more dubious kind.

Woodrow Wilson got the ball rolling during World War I. After declaring war on Germany, Wilson embarked on a campaign to silence internal dissent. Among the thousands of Americans who were prosecuted was Charles Schenck, a socialist convicted of printing an anti-draft leaflet. His case went to the Supreme Court. Writing to uphold the conviction, Justice Oliver Holmes claimed that war critics like Schenck were, in effect, falsely shouting fire:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. … The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.

(Oliver Wendell Holmes, Schenck v. United States)

Holmes’ decision set off a long debate about what types of speech represent a ‘clear and present danger’. I won’t wade into the details. Instead, what I find more interesting is the language that is missing here. Holmes speaks about ‘free speech’, ‘danger’, and ‘evils’. But what is really at stake is the government’s power.

Holmes admits as much in a less-cited part of his ruling. Schenck’s anti-draft leaflet was dangerous, Holmes noted, precisely because it undermined the government’s power to make war:

It denied the [government’s] power to send our citizens away to foreign shores to shoot up the people of other lands …

(Oliver Wendell Holmes, Schenck v. United States)

So there you have it. The idea of ‘falsely shouting fire’ was used to bolster the government’s power to wage war.

Free speech for views you don’t like

The lesson from the Schenck case is that reasonable forms of censorship inevitably get used to justify more dubious types of speech suppression. To combat this creeping censorship, free-speech advocates like Noam Chomsky argue that we must do something that feels reprehensible — defend freedom of speech for views we despise:

[I]f you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked, right? So was Stalin. If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise you’re not in favour of freedom of speech.

(Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent)

Chomsky’s position is elegant, principled and more than just words. It’s a maxim he lives by. And that has gotten him into all sorts of trouble. You can imagine the uproar, for instance, when Chomsky defended the free speech of historian Robert Faurisson, a Holocaust denier. More recently (and to the delight of the far right), Chomsky drew leftist ire for signing a Harper’s editorial warning of a “stifling atmosphere” in modern America that was “narrow[ing] the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal.”

In the face of this criticism, however, Chomsky remains unphased. He is a tireless advocate for the right to espouse ideas he finds despicable.

Free-speech tribalism

If everyone was as principled as Chomsky, the world would probably be a better place. But the reality is that Chomsky is an outlier. Most people find it difficult to separate the right to free speech from the speech itself. Rather than criticize this tendency, though, we should try to understand it. And that means studying ‘free speech’ in the context of human evolution.

If evolutionary biologists David Sloan Wilson and E.O. Wilson are correct, human evolution has been strongly shaped by ‘group selection’. That means we evolved as a social species that competed in groups. The result is that humans have an instinct for group cohesion in the face of competition — an us-vs-them mentality. In other words, humans are tribal.

When it comes to ‘free speech’, this tribalism plays out predictably. Humans behave exactly the way Chomsky says we should not. We support free speech for ideas we like, and censorship for ideas we dislike.

Take, as an example, Donald Trump. After Trump delivered his incendiary speech that stoked the storming of the Capitol, Twitter decided they’d had enough. They permanently banned Trump from their platform. How did Americans feel about this ban? Support fell predictably along partisan lines (Figure 1). Democrats overwhelmingly supported Twitter’s Trump ban. Republicans overwhelmingly opposed it. This tribal divide isn’t rocket science. When the shit hits the fan, instincts trump abstract principles.

Figure 1: Partisan support for Twitter’s Trump ban. Source: PEW Research Center.

Commentary on the Trump ban focused mostly on the content of his speech. Was he stoking ‘imminent lawlessness’? Or was he [cue incredulous cough] ‘defending democracy’? These are important questions. But what I find more interesting is what seemed to go undiscussed.

It’s one thing for a President to silence his critics. That’s state censorship. It’s another thing for critics to silence a President. That’s called accountability. The difference has nothing to do with the content of the speech. Instead, it comes down to power. When the weak censor the powerful, it’s different than when the powerful censor the weak.

Granted, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is hardly ‘the weak’. But the principle remains. Power dynamics should affect how we interpret ‘censorship’. When the government censors an obscure Neo-Nazi, that’s probably bad. But what if Nazis run the government? Should citizens let the Nazi regime broadcast propaganda on the grounds that it is ‘free speech’?

If so, George Orwell was right. Freedom is slavery.

Free-speech tribalism on the US Supreme Court

Back to free-speech tribalism. On the individual level, the game is about free speech for me, not you. But at the group level, it’s about us versus them. Free speech for my tribe, not your tribe.

Since Americans’ right to free speech is written in the constitution, free-speech tribalism has played out most prominently in the US Supreme Court — the institution that determines how the constitution is interpreted. Of course, Supreme Court justices all claim to believe in free speech for everyone. But their behavior tells a different story.

In a landmark study, Lee Epstein, Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn tracked how US Supreme Court justices ruled on cases concerning free speech. Importantly, Epstein and colleagues distinguished between two factors:

  1. the partisanship of the justices;
  2. the political spectrum of the speech on trial.

Figure 2 shows Epstein’s results — a quantification of 6 decades of free-speech rulings on the Supreme Court.

Figure 2: Partisan support for free speech on the US Supreme Court. I’ve plotted here data from Epstein, Martin & Quinn’s study of Supreme Court rulings on free speech. The horizontal axis shows the court’s chief justice and their associated tenure. The vertical axis shows the percentage of rulings supporting free speech. The panels differentiate between the type of speech being tried — coded as either ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. Colored lines show the percentage of rulings supporting free speech, differentiated by the party of the president who appointed the corresponding justice.

It’s clear, from Figure 2, that there is a tribal game afoot. Let’s spell it out. If Supreme Court justices were following Chomsky’s ideal (free speech for ideas you like and those you despise) then the red and blue lines in Figure 2 would overlap. Democratic and Republican justices would support free speech to the same degree, regardless of the content of the speech. That clearly doesn’t happen.

Instead, Supreme Court justices are following the ‘tribal ideal’ — free speech for ideas they like … censorship for ideas they despise. Hence Democratic justices support liberal speech more than Republican justices (Figure 2, left). And Republican justices support conservative speech more than Democratic justices (Figure 2, right).

Given humanity’s evolutionary background, this tribalism is not surprising. What’s interesting, though, is that Supreme Court tribalism hasn’t been constant. Instead, it’s grown with time.

In the Warren court of the 1950s and 1960s, there was remarkably little free-speech tribalism. Justices of both parties overwhelmingly supported free speech of all kinds, with only a slight preference for the speech of their own tribe. Today, that’s changed. In the Roberts court of the 21st century, not only have justices of both parties become less tolerant of free speech in general, there is now a glaring tribal bias. Democratic justices support liberal speech far more than Republican justices. And Republican justices support conservative speech far more than Democratic justices.

It is tempting to blame both political parties for this tribalistic turn. But the reality is that the blame rests overwhelmingly on Republicans. Figure 3 tells the story. I’ve plotted here the partisan bias in support for free speech. This is the difference in support for speech made by ‘your tribe’ versus support for speech made by the ‘other tribe’. Let’s start with the Democratic tribe. While Democratic justices have become less tolerant of free speech in general (Fig. 2), they have not become more biased. Instead, for the last 6 decades, Democratic justices have had a slight but constant bias for liberal speech.

Figure 3: Partisan bias in support for free speech on the US Supreme Court. I’ve plotted here data from Epstein, Martin & Quinn’s study of Supreme Court rulings on free speech. The horizontal axis shows the court’s chief justice and their associated tenure. The vertical axis shows the partisan bias in justices’ rulings. For Democratic justices, this bias is the difference between their support for ‘liberal speech’ vs. ‘conservative speech’. For Republican justices, it is the reverse.

Now to the Republican tribe, where the story is quite different. Once less biased than Democrats (during the Warren court), Republican justices now show overwhelming bias for conservative speech. In the Roberts court, Republican justices support conservative speech over liberal speech by a whopping 44%.

Free speech for us, not them.

Free speech for business

Republican bias for ‘conservative’ speech isn’t the only way that the US Supreme Court has become more tribal. The court has also become more biased towards the business tribe.

The most seismic case in this pro-business shift was Citizens United. In this 2010 decision, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to limit corporate spending on political campaigns. The majority’s reasoning was simple:

  1. people have free speech;
  2. corporations are legal persons;
  3. therefore, corporations have free speech.

Citizens United opened the floodgates of corporate electioneering. The reality, though, was that this case was part of a larger pro-business shift on the Supreme Court — a shift that coincided with a reversal of fortune for US corporations.

Figure 4 tells the story. From the 1950s to the 1990s, US corporations had a problem. Although they had no trouble making profits in absolute terms, the profit share of the pie tended to decrease. (See the red curve in Fig. 4.) Then came a stunning reversal of fortune. From the mid-1990s onward, corporate profits boomed, eating up an ever increasing share of the US income pie.

Figure 4: ‘Free speech’ for business is good for profits. The blue curve shows the portion of US Supreme court cases involving business ‘free speech’ that were settled in favor of business. Data is from Epstein, Martin & Quinn, and is averaged over the tenure of chief justices. The red line shows the smoothed trend in US corporate profits as a share of national income.

This reversal of fortune coincided with a change in the Supreme Court’s attitudes towards ‘free speech’. Until the 1990s, the Court was increasingly hostile to ‘free speech’ for business. As a result, the ‘win rate’ for business free speech declined steadily. Then came the Roberts court, which brought relief for the business tribe. Over the last decade and a half, the Roberts court sided with business in a whopping 80% of free-speech cases.

Unsurprisingly, in this pro-business environment, profits boomed. ‘Free speech’ for corporations means wage slavery for workers.2

The trouble with ‘freedom’

The triumph of business propaganda (and the corresponding boom in corporate profits) shouts at us to reconsider some basic moral principles. Ask yourself — is ‘free speech’ universally virtuous? I think the answer has to be no.

The problem with ‘free speech’ boils down to a basic contradiction in the idea of ‘freedom’ itself. In a social world, freedom for everyone is impossible. The reason is simple. Freedom has two dimensions: ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom from’. These two dimensions are always in opposition. For example:

  • If you are free to shout racist slurs, your neighbour cannot be free from such slurs.
  • If you are free to smoke anywhere, your friends cannot be free from second hand smoke.
  • If you are free to drive through a red light, fellow motorists cannot be free from T-bone collisions.

You get the picture. There are two sides to being ‘free’, and they are always in mutual conflict. When you think about this conflict, you realize that ‘freedom’ always involves power:

  • If I am ‘free to’ shout racist slurs, I have the power to suppress your ‘freedom from’ such slurs.
  • If I am ‘free from’ hearing racist slurs, I have the power to suppress your ‘freedom to’ shout racist speech.

When we look at this power behind ‘freedom’, we realize that ‘freedom’ cannot be universally virtuous. One man’s freedom is always another man’s chains.

Resolving conflict with property rights

If the two sides of freedom are always in opposition, we need a way to resolve the ensuing conflict. In capitalist societies, the main way we do this is by defining property rights. These are legal principles that delineate which type of freedom wins out, and when and where it does so.

A key purpose of property rights is to restrict ‘freedom to’. In other words, property rights restrict ‘free speech’. For example, if someone enters my property and shouts racist slurs, I don’t have to listen. Instead, my property rights give me the power to have the culprit removed by the cops. On my property, my ‘freedom from’ trumps your ‘freedom to’. In other words, my property gives me the power to censor.3

Is this power a bad thing? Probably not, at least in principle. To see why, imagine a world in which ‘freedom to’ always trumped ‘freedom from’. In this world, if someone wanted to insult you in your living room, you’d have to let them. It would be an Orwellian nightmare in which solitude was impossible. So having a space where ‘freedom from’ trumps ‘freedom to’ is undoubtedly a good thing.

That said, when we scale up private property, the power to censor becomes more dubious. Suppose that instead of owning a house, I own a corporation. This is a very different type of property. Rather than own space, I own an institution — a set of human relations. With this more expansive type of property, I suddenly have much more power to censor. If my employees wanted to unionize, for instance, I could ban ‘union propaganda’. I could go further and ban any speech critical of me, the supreme leader. It would be a Stalinist dream … for me. For my employees, would be a totalitarian nightmare.

Let’s flip sides now and look at the other side of property. While private property suppresses ‘freedom to’, public property suppresses ‘freedom from’. On public property, my ‘freedom to’ speak trumps your ‘freedom from’ my speech. So when I stand on a street corner, I am free to shout racist slurs. Passersby must endure my slander. In other words, on the street, I have the power to broadcast.

