Should mainstream Jewish organizations – museums, educational organizations such as campus Hillels, or Jewish community centres – open their doors to speakers and events that promote boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), demonize Israel or repeat Palestinian myths? Does turning away zealots who claim to speak in the name of universal morality, while singling out Israel for unique treatment, constitute censorship and a violation of free speech?
While such arguments might sound reasonable in an ideal world, where every perspective has an equal opportunity to be heard, the reality is very different. No tent, no matter how big, is unlimited – there are boundaries to every debate. For example, Jewish institutions do not provide platforms for Holocaust denial and blatant anti-Semitism. And while each group draws the boundaries of legitimate debate on Israel along its own lines, attempts to erase all boundaries, such as the exploitation of the term “apartheid” or false allegations of “war crimes,” is foolish.
Then there is the problem of ideological discrimination – on Israel, free speech is often a one-way street. When many of the groups that are exclusively critical of Israel, as well as the more radical anti-Zionist organizations, hold public events to promote their views, these are generally single-flavour experiences. Try to find someone who disagrees responsibly with the activities of the New Israel Fund (NIF) on a panel at an NIF event or as part of their tours in Israel.
One-way free speech is particularly blatant in the various pseudo-academic conferences on topics such as “Palestinian human rights” (because Israelis are not entitled to rights), “apartheid,” and “the one-state solution” (meaning no Israel) that are making the rounds on university campuses. And among small groups of church activists who focus obsessively on attacking Israel, no “balance” or debate can be found. Critics of these poisonous agendas are generally kept far away, while pro-Israel (and even neutral) voices are muzzled.
European governments alone provide at least $100 million annually to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that promote this agenda, enabling their officials (including a small but hyperactive group of alienated Israelis) to push their opinions on every available platform.
As a result, the waves of attacks against Israel and the multiple forms of demonization, particularly targeting young Jews and students, are unfolding on a battlefield that is far from even. And in many cases, ideologues from both extremes of the ideological spectrum – left and right, who invoke the language of free speech and “big tents” without boundaries – are often responsible for silencing those who hold more complex and nuanced views.