Not many people would say they’re against “free speech.” That’s why the administration at Duke University has relied on this slogan to wage a year-long battle to keep the Duke campus open for the recruitment of Duke students into an avowedly pro-terrorist organization.
Last autumn, the Duke administration sparked ferocious opposition from Jewish, alumni, and other organizations when it approved an application for Duke to host the annual Palestine Solidarity Movement conference (PSM). The PSM functions as the student branch of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a Palestinian-led “direct action” organization that trains European and American youths to partake in “civil disobedience” and other agitational activities in Israel.
Although the ISM insistently bills itself as a “non-violent” organization, two of the organization’s co-founders, Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro, have explicated an overall strategy that envisions the ISM functioning in close cooperation with Palestinian terrorist organizations. According to Huwaida and Arraf, “The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics – both nonviolent and violent. But most importantly it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. No other successful nonviolent movement was able to achieve what it did without a concurrent violent movement.” Thus, the ISM was specifically created to function as an auxiliary, partner, and enabler of a violent anti-Israeli campaign.
Opponents of the PSM conference at Duke brought the ISM’s violent agenda to the attention of Duke President Dick Brodhead and his Vice President, John Burness. Furthermore, it was pointed out that the ISM has a vested interest in the propaganda benefits to be accrued from the maiming or even killing of its own young volunteers – the exact type of youths that are recruited at Duke and other American universities. Another ISM co-founder, George Rishmawi, extrapolated on this point: “When Palestinians get shot by Israeli soldiers, no one is interested anymore,” he said. “But if some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.”
President Brodhead’s response was to praise the PSM conference as an exercise in free speech and an opportunity for “education through dialogue.” Concerns about providing a forum for ISM recruitment of Duke students were brushed aside with the administration’s ambiguous assurance that “the Palestine Solidarity Movement, while related to the International Solidarity Movement, is a distinct and separate organization.”
The “distinct and separate” nature of the PSM and ISM was belied by the presence of at least a dozen documented ISM members who served as workshop leaders at the PSM’s Duke conference. Two workshops were specifically dedicated to promoting the ISM. One of these was led by two ISM members – Jessica Rutter, a Duke alum, and Rann Bar-On, a Duke graduate student who was the local organizer of the PSM conference. The other ISM workshop was an out-and-out ISM recruitment session led by ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf. At that session, Arraf repeatedly encouraged students to join the ISM, passed out ISM recruitment brochures, and instructed students on how to illegally gain entry into Israel by lying to Israeli border guards. She also freely admitted that the ISM cooperates with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and PFLP terrorist organizations.
After the conference, President Brodhead hailed the gathering as a “constructive” event, while Vice President Burness gushed, “It’s a good thing we did here.” In response to an article in Commentary magazine co-authored by the present writer revealing that the conference featured an ISM recruitment session, Burness simply reiterated the administration’s position that the PSM and ISM were different organizations.
The ISM, incidentally, views the PSM recruitment effort at Duke as a rousing success. Duke ISM member Rann Bar-On, who apparently did not get Burness’ memo on the distinctions between the PSM and ISM, bragged to the Duke Chronicle that the PSM conference had led directly to an increase in the number of local students recruited to agitate in Israel, with seven students participating in anti-Israeli operations there last summer.
When a Duke alum and former North Carolina legislator recently published a column in a local newspaper castigating the Duke administration for allowing the ISM to recruit among Duke students, Burness responded by conceding that the ISM has “acknowledged ties to some extremist Palestinian groups,” but again reiterated that the ISM and PSM were “separate and distinct.”
This excuse, however, fell by the wayside last month, when the administration once again gave the ISM access to the Duke student body. The event, part of a national speaking tour of American universities and churches featuring an Israeli and a Palestinian ISM member, was held on campus under the ISM’s own auspices, along with several co-sponsoring organizations. The speeches offered a pro-Palestinian narrative on Israeli history and the present conflict, after which attendees were invited to grab brochures and pamphlets from the sponsoring organizations and to sign up for the ISM mailing list.
Thus, the disingenuousness of the administration’s repeated justification for allowing the PSM conference – that the PSM is separate from the ISM – was clearly revealed. President Brodhead has now given the ISM officially sanctioned access to Duke students, this coming after the ISM had already successfully recruited at Duke under the thin veneer of the PSM conference. Burness had defended the PSM by claiming that there was “no evidence to support a connection between terrorist groups and the Palestine Solidarity Movement.” This argument has now been rendered irrelevant, since the administration admits the ISM does have connections to terrorist groups, but gave the organization permission to return to Duke anyway.
When challenged for permitting the PSM and ISM meetings, the Duke administration incessantly invokes its commitment to free speech. And its interpretation of “free speech” is indeed expansive, even providing for the open and repeated recruitment of Duke students into an organization that the administration itself concedes has close ties to terrorist organizations that are blacklisted by the U.S. State Department.
The safety of Duke students is clearly of secondary importance to the administration. It seems unimpressed by the fate of Rachael Corrie, an Evergreen State College student who, having been recruited into the ISM, was killed after stepping in front of an Israeli military bulldozer in a tragic but typical act of ISM-style “direct action.” The international media coverage of her death fulfilled George Rishmawi’s prediction of the propaganda benefits to be derived from the deaths of young, Western ISM members.
The Duke administration’s absolute insistence that the Duke campus be opened up to recruiting efforts by the ISM is difficult to fathom; using the Duke campus to encourage law breaking and cooperation with terrorist organizations hardly comes under the rubric of free speech. But by allowing the ISM back into Duke under its own auspices, the administration has forfeited its primary excuse that it is only allowing other “related” organizations to Duke and not the ISM itself. Now, the vacuous sloganeering of “free speech” is the only justification the administration has left for its inexplicable actions. By abusing the very notion of “free speech,” the Duke administration has degraded the concept so that it is no longer an admirable principle. It has become the last refuge of scoundrels.
Jack Langer is a Ph.D. candidate in Russian History at Duke University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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