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January 12, 2015 6:03 pm

Brandeis University: Both Pro-Israel and Pro Free Speech

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

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Brandeis University remains "deeply committed to the Jewish and Zionist principles of its founders and namesake," Dershowitz argues. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Brandeis University, like many other academic institutions, is experiencing a wave of vicious, irrational and extremist hatred of Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, and Zionism, which is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. On many campuses, anti-Israel zealots among the faculty often misuse the classroom to promote bigotry, hate speech and extremism. Much of their venom is directed not only against Israel, but also against Western democratic values, and especially the United States. These hateful attitudes often influence young students who identify with popular radical professors. Sometimes the students come to the university with these views already formed.

Based on my experience, I believe that the number of faculty and students who express such views are relatively small, but their influence exceeds their numbers because they often speak more openly and loudly than those who support Western values, the United States and Israel.  On some university campuses student groups, such as Justice for Palestine, are well funded by questionable sources and have the resources to magnify their views.

None of this is surprising, since universities have often been the focal points of radical groups, both left and right.  What surprises many is that Brandeis University has joined the ranks of academic institutions with a small but significant number of faculty and students who hate Israel, America and Western values. Brandeis was the first university in America to be established under Jewish auspices. Though it is not a religious school or a school with institutional affiliations to Jewish organizations, it has always proudly reflected its Jewish heritage. Its motto is the Hebrew word “emet”, which means truth.  Its founding generation consisted largely of American Zionists, some of whom played active roles in the establishment of Israel. The university is named after the most prominent Zionist in American history, Justice Louis Brandeis.

So when the name Brandeis is in the news, associated with vocal faculty or students who express anti-Israel bigotry, it comes as a shock to many. Some mistake the individual views of some faculty and students with the institutional views of the university. Moreover, in addition to Brandeis’ commitment to specifically Jewish and Zionist values, it is also long been committed to universal principles of academic freedom, open inquiry and the marketplace of ideas.

Enter Fred Lawrence, Brandeis’ current president, who is both a deeply committed Jewish Zionist, and a constitutional scholar deeply committed to free expression, academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas. His unwillingness to censor rabidly anti-Zionist speech—speech which he fundamentally disagrees with—has sometimes been misunderstood as placing Brandeis’ imprimatur, or brand, on such expression. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hateful speech against Israel, America and Western values, must be responded to in the marketplace of ideas. It cannot be defeated by the censor.  It must win the battle for the minds and hearts of open-minded students and faculty.

President Lawrence has a difficult job but in my view he is doing it well.  Reasonable people can disagree with specific decisions, such as the withdrawal of an honorary doctorate from Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I do. But that was not so much a matter of free speech—she was not prevented from expressing her views on the campus. It was a question of who the university should honor. With regard to other issues, President Lawrence has expressed strong personal support for Israel and Zionism while defending the rights of those who disagree with him to express contrary views.

There are few more difficult jobs today than being a university president. They must balance so many conflicting principles and values. President Lawrence has tried hard to strike the appropriate balance under challenging circumstances. In my view, both he and the university have done a commendable job.

Brandeis, as an institution, remains deeply committed to the Jewish and Zionist principles of its founders and namesake. It has close connections to Israel. It presents a safe environment for supporters, detractors and critics of both Israel and its enemies.

As an institution, and through the words and deeds of its president, Brandeis University is supportive of the nation state of the Jewish people. I would be both proud and comfortable sending my own children and grandchildren to Brandeis University, knowing that they will have a safe and intellectually challenging experience in an environment supportive of Jewish, Zionist and free speech values.

Alan Dershowitz is a Professor Law at Harvard Law School (emeritus) and the author of Terror Tunnels:  The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas (Rosetta Books 2014)

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  • dante

    sorry, Alan, I respect you, I admire you. but, however fine a person Fred Lawrence is, the way in which student Daniel Mael has been treated by the school is a persuasive demonstration that there is something radically wrong in Waltham. (in the process of debate with a J-Streeter, the latter’s feelings were so hurt that he ran home to nanny Brandeis and filed a complaint against Mael. the university was all about suppressing Mael’s rights and dishonoring academic freedom and itself until legal counsel, Covington & Burling, representing Mael took the administration to school on the subject of free speech/academic freedom. the university needed the refresher course: it had earned an “F” in those subjects; now, after some back and forth, it’s on probation. for some light entertainment, one could read the idiotic, embarrassing, self-justifying statements made by university officials.) so, Fred might be a great fellow and his heart might be in the right place, I wouldn’t question your word on the matter, but the school is infected with the same blight, the same self-satisfied and aggressive intolerance masquerading as virtue, afflicting many other campuses.

  • robert borns

    my daughter is a graduate. sorry professor, the president is a fool. i would discourage my grandchildren from going there. his behavior and the schools behavior is inexcusable.

  • charlie johnson

    The cost of sending a young person to a university is very expensive. Some go to learn something useful to be able to contribute some good back to their society while being able to supply the basic needs of their families by doing productive work. But some go because it is a cool place to shuck and jive at the expense of taxpayers.

  • Mickey Oberman

    Your little pro Brandeis essay is quite surprising as the only news about Israel emanating from that institution of higher learning is viciously anti Israel.

  • Golum

    If you are Black, Arab or Jew and wish to promote Anti-Semitism or Anti-Israel activities It should NOT be allowed…..
    Brandeis being a Jewish oriented Private school should not permit it… Jewish School Jewish Rules!!! You want freedom to hate Jews go somewhere’s else!! We’re pulling our families monetary support as of now!!!!!
    Only a crazy person would support people who are vowing hatred towards them!!!!!!!


    Dershowitz: ” Reasonable people can disagree with specific decisions, such as the withdrawal of an honorary doctorate from Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I do. But that was not so much a matter of free speech—she was not prevented from expressing her views on the campus. It was a question of who the university should honor.” ”
    No, Alan this was a craven surrender to pressure from a small group of students and faculty. It gave them the veto control and domination as to what causes cannot be supported on the Brandeis campus.
    Another issue you did not cover is the physical oppression of pro-Israel groups by Palestinian supporters which the administration has woefully ignored.

    I appreciate your loyalty to the president of Brandeis and to the President of the United States. However, in the case of Pres. Obama you have given him the fig leaf which shields much of his anti-Israel activities. Apparently, you seek to provide the same service to the present of Brandeis.

  • Sorry Alan…Fred Lawrence is a kapo…and since when Obama says jump, you say how high…shut up too.

  • To all those people living in the Land of Oz .
    We are in a World wide Islamic Cultural War or 1400-year-old Jihad.
    We each see a different parts of it in the world and if you put all the violent parts together it adds up to only one cause: a 1400 year old Islamic Cultural War. It is the same as that joke of four blind men touching the elephant.

    ҬThe names of the Arabs and Muslim Terrorists change but the behavior has been always the same for the last 1400 years.

    It is not about land, rights or settlements, water or being politically left or right. If it were it would have been solved long ago. It has not.

    It is Cultural War that means Islamic Culture must destroy Western Culture or Western Culture must destroy Islamic Culture. It is a Cultural Genocidal War, just like the American/Indian wars were about. This time we are the Indians.

    Muslims have been fighting each other and others for 1400 years or more. There is no reason that it will stop now. If we want peace we must change Islamic Culture.

    The book “Culture and Conflict”, explains it clearly. It shows that current cultural conditions in the Arab Middle East will not support internal development, advancement or peace until there is a major cultural change. “It is critical that we understand our enemy. That is step one in every conflict,” RR. Philip Carl Salzman, INSB # 978-1-59102-587-0.

  • Many Americans know a “Good Muslim” But they are wrong they know a “Bad Muslim” a Bad Muslim is a Good human. A “Good Muslim” would be following Sharia Law, killing and raping you. Islam in America is weak once it becomes strong many Bad Muslims will be become Good Muslims. Bill Warner, Center for the Study of Political Islam.

    “The Hebrew Bible has 5.6% of political violence; The Islamic Trilogy Koran, Sira and Hadith have 31% political violence. “The words devoted to political violence in Islam 327,547; the Bible 34,039″ The Political violence of the Koran is eternal and universal. The Political violence of the Bible is for a particular historical time and place.” Bill Warner, Center for the Study of Political Islam.
    Good Muslim, Bad Person

  • President of Brandeis University is a Dimmi Jew. Get off the fence and support yourself and the Jewish people and join the war against the Islamic Culture War that is taking over Europe, England and threatening America.

    • charlie johnson

      I am not a Catholic.Nor do I go to any Protestant church .But I am fairly sure that Harvard was founded by Catholics. But over the times it has became a university controlled by atheist/Marxist who prefer large volumes of Capitalist dollars. I think Shakespeare said appearances deceive. The USA today is like a book that has a front page that has little connection to the entire book.