John F. Burness
Senior Vice President for Public Affairs
Dear Mr. Burness:
I am pleased that you responded to my letter but also disappointed
that President Brodhead has chosen not to respond. However, since
you quote him in your letter on a very substantive point, I will
assume that your letter represents his views as well.
I am gratified that you "do not dispute (my) words, 'Free'
speech is not always ' true speech. Universities have an obligation
to teach the truth as much as they may also wish to model tolerance
for all speech, including that which bears no relationship to the
truth." President Brodheads view is this: "All ideas
are not equal, but it is a foundational principle of American life
that all ideas should have an equal opportunity to be expressed...when
universities get into the business of suppressing speech, however
vile, it lends credence to the notion that it is a legitimate function
of the university to suppress speech."
I am not asking President Brodhead to suppress anyone's speech.
Indeed, for that reason I wanted to be certain that the media will
be allowed in (which your letter assures me they will but, at student
request, without cameras or tape-recorders). On the phone, but not
in your letter, you also assured me that Duke is making provisions
for safety and security in the event protestors turn up who want
to exercise even more of our much valued free speech.
But, let me ask you: Do you consider the Palestine Solidarity Movement's
hate speech against Jews and the Jewish state, and in favor of suicide
terrorism, "vile" speech or not? I am no longer discussing
the university's right to allow "unequal," "divergent,"
"unpopular" or "dissent(ing)" speech free and
full expression on campus. I am talking about whether the Duke administration
and faculty do or do not have an obligation to inform students as
to whether what they've just heard in a Duke classroom or auditorium
also happens to be "vile" and hateful speech, utterly
lacking in objectivity, accuracy, or scholarship?
What if the upcoming conference at Duke was being organized by
a group of pimps, traffickers, and pornographers, (who have a large
following of tenured academic groupies) on campus; what if their
speakers proclaimed that women and female teenagers had the right
to choose to be "sex-workers," that the "work"
was not harmful or even dangerous but was, instead, empowering?
You would be able to find many academics, no doubt even at Duke,
who would agree with these false and dangerous views. Thus, allowing
academics to counter hate speech with a more expert version of the
same hate speech is not enough. Similarly, if Duke held a Holocaust
Denial conference in which the speakers were to say that Hitler
did not murder European Jews or that only very few Jews were murdered,
you would also be able to find academics who shared such views in
more expert voices.
When you say that the Hillel-affiliated Freeman Center of Jewish
Life at Duke will be providing counter programming, I must look
at what that programming so far seems to be.
First, let me note that you do not mention the upcoming lecture
of Daniel Pipes who was invited months ago by the Duke Conservative
Student Union as their way of protesting the Palestine Solidarity
Movement's on-campus conference. I understand that the Freeman Center
has recently agreed to co-sponsor Professor Pipes's speech.
Second, I have been told (and you must correct me if I am wrong),
that the Freeman Center will not be allowing any Israeli Jewish
victims of terrorist violence to speak out and that the other such
victims are not being allowed to target their attackers as Muslims
or Arabs--even if that's exactly who they are.
Thus, I have been told that telling the truth is not "politically
correct" at Duke. I hope that my information is wrong. I hope
that the Freeman Center will have Israeli Jewish speakers as well
as other speakers and that their ability to discuss who launched
a terrorist attack against them is also accurate.
I have also been told that once a strong enough case is made to
Duke about something that Duke has posted about this upcoming conference
that is inaccurate or too controversial that Duke then makes some
change (to it's website for example). Thus, I am hoping that by
my saying this, that the lineup of Freeman Center speakers may change
and that they will all be allowed to speak both freely and truly.
Third, the Freeman Center's invitation to Yossi Beilin, (whom I
gather is not coming), and Avrum Burg, (whom I gather is coming),
does not reflect a commitment to provide balanced and diverse pro-Israel
programming. Both esteemed gentlemen represent only the far left
Israeli point of view. They also represent the views of those who
tried and failed to achieve peace with the Palestinians through
the Oslo Accords--and whose every earnest effort was utterly rejected
by Yaser Arafat who chose instead to launch a very bloody Intifada
which has lasted for four years.
I have also been told by Rachel Fish of The David Project (which
has had experience in just such on campus conferences) that she
had to yell and scream to be allowed to make a Freeman Center sponsored
presentation on October 16th and then only if she could fund herself.
To the best of my knowledge, the Freeman Center has not invited
any Christian Arabs and Phoenicians who have lived under Israeli,
Palestinian, Lebanese, and Arab League rule to speak about whom
the Palestinians really are and what they've done to their own people.
This in my view is a serious mistake.
I am glad to hear that Dennis Ross will be speaking sometime during
the school year. His most recent book certainly confirms that Arafat
unilaterally rejected a serious peace proposal at both Camp David
and at Taba. I am also glad that Alan Dershowitz will appear sometime
during the school year as well. His book "The Case for Israel"
is both passionate and accurate. I am a bit puzzled both about Gary
Bauer and Jamie Gorelick vis a vis the matter at hand.
I gather that the local Jewish federations do not want the Jews
to "make waves." I gather that the Freeman Center does
not want to depart from the "politically correct" party
line either. Thus, telling me that Jews share the Duke administration
view is not persuasive. Over the years, African-Americans can always
be found who will say that they have never been discriminated against;
one can find women who will say the same thing. This does not mean
it is true.
In fact, the Palestine Solidarity Movement will be having a number
of Jewish speakers, including the Rutgers student, Abe Greenhouse,
who allegedly threw a pie at Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky as
Sharansky was trying to exercise his free speech rights. Ora Wise,
the Brooklyn based daughter of a rabbi, will also be speaking for
the PSM. The Duke student who invited the PSM on campus I am told
is a Jewish Israeli. Please confirm. The role of Jews on the humanitarian
left and their motives to be the first to condemn the Jewish state
should probably be the subject of a conference all it's own. Let
me again note that neither Duke nor the Freeman Center has invited
any Palestinians, or Arabs, either Christian or Muslim, who are
strong Zionists and pro-democracy advocates.
Vice President Burness: Please, I beg you to consider hosting one
of the three conferences I proposed to you in my first letter. I
would help you with this. It would be the very highest road Duke
could choose to take out of this ugly morass.
Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D., is the author of twelve books including
her latest, THE NEW ANTI-SEMITISM. THE CURRENT CRISIS AND WHAT WE
MUST DO ABOUT IT. She is working on a new book about the importance
of independent thinking for Palgrave-Macmillan (St. Martins).
She may be reached through her website www.Phyllis-Chesler.com.
Dear Dr. Chesler:
I appreciated the opportunity to talk with you the other day and
your gracious invitation "to correct any inaccurate information"
in your recent article in FrontPageMag.com, "The Chesler Wars
Come to Duke."
First, my response to what you defined as the two most important
 You wrote that the conference will take place "behind
closed doors with no press allowed," and that "this is
what the Palestine Solidarity Movement conference planners have
demanded." The university is treating the PSM conference as
it does all student conferences. Duke doesn't dictate to its students
the content or structure of their events, or the speakers they must
select. The student organizers have determined that the conference
is open to anyone who wishes to register, up to a space limit of
500 people. They have also determined that members of the news media
may register to attend, within that 500-person limit. In addition,
the conference organizers are planning a press conference.
 Your related assertion, that Duke is prohibiting cameras and/or
sound recorders, is also not accurate. Duke does not dictate whether
cameras or recording equipment will be allowed at the conference.
That is properly a decision for the student sponsors, consistent
with Duke's policies that permit such restrictions. Such prohibitions
are not uncommon. Just last month, the university honored a similar
request of the distinguished playwright and Nobel laureate Wole
Soyinka, who gave a public lecture on campus and requested that
his speech not be recorded.
Let me turn now to a number of other inaccurate or misleading statements
in your article:
You wrote, "Duke will be supporting a group (which is also
known as the International Solidarity Movement)." Duke's understanding
from multiple sources is that the Palestine Solidarity Movement
(PSM), while related to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM),
is a separate organization. The PSM is, in effect, a loose confederation
of student groups at campuses around the country. It is indisputable
that ISM members have participated in previous PSM conferences,
but federal police authorities have confirmed for us that the organizations
are separate and distinct and, equally important, that the PSM has
no ties to known terrorists. It also may be true that ISM activists
may be involved in PSM activities. But just as I would assume there
might be individuals active in both the Simon Wiesenthal Center
and the American Jewish Committee, that does not make them one and
the same any more than the ISM and PSM would be one and the same.
You wrote that you are "even more distressed by Duke's failure,
so far, to fund and host very different kinds of programs in this
area." In fact, we are.
The Freeman Center for Jewish Life's "Joint Israel Initiative,"
in the words of its student organizers:
". supports the ongoing efforts towards a resolution of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and [those who] yearn for peace throughout
the region. . . To accomplish this, the Israel Initiative is sponsoring
a range of program and events in the coming year. We are working
closely with Duke officials, local Jewish community leaders, and
national organizations to create a wide range of activities that
provide an unbiased perspective on the diversity of opinion within
and outside the Jewish community. We are proud to announce that
this year we will be bringing to campus Alan Dershowitz, Yossi Beilin,
Gary Bauer, and Avram Burg."
You should know that the night before the conference, a Concert
Against Terrorism has been organized by a number of student groups.
And several nationally and internationally prominent speakers with
expertise on terrorism, the Middle East, and the Israel-Palestine
conflict-including former U.S. Ambassador and Special Envoy to the
Middle East Dennis Ross and Jamie Gorelick of the 9-11 Commission-have
or will be speaking on campus as part of a year-long set of activities
focused on these issues.
The prospect of this admittedly controversial conference has stimulated
considerable discussion at Duke, which already has led to constructive
discussion of possible solutions to what President Brodhead called
"the historic inability of the Israelis and the Palestinians
to find a workable solution to their longstanding and awful conflict."
Indeed, last night I spoke with a parent of a Duke student who reported
that his daughter, who had not been active or particularly interested
in Judaism since her Bat Mitzvah, had become interested in her religion
once again and active in the programs of the Freeman Center because
of the PSM conference. As he put it, while the PSM conference may
be controversial, he was impressed by the effect it is having on
students such as his daughter.
The balance of your letter, as well as most of our discussion,
shows that we disagree on the university's role, as well as what
may have happened at previous PSM conferences and what may be happen
at this one. Fair enough. I have read your article, and I ask that
you read the materials on Duke's Web site http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/psm/index.html,
which provide information that many people have told us they find
useful in understanding issues associated with this conference and
Duke's decision to support our students in hosting it.
I do not dispute your words, " 'Free' speech is not always
'true' speech. Universities have an obligation to teach the truth
as much as they may also wish to model tolerance for all speech,
including that which bears no relationship to the truth."
In turn, I hope you will carefully consider President Brodhead's
"All ideas are not equal, but it is a foundational principle
of American life that all ideas should have an equal opportunity
to be expressed. Universities, in particular, must give wide latitude
to free speech and free debate because the pursuit of truth through
the encounter of divergent points of view is the very stuff of education.
When universities get in the business of suppressing speech, however
vile, it lends credence to the notion that it is a legitimate function
of the university to suppress speech. A notion is thereby validated
that then can be activated on another occasion-perhaps to suppress
our own dissent or unpopular expression. The day we start making
it easy to shut down others' opinions is the day we license a curtailment
of freedom from which we could each suffer in our turn."
I acknowledge that the discussions at the student PSM conference
inevitably will be heavily focused on issues from the Palestinian
perspective. Similarly, I expect the activities sponsored by the
Freeman Center will be focused on issues from the Israeli perspective.
Our students and others will have an opportunity to learn from each
of these programs, as well as the myriad of speeches and panel discussions
by our faculty and outside experts. As a result, we hope they and
other members of our campus community will be better educated and
able to make up their own minds about these issues.
Again, Dr. Chesler, I greatly appreciate the opportunity you have
given me to correct the inaccurate portions of your article, and
especially your offer to have this response published in FrontPageMag.com.
John F. Burness
Senior Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations
(The author may be reached at www.phyllis-chesler.com)