Friday, February 4, 2011

Hey, Mom, We're No. 2! Hampshire College only second school to disrupt talk by Israeli speaker

We may be only # 119 on the US News and World Report overly influential and basically bogus ranking of American colleges (though, all the quibbles notwithstanding, for a small, recently founded liberal arts college with no endowment to speak of, it's a pretty good number out of a data set of 1400).

I'm more proud that we, fortunately, rank higher in other measures: a Sierra Club "top ten cool school,one of the listed green schools, and one of the top-20 gay-friendly schools.

Tonight we earned a new distinction.

We're number two!  I'd be tempted to have bumper stickers printed up, except that it's not a list we really want to be on.

As noted in the last post, Reserve Sergeant Benjamin Anthony of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) gave a talk here on the experience of military service in one of the world's most controversial conflict zones.

The Hampshire College administrators involved in multicultural affairs did our institution proud tonight.  In the introductory remarks, Special Presidential Assistant for Diversity (and professor of computer science) Jaime Dávila, who had already taken the initiative in starting programs for intergroup dialogue, and Assistant Dean of Students for Community Advocacy Amnat Chittaphong, spoke forcefully and eloquently in support of open and honest dialogue. They explained that this was a setting for education, which in this case consisted in listening respectfully and asking questions in the same spirit when the talk was over.

The pro-Palestinian activists in the audience (anywhere between a third and half, I would estimate) did not accept these ground-rules.  They frequently interrupted the talk with hisses, catcalls, heckling, blowing of whistles, and other demonstrations.

The event was not canceled, but after repeated disruptions, Sgt. Anthony said that he would skip the remainder of his prepared remarks and, after a few concluding observations, devote all the remaining time to question-and-answer.

One woman, affirming the need to address both "narratives" of the conflict, expressed regret that the Sergeant had not been allowed to speak, and asked whether he had spoken anywhere where a civil and respectful conversation had taken place.  Yes, he replied, many times.  He had in fact given his talk in over 120 locales around the world without serious incident. On only one other occasion had the disruption been so serious, and in that case, he had been physically threatened.

A heckler shouted out, "Welcome to Hampshire!"


(full report to follow soon)


Richard said...

Ugh, horribly sad that these people don't see how they only look like oafs and thugs and bring nothing but discredit to their cause, and to my alma mater. Who do they think will be won over or convinced by their behavior? Or do they think their thugishness is so impressive the entire world will just fall in line behind it so no honest discussion ever need happen anywhere? I think that was the general line of thought of their equivs in my day..

Hannah said...

After this I think a lot of students who did agree with them on certain issues in the past have really fallen away...(myself included).

Julia Riber Pitt said...

I hate to break it to you, but the pro-Israel types are clearly on the losing side of history at this point. The whole world condemns Israel for its actions and occupation, and now that criticism is finally becoming mainstream in the US (Israel's only real friend in the world). Maybe you don't agree with SJP's tactics, but it's pretty clear that bringing a pro-Israel speaker to a very pro-Palestinian campus would irrupt in protest. Heck there were protests against the IDF in ASU, UMichigan, and a slew of other schools. I would think that a protest would be the least of all actions at Hampshire.

Ellen said...

Hi - Thank you for posting this! I was horrified at the antics of these 'protesters' or whatever they were. They remonstrate, they attack, they offer polemics, they try to intimidate. But they don't communicate and they certainly don't want dialogue. They scream.

So many times now the political leaders have come so close to (partial) solution through (painful) compromise - and each time, it seems, extremist aggression (on both sides)kills any chance for agreement. The kind of thuggish these folks displayed is a great example of what stands in the way of moving forward.

Like many in the audience, I came to hear Sgt. Anthony, and in spite of the trashy behavior on display, I was informed, and deeply moved by his courage and his story. No one wants to live in a country at perpetual war, and he - like other Israeli soldiers I've known, and like the many Palestians I've known - want to live in peace. With a two state solution (and it is so close, so possible) both peoples could thrive and prosper. But these dogma-driven fanatics (many of whom explicity reject the idea of a Jewish state at all) push any hope of peace further and further away.

I've never posted on a blog before - thank you for what you wrote, and for allowing me space to speak.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

The intrepid freedom fighters sometimes confuse their freedom of speech with what they perceive as their right to prevent speech by those they disagree with. Sad.

Samantha said...

Hannah's absolutely right; there were many students who came to me afterwards and told me that the behavior exhibited by the anti-Israel crowd at the lecture (whether student, staff, faculty, or general community member) disgusted them and turned them away from the impulse to listen to what SJP and Co. has to say. I got a lot of positive responses, and I'm still getting messages from people who are happy the lecture went forward.