The street-corner ability to broadcast is, admittedly, a weak form of power. Everyone else has the same power, so they can drown me out if they want. (This is the principle of public protest.)4 But notice what happens if we treat the ‘public domain’ more broadly, not as the street-corner, but as the space between corporations. In a world in which corporations have free speech, there is no respite from corporate propaganda. It’s a world in which freedom-loving Americans now live.

Freedom is just another word for …

The problem with the debate about free speech boils down to the language of ‘freedom’ itself. When ‘freedom’ becomes synonymous with virtue, the debate becomes vacuous. Saying “I stand for freedom” is like saying “I stand for happiness.” Who’s going to argue with you?

Okay, I’ll argue with you. If murdering people makes me happy, my ‘happiness’ is not virtuous. It is sadistic. Likewise, if I am ‘free’ to murder people I dislike, my ‘freedom’ is not virtuous. It is depraved.

The same goes for ‘free speech’. It is virtuous in some contexts, but not others. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to determine when and where ‘free speech’ is good, and when and where it is bad. Like so many things in life, it is a matter of opinion. But a useful tool is to look at the underside of ‘freedom’. When you see the words ‘free speech’, substitute the language of power:

I stand for free speech the power to broadcast.

With this revised language, the virtue of ‘free speech’ becomes more ambiguous. If the substitution gives you a bad feeling, that’s a sign there is doublespeak at work. Sometimes freedom really does mean slavery.

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Sources and methods

Data for US corporate profits is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Table 1.12. I’ve taken corporate profits before tax (without IVA and CCAdj) and divided by national income.

Notes

  1. Some shouting-fire examples. In 1902, a crowd at the Shiloh Baptist Church (in Birmingham Alabama), misheard ‘fight!’ for ‘fire!’ The ensuing stampede killed over 100 people. In 1913, the Italian Hall in Calumet, Michigan was filled with striking miners. Someone shouted ‘fire!’, causing a stampede that killed 73 people. The miners suspected that the perpetrator was a strike breaker, but no one was ever charged.↩
  2. Mainstream economics is mute about how profits relate to the law. That’s probably because if you study the law, you realize that it (not ‘productivity’) is the foundation of corporate profits. A century ago, heterodox economist John R. Commons explored this connection in his book Legal Foundations of Capitalism. He was largely ignored.↩
  3. The word ‘censorship’ has, for good reasons, acquired a negative connotation. But it seems clear that some forms of censorship are good — perhaps even essential to maintaining a healthy dialogue. Rather than ‘censorship’, a better word for this act is ‘moderation’. Social critic Keith Spencer proposes a rule of thumb: ‘unmoderated online forums always degenerate into fascism’. This is a hyperbole, but probably contains a kernel of truth. When there is no moderation, expect a creep not to high philosophy, but to base-level urges.↩
  4. A note on free-speech tribalism. I once met a Jordan Peterson fan who was incensed that Peterson’s speaking event (in Toronto) was besieged by protesters. “Let Peterson have free speech!” he demanded. The Peterson acolyte didn’t seem to understand that he was advocating censorship … for the protesters. No matter, they weren’t in his tribe.↩

Further reading

Commons, J. R. (1924). Legal foundations of capitalism. London: Transaction Publishers.

Epstein, L., Martin, A. D., & Quinn, K. (2018). 6+ decades of freedom of expression in the US supreme court. Preprint, 1–17.

Peter Dutton Calls For The Immediate Banning Of Potato Peelers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/04/2021 - 7:00am in

Australia’s Minister for the Dark Arts Peter Dutton has called for the immediate banning in Australia of the humble potato peeler.

”As Minister for the Dark Arts, my job is to make the country a safe place for all Liberal-voting constituents,” said the Dark Lord. ”How can people like myself and my family be safe with people running around the community brandishing potato peelers or, worse, potato mashers?”

”We will get these weapons off the street, even if I have to personally sue each and every person to do so.”

When asked why he was so focused on suing those who had an opinion that differs to his, the Dark Lord said: ”People need to learn that, when I speak – they need to listen.”

”For too long people have dared to disagree or, worse, mock me. How dare they?!”

”I am the Dark Lord Peter Dutton. You will bow down before me!”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s been a long day and I need to do something to unwind like strangle a puppy or two.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

We’re also on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/theunoz

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Tories Killing Free Speech and Democracy in the Name of Stopping ‘Nuisance’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/03/2021 - 8:51pm in

Following the Met police’s rough manhandling of the women at the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common and the consequent outcry, our smirking excuse for a home secretary, Priti Patel wishes to introduce legislation with the explicit intention of limiting public protest. This, as Mike and the good peeps on Twitter have pointed out, is Fascism. It’s suppression of the fundamental right to public protest. The intention is to stop criticism of the government. But the Tories are past masters in lying, and so they’ve dressed this latest assault on democracy up as somehow empowering the public. They’re not doing it to stop free speech, you see. They’re trying to empower local communities, who may find themselves seriously disrupted by noisy protesters. It’s about stopping them making a nuisance of themselves. And so the proposed legislation will, if passed, allow the authorities to cancel a demo if even a single person complains about it.

There’s a quote, which unfortunately I’ve largely forgotten, which states that Fascism never comes as a repressive force. It always presents itself in friendly terms until it is too late, the concentration camps have been put up and thugs in jackboots are stamping on human faces, to use George Orwell’s metaphor. There’s another quote that says that the totalitarianism of the future won’t present itself as an oppressive tyrant, but as society’s benevolent, obedient servant. Patel’s wretched bill surely bears out the truth of this statement. It’s Fascism all right, but dressed up as defending local communities’ right not to have their peace and quiet spoilt by anything as vulgar as an enraged or concerned public.

While Priti Patel is trying to push the bill through parliament now, it isn’t just her that’s behind it. It’s a Tory idea that’s been around since ‘Dodgy’ Dave Cameron was in No. 10. He also tried to pass it, but with no success. Now, almost a decade later, the Tories are trying again.

