Monday, September 24, 2007

Jewish Opponents of Ahmadinejad Speech Miss The Point

Self-Styled Israeli Truth Squad StandWithUs Misfires By Protesting Columbia's Invite of "Madman Iran Prez"
Iranian President/Western World Whipping Boy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has finished his speech at Columbia University, where his appearance was a case of democracy in action even if that meant getting pimp-slapped in the process.
The slap came courtesy of Columbia President Lee Bollinger who, as quickly as he defended Ahmadinejad's right to speak, brought up all the things we love to hate about him, calls for the destruction of Israel, likening the Holocaust as a myth, an extremely lousy human-rights record, yada yada.
"You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," said Bollinger, in the soundbite that will be heard around the world (well, maybe not in Iran).
What was both comical and sad about today's contretemps in Morningside Heights was the fact that not only were there protesters of Ahmadinejad, whom the New York Post blithely labeled the "madman Iran prez," but of Columbia for allowing him to speak.
The prime offender in this regard is a group called StandWithUs, which styles itself as a truth squad about Israel, or as its mission statement propounds: "that Israel's side of the story is told in communities, campuses, libraries, the media and churches through brochures, speakers and conferences."
Fair enough. But too often what that translates to are attacks by StandWithUs, and those of like mind, at anyone who utters anything that even remotely smacks of being critical of Israel, no matter how benign or justified.
Israel has no shortage of bad press on a good day, so making sure its story is properly told is well-intentioned. However, attempts to correct the record are often obscured by a myopic ball of rage that has no room for balanced reporting. Attempts to do so can mean you're anti-Zionist, a self-hating Jew, or both.
I remember attending a talk sponsored by the UJA several years back, in which one of the flacks from the Israeli Consulate was openly encouraging this kind of behavior, urging those assembled to hold the media accountable whenever Israel is mentioned, especially in the big bad New York Times and NPR.
While I didn't attend the meeting as a media representative, I later introduced myself (at the time I was working for CBS) and reminded her that Israel wasn't a perfect place, and that the media shouldn't be condemned for reporting same. She acknowledged that was true, but remained content to foment the masses anyway.
Such efforts are not only self-defeating, but counter-productive. If you can do is be an Israeli cheerleader without any perspective you squander what little credibility you have.
Which doesn't mean you keep silent when Ahmadinejad shows up in your backyard. You just shouldn't exhibit the same kind of intolerance that his country is famous for.
StandWithUs campus organizer Dani Klein told the Times: "We felt that this went above and beyond the issues of free speech."
Maybe Klein should spend more time in the classroom. He clearly has a lot to learn.

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