Support Free Speech and Professor Andrew Pessin
I am writing to you to express my support for Professor Andrew Pessin.
Prof. Pessin is being demonized by students with a very specific and incendiary agenda, the destruction of any person who defends the State of Israel. These students intentionally presented Prof. Pessin’s Facebook post from August 2014 during the Hamas-Israel war, in which he defended the Israeli defensive blockade on Hamas, out of context, to both local and global audiences. They then constructed lie upon lie to misrepresent it as a racist post against Palestinians, in an attempt to intimidate him, silence him, attack his character, and destroy his career. Their actions generated a wave of hate mail and threats directed toