I am writing concerning your story on the “Situation in Gaza” panel held in Mandel Hall (“Panelists Probe Gaza Conflict At Mandel Hall Forum,” 1/09/09). In the article, I was quoted calling the event anti-Semitic and one-sided. While I do believe that it was a tendentious panel, I do not believe that my true concern with the panel was characterized properly. Furthermore, I am highly uncomfortable with the fact that the anti-Semitic incidents that occurred at the event, and which were the reason for my comments, were not reported in the piece.
The main objection I had to this panel was not the content of what was said. While I may disagree with some of the statements made, I am a believer in freedom of speech, so I believe that the Muslim Student Association had every right to organize this event and that the speakers had every right to say what they said. My issue with the panel is that the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, a University department, sponsored it. It is concerning that an affiliate of the University would sponsor an event so clearly one-sided, and one featuring two participants whose scholarly credentials are less than stellar. As the Maroon pointed out, all three speakers were highly critical of Israel and there were no countering voices on the panel providing the audience with different information. Ali Abunimah is not an expert in the field of Middle Eastern studies. He runs a website for Electronic Intifada, and if anything, would seem to be an advocate for violence and hate. Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure by DePaul University and is known for his highly questionable scholarship. Are these people truly the kind of “scholars” the University of Chicago, a hotbed for intellectual discussion and debate, supports? I should note that I am in no way concerned with John Mearsheimer’s scholarship or involvement on the panel.
Furthermore, the Maroon failed to report anti-Semitic activities that occurred at the event, activities which were highly disturbing to many students. In calling the event anti-Semitic, I was referring to two incidents. First, in the line outside the event, a Jewish student was called a Nazi by an audience member. Second, inside Mandel Hall, another audience member prominently displayed an American flag with a large swastika on it. Here again, freedom of speech and expression remains on these individuals’ side. However, the display of such a hateful and racist symbol, in the presence of students whose families have suffered and been brutally murdered due to the ideology for which that symbol stands, is extremely disheartening, especially when it occurs at a University of Chicago–sponsored event. Anti-Semitism is racism, and it must be treated as such.
Thank you for the opportunity to clarify my remarks.
Chicago Friends of Israel