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Ramaz and Rashid Khalidi

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The Ramaz School was wrong to refuse to allow Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian apologist, to speak to its senior students. The purpose of any good school is to educate its pupils to think for themselves.

Thinking students need to hear other opinions, other arguments and other convictions. Knowing what the other side’s arguments and emotions are, they can better make up their own minds about the issues of the day. One of the primary tasks of a good education is to present different ideas. Certainly where a school prides itself on the intellectual quality of its staff, its pupils, and its curriculum, there is all the greater responsibility to present conflicting points of view and intellectual challenges, even if they sometimes might be painful. Presenting different points of view is indeed the very difference between education and indoctrination.

This does not mean that a good school cannot propagate its own particular favored position and ideology. It should and it must. But if you do not expose your charges to an opposing point of view, they will be totally unequipped to deal with the challenges they will face on the outside in situations when there may be no one there to consult or to give them another point of view.

In my years in education, both high school and adult, I was always ready to invite controversial speakers to present another point of view, even if I hated the opinion and the person who propagated it. Whether it was the Austrian neo-Nazi Jorg Haider or South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, or an extreme left-wing Israeli opinion, which was often much worse. I have always thought it important to actually listen to them in a context in which they can be challenged, both for their own good (though it rarely achieves that, hatred rarely tolerates a riposte) and in order to learn how to respond. Even, I might say, to listen with humility if there are strong arguments that are painful.

The process of dialectic, of classical philosophical debate, is an invaluable tool for young people to learn not only how to think for themselves but how to try to persuade others. Similarly, when it comes to religious issues I have welcomed atheists, such as Anthony Grayling. I think it essential that young Jews learn how to defend themselves. After all, even Pirkei Avot commands us to “know how to answer the Apikorous.”

All this presupposes that in the audience and afterwards there will be well-informed teachers who will be able to defend the other side. Sometimes this is not the case. But if it does happen, the school has every opportunity to make sure that this is rectified further down the line with better-equipped experts brought in to ensure that other arguments are given and the nuances appreciated. Anyway there are levels of commitment that go beyond logic; priorities of family, people and nation even if one has reservations or sees another point of view.

One of the sad features of political debate nowadays in general and the Israel-Palestinian issue in particular is that in one side, invariably the Palestinian, in my experience, usually tries to shout down the other. In Europe Israel rarely gets an opportunity to present itself, and when it is given a platform the other side and its amen-choruses try their best to disrupt. This is happening on American campuses too. Fashion in academia is as insidious as in Vogue. More so given the stakes. The illogicality of boycotting Israel over say China or Russia simply defies logic or justice. Balanced and reasoned debate is increasingly rare. But this doesn’t mean a well-organized school genuinely interested in education should be frightened of presenting both sides, even if universities do not.

Rashid Khalidi is a historian at Columbia, an apologist for the Palestinian cause, and a supporter of armed resistance. He is intelligent and articulate. I think it would have been very useful for the Ramaz students to hear his arguments. Besides, now that he has been denied a platform there, I have no doubt that many pupils will try to find out for themselves what his arguments are, outside the school. So what have you achieved?

I do feel sorry for Ramaz. When, as a rabbi or headmaster, I did invite controversial speakers, the skies fell down around me, and all sorts of pressure was tried to get me to change my mind. Everyone who thought, or whom other people persuaded, that they could influence me, either because they were donors or communal bigwigs, weighed in on the matter and tried everything from threats to withdrawing financial aid. That’s Jewish life for you. Fortunately I was always in a position to ignore them, sometimes politely. Not everyone is. So I sympathize.

It a grave mistake to believe one can completely protect one’s children intellectually, and even if you could it would certainly not help if one wanted them to grow up to take their places in a competitive society. Ironically, I am more in favor of refusing to give our enemies a platform as adults within the established community than I am in schools, precisely because there the minds are more open and malleable.

Once again it is the season for anti-Israel campus events. The very terminology, such as Apartheid, is proof of the intellectual ignorance and dishonesty of the campaigns. Yet left-wing academics rush into the fray all over the country. Not enough is being done to arm young Jewish students to fight back. Sadly, it too often has to be against other Jews who are as fanatically opposed to Israel as the blindest of Jihadis. But their arguments and lies must be exposed, not avoided.

There are enough reasons to criticize Israel without lies and distortions, and equally there enough good arguments to show that Palestinians themselves are the authors of their own sorry state of affairs. I wish it could be resolved amicably, or even not amicably. But the last thing we want to do is to descend to their level of dishonest debate, falsified history, and a culture of physical and mental dependency. Unless our youngsters actually hear the lies and how to answer them, they will not be prepared for university life or the moral challenges that face them.

16 thoughts on “Ramaz and Rashid Khalidi

  1. This is the problem with a lot of the prep schools like Ramaz. I find it somewhat audacious that they try to turn it into a very university-esque, academic and critical environment; but when a student group takes the next logical course of action one would (and should) expect in academia, then Shaviv says it's a high school. How can students not be expected to espouse the values which the school encourages? It makes Ramaz look somewhat disingenuous, in my opinion

  2. Dear Rabbi Rosen, You make excellent arguments. In one sense, once the cat is out of the bag and the invitation has already been issued, it is bad PR to rescind it which is always a churlish move. However, in this case, the moral stance of not providing a platform for this individual as if he has a legitimate argument to begin, provides a much needed shot in the arm to remind ourselves of our dignity and self-respect. Recently, I went on campus to hear what one of these BDS-type people have to say. The speaker was a distinguished professor etc but once he started talking I was laughing, it was exactly the same old tired anti-Semitic crap. I could have written his speech for him, I wasted my time in attending, there was nothing new there but by taking note of a couple of decent naive people in the audience and engaging them in conversation afterwards, I was able to inject a note of santity against the propaganda so my time was not totally wasted. The young students in Ramaz should not be wasting their time on this in their walled garden because they need to develop worldly experience and stature that will enable them to be strong adversaries for Israel. It was sad that the invitation was issued in the first place but rescinding it was the correct decision in this case.

  3. Thank you for your comments and I do agree that there are people one should listen to and others one should not. I believe Khalidi is worth listening to and the pupils of Ramaz should have heard his case. But I guess we'll just have to agree to differ.

  4. Rabbi Jeremy,

    I agree with the thrust of what you are arguing here. Over here in your previous home of Blighty Jews are constantly on the backfoot and increasingly our Universities are being turned madrassas for all sorts of Islamic 'scholars' who churn out some pretty unhealthy points of view. So these views need to be countered and argued. If our young people can't do that they were are frankly stuffed. And at least this Rashid Khalidi will agree to be debated and challenged , even if the views are a nonsense. You may or may not know but a certain British Member of Parliament for Bradford, George Galloway ,refused and 'stormed off' when he realised one of his opponents in a debate was Israeli. That gave him bad press and so it should have done. I appreciate a lecture is not the same as a debate, but the students would have presumably have been free to question his lecture- as any good academic forum should allow this- after he'd done it.

  5. The whole Israeli-Palestinian argument is somewhat tricky. There are certainly a lot of anti-Semitic sentiments and rhetoric involved in many, if not most, anti-Israeli positions, and such comments don't really fit within an academic framework. Nor should they be legitimized.
    However, unlike typically racist positions, this isn't quite like David Duke's anti-Semitic, conspiracy theory ramblings about "Zionists control America, and Hollywood, and don't forget the Rothchilds, and the Holocaust was made up….but I'm not an anti-Semite though." There are legitimate arguments from the Palestinian side, and this entire conflict resides somewhere in a gray area (and this is coming from someone who is very pro-Israel). A blanket judgment to delegitimize an entire position is somewhat disingenuous.
    I don't know much about Khalidi, so I can't really comment on whether his critique of Israel is fair or if he's just another "Israel is creating an apartheid state/Israel is the Fourth Reich." Even if he is the latter, I would assume he'd be cognizant enough to know who his audience is and write out a lecture which could feasibly resonate with a Modern Orthodox crowd, rather than just spark outrage. In which case, his arguments would have more legitimacy and provide a platform for a rational pro-Israel counterargument.
    Perhaps it's better to avoid this whole situation altogether for a high school. But once the invitation is out, it should not be rescinded.

  6. David
    Thank you ! It is sad that I get so much flak here in the USA from Jews who stupidly compare this case to giving a platform to Hitler. A more intersting response is that since the Palestinian/Muslim lobby in the US ( and it has been thus in the UK for quite a while) increasingly tends to shout down pro Israeli speakers, we should not give them opportunities to express their position. But of course that merely puts us in a similar position to that of the unspeakable George Galloway.

  7. Rabbi Jeremy,

    An early Shabbat Shalom to you!

