President Richard Brodhead
207 Allen Building
Durham, NC 27708-001
Dear President Brodhead:
I am writing to you as a member of Duke's extended family of scholars. As you may know, my archives reside at Duke University as part of a distinguished collection of feminist intellectuals and activists. Indeed, my archives were Duke's first major acquisition in this area. You have in your possession a treasure trove of my research, published and unpublished manuscripts, interviews, course curricula, and world wide civil rights activism from the early 1960s on. Duke acquired my papers in 1992 and I have continued to hand over materials ever since. Other important acquisitions that followed mine include those of Kate Millett, Alix Kates Shulman, Merle Hoffman, Robin Morgan, and others.
I am also one of 107 signatories to a letter recently sponsored by the Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell on behalf of the Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, (HR 4230), which would have the United States monitor and combat anti-Semitism world-wide. Other signatories include current and former Senators, Congressmen, Ambassadors, theologians, and educators including the Reverend Dr. Joseph Hough, Jr., President of the Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Harold W. Attridge, Dean of the Yale University Divinity School, Dr. Maxine Clarke Beach, Dean of the Drew University Theological School, Sister Rose Thering, author James Carroll, and R. James Woolsey, Jack Kemp, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Cynthia Ozick, Richard Perle, and Gary Wills.
I understand that Duke University will be hosting a Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM) conference. I also understand that you and certain faculty members believe that doing so constitutes your commitment to free speech and academic freedom. Ironically, Duke will be supporting a group (which is also known as the International Solidarity Movement), which does not believe in free speech or democracy and which endorses violence, mass murder, Jew-hatred, and homicidal-suicide terrorism.
But, you might say, America prides itself on extending its civil rights, including that of free speech to racist groups and to their hate speech. Let me respectfully suggest that, post 9/11, America may no longer do so without risking grievous consequences both in terms of lives lost and truth abandoned.
President Brodhead: Would you proudly host a Nazi Party or Ku Klux Klan conference in the name of academic freedom? Given your commitment to the First Amendment, would you still allow the meeting to take place behind closed doors with no press allowed? I understand that this is what the Palestine Solidarity Movement conference planners have demanded. As you know, a free and vigorous press is one of our protections against tyranny. What issue cannot bear the cleansing light of scrutiny?
But why is Duke giving any intellectual credibility to what is bound to be a hate-fest? Under President Rudenstein, Harvard, which like Duke is also a private institution, resolved that it would not allow any hate-speech conferences. The Harvard Divinity School also returned United Arab Emirate monies from the Sheikh Zayed Foundation no doubt earmarked for such purposes. Perhaps Duke can consider doing this as well. The PSM/ISM are precisely the kinds of groups that European governments, beginning with Germany, have begun to monitor in terms of their terrorism potential. Why is Duke granting them an aura of intellectual respectability?
In my view, the masked and hooded members of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Fatah, and the al-Aqsa's Martyrs Brigade--which the PSM and their allies support--are far more dangerous than the Nazis or the Klan ever were. Their terrorism against civilians, especially in Israel, but also world-wide, is both state-sanctioned and trans-national. Their propaganda against Jews and Israelis is based on doctored footage, photo-opportunity journalism, and sophisticated post-Orwellian lies. The Palestine Solidarity Movement and their allies chant "Death to the Jews," and "Death to America," at what they describe as peace rallies; they characterize the mass murder of civilians as "resistance to oppression;" they preach the destruction of Israel and the murder of all infidels in Arabic--but then, in English, French, and German, claim that they have been misunderstood, that they really meant the opposite of what they said.
President Brodhead: Until now, I have been proud to be associated with Duke. However, as a Duke family member, I am distressed by Duke's decision to host the PSM conference—but I am even more distressed by Duke's failure, so far, to fund and host very different kinds of programs in this area.
