Free speech debate continues to rage
Free speech must protect dissension
I participated in the demonstration that resulted in Benjamin Netanyahu canceling his speeches in the Bay Area. I’m also an attorney who has often argued the First Amendment in defending the rights of political protesters. I don’t think my activities as a lawyer and a demonstrator are inconsistent and here’s why:
First off, lets not talk about First Amendment rights. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” It restricts government not people. There are very sound reasons in the United States for not wanting government to limit the space for free expression. When it makes a law restricting speech that law affects us all and is enforced with all the power of the courts and the cops. The issue is different when people rise up to prevent some one they consider vile and bloody from speaking freely in their community. We set no legal precedent.
Secondly, Netanyahu is not just some ordinary person wishing to be heard. He is the once and future prime minister of Israel, whose government has been responsible for brutal repression, and persistent violation of human rights. He is not without abundant – too abundant in my view – opportunity for conveying his views.
Thirdly, we have to ask: Is free speech an ultimate value or does its value derive from its relation to other values such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” Are these ultimate values better served by allowing Netanyahu to speak in Berkeley or preventing him from speaking; by tolerating him or, as I believe, by not tolerating him?
Fourthly, it is sometimes argued that we have to permit unfettered freedom of expression because an open market place of ideas is a precondition of genuine democracy. But the free and open market of ideas, if it ever existed, has been affectively destroyed by the concentration of power in giant media conglomerates. Those conglomerates exercise an overwhelming monopoly of the means of expression and communication, from which oppositional voices, and particularly the voice of the Palestinians are well nigh completely excluded.
Fifth, and finally, in the absence of an open market place for ideas, we have learned that it is only by disruption and misbehavior that we succeed in being heard. We are told to obey the rules, but when we do, we are ignored. Free speech, if it has any value at all, must protect the dissenting voices of the powerless and oppressed. If those voices can be heard only by interrupting a conversation from which they are excluded, then, I for one, want to be counted on the side of the disrupters.
Bigots shouldn’t say whom we hear
The day that Barbara Lubin and her bigoted crowd are allowed to dictate who we in Berkeley can or cannot hear is the day when all of us should move to Israel, where free speech is allowed and protected.
This gang is no better than a left wing version of the Ayatollah.
There’s two sides to free speech
Free speech requires a platform for both sides. It requires debate. When Jeane Kirkpatrick, a highly controversial speaker, was presented at UC without any provision for questions, demonstrators demanded to be heard. They woke up the administration. For a brief period thereafter, UC made provision to face controversial speakers with substantial questioning, challenges, or respondent panels. This is taking free speech seriously.
The citizens who came to Netanyahu’s talk came to make sure more than one opinion would be expressed. An organizer has to recognize when there is controversy and when more than one side has to be heard. Bruce Vogel should do better planning next time. If Netanyahu is invited, there should be lots of time for challenge and debate, and Vogel should create balance with a respected speaker for the Palestinians. Berkeley is a good location for developing a series of lively debates.
Protesters ought to educate
It was heartening to read the statement in your 12/7 issue written by veterans of the Free Speech Movement. It confirmed my gut reaction to the tactics used by the protesters to silence Netanyahu. Those of us who want to voice our criticism of Israel’s actions need to do it in a manner that will educate others and bring about an increase in our numbers. The behavior exhibited at the protest was not the way to do it. Besides the issue of free speech, I believe that shutting down the lecture was counter productive. It’s the sort of frenzied action that feeds the opposition, hardens its position, wins converts to its cause and escalates the violence on both sides. For those people who are concerned about the Middle East and are seeking a constructive way of bringing about change, I would recommend making contact with Americans for Peace Now, an offshoot of the Israeli peace movement, Peace Now (Shalom Achshav); their Web site is www.peacenow.org.
I suggest someone invite the historian David Irving of London to the Berkeley Community Theater to talk. He seems to invoke the same strength of feeling as Netanyahu but he’s on the other side of the fence. Lets then see how the free speech commmunity, the ADL, and the various local groups react.
speech commmunity, the ADL, and the various local groups react.
In my view, the Netanyahu in Berkeley incident had very little to do with free speech and much more to do with karma, the most powerful force on earth; more powerful than the all the guns used to protect “free speech.” We are all ultimately responsible for the words we speak and the consequences that may result.