The Labour party plans to oppose the bill. So should everyone who values democracy and free speech, regardless of party. And including and particularly Tories. One of the Transatlantic Conservative sites I used to read several years ago was opposed to government legislation outlawing Holocaust denial. There was a debate at the time over whether the Canadian government should join other countries in banning it. This was just during the Conservative Harper administration. The Jewish owner of the site was against this, arguing that Conservatives should not support legislation limiting free speech. If the precedent was set, then it would give a weapon to the Tories’ enemies, who could use it to their own advantage. Exactly. And I have come across Tories who are genuine, passionate defenders of free speech. Years ago Lobster reviewed a book written by one of them, which recognised that every democratic freedom we now enjoy isn’t a natural outgrowth of the development of some transcendent principle of freedom and democracy inherent in British or western society. No, these freedoms are the hard-won results of bitter struggles. And Patel’s vile legislation makes it very clear that struggle is far from over.

People are already organising petitions and planning protests against the bill. I received this email from Democracy Unleashed, laying out the arguments and asking me to sign a petition against it, which I did. It runs

‘Once again, the government is attempting to force controversial legislation through Parliament without proper scrutiny.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill contains provisions that could land peaceful protestors with up to ten years’ imprisonment if their protest is deemed capable of causing “serious annoyance” to any section of the public. 

Did the People’s Vote marches cause “serious annoyance”? What about Black Lives Matter? Or Extinction Rebellion? Or March for Women? Or Stop The War Coalition? Which one of those protests do you think the Home Secretary would ban under this new legislation?

I will not be silenced

Many thousands of people take part in hundreds of protests across the United Kingdom every year. In most cases, a little bit of nuisance is what gets them noticed and their messages heard. Whether or not you agree with their cause, their right to protest is an essential part of a healthy democracy and any legislation that dilutes that right should be subject to very careful scrutiny indeed. 

We don’t think protestors campaigning passionately (or noisily) but peacefully for a cause should face the possibility of a prison sentence just because the Home Secretary has decided that someone might find their protest “seriously annoying.”

This legislation represents a serious attack on the foundations of our democracy and history tells us that such attacks often signal the beginning of something more sinister. We need to wake up to the threat and do something while we still can.  

Sign the petition to tell the Home Secretary that government cannot be allowed to bury our democratic rights just because it suites them to do so. 

I’ll sign the petition

Help us make this the loudest protest possible by sharing the petition on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp with the hashtag #SeriouslyAnnoyed. ‘

We have to oppose this bill, otherwise democracy in Britain will be as hollow and meaningless as Singapore. You have the right to speak in public there about political issues, but you have to register with the police in advance, who have the power to turn you down and arrest you. Needless to say, people aren’t exactly lining up at the Singaporean equivalent of Speaker’s Corner.

And that’s the kind of empty, hollow democracy Priti Patel and her predecessors want for Britain.

Complementing Defenses of Academic Freedom with Understanding & Advice

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/03/2021 - 4:14am in

As reported earlier this week, there’s a new organization, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA), that aims to defend faculty whose academic freedom is being threatened.

The AFA joins the ranks of other organizations also concerned in defending academic freedom, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), as well as disciplinary organizations that have among their concerns the academic freedom of their members.

Despite disagreement over

  • the extent to which academic freedom is currently threatened
  • who the serious threats to academic freedom are, and
  • some hard cases in which it is unclear whether academic freedom is being invoked to deflect legitimate complaints of unprofessional behavior,

shoring up the defenses of academic freedom with organizations that aim to level the playing field between threatened faculty and their employers is a good idea. Ameliorating the worries (substantiated or not) that some people with unpopular views have about the bad consequences of publicly arguing for them is a good idea.

That said, it seems that something is missing from these efforts.


[Brett Weston, “Hand and Ear”, 1928]

Challenges to academic freedom often combine the voicing of a substantive moral or political complaint with a call for a procedural remedy (e.g., firing someone, retracting a paper). Defenses of academic freedom are aimed at combatting the remedy. I think there often are also reasons to both explicitly convey an understanding of the substantive complaint and to advise the students on alternatives to their proposed remedy.

It might be useful to work with an example. Suppose some group of students learn that a faculty member has been publishing opinion pieces online, perhaps related to her research, in which she expresses views they take to be disrespectful or demeaning to some types of students (that’s the substantive complaint), and they call for the faculty member to be fired (that’s their remedy). Academic freedom groups get wind of their efforts and launch their campaigns opposing the students. One concern is that the students see this opposition as opposition not just to their procedural remedy but also as opposition to, or at least a failure to take seriously, their substantive complaint.

If we’re interested in promoting and defending academic freedom, this is not a good result. First, people tend to not react cooperatively to not being taken seriously. If they feel dismissed, that may cause them to redouble their efforts. Provoking a bigger and louder threat to academic freedom, even if ultimately averted, is not a win for academic freedom. (And dismissing student concerns rather than engaging with them is to forgo an educational opportunity.) Second, there is the risk that people will come to identify academic freedom with the substantive views they’re opposing and treat it as the enemy (progressives may see academic freedom as anti-progressive; conservatives may see it as anti-conservative).

Were the efforts to defend academic freedom combined with a demonstration of an understanding of the students’ substantive complaint, maybe even a sympathetic understanding of it, that might counter their feelings of dismissal or disrespect. It might reduce the extent to which the students take those opposing their remedy to be ideological enemies, or ignorant, and might lower the risk that they come to see academic freedom as the problem. Perhaps a section of a brief an academic freedom organization submits to a university or shares with the press could contain a section which presents in as strong a way possible the substantive complaint of the students.

Defenders of academic freedom could also to include in their response information for the students about academic-freedom-friendly alternatives for putting forward their substantive concerns, advice on how to pursue those alternatives or on how to engage with their opponents, and perhaps even funding for the pursuit of some of those alternatives. These steps would aid the cause of academic freedom by providing education and support for students and promoting their participation in the “marketplace of ideas”, rather than by trying to shut them down.

Being able to adequately express understanding of students’ complaints and provide useful advice to them about how to push for their views in a university setting is also credibility-enhancing for an organization claiming to be “viewpoint neutral” and hoping to demonstrate a broad, cross-ideological commitment to academic freedom.

Admittedly, these suggestions may not be relevant to all kinds of threats to academic freedom. There may be cases in which a demonstration of understanding is possible, but those calling for a remedy incompatible with academic freedom are, say, a million people on Twitter to whom no substantive advice could realistically apply. And there may be threats to academic freedom based on complaints that are incomprehensible. But for many cases, the suggestions would be quite practical.

Perhaps, then, the AFA could consider adding an “Understanding & Advice” committee to its organization.

