Campus Free Speech

Political Correctness Prevents Syracuse University from Screening Israeli Film

'I will lose credibility with a number of film and Women/Gender studies colleagues.'


Syracuse University

A professor issued an informal invitation to an Israeli film director to screen his new documentary, The Settlers, at Syracuse University—the site of an upcoming conference on "The Place of Religion in Film."

Syracuse's religious studies department cancelled the invitation due to concerns that "the BDS faction on campus will make matters very unpleasant for you and for me if you come." (That's the pro-Palestinian movement, the "Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions" group, for those unfamiliar with the acronym.)

Is there a clearer case of a campus beholden to political correctness than this? Read Syracuse Religion Professor M. Gail Hammer's letter to the filmmaker, Shimon Dotan:

I now am embarrassed to share that my SU colleagues, on hearing about my attempt to secure your presentation, have warned me that the BDS faction on campus will make matters very unpleasant for you and for me if you come. In particular my film colleague in English who granted me affiliated faculty in the film and screen studies program and who supported my proposal to the Humanities Council for this conference told me point blank that if I have not myself seen your film and cannot myself vouch for it to the Council, I will lose credibility with a number of film and Women/Gender studies colleagues. Sadly, I have not had the chance to see your film and can only vouch for it through my friend and through published reviews.

Clearly I am politically naive. I also feel tremendous shame in reneging on a half-offered invitation.

Read the full letter at The Atlantic.

This is cowardice, plain and simple. This is a university caving to a political movement that views free expression—the airing of alternative viewpoints—as a threat. It's especially frustrating that the BDS movement would play the role of muzzler here, given that it is so frequently the target of censorship on campus.

Ironically, just yesterday The New York Times chose to publish Yale University lecturer Jim Sleeper's malicious and patently false tirade against the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, "Political Correctness and Its Real Enemies." Sleeper accused FIRE President Greg Lukianoff of publicizing damaging personal details about the Yale student who screamed at Nicholas Christakis: Lukianoff, of course, did nothing of the sort—and The Times has now been forced to print a retraction. Sleeper's larger point still stands uncorrected: that the true threat to free speech on campus is conservatives, or something.

In truth, students, faculty members, administrators, and protest movements of all ideological stripes have tried to censor their opponents on university campuses. FIRE has consistently defended those whose free speech rights were in jeopardy, regardless of the origin of the speech in question.

In today's campus environment, it's just wrong to pretend that far-left activists on campus—those who desire to punish their critics and use formal, administrative means to deny them a platform—aren't a serious threat to free and open dialogue. Syracuse has provided a timely example of that.