Volume 96, Issue 88
Tuesday, March 18, 2003

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Freedom of speech in peril?

Legal panel discusses anti-Semitism

By Tom Podsiadlo

Gazette Staff

The complex and bitter divide in the Middle East has allegedly claimed another victim: free speech on campus.

A panel of legal experts spoke on Sunday at Western during a forum entitled "Current Issues in Judaism and the Law: Free Speech on Campus," which was hosted by the Jewish Law Students Association.

The forum panel included Keith Landy, the national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bruce Elman, dean of law at the University of Windsor, and London-based criminal litigation lawyer Michael Lerner.

"Free speech is one of the cornerstones of a democracy and a hallmark of academia," said Shauna Silver, vice-president of the JLSA.

"What we are witnessing today – which has been developing incrementally for many years now – is a new, virulent, globalizing and lethal anti-Jewishness, which is without parallel and precedent since the end of the Second World War," Landy said.

"There is no doubt in my mind [that] anti-Jewish sentiment is thriving on university campuses," Elman said, adding it has become the 20th century's most successful ideology.

"Today, any opinion seems valid in the politically correct atmosphere that has too often been the university campus, where extreme accommodation can sometimes substitute for sound judgement," Elman said. "Academia is not exempt from the provincial human rights and hate laws legislation under which it operates."

"We are moving down the slippery slope of dehumanizing Jewish students and academics," Lerner noted. As a group, Israeli academics are no longer welcomed at some academic institutions, as violence prevented former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at Berkeley and Concordia University, regardless of the principle of academic freedom applied to others, he added.

"Judaism comes from a long tradition of respect for the law and is very favourably disposed to freedom of speech," Elman said. "Historically, people who have been victimized are the most open to views that are contrary to their own."

"There is much to be debated about the Middle East, but such discourse cannot take place in an atmosphere filled with violence and intimidation," Elman said. "Only through debate can one discredit conflicting views."

Daniel Schwartz, a second-year law student, said anti-Semitism today is insidious. "Anti-Semitism is no longer primarily reserved to the poorly educated; profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities," Schwartz said.

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