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Monday, August 04, 2003

To the Editors, the Bergen Record

I found your editorial of July 20, in defense of the upcoming pro-Palestinian conference at Rutgers, appalling indeed. Free speech in this country gives us all the right to say what we think on any street corner. It does not entitle anyone to have their view legitimized by public institutions.

We had a similar situation here in Boulder, Colorado less than a year ago. Hanan Ashrawi, spokesperson for the PLO, was invited to speak at CU-Boulder the week between the first anniversary of 9/11 and Yom Kippur. Rather than listen and respond to the concerns of the local Jewish community, which centered around the timing of the event more than anything, the University and the larger Boulder community went up in arms over the "issues" of free speech and academic freedom. It was a red herring, introduced to divert attention away from the insult being suffered by local Jews. It was an attempt to "win" the argument by changing the subject. And, sadly, it worked.

Following Ashrawi's visit, there was a spate of antisemitic activity in Boulder, including vile graffitti on the walls of a predominantly-Jewish fraternity house, the desecration of Jewish religious observance (sukkah) on campus with swastikas, and heightened activity by antisemitic hate groups such as the National Alliance. In the name of "free speech," Holocaust survivors who live in Boulder have had to witness swastikas in America. This summer has seen "Death to the Jews" chanted in Arabic in front of a Denver synagogue.

Organizer of the Rutgers event, Charlotte Kates, has been quoted as endorsing the "armed struggle" of the Palestinians, that is, the mass murder of innocent civilian Jews. She has publicly called Israel an "apartheid, colonial settler state" and has said that such states do not have a right to exist. This is antisemitism cloaked in anti-Zionism, and it represents a threat to Jewish existence.

Those who call for the destruction of Israel are free to do so, from any street corner or basement. When the state of New Jersey and Rutgers University lend their prestige and their facilities to such a call, they nurture and empower the message, and should be held accountable for doing so.

Everyone knows that no public university in this country would sanction a conference held by a student Ku Klux Klan organization. Such an event would simply not be allowed, "academic freedom" notwithstanding. If there's a different rule for Jews than for others, something's up, and it needs to be addressed. State and university officials need to concede that there is a line, somewhere, that they wouldn't cross. They need to explain why this conference falls outside that line.

Anne Lieberman
Boulder, Colorado