In a moment of supreme irony, Ben Gurion University President Rivka Carmi, who only a few months ago was facing a revolt among donors and Israelis aghast at Prof. Neve Gordon‘s support of the global BDS movement, has now released a strong statement of support for him in the face of a death threat. She did the right thing compared to the cowardly response she had to Gordon’s articles on BDS. Then she advanced the specious argument that Gordon himself had somehow crossed a red line of permissible speech in advocating a political position that harmed the state.
Here are major excerpts from her statement:
…The death threat Professor Gordon received is a crossing of a red line for one and all [here at Ben Gurion] without regard to any difference [we may have] of religion, political affiliation, ethnic origin.
The political debate in Israel is hard, polarizing, and even extreme. We walk a very thin line between our democratic obligations and values such as freedom of speech, and our obligations to the security, strength and future of our nation.
The dispute is piercing and painful and each person is convinced that truth is on his side. We have already seen that we are not suited for balanced discussion–not even in academia.
But no matter how much we oppose and disdain the view of another–the shedding of blood is a crime plain and simple. Something terrible has befallen us and it is imperative that we be on guard.
Ben Gurion University will not tolerate the fomenting of hatred of any kind, whether physical or verbal violence, and will act vigorously to eradicate it.
Another irony is that Prof. David Newman, a colleague of Gordon’s and a newly named Ben Gurion dean, found that a British trustee of the University wished for Newman’s demise because of a disagreement with the latter’s liberal politics. I wonder if Pres. Carmi let this trustee know in no uncertain terms that his speech crossed a line? Perhaps a trustee can get away with breaking the rules more readily than an unknown person who mails a death threat.
One hopes of course that this incident would sensitize the president to the necessity of protecting her faculty’s right to free expression. Though she does not say it explicitly, the passage in italics seems to imply that if only Gordon hadn’t violated his end of the bargain he wouldn’t find himself under threat. Personally, I don’t buy the distinction she attempts to make. I do not believe it is the obligation of an academic to pull punches during a policy debate because one’s views might endanger the state. This is total narischkeit. And certainly in the case of Gordon. Advocating BDS in no way endangers Israel. What it does threaten is a conception of Israel as a state with superior rights for Jews and inferior rights for non-Jewish citizens. And it threatens a state based on Occupation, which is a state many citizens–Jewish and Palestinian–don’t want either.