Halting Halbertal

Minnesota United States Attorney Andrew Luger took to the pages of the Star Tribune to denounce the “Islamophobia” allegedly rampant in “the news.” The column appeared under the heading “Minnesotans must face Islamophobia head-on.” Luger condemns a “current wave of Islamophobia.” There are several problems with Luger’s column. I want to note two.

“Islamophobia” is a term of art invented by fanatics to stigmatize their opponents. Speaking as “Minnesota’s chief federal law enforcement officer,” really ought to know better than to employ it in this context.

Luger’s article is short on examples of “Islamophobia.” What is he talking about? To fill out his column Luger draws on his childhood experience of anti-Semitism. He claims to have beaten up “the strongest of the bigots” who taunted him at school. Luger really ought to spare us. The Jews have suffered enough. Please keep us out of your public relations work as United States Attorney.

Luger’s column appeared earlier this week, before Professor Moshe Halbertal was shouted down at the University of Minnesota Law School. In Halbertal’s case we have public words and deeds with a tinge of religious animosity a mile or two from the office of the United States Attorney. Luger’s lucubrations lack such a case. The Star Tribune’s Maura Lerner, incidentally, covers the shout-down on campus in “Protesters disrupt Israeli professor’s lecture at the University of Minnesota.”

My friend Steve Hunegs is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Steve was in attendance at Professor Halbertal’s scheduled lecture and is sensitive to the religious element of the shout-down. Steve has issued the following statement:

Yesterday, I had the disturbing experience of attending a lecture at the University of Minnesota Law School by an Israeli academic who was aggressively shouted down by disrupters. Professor Moshe Halbertal, of New York University, was invited by the University of Minnesota Law School to give the annual John Dewey Lecture in the Philosophy of Law. This illegal and shameful disruption created a hostile environment in which police were required to lock the doors to the lecture hall and respectfully remove the disruptors.

As an alumnus of the law school, I was proud that our University extended an invitation to Dr. Halbertal, who is an internationally renowned scholar in numerous fields, including military ethics. I was also proud of the manner in which the Law School’s Dean, David Wippman, and Professor Oren Gross calmly and forthrightly noted that all were welcome to attend the lecture subject to the rules of the University. It should also be noted that in contrast to the disruptors, there were individuals – who were identifiable as critics of Israel – who sat through the lecture without interrupting and respectfully engaged with Dr. Halbertal at a reception afterwards.

The disruptors, for their part, only brought discredit upon themselves as their behavior contradicts Minnesota standards of decorum and civility, as well as respect for free speech. There is a perverse irony of the disruptors’ interference with the free expression of ideas on a university campus. Nearly all Minnesotans see no reason to import the worst elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to campus.

The JCRC will not stand idly by as professors and/or students are intimidated and isolated by those who seek the destruction of the State of Israel. For example, the chilling chants which we were subjected to yesterday, “From Sea to Sea, Palestine will be free,” mean nothing less than the murder or expulsion of over 6 million Jews from Israel.

So egregious was the conduct of the protestors that Professor Dale Carpenter, the Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law and an expert on the First Amendment, wrote in the pages of The Washington Post that “the freedom to present a lecture is threatened in this way at a public university is appalling, calling not only for punishment of violations but for a clear statement by university officials defending the free exchange of ideas.”

We concur with Professor Carpenter and call for a thorough and swift investigation into yesterday’s illegal and shameful disruption of the free exchange of ideas at the University of Minnesota. We respectfully ask the University to publicly denounce these bullying tactics.

Dean Wippman’s statement observes that “we should condemn any efforts to silence free speech through protests of the sort that took place at the Law School yesterday. The Law School will continue to do both.” Dean Wippman, if “we should condemn” it, condemn it. Pathetic.

University President Eric Kaler and Provost Karen Hanson miss the mark as well: “A commitment to freedom of speech and thought is absolutely fundamental to the University of Minnesota. Our University is and must be a place where people can explore ideas, engage in vigorous debate, and learn from one another’s perspectives.” Well, thanks.

Maybe Andy Luger will rise to the occasion, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.