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September 14, 2016 3:25 pm

Anti-BDS Faculty Group Lauds Quick-Thinking Moderator for Nipping Disruption of Netanyahu Panel Discussion in the Bud

avatar by Lea Speyer

Professor of Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University Robert Leiber. Photo: Georgetown.

Professor of Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University Robert Leiber. Photo: Georgetown.

The recent disruption of an Israel-related event at Georgetown University (GU) was a “flop,” due mainly to the quick thinking of its moderator, the head of an academic organization told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

Kenneth Waltzer, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) — a group of American college faculty members who oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement — was referring to a disturbance created by anti-Israel activists during a September 8 panel discussion on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s career, hosted by GU’s Center for Jewish Civilization. 

The disruption in question was described by panel moderator Robert Lieber as “very brief.” In his words, as soon as the discussion began,

…[A] young woman began screaming about Palestinians, Zionist panelists and genocide, and two students unfurled a banner reading, “Palestine From the River to the Sea.” The GU campus police, with whom we had coordinated before the event, swiftly removed the banner and its holders from the hall. From the podium, I calmly but forcefully stated that the woman’s interruption was utterly unacceptable, that she was in blatant violation of the University’s speech code in preventing a speaker from speaking and the audience from hearing.  I stated that her reference to “genocide” was unacceptable and indeed obscene, and I then added, either leave now or get in line to ask a question — which she did a few minutes later (once again referencing Palestinians and genocide)…

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One of the keys to this was the firm statement at the outset of the event about the speech code.  As a result, when the outburst did occur, it was in a context where the audience understood and was receptive to the rules and had no doubt the protesters’ behavior was unacceptable and in violation of the GU policy.

Waltzer told The Algemeiner that the above action “framed” the audience’s mindset on acceptable discourse, both legally and where campus policy is concerned. “Hecklers and protesters have free-speech rights as well, but not to hamper the free speech of others — something that is subject to discipline or arrest,” he said.

According to Waltzer, the handling and outcome of the incident have important implications on “how to plan, prepare and handle disruption in real time.”

In an email sent to AEN members and obtained by The Algemeiner, the organization laid out several recommendations “that any of us can do to promote a successful event…and also respond effectively to disruption or the danger of disruption.”

Ideas included: coming prepared with a copy of the university’s code of conduct to share with the audience; coordinating in advance with campus security; responding actively from the podium in the event of a disruption; and encouraging hecklers to saiparticipate by asking questions at an event, rather than attempt to shut it down.

BDS, Waltzer said, is a “substantial movement” that is “creative and flexible in adapting new tactics” to hamper pro-Israel campus events.

“Its activists are using the campus as a megaphone. They are joining with student groups active on other causes and insinuating its views into their views and vice versa,” he said. “The movement doesn’t have to win on boycott or divestment. That’s not the purpose. The purpose is to use such campaigns to delegitimize Israel.”

The BDS movement can be combated effectively,” Waltzer told The Algemeiner. “But it takes a lot of effort and ingenuity.”

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