Vandalism is detrimental to free discourse

Free and open dialogue is one of the hallmarks of the University of Chicago experience. One need only to have tuned in to The Daily Show last week to see Professor Steven Levitt talking about his bestselling new book, Freakonomics, to truly understand how open we are to politically incorrect ideas. In chapter four, Levitt argues that more abortions translate into less crime, an idea that, in this era of partisan cultural segregation manages to offend both liberal and conservative social sensibilities.

This spirit of free and open dialogue was absent when unnamed vandals scrawled swastikas on and ripped down posters advertising an upcoming Chicago Friends of Israel-sponsored talk by Professor Michael Oren, a New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian. They even burned a hole through a picture of Oren’s head, also on the flyer.

There are multiple sides to the Israel debate. At the U of C, we are fortunate to have a community founded on civil discourse that comes together at academic lectures and debates to discuss these issues in a free and open manner. Regardless of whether people believe the State of Israel has a right to exist, they have the ability listen to all sides. Chicago Friends of Israel created this event in order to foster discussion and debate about issues concerning Israel, not to stifle debate as these vandals have tried to do.

Let us be clear. Those who would use racist, anti-Semitic symbols to avoid an open discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are cowards. The essence of the use of the swastika is that Jews and their supporters do not have the right to put forth their ideas. The swastika is used to shut down discourse and debate, retreating simply to the implied desire for the extermination of the Jewish people.

Whenever someone retreats into the use of veiled epithets, violent symbols, and vicious defacement, they do injustice not only to their own opinions, but to open dialogue as a whole. Those who chose to draw swastikas on posters of Oren acted not only in opposition to Israel, but also to this University and its founding ideals. Their refusal to engage in the arena of ideas intrinsic to this University should offend the sensibilities of even those who disagree with the existence of a Jewish state.

Part of Chicago Friends of Israel’s mission is to foster the free and open dialogue that forms the core of this great University. On the myriad occasions that CFI has come into conflict with the numerous anti-Israel groups on and around campus, we have always stood in vocal and known opposition, either in the form of peaceful counter-demonstrations, signed letters in the newspaper, or spirited in-person debate. Last night’s defacement did none of these things. We urge those in disagreement with CFI to attend Oren’s speech, to hear what he has to say, and to challenge him on an intellectual level.