Last Friday, Harvard University's student newspaper The Crimson had a noteworthy front page. The top headline read, "Students plan to protest Khatami's visit."
The second headline read, "Cheney visits Harvard Club through backdoor."
The first story referred to plans by student groups to protest Harvard's Kennedy School of Government's decision to invite former Iranian president Muhammad Khatami to speak at the school on Sept. 10. The second story reported how Vice President Richard Cheney was forced to enter the Harvard Club in Boston through the back door to evade some 200 protesters.
On the surface, these stories seem to perfectly balance one another. Some people are protesting against Cheney, some against Khatami…
Now how are the Red Sox doing?
Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood defended the decision to provide his school's most prestigious platform to Khatami by asking rhetorically, "Do we listen to those that we disagree with, and vigorously challenge them, or do we close our ears completely?" This sounds reasonable, but is it?
It is surely important to know what people like Khatami have to say. But why did Harvard need to honor him with an invitation to speak? And why was he allowed to speak alone? Why did Harvard not suggest that he debate Iranian students or journalists whose friends and colleagues were imprisoned, tortured and in some cases killed by Khatami for calling for democracy and freedom of the press during his tenure?
Why did Harvard not offer to have Khatami debate former Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu regarding the ballistic missiles capable carrying nuclear warheads that Iran developed during his tenure; the hundreds of millions of dollars Iran transferred to Palestinian terror groups and to Hizbullah during his presidency; and the advances in Iran's nuclear weapons program that were made when Khatami was in office?
Why did Harvard not suggest Khatami debate Vice President Richard Cheney regarding the evidence that several of the Sept. 11 terrorists passed through Iran on their way to the US; several senior Al Qaida leaders including Osama Bin Laden's son Sa'ad have been operating in Iran since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001; and that most of the terrorists in Iraq are directed by Iran?
Of course, Khatami would have refused to participate in such a debate. But had a debate between him and Cheney been organized, it would have been interesting to see which side the protesters outside of the Harvard Club in Boston would have supported. Expressing the view of his 200 fellow demonstrators, Nick Giannone told the Crimson that having Cheney speak at the Harvard Club was, "the equivalent of Hitler coming back to life and coming to Boston." Giannone continued, "This guy's a straight-up fascist. I also find it pretty appalling that someone would pay… to sit in a room with a war criminal."
It would also be interesting to know what side Ellwood and his Kennedy School colleagues would have taken. Just a few months ago, then Academic Dean Prof. Steven Walt co-authored an anti-Semitic diatribe titled The Israel Lobby where he effectively accused Israel and the America Jewish community of subverting US national security interests by coercing the US to fight the war against the global jihad and view Israel as a US ally.
THE TWIN headlines in the Crimson were complemented by twin news stories in Israel's papers on Sunday. Sunday morning Jerusalem Magistrates Court Judge David Mintz dismissed criminal charges against right-wing activist Nadia Matar. Last summer Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz indicted Matar for "insulting a public servant" in reaction to a letter Matar faxed to Yonatan Bassi, the head of the Disengagement Authority where she compared Bassi to the Judenrat who collaborated with the Nazis in deporting fellow Jews to concentration camps.
In his decision to expunge the charges against Matar, Mintz wrote, "Anytime we are dealing with freedom of speech, criminal law does not present the correct and effective tool."
Using the same logic in the past, Attorney-General Mazuz has refused to indict MK Azmi Bishara, now visiting in Damascus with two of his fellow MKs Jamal Zahalka and Wasal Taha, for incitement to violence or treason for statements he has made expressing support for Palestinian terrorism, Hizbullah and Syria.
At the urging of Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, Sunday, Mazuz ordered a criminal investigation against Bishara, Taha and Zahalka for visiting Syria in violation of the law barring officials from visiting enemy states without explicit government permission. The law was passed in response to Bishara's last visit to Damascus in 2001. The Knesset passed the law because six years ago the Attorney-General claimed he lacked the legal means to indict Bishara.
Bishara claims that he has a right to say anything that he likes. And he is right. He has the right to praise Hizbullah. He may tell Israeli Arabs that they should reject Israel's right to exist. His colleague Taha had the legal right in July to tell an online audience that he and his colleagues had repeatedly advised the Palestinians to kidnap IDF soldiers. Taha had the right to commend them for abducting Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Bishara had the right last week to praise Syria for its operations to free "occupied Arab lands," and warn his Ba'athist hosts to be on the lookout for Israeli aggression.
It is legal to make these statements. What is illegal is the treasonous actions they describe. Yet, rather than contending with the fact that Bishara, Taha and Zahalka are guilty of treason, Mazuz now investigates the technical fact of their visit, just as in the past he ignored their treasonous actions arguing that they have a right to their opinions - as if providing aid and comfort to Israel's enemies is a matter of opinion.
IT BEARS pointing out that Bishara - who like Hizbullah, Iran, Fatah and Hamas believes that Israel has no right to exist - is a favorite son of the Israeli Left. Haaretz's op-ed pages are open to him. Last Tuesday he wrote there that protests against the government and IDF's mishandling of the war are the result of the inherent racism of Israeli society which immorally assumes "that Israel… must threaten its Arab neighbors and not be threatened, deter and not be deterred; and that the Arabs are incapable of developing human and material infrastructures that make resistance possible."
Bishara, who blamed the war in Lebanon on the US which he said put Israel up to it, is the former director of research at the prestigious Van Leer Institute and a frequent speaker at the institute's events. In 1997, the New Israel Fund invited him to participate in a conference at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington discussing Israel at 50.
When considered in isolation, Harvard's decision to invite Khatami to speak; the leftist protesters' desire to humiliate Cheney; Mazuz's decision to indict Matar for "insulting a public servant; and Mazuz's decision to ignore Bishara, Taha and Zahalka's apparent treason, all seem to be reasonable good faith judgments. They can all be defended in the interests of liberty, democracy, free speech and public order. But when placed in the overall context, it becomes clear that the opposite is true.
By inviting Khatami to speak unopposed at Harvard, the Kennedy School effectively advanced his anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-liberal agenda.
In calling Cheney a Nazi, a fascist and a war criminal, the leftist protesters in Boston silenced debate about the nature of fascism, genocide and war crimes by claiming that those who fight these scourges of humanity are morally equal to those who commit them.
By indicting Matar for expressing herself because he didn't like her views on the one hand, and refusing to even investigate apparent acts of treason by Bishara and his colleagues because those actions are considered acceptable by his social circle on the other hand, Mazuz makes a mockery of Israel's laws. He transforms his position from one of chief law enforcement officer to one of chief thought enforcement officer. To advance a radical, anti-Zionist and anti-American political agenda, he is willing to outlaw debate and ignore treason.
Many argue that the only way to stop the Left's subversion and so win the war of ideas, is to attempt to co-opt its agenda from the inside. By this logic, champions of free speech, democracy and liberty should eagerly seek opportunities to speak at Harvard, or be the token "fascists" on panel discussions at Hebrew University. Unfortunately, this view is wrong. Accepting the legitimacy of leftist institutions prolongs their power, expands their undeserved legitimacy and erodes the power of the message of those who defend liberty, free speech and democracy.
Rather than supporting the Left, those concerned about the protection of liberal values should work to expose the corruption of these institutions and build alternative institutions that can replace them.
Five years after Sept 11, the greatest asset the jihadists who seek our physical and spiritual destruction have are those individuals, institutions and groups within our own societies that prevent us from seeing the dangers and defending ourselves. Our greatest challenge as individuals is to expose these dangers and those who hide them to our fellow citizens.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.