Sometimes, as bad as things may seem, one must also remember to
count one's blessings because things can always be worse. Indeed,
elsewhere, they often are worse. For example: for the last month
my columns have focused on what was happening at Duke University.
In my view, when universities refuse to teach students the difference
between what is true and what is false this constitutes an abdication
of intellectual and moral responsibility which renders democracy
utterly vulnerable to barbarism. I fear that Duke's hosting of the
PSM conference without "taking sides," may indeed border
on such abdication.
But, as the immediate Jewish world and our supporters were covering
the Palestine Solidarity Conference at Duke, something decidedly
worse was happening at the University of Pisa in Italy. At Duke,
both the pro-Israel and the pro-Palestine speakers, activists, protestors,
and infiltrators were physically non-violent. Jew-hatred is far
more physically violent in Europe, not only on their mean streets
but at their universities.
According to my informant, the prominent Roman journalist, Anselma
DellOlio, last week, Shai Cohen, an Israeli diplomat, was
invited to give a talk to students at the University of Pisa, a
venerable institution which was founded in 1343 . Cohen was to speak
on "Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. " Professor
Maurizio Vernassa invited students from the History Department and
from the Afro-Asian institutes. The invitation was no secret. Cohen
entered through the main entrance of the Aula Magna of the Political
According to DellOlio, "Cohen was greeted by a group
of about 20 students wearing the Palestinian keffiah around their
necks, shouting "Sharon assassino! Israel is a death dealer!
Zionism is a crime against humanity!" Cohen was called a fascist
murderer and other personal and far worse insults. The left-wing
group then proceeded to shout him out of the University , literally
and loudly threatened to pass from verbal to physical violence if
he did not leave. Other students tried to calm things down and defended
Cohen's right to speak, but they were unsuccessful, and the left-wing
thugs shouted that no Israeli would be allowed to speak, that Israel
has no right to exist and so on ."
The point: No national scandal ensued, except in Guiliano Ferrara's
influential newspaper, Il Foglio, which has been publishing pieces
about what happened in Pisa. The Dean of the University sent a tepid,
delayed apology to Cohen. More important: The invitation to Cohen
has not been re-scheduled. According to DellOlio, "A
press release proudly bragging about "Pisa antagonista"
successfully casting out the Israel heathen from the university
and preventing the conference, appeared in Indymedia.
Can what happened at the University of Pisa happen here?
Some might say that it already has. There is very little free speech
for anyone who takes a pro-Israel position at Berkeley. Concordia
University in Montreal, the site of previous anti-Jewish riots,
recently refused to allow former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
to speak; citing security risks, they previously did not allow former
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak either. Ironically,
Duke University spent more than $50,000.00 to protect the PSM's
freedom of speech. My point: Threats of violence have led to self-censorship
on some NorthAmerican campuses. Pro-Israel factions do not threaten
to riot if anti-Israel speakers come to town. De facto censorship
also rules the North American campuses courtesy of Arab oil money,
(and American oil company money too) who, over many years, have
funded anti-Israel and pro-Palestine scholars at Middle East Institutes.
Again, I ask: Can what happened at the University of Pisa happen
America is a former British colony. Ex-colonials tend to internalize
the belief that the colonizer is wiser, more sophisticated , intrinsically
"better. " Thus, Americans are avid followers of British
culture. But Americans--especially its intellectuals--love Italy
for it's sensuous, pagan-Catholic beauty, landscape, music, art.
Recently, one American leftist told me that if President Bush wins
this next election she will "probably become an expatriate
in Italy." Another left-wing professor said that if President
Bush wins that "America will effectively become a police state
and I'll probably have to move to Europe." Some second- and
third-generation Israeli Jews have been moving back to their grandparents'
European countries of origin, especially Germany and Poland. "The
Promised Land," directed by Israelis Avy Hemy and Yael Friedman,
and produced by Idan Regev, is an excellent film about this troubling
subject. I recently viewed it at the East Hampton Film Festival.
I understand: Jews have always been on the road, we are the original
"beatniks." I understand: Like the biblical Abraham, some
Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere, want to leave their fathers'
homes to explore both inner existential and outer geographic space,
move freely, as individuals, from continent to continent. I understand:
Some Israeli Jews want to escape the pressure cooker of the Middle
East, even for a little while if not forever. Of course, most Israeli
Jews are absolutely ready to die for their right to remain in Israel,
despite the cost.
But, if you've read the recent pieces by long-time expatriates
Nidra Poller in Commentary (France) and Carol Gould in Frontpage
(England), it is increasingly clear that Europe is no longer safe
for Jews. If you've seen any of Pierre Rehov's important films,
including his latest one, "Hostages of Hatred," which
I also viewed at the EastHampton Film Festival, you will know that
the Muslim Middle East is boiling over with Jew-hatred. Arab Jews
can't go home again. Nor can most Christians. Please visit my website
(www.phyllis-Chesler.com) where I have posted a 45 minute video
by the Maronite Christian Brigitte Gabriel, who talks about her
experiences growing up under Palestinian tyranny in Lebanon.
NorthAmerica remains safe. But, if the hate propaganda against
the Jews and against the Jewish state is not quickly and effectively
countered, then what happened at the University Pisa will happen
here. It is only a matter of time.
Let us use that time very well.