An unpaid response to an advertisement
I believe the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is an inter-subjective debacle, at once complex, dynamic, and grounded in human experience, phenomenology, and history. Undoubtedly, Student Life published the recent advertisement from the David Horowitz Freedom Center with the best intentions of fostering debate and giving an organization the opportunity to exercise its free speech rights. I personally have no interest in having a serious debate on the issues with the Horowitz Freedom Center. Rather, I want to question Student Life’s rationale for allowing the advertisement to appear in our newspaper.
The conflation of free speech with money is a modern travesty. A right is only so valuable (or so real) as are the occasions of its exercise. When the right to freedom of speech is sold by news outlets under the guise of the opinion page, marginalized people stand silent and voiceless as the ability of the wealthy and already well-heard to share their opinions grows without restraint. Student Life endorses the Freedom Center’s right to free speech and says that while controversial, the Center “paid” for its opinion and “has a right to be heard.” Of course the line between opinion and standard advertisements is not black and white, but I do not think paid opinions of this sort should appear in our student newspaper.
Even if one was to endorse the idea that political propaganda is something we can, for the right price, publish as free speech, it should be obvious that the editorial board of Student Life should have chosen not to publish the Freedom Center’s piece. The Center’s advertisement places sole blame for Palestinian suffering upon the Palestinians. It denies Palestinian identity, suggesting that an Arab is an Arab. It accuses the Palestinian people in general—not extremists specifically—of waging a genocidal war against Jews. And it consistently dehumanizes an entire group of human beings—the antithesis of everything we are taught and encouraged to believe at our university.
Should there be any doubt about the Freedom Center’s beliefs, the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the David Horowitz Freedom Center as a leading organization “support[ing] efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable.” Among other things, the Freedom Center has described the Palestinians as leading the “second holocaust of the Jews,” and has said “the Palestinians are Nazis,” falsely comparing a people to a tyrannical political party. Would we allow such an advertisement if these comments were directed towards some other historically marginalized group such as homosexuals, African-Americans or Jews? Would we sanction as an exercise of free speech an advertisement that suggested that any of these groups were to blame for their own suffering or that accused them of leading “genocidal campaigns?” Would we publish an advertisement that openly dehumanized any of those groups? I think not. The fact that Student Life permitted the publication of something so condemning and slanderous toward the Palestinians is a sad commentary on how marginalized they are, as a people, in the eyes of the western world.
Student Life seeks to foster debate over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Let this discussion be heard! But let it be heard publicly and genuinely. Let it be heard in published columns and submissions that may be responded to directly through the StudLife website.
The debate I feel we need to have is why marginalization is still okay, so long as it pays the bills? I want to question why money is the doorway to free speech, why we have a newspaper that needs to fund itself by accepting such ads, and why academic priorities follow the money and not the need? I want to debate why irrational and hateful views set the tone for our public discourse, here and nationally, and why it is so difficult for members of our campus community, our nation, Israelis and Palestinians to hold opinions and engage in debate without marginalizing each other.
I’m not an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I believe with conviction that continued reasoned discussion that seeks to find humanistic responses to the conflict is the right way forward, that free speech and money should never be mistaken as the same thing, that bigoted speech against a marginalized people is unacceptable no matter the target of the speech or the identity of the speaker, and that to accept such speech as ordinary opinion is a sign of our own passive prejudices.