    Having perused your blog and in the process of reading your website (I intend to purchase your books as well- my bad- I have a bit of a backlog there as I am thumbing through Rabbi Slifkin's excellent books, as I believe in reading books and discussing them on merit , rather than branding and banning them as heresy and besides which my sister is an astrophysicist, by education), I cannot see why you'd get so much flak, because as far as this humble 'lay' Jew is concerned your are well within Orthodox Judaism.

    On a personal note my eldest is at her first year of University and has had to face numerous challenges – atheism, Messianic Judaism, Christian Union Evangelism, Mormon Missionaires, Islamasist activity and the casual Israel hate of the British left- but has come through this with flying colours. Not with force of numbers or a claim of an absolutist remit, but through intelligent, rational and erudite arguments. Or to put it another way, arguing via the traditions of authentic Orthodox Judaism.

    David

  8. David,

    So pleased to hear your daughter is coping so well at university. What a tribute to you and to her.

    As for where I stand, it's one of the features of Jewish life that anyone stricter is regarded as a fanatic, anyone less strict is considered an assimilationist and there seems to be an unhealthy spirit of one upmanship and categorization. But of course thats true of every religion and indeed any human grouping. The Almighty certainly has a sense of humour. In the end we have to be true to ourselves.

    But thanks for your kind words!

    Warm regards and Shabbat Shalom,
    Jeremy

  9. Re Khalidi, please read http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2011/10/difference-between-real-historian-and.html#.UxoamOddUTF

    To the person whose daughter is combating "atheism, Messianic Judaism, Christian Union Evangelism, Mormon Missionaires, Islamasist activity and the casual Israel hate of the British left". Although it is great that your daughter has survived one year of this please note that she is not at university to combat this crap, she is at university to learn a subject so that she can be a contributor to the world. Why should she waste her time on other people's idiocy? Young people need ALL their attention and focus to create and innovate. And consider this, surviving one year is great but if this is the extent of public discussion year after year after year, do you think that the mentality of somebody subjected to it will not be altered? At what point do you decide this all drags you down and is a drain on your energy? When I was young and at university in the UK, all our attention was occupied on combating this and that anti-Israel resolution. This took up our attention to such an extent that there was virtually no time left for positive ways of expressing our Jewishness. And it took a toll. Your daughter needs time to carve out her uniqueness and to foster the interests that will sustain her for a lifetime. Please help her and other young people to have some protected time.

  10. I hesitate to add more to this discussion but I myself am becoming increasingly ensnared into the academic debate and what young people are hearing about Israel. The invitation to Khalidi is not the same as giving a platform to Hitler but it is giving a platform to a discredited bogus academic. It would be like a science school giving a platform to a creationist in the science curriculum. If the curriculum topic is PR, or how to deal with idiots in the media then the creationist could be invited. Khalidi is a propagandist pure and simple, not somebody who can educate on the situation with the Palestinians. It seems like the situation at Ramaz was out of hand with the invitation being issued to begin with and also the invitation to Peter Beinart that preceded it. The headmaster Paul Shaviv deserves a lot of kudos for taking decisive action and pulling the plug on the whole situation. Although this was ungainly and he is getting some flak for this even though it probably wasn't his mess to begin with, he stepped up to the plate and did the right thing. This is true leadership. Let young people learn the facts and the history first, then expose them to the propagandists that they will hear from endlessly for the rest of their lives.

  11. Sorry to disagree with you. True leadership is to take a stand for integrity and allow other opinions to be heard. Its true Khalidi is passionate about what he believes in. Its necessary to hear his point of view. I fear all that will come out of this is that intelligent youngsters will feel the Jewish community is either scared or not prepared to hear the other side.

  12. Rabbi Jeremy ,

    Thank you for your kind words and thoughts there.

    Anon,

    Well 'trouble' as it were can come to you, which is what happened in my daughter's case, rather that this about being seeking out fights in every corner or rally for a cause.University is a vibrant place with many ideas out there. Others are committed to their worldview and will therefore happily knock door to door in halls or residence or argue their case against Israel in Tutorials on International relations, call for her to be boycotted etc, so such encounters can't really be avoided. They could be ignored, but why should they as university also equips you will being able to write an argument, with facts and evidence.

    University is as much about the future as it is about the present; friends will be forged, contacts made and people can be influenced by life by these things. Who knows, perhaps a future Jewish student, be they here in the UK or in New York, might make an impression on, say, a future leader of China. Far fetched hyperbole I know, but university, noticeably the top British and American ones , with English as the current 'international' language, are the places where many of the world's elites are and will be educated. I think at least having a Jewish perspective 'out there' in these places is a good thing in those circumstances.

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