Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Lest our government destroy our own First Amendment rights

Many of us watched the attack on free speech that took place over the last several years at Vassar College. An African American freshman was expelled and an entire student group, Students for Justice in Palestine, was stripped of its status as a campus organization. First, President Hill accused the group of lacking "curtesy on campus" and creating fear in Jewish students by talking about the plight of the Palestinians. Then came the Zionist placed articles in the media - "Hatred on the Hudson" in the "Daily News," and "Majoring in Anti-Semitism at Vassar" in the "Wall Street Journal." Finally, President Hill, pressured by pro-Zionist alumni , condemned a lecture by visiting Rutgers professor, Dr. Jasbir Puar. Unfortunately, the criticism was based on second hand reports of what the professor had actually said about Israel's mistreatment of Palestinians. Hundreds of academics across the country immediately signed a petition defending Dr. Puar's right for free speech on campus. President Hill's attack was particularly egregious since Jewish Studies Program faculty at Vassar had sponsored the Puar lecture.

When the student government passed a resolution last spring advocating for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, President Hill threatened to withhold funding for all student groups on campus. While Hill resigned a few months later, the battle for free speech on campus continues. 

Governor Cuomo's recent executive oder brings this fight closer to home. Indicating that any criticism of Israel is by definition anti-Semitism, he plans to defund all groups in the state that support boycott, divestment and sanctions. The order also establishes a vaguely defined "blacklist" of supposed anti-Semitic groups advocating BDS. Citizens of New York State haven't seen this type of government sponsored blacklisting since the McCarthy era.

No country should escape responsibility for human rights abuses. Invasions and occupations of other peoples have always been wrapped in the flags of nationalism, patriotism, and religion. We as free citizens of a democracy must always defend our rights to criticize such human rights abusers and apartheid states, lest our government destroy our own First Amendment rights for free speech and expression.

In the Mid Hudson Valley, the fight to preserve free speech starts with Please sign the petition guaranteeing citizens the right to boycott racism and injustice wherever they rear their ugly heads. 

Fred Nagel

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