The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Free Speech

Say Opera Houses Announce They "No Longer Engage With Artists That Support Israel,"

given what the opera houses view as Israel's improper control over the West Bank.


This hypothetical is of course based on the Metropolitan Opera saying "we can no longer engage with artists … that support Putin." Say that the Opera concludes that Israel's control over the West Bank is as bad as Putin's attempt to control Ukraine (and to occupy or annex parts of Ukraine). Therefore, if you publicly support Israel, we will fire you and no longer hire you, at least unless you're willing to publicly condemn Israeli actions.

I should stress that I view the underlying geopolitical actions (Russia's with regard to Ukraine and Israel's with regard to the West Bank and the Palestinians more broadly) as morally very different, but I imagine many view them as similar. (The Boycott Divest Sanction movement against Israel reflects that.) What would you say about the two decisions, the Metropolitan Opera's real one about Putin and the hypothetical one about Israel?

  1. They are similarly right. Arts institutions should refuse to engage with artists who take political positions supporting bad people, governments, and organizations.
  2. They are similarly wrong. Arts institutions shouldn't blacklist people simply because of their political beliefs, even ones that are unpopular and that the institution plausibly thinks are wrong.
  3. They are similarly neutral. Arts institutions should be able to decide whatever they please, both as a matter of law but as a matter of ethics. If they want to cut off ties with people based on those people's political beliefs and statements, fine; if not, fine.
  4. The Met's action is proper but the hypothetical Israel-related one isn't, but only because Putin is in the wrong and Israel is in the right. (That might indeed be many people's view with regard to boycotts of countries and of companies.) Blacklisting people who support bad countries (or people or actions) is good, and blacklisting people who support good countries (or people or actions) is bad.
  5. The Met's action is proper but the hypothetical Israel-related one isn't, but only because Putin is clearly in the wrong while Israel's control over the West Bank are at least something over which reasonable people may disagree. We shouldn't blacklist people who endorse such plausible views, but you should indeed be blacklisted if you support extreme views—you support Putin, you've supported Soviet Communism, you supported Castro or support the Chinese government (wait, where does that fall)?
  6. What a ridiculous hypothetical! The opera house probably has lots of donors who would stop donating if the opera house took what is perceived as an anti-Israel stance,  and surely if the opera house started firing supporters of Israel. But the opera house probably has few donors who would do the same if the opera house stops dealing with Putin supporters. Only fools look for consistency here: Which views will get you fired and which won't is, and should be, just a matter of economic power.

I'd love to hear your views.