feeling is that, in the long run, the pro-Israel interest will be
served best if friends of Israel build coalitions with other
campus elements to keep campuses as open as possible to different
The news story below relates the opposite --- Muslim-Jewish
cooperation to prevent a pro-Israel speaker from appearing.
All the best,
Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
November 20, 2006
Free speech controversy builds as pro-Israel speech canceled at Brown
By Ben Harris and Jacob Berkman
NEW YORK, Nov. 20 (JTA) — A controversy over free-speech
restrictions on college campuses continues to grow after Jewish
student leaders at Brown University canceled an appearance by a
pro-Israel speaker because a Muslim chaplain called her
Jewish students had asked the student board of Brown's chapter of
Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life to co-sponsor a
Nov. 30 speech by Nonie Darwish, an Arab who had become
pro-Israel and author of "Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I
Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror."
Earlier this month, however, after tentatively agreeing to
sponsor the event, the board nixed the event after Brown's Muslim
chaplain, Rumee Ahmed, raised objections.
Born in Cairo and raised in Gaza, Darwish is the daughter of an
Egyptian intelligence officer killed by Israeli soldiers. She
says she was indoctrinated from childhood to hate Israel but
changed her views after befriending Jews who yearned for peace
and after her brother's life was saved by Jewish doctors at
Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital. She since has converted to
Christianity and attends an evangelical church.
The California-based Darwish now speaks around the United States
on the difficulties women face under Islam and on the Muslim
jihad against Israel.
According to Serena Eisenberg, director of Brown's Hillel, Jewish
students wanted to bring Darwish to speak about rights in the
Middle East, and by default in Israel. They enlisted Hillel and
Brown's Sarah Doyle Women's Center as sponsors.
But Ahmed reportedly said Darwish's views were offensive to
Muslims, who Ahmed claims live in fear at the university. Then
"the Muslim Students Association and the Muslim chaplain and the
Chaplain's Office expressed concern about bringing Nonie to
campus, so the women's group withdrew their sponsorship,"
Eisenberg told JTA on Monday.
Neither Ahmed nor Gail Cohee, director of the Women's Center,
would return phone calls from JTA.
Once the Women's Center withdrew its sponsorship, the Hillel
students considered whether they wanted to be the lone sponsors
of an event that could prove controversial, Eisenberg said.
According to Yael Richardson, the Hillel chapter's student
president, the board was lobbied by Ahmed and via e-mail by
Brown's head chaplain, the Rev. Janet Cooper Nelson.
Cooper Nelson "told us to think about the implications of what
this would do with our religious communities on campus,"
Richardson said. "She encouraged us to think carefully about
whether we wanted to fund the event."
After researching Darwish's writings and past statements, the
five members of the board decided against bringing her to campus
so as not to jeopardize their "lovely" relationship with Muslim
counterparts, Richardson said. Eisenberg said there also were
Richardson said she's proud of the decision, which earned Hillel
a scathing rebuke from the New York Post and led to the
resignation of one student Hillel official.
In an e-mail message to Jewish student leaders obtained by JTA,
Eisenberg urged students to consider whether the event was "of
such benefit as to outweigh the rifts we are certain to cause in
the Muslim community and perhaps among Jewish students and others
on campus who question whether Hillel should be bring [sic] Arab
speakers to campus who speak poorly of Islam."
But she says she wanted the decision to come directly from the
"Did the Muslim Students Association and the administration exert
some influence? Yes," Eisenberg said. "Did our board cave? No.
They made a thoughtful decision about constructive dialogue and
about moving forward."
However, the cancellation comes after Brown's Office of the
Chaplains and Religious Life supported Palestinian Solidarity
Week earlier this month "over my objections," Eisenberg said.
That event was sponsored by the parents of Rachel Corrie, an
American student and pro-Palestinian volunteer who was run over
and killed as she tried to stop an Israeli bulldozer from
searching for arms-smuggling tunnels in the Gaza Strip. Since her
death in 2003, Corrie has become an icon for pro-Palestinian
groups on college campuses such as the International Solidarity
Cooper Nelson, the head chaplain, did not return repeated calls
Brown officials did offer a response, and suggested that Darwish
may speak at the university at some point. "The Brown University
community values the contributions of affiliated student
religious groups and supports open discussion among people of all
faiths and religious beliefs. Administrative officials at Brown
are working with student groups to discuss alternative ideas for
sponsoring a Nonie Darwish presentation on campus," Brown's vice
president for public affairs and university relations, Michael
Chapman, said in a release.
The decision to cancel the Darwish event angered several
pro-Israel students involved in planning it and prompted Yoni
Bedine, a Brown student and Hillel staff member responsible for
Israel programming, to resign.
"I think the failure here was a failure of Jewish leadership," he
told JTA. "I think it sends a really bad message to potential
future Jewish leaders. I think it was a catastrophic decision in
terms of the precedents that it sets."
Darwish is the latest in a series of controversial speakers on
the Middle East who have had their appearances canceled amid
complaints from opposition groups.
Recently Columbia University´s chaplain´s office revoked as many
as 115 invitations hours before a speech by Walid Shoebat, a
former PLO terrorist turned evangelical Christian and author of
the book, "Why I Left Jihad."
Last month, Tony Judt, a New York University academic who
advocates replacing Israel with a binational state of Arabs and
Jews, had an appearance canceled at the Polish Consulate in New
York following phone calls from two prominent Jewish leaders.
The following week, a French Embassy office in New York scrapped
a party in honor of author Carmen Callil after complaints that
she equated Jewish suffering under France's Vichy government with
Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
In those cases, questions raised by Jewish opponents led the
hosts to cancel the events. But at Brown, the decision was taken
by Jewish students themselves, apparently out of concern that the
speaker could harm Muslim-Jewish dialogue.
Darwish denied that she was controversial, and her Brown
supporters say they carefully vetted her writings to ensure there
was nothing inflammatory.
"I never speak against the Koran, I speak against terrorism,"
Darwish said. "Books don't commit terrorism, people do."
She has had only one other speaking engagement canceled because
of fears of controversy, said Darwish, who claims there's a
concerted campaign of intimidation aimed at Muslims who speak out
about their own culture.
"Any Arab who speaks differently from the status quo is
immediately just branded as traitor, and they want to shut us
up," she told JTA. "We left the Middle East thinking we're coming
to America, our freedom of speech is protected. And then the
radicals follow us here and shut us up."
Bedine insists he wanted Darwish's talk to be constructive. But
others say the sensitivity argument is being carried too far —
and often is applied in only one direction. Bedine says he
wouldn't have dreamed of asking Muslim students to cancel
speakers at Palestinian Solidarity Week, though Jewish students
found some of them controversial.
"We're here to be challenged and hear the full spectrum of
views," Bedine said. "In free speech, toes get stepped on."
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