Some academics and educators might say that PSM's/ISM's hate speech and lies are only words and cannot hurt anyone. They might also say that honoring diverse and controversial words are precisely what American universities should do. At some other time in history, and perhaps in terms of other subjects, I might agree with you. However, the level of hate-propaganda against Israel and Jews is surreal, global, sophisticated, and deadly. During this latest Palestinian-led and Arab and Iranian-backed Intifada, (2000-2004), such propaganda has both led to and yet rendered invisible the highest civilian body count in Israel's history. In American demographic terms, by now America would have suffered approximately 45,000 civilian deaths at the hands of terrorists and approximately 280,000 civilians wounded, often seriously, and for life. More than half would have been women and children. Only Israel's unilateral creation of a security barrier has begun to staunch the flood of Israeli blood.
The Islamists, whom the PSM support, torture and impoverish their own people, sacrifice their own children, practice slavery, and commit genocide. They terrorize their own citizens, especially intellectuals, women, and homosexuals. Nevertheless, many "politically correct" academics have romanticized these barbarians--even the billionaire bin Laden and the multi-millionaire Arafat--as humiliated and impoverished freedom fighters.
I have written about this betrayal of the truth and of the Jews in my twelfth and latest book: "The New Anti-Semitism. The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It."
Most "politically correct" academics, including feminists, have joined left-alliances which single out only Israel for imaginary crimes and misdemeanors. They say that Israel is an Apartheid and Nazi state; it is not. But, as one of Duke's pioneer feminists, let me indeed briefly focus on Apartheid as a feminist issue.
Islam today is the largest practitioner of both gender and religious Apartheid in the world. Women who live under Islam are, variously, murdered outright in honor killings and oppressed by forced veiling, segregation, sequestration, stoning to death for alleged adultery, female genital mutilation, polygamy, forced marriage to men old enough to be their grandfather, and by domestic and sexual slavery. Women have few, if any, civil, legal, or human rights under Islam today. In addition, under Islam, all non-Muslims: Christians, Jews, Assyrians, Hindus, Zoroastrians, animists--have historically been viewed and treated as subhuman and accorded "dhimmi" status. Today, except for the small country of Israel, all 22 nation states in the Arab Muslim Middle East are Judenrein (free of Jews); Christians there remain at serious risk.
You will probably not hear anyone at the PSM conference address Apartheid in this way and to fail to do so is to fail the requirements of objectivity and scholarship. "Free” speech is not always "true" speech. Universities have an obligation to teach the truth as much as they may also wish to model tolerance for all speech, including that which bears no relationship to the truth. Thus, in the interests of free, true speech, may I suggest that Duke:
[*] Allow the media in to cover the PSM conference.
[*] Allow the conference to be taped so that you and others will see what is being said.
[*] Sponsor a pro-democracy and pro-Israel conference, one which reflects a wide spectrum of opinion, not only that of the left-wing Israeli Oslo and Geneva accordianists. This should be an inter-faith and inter-disciplinary effort. The Jewish community should not be expected to monitor Jew-hatred and educate against it by themselves. In addition, such a conference should feature Arab Christians, as well as Lebanese Maronite Christians who are the descendants of Phoenicians and pre-date the Arab conquest of Arabia.
[*] Sponsor an international conference on Gender and Religious Apartheid.
[*] Sponsor a conference on the feminist challenge to and transformation of patriarchal religions. As yet, perhaps due to funding limitations, none of my extensive work as a feminist activist within Judaism and within Israel, especially as a co-leader of the Women of the Wall struggle in Jerusalem, has been made available to scholars or Duke students nor has any of my work as an anti-racist activist--not only on behalf of minorities of color but also on behalf of Jews--been made available.
We live in dangerous times. Keeping a low and "neutral" profile, trying to please and appease all sides--especially the most violent side-- is unwise. One must take a stand against radical evil and injustice. I hope and pray that you will do exactly that.
All the best,
Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D.
Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D., is the author of twelve books including her latest, THE NEW ANTI-SEMITISM. THE CURRENT CRISIS AND WHAT WE MUST DO ABOUT IT. She is working on a new book about the importance of independent thinking for Palgrave-Macmillan (St. Martin’s). She may be reached through her website www.Phyllis-Chesler.com.