A Victory Over Bigotry at Friends Seminary
by Alan Dershowitz
The Friends Seminary in New York, which made the God-awful mistake in judgment of twice inviting Gilad Atzmon to meet with its students, has now acknowledged that it was wrong to do so and has promised never again to allow that bigot to set foot on its premises. It has also promised to invite me and representatives of the Anti-Defamation League to address its students about the dangers of the sort of anti-Semitic hatred spewed by Atzmon.
This dispute was never about Atzmon himself. He is just one of a number of hate mongers that crawl out from beneath the rocks of the internet. His claims that Jews may have killed “Goyim” to use their blood, his doubts about the Holocaust, his incitement to burn down synagogues as “reasonable”, his claims that Jews try to control the world and are responsible for most of its evils—these are the screwball rants of pathological anti-Semites that are and should be ignored. The issue was always about the lack of judgment showed by the Friends Seminary, which legitimated this hate speech to its students by inviting Atzmon.
When I first raised these issues, the Headmaster of the Friends School ignored my requests for a discussion. He obviously thought the issue would go away with time. But I would not let it simply pass. I wrote op eds, blogs and letters demanding that the school acknowledge its mistake. (I never sought to have his scheduled appearances cancelled.)
Finally, when I threatened to appear in front of the school and hand my essays to any of their students who were willing to read it, and when the Wall Street Journal decided to cover the story, the school began to take the issue seriously. By expressly promising never to allow Atzmon to darken their doorstep, the school has implicitly acknowledged that it was wrong to invite him, and to assign the students to read one of his hate-filled essays. (The school has also agreed to assign my essay rebutting Atzmon to the students who were assigned his essay.) Of course it was wrong ever to welcome him, especially in light of the school’s policy to invite speakers and performers who represent the school’s peaceful and tolerant values. Those who invited him should have known better, and hopefully now they do.
The school’s positive response to my advocacy, and to that like others like the ADL, demonstrates that silence is never an acceptable answer to bigotry. I understand why some of the parents and students in the school were afraid to risk grades and college opportunities by challenging those in power. That is precisely why those of us outside the school had a responsibility to act, and to act vigorously and firmly.
In the end, the entire experience was almost certainly a positive one in the eternal fight against bigotry. No one in the Friends community and no one who reads the media, can now claim ignorance regarding Atzmon’s poison pen and viperous tongue. No decent school will ever invite Atzmon again, and anyone who does invite him must be charged with the knowledge that they are legitimating a known bigot.
In a recent post, Atzmon said that he would be willing to play alongside David Duke. What a duet! But that’s exactly where Atzmon belongs—in the company of neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, homophobes, misogynists, sexists and other bigots. He does not belong in American schools, especially high schools, and his views—though he has a complete right to express them—should never be legitimated. They must be rejected in the marketplace of ideas. The Friends Seminary has now done that. Kudos to them for learning from their mistakes.