(cross-posted at Disagree)

My Letter to BBC Local News Against the Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign Against David Miller

Last week the right-wing British press and the Zionist Jewish establishment launched another smear campaign against someone for criticising Israel. This was Dr David Miller, an academic at Bristol University, who had been one of the speakers at an event about defending free speech in the Labour party. Dr Miller committed the heinous crime of saying that Zionism needed to be ended. The Daily Heil, Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Community Security Trust, as well as the university’s Jewish Society, all went bug-eyed with rage and accused him of anti-Semitism. The issue has been on the local BBC news programme here in Bristol, Points West. Various members of the Jewish establishment have appeared on the programme ranting about how this is somehow preparatory to demanding full scale anti-Semitic persecution, hinting at the holocaust. One very angry gent on Sunday morning’s edition said of it that ‘we all know where that goes’ – clearly implying that Miller’s comments about Zionism, not about Jews, were tantamount to a call for pogroms and another Holocaust. They also claimed that Jewish students no longer felt safe and comfortable at the university thanks to Dr Miller’s comments. Which is peculiar coming from the right, which likes to rant about left-wing snowflakes. Well, there’s more than a bit of snowflakery going on here.

I’ve discussed this latest controversy in a previous article. As usual with these witch hunts, it’s nothing to do with real, vicious Jew hatred, but simply the right-wing British press and the Zionists of the British Jewish establishment seeking to defend Israel and its horrendous persecution of the Palestinians. They do this by smearing any and all critics or simply respectable journalists, who accurately report atrocities committed by the Israelis and their allies, as anti-Semites. They did it to Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, including such principled, self-respecting Jews as Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein. They did it to Marc Wadsworth, a Black anti-racist activist, who had worked with the Board to combat real anti-Semitic attacks on Jews by the scumbags of the NF/BNP in the 1980s. They did and are doing it to more ordinary members of the Labour party like Mike Sivier and Martin Odoni. All the above are genuinely anti-racist with no sympathy whatsoever for Fascism, and Martin’s also Jewish. But this means nothing to these moral frauds, who are determined to vilify and demonise decent people in their zeal for defending the indefensible.

Other speakers at the conference including Dr Norman Finkelstein, a respected American academic and passionate opponent of the Israeli state, and Ronnie Kasrils, a former minister in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet in South Africa. Both of them are Jewish, which clearly demonstrates that whatever the British Jewish establishment claims, they do not speak for all of Britain’s diverse Jewish community. This is also a repeat of a campaign these organisations launched against another academic at Bristol Uni, Dr Rachel Gould. Dr Gould was also guilty of making anti-Israel comments, despite being Jewish herself.

I am heartily, heartily sick of this witch-hunt and demonisation of decent people. I therefore wrote to BBC Points West to express my outrage as a way to make my feelings about this whole sorry affair public. Normally I would have written to the paper, but as all of the papers are solidly behind the witch hunters and against their victims, BBC Points West looked like the best and only option available. Here’s the text of the letter:

Dear Sir,

Thank you for coverage over the current controversy about Dr David Miller of Bristol University and the accusations of anti-Semitism that have been levelled against him. I am writing to you to express my utter disgust at what I see as a campaign of vilification against him for making a legitimate criticism not of Jews or Judaism, but of a political ideology. I am an historian and archaeologist, who was educated at school and as an undergraduate at College by Christian teachers and professors, who had a profound respect and warm sympathy for the Jewish people. They were acutely aware of the horrors Jews have suffered down the centuries, and taught their students about the Holocaust long before it became government educational policy. I myself have had the good fortune to enjoy the friendship of many people of Jewish descent and heritage.  I have also studied the history of Fascism and its loathsome doctrines, and its racism and violence towards Jews and people of colour.

Dr Miller has been accused of anti-Semitism because he called for the end of Zionism at a recent conference on free speech in the Labour Party. This has provoked a campaign against him by the Daily Mail, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. This is profoundly and utterly wrong. Zionism is a political doctrine and is certainly not synonymous with the Jewish people or their faith. From what I understand, the Jewish people have never been the monolithic community claimed by anti-Semites. They have always held a variety of views on religious and political issues, including Zionism. Indeed, many Jews have strongly rejected Zionism because they viewed it as an internalisation of gentile anti-Semitism. Non-Jewish anti-Semites have claimed that a special state should be created for Jews, not out of sympathy for them, but simply in order to remove them their own countries. One example of this was the Fascist scheme to settle Jews in Madagascar. Jewish opposition to Zionism was famously expressed on the graffiti on a Jerusalem wall which stated ‘Zionism and Judaism are diametrically opposed.’ Several of the other speakers at the conference where Dr Miller made his comments were themselves Jewish, and also opponents of Zionism or critics of Israel. They included the noted American scholar, Dr Norman Finkelstein, and Ronnie Kasrils, a former minister in Nelson Mandela’s government.

I find it a matter of deep concern that the Daily Mail, the Board of Deputies and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, as well as Bristol University’s Jewish Society, are accusing Dr Miller of anti-Semitism through confusing Jew-hatred with anti-Zionism, just as was done four years ago to another academic at Bristol University, Dr Rachel Gould. Dr Gould was also accused of anti-Semitism because of comments she had made about Israel, despite she herself being Jewish. But the real existential threat to Jews in my opinion comes not from decent people criticising Israel, but from real Nazis like the utterly repellent and extremely violent National Action.

I am also astonished by the claim that Jewish students do not feel they are welcome at Bristol University because of Dr Miller’s comments. These were, as I said, about Zionism, not about Jews. One of the most important aspects of a university education – what makes it education rather than mere instruction – is the exposure to different views, opinions and perspectives. This should be able to include criticism of Zionism as a political doctrine while excluding the real political doctrines that threaten Jews and other minorities, like Fascism. Yet not only is it claimed that criticism of Zionism is supposedly anti-Semitic, but that Jewish students are too sensitive and delicate to be allowed to hear arguments against it for fear of offending them. This belittles these students’ resilience and ability to engage in robust debate.

I am also utterly disgusted at the way the organisations leading the campaign against Dr Miller are invoking the spectre of real, vicious anti-Semitic persecution and the Holocaust. Dr Miller has certainly said nothing to support such persecution. I am acutely aware that very many British Jews lost family and friends to the Nazis’ appalling persecution, and that their descendants and relatives are still traumatised and haunted by its horrors. I therefore find the invocation of such persecution by the Mail, CAA, and the Board of Deputies to be nothing less than grossly repulsive scaremongering in order to turn decent people away from a person who is, as far as I can see, completely innocent of real Jew-hatred.

I feel very strongly that Dr Miller is innocent of the anti-Semitism of which he is accused, and that it is his accusers, who are behaving in a vile and disgraceful fashion. I have no issue with his opponents defending Israel and challenging his views on Zionism, but feel it is utterly contemptible to do this by confusing it with real anti-Semitism. At the very least, abusing the accusation of anti-Semitism in this way robs it of its power to shock and identify real Nazis and anti-Semites.

Yours faithfully,

I don’t know if this will do any good or even be read. After I sent it I got an automatic message back from the programme telling me that it had been received, but they were receiving so many messages that it was impossible for them to reply individually. But I felt it had to be done, and will let you know if I get a reply from the programme.

Where Are All These Communists the Tories Claim Are Threatening Britain?

Okay, I might be a bit slow here, but I am starting to wonder what planet Nigel Farage, Priti Patel and the Tory party and press are on when they start screaming that British society is under threat from a resurgent, but covert Marxism? About a week or so ago now Zelo Street posted a piece about the McCarthyism that now seemed set to grip the nation. The smirking, odious, racist Priti Patel had announced that MI5 were looking into renewed threats from the Fascist far right and the Marxist left. According to her, the Socialist Party, or the Socialist Workers’ Party as it used to be known, might be infiltrating Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion. Yup, as in the days of the Cold War, the Commies and Trots are at it again, trying to infiltrate other left-wing groups and take them over.

In fairness, this was a tactic of the Socialist Workers Party, which practised something called ‘revolutionary entryism’. The idea was to infiltrate other left-wing organisations and try to turn them into front organisations for the party in an attempt to make Trotskyite Marxism something like a popular mass movement. They did it in the 1970s/80s to Rock Against Racism, which had been set up to challenge the rise of the NF, BNP and other Fascist scumbags. All that it achieved, however, was the collapse of the organisation as the majority of its membership left. They weren’t interested in Trotskyite Marxism. They simply wanted to hear some great bands while combating Fascism and racial hatred. It’s because of its antics attempting to infiltrate and take over every vaguely left-wing organisation, or capitalise on every left-wing issue at the expense of other organisations, that many on the left, from the moderate, reformist Labour Party to various anarchist groups, don’t trust the SWP.

Besides this is the fact that Black Lives Matter, or at least its American parent, is already a Marxist organisation. If the Socialist Workers were trying to infiltrate it, it would be a case of one Marxist group trying to take over another. It’s possible, but seems unlikely. It sounds like something from the Illuminatus! books by Robert Anton Wilson and O’Shea, about warring secret societies plotting against and trying to infiltrate each other.

As for Extinction Rebellion, from what little I’ve seen of its broader political content – and this comes from idly looking at one of the organisation’s posters put up on a wall while waiting for a taxi – it does seem to be a radical left organisation. It’s very anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-capitalist. But it seems to me that this comes from the very radical programme adopted by parts of the Green movement. When it first emerged in the 1980s or so, the German Green Party – Die Gruenen – included as one of its leading members the lawyer for the Bader-Meinhof gang. There’s a section of the anarchist movement that is also very ecologically aware. The American anarchist intellectual, Murray Bookchin, was advocating a green, eco-friendly anarchism back in the 1980s and in the 1990s there was a British anarchist mag called Green Anarchist, I believe. You don’t need to invoke the Trotskyites of the SWP to explain Extinction Rebellion’s socially radical, anti-capitalist programme.

Would the SWP be interested in infiltrating Extinction Rebellion? I don’t know. Possibly. But they aren’t nearly as strong as they were. I think Marxism as a whole suffered a loss of credibility with the fall of Communism, which might be why radical anti-capitalists seemed to switch to anarchism or else an undefined ‘anti-capitalism’ that could take in a range of socialist and radical left views. The Socialist Workers, now renamed as the Socialist Party, are still about. You can find their videos on YouTube. But even before the lockdown they didn’t seem to be the visible presence on the streets they used to be.

The Tories and their press need to scare people with a threat from the radical left. I remember that in the late ’80s and ’90s they switched from trying to frighten people with the bogeyman of Communist infiltration – although they’d done that with the Labour Party in the 1987 election – to anarchism with the rise of Class War. Now that Class War has also gone the way of many radical movements and fizzled out, the Tories in Britain and the Republicans in America have turned once again to invoking the spectre of Communism.

And because of the very anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-LGBTQ+ policies adopted by some universities, they’re now trying to claim that western education is under threat from Marxist infiltration. Nigel Farage apparently was in the pages of the Depress a few days ago, writing that the Marxist takeover of our education system was nearly complete. Really? I must have missed all that. There are Marxists in the universities, and have been for a very long time. And some of them are excellent scholars. I got a feeling that Vere Gordon Childe, the Australian archaeologist who first devised the notion of the Neolithic Revolution – the idea that agriculture and the rise of the first settled societies were linked and constituted a radical break with the hunter-gatherer societies of the Paleo- and Mesolithic – was a Communist. He was, however, a brilliant archaeologist and highly influential, even if recent excavations in Turkey have demonstrated that people were settling down into villages before the invention of agriculture. And yes, there are and have always been academics with very pronounced left-wing views. I can think of a number from my own experience as a student. But many others, probably the vast majority, aren’t. And some academics, who privately hold left-wing views, are very careful to keep them separate from their teaching. And whatever their political views, I think the main concern of all teaching staff, from university academics to school teachers, is simply to teach, not to indoctrinate students.

In any case, there are laws against political or religious indoctrination anyway. I think it was introduced by Blair. Teachers are not supposed to teach their political or religious opinions as fact. They are to avoid this as much as possible. If they can’t, then they are supposed to make clear that this is just their opinion. This legislation has been around since at least the middle of the last decade, if not earlier. It should provide sufficient protection already from attempts by the politically motivated to indoctrinate their students.

All these claims of a surreptitious takeover of the education system by Marxists seems to be a return to the days of Maggie Thatcher, when rags like the Depress, the Heil and the local paper for Bristol, the Evening Post, ran stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating their students. The Scum attempted to titillate and scare its readers with a tale about children in various London boroughs – possibly Brent – being taught to sing ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ as an anti-racist version of ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’. This is supposed to have been invented by the wretched rag, but I’ve talked to people, who’ve claimed that it was done in their former school, so who knows? At the same time, I’ve heard that Thatcher also introduced legislation with the intention of purging Marxists from the education system. In fact the Marxists got round it by claiming to be ‘Marxian’. They were only Marxists in culture. It was a fine distinction, but it allowed them to retain their jobs.

But apart from this, university is supposed to be a place for the formulation and discussion of a wide range of views. A vital part of the university experience is the exposure to different opinions and encouragement to form their own views. The current scaremongering about the Marxists trying to takeover the education system is the opposite of this. It’s an attempt to limit free speech and discussion, as Zelo Street pointed out, only the approved Tory views will be heard. Hence the appointment of a ‘free speech tsar’.

Now I will concede that some student bodies are intolerant with protests against talks by visiting personalities they believe hold unacceptable views. Gender critical feminists and their allies, for example, have found themselves blocked from speaking at some universities because their views are held to be bigoted against the transgendered. But there’s also a cancel culture on the right. The estimable Tony Greenstein put up a piece last week about attempts by the Board of Deputies and Bristol University’s Union of Jewish Students to have one of the lecturers, David Miller, banned as an anti-Semite. This is not because of anything Miller has said against Jews. His cardinal sin is saying that Zionism must be destroyed. As we’ve seen, the Board and the other, establishment Jewish organisations are fanatically pro-Israel and conflate opposition to that nation, or simply criticism of its barbaric treatment of the indigenous Palestinians, with real Jew hatred. But Zionism has never been synonymous with Judaism. For many Jews, it’s diametrically opposed, as the graffiti on a wall in Jerusalem had it. Zionism is an ideology, not a people. Stating that Zionism needs to be destroyed is a contentious viewpoint, but it does not mean that the speaker wishes harm to the Jewish people.

Who is the free speech tsar, who will defend lecturers like David Miller? I think it would be a very brave politician who would risk damaging his or her career by doing so in the present political climate. Even if they had the inclination to do so, which the political establishment doesn’t.

I do find some of the radical policies now being implemented in some universities alarming, like the reports that students in some places of learning will be required to take compulsory anti-racism training in order to combat anti-Black racism on campus. It’s obviously very well intentioned, but as I’ve said, racism really isn’t simply a case of White on Black, and I am afraid such mandatory courses are based on a very simplistic view of Whites that sees White culture as innately racist, or inclined to racism. But I see absolutely no evidence that Marxists are behind it.

All this nonsense by Patel and the Tory press about Marxist infiltration is just another Red Scare in order to whip up support for legislation designed to purge the universities of anything that contradicts received Tory ideology. They are trying to destroy free speech, not defend it, and the appointment of a ‘free speech tsar’ is in many ways dangerous and hypocritical.

For further information, see:

Zelo Street: Free Speech Champion WON’T BE (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Zelo Street: War On Woke = Government Censorship (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Defend Bristol University’s Professor David Miller – Defend Academic Freedom – Defend Free Speech – Tony Greenstein

If you wish to defend Dr Miller from these outrageous allegations, you can sign a petition at Change.org here, as I have done.

http://chng.it/rTqY9r2FgM

Larry Flynt

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/02/2021 - 4:02am in

In this episode, Neil, Niki, and Natalia discuss the life and legacy of pornographer and free speech champion Larry Flynt....

Read More

Jewish Groups Warn of Fallout from Anti-Semitism Label for Criticism of Israel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/01/2021 - 7:58am in

Jerusalem —Not even a week after violent, anti-Semitic rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, a collective of Jewish groups urged then President-elect Joe Biden to target activism critical of Israel.

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (CoP) sent Biden a letter on January 12, urging the incoming administration to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism across “all federal departments and agencies.”

As the nation was reeling from a historic insurrection swarming with Camp Auschwitz attire and Confederate flags, CoP decided to instead focus their efforts on pro-Palestine activity in universities.

“[A]ntisemitism on college campuses is a serious problem,” the Jewish leaders wrote, emphasizing that previous administrations understood “some anti-Israel activity is simply a modern form of antisemitism.”

Two days after CoP sent their letter, the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) joined the call and urged Biden to adopt the IHRA definition in a press release.

DMFI IHRA letter

The Democratic Majority for Israel’s press release from January 14, 2021

“[T]his is no time to give cover to antisemites who attempt to disguise their Jew hatred as mere criticism of Israel,” the DMFI statement read. The pro-Israel organization then countered any objections to the IHRA definition by determining countries who adopted this definition have not “become hotbeds of anti-free speech activity.”

CoP and DMFI did not respond to requests for comment.

 

How IHRA can suppress free speech

Donald Trump’s presidency was marred with anti-Semitic rhetoric from the very beginning. The disgraced president defended white nationalists shouting “Jews will not replace us” and ended his term sending a racist riot to Congress’ doorstep. Yet somehow the Israel lobby turns a blind eye to his flagrant bigotry because of Trump’s 2019 executive order adopting the IHRA definition.

On Dec. 11, 2019, Trump signed an executive order requesting federal departments and agencies tasked with enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 look to the IHRA definition.

Free speech advocates slammed the executive order as an attempt to quell legitimate criticism of Israeli policy. And shortly after the executive order was issued, that’s exactly what happened.

“It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code, but that’s what Donald Trump’s executive order accomplished,” Kenneth Stern, one of the original drafters of the IHRA definition, wrote in a Guardian op-ed following Trump’s order.

Weeks after the executive order was enacted, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened two investigations into Palestine advocacy at UCLA—the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference and a professor’s lecture on Islamophobia that discussed Zionism.

As Stern rightly pointed out in his editorial, conservative Jewish groups are not using the IHRA definition to combat growing anti-Semitism. Rather, it’s become a tool to suppress conversations surrounding the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in academia.

Now, as influential Jewish groups press Biden to adopt the IHRA definition, critics worry free speech and academic freedom will be increasingly targeted.

 

American Jewry’s debate over IHRA

The members of CoP include 53 Jewish organizations. Yet only six (including the heads of CoP) signed the letter. The signatories included the Jewish Federations of North America, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center.

CoP member Americans for Peace Now (APN) came out against adopting the IHRA definition.

“The part that is problematic to us is the efforts to use this and use the call of anti-Semitism as a weapon to squash criticism of Israeli government policy, which is not anti-Semitism,” Hadar Susskind, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, told MintPress News.

The IHRA definition states: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Susskind explained APN doesn’t take issue with this basic definition. Instead, it’s the definition’s accompanying examples that are concerning.

“It comes very intentionally with a list of examples. And we’ve seen already across the U.S. and in other parts of the world, the way in which this is used to declare that anybody criticizing the [Israeli] occupation, anybody criticizing various elements of the Israeli government policy is deemed anti-Zionist. And by definition, then, anti-Zionist is deemed anti-Semitic.”

Susskind emphasized that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are not one in the same. Anti-Semitism is the hatred of Jews. Anti-Zionism, however, is a political ideology opposing Zionism, a settler-colonialist movement advocating for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The two terms, however, are often confused given Israel and the Israel lobby conflates them together.

“If someone is an anti-Zionist and they don’t believe there should be a state of Israel, I would disagree with them, but that’s not by definition anti-Semitic,” Susskind said. “And it’s damaging, frankly, to the very important fight against anti-Semitism to sprinkle that term so widely.” For Susskind, anti-Zionism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are legitimate free speech and should be treated as such.

Since CoP and DMFI’s statements, several Jewish groups have denounced these attempts to codify the IHRA definition into law.

The Progressive Israel Network—made up of APN, Ameinu, Habonim Dror North America, Hashomer Hatzair World Movement, Jewish Labor Committee, J Street, New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel, Reconstructing Judaism, and T’ruah—released a counterstatement.

In it, they warned the IHRA definition’s examples “[risk] wrongly equating what may be legitimate activities with antisemitism.”

The Progressive Israel Network called on the Biden administration to “refrain from legislating bans on constitutionally-protected speech and legitimate activism, which often wrongfully target those who harbor no hatred towards Jews, and which make it more difficult to identify and confront genuine instances of antisemitism.”

And Jewish activist groups, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and IfNotNow (INN) published petitions telling Biden to reject any potential misuse of the IHRA definition in silencing Palestinian rights activists.

This week, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, CoP and 51 member organizations announced they adopted the IHRA definition in their work.

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) was one of the member organizations to endorse using the definition, but it also released a statement advising against its codification into law.

Like JVP and INN, the organization warns a more pressing anti-Semitic threat stems from right-wing, white nationalists—like those who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“[W]e fully recognize that antisemitism today emanates from the left and the right and the threats from all sources must be addressed,” URJ said. “The [IHRA’s] examples’ focus on Israel must not divert attention from the more frequent manifestations of antisemitism, too often violent, emanating from new streams in the hate movements that have threatened synagogues and other Jewish and non-Jewish community institutions in the U.S. today – streams primarily associated with the far right.”

And APN’s Susskind supports distinguishing how anti-Semitism on the right and the left materializes.

“They’re not the same, and they’re not an equivalent problem or equivalent threat,” Susskind said. “And what we see in the political discourse too often is people making these false equivalencies, such as ‘I heard about a college student on campus who said they were Zionist and somebody said something mean to them’ versus somebody has gone in and shot and killed people in the synagogue.”

So, as the Israel lobby pushes to erase pro-Palestine activism on college campuses, it not only risks endangering free speech but allowing far-right hatred to spread unchecked.

Feature photo | Israeli activists hold a banner during a protest on Israel Gaza border, Oct. 5, 2018. Writing in Hebrew reads “Free Gaza ghetto.” Ariel Schalit | AP

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine, Israel and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab, and Gulf News.

The post Jewish Groups Warn of Fallout from Anti-Semitism Label for Criticism of Israel appeared first on MintPress News.

Free Speech. Really?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/12/2020 - 11:58am in

Bill Moyers talks with journalist and writer Ellis Cose whose most recent book is THE SHORT LIFE & CURIOUS DEATH OF FREE SPEECH IN AMERICA. Continue reading

The post Free Speech. Really? appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Call for mini-essays on “the cost of freedom” in free knowledge movements in honor of Bassel Khartabil

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/10/2015 - 1:54am in

Dear friends,

I’m helping organize a book titled “The Cost of Freedom” in honor of Bassel Khartabil, a contributor to numerous free/open knowledge projects worldwide and in Syria, where he’s been a political prisoner since 2012, missing and in grave danger since October 3. You can read about Bassel at https://www.eff.org/offline/bassel-khartabil
https://blog.wikimedia.org/2015/10/08/bassel-missing-syria/ https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/MDE24/2603/2015/en/ and lots more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bassel_Khartabil and http://freebassel.org/

Much of the book is going to be created at a face-to-face Book Sprint in Marseille Nov 2-6; some info about that and the theme/title generally at http://costoffreedom.cc/

We’re also asking people like yourself who have been fighting in the trenches of various free knowledge movements (culture, software, science, etc.) to contribute brief essays for inclusion in the book. One form an essay might take is a paragraph on each of:

* An issue you’ve faced that was challenging to you in your free knowledge work, through the lens on “cost”; perhaps a career or time opportunity cost, or the cost of dealing with unwelcoming or worse participants, or the cost of “peeling off layer upon layer the proprietary way of life” as put in
http://www.adamhyde.net/open-is-not-a-license/
* How you addressed this challenge, or perhaps have yet to do so completely
* Advice to someone starting out in free knowledge; perhaps along the lines of had you understood the costs, what would you have done differently

But feel free to be maximally creative within the theme. We don’t have a minimum or a maximum required length for contributed essays, but especially do not be shy about concision or form. If all we get is haiku that might be a problem, or there might be a message in that of some sort.

Other details: The book will be PUBLISHED on Nov 6. We need your contribution no later than the end of Nov 3 UTCThursday, Nov 5 at 11:00 UTC (Paris: noon; New York: 6AM; Tokyo: 9PM) to be included. The book will be released under CC0; giving up the “right” to sue anyone for any use whatsoever of your contribution is a cost of entry…or one of those proprietary layers to be peeled back. Send contributions to book@costoffreedom.cc

Feel free to share this with other people who you know have something to say on this topic. We’re especially looking for voices underrepresented in free knowledge movements.

Cheers,
Mike

p.s. Please spread the word about #freebassel even if you can’t contribute to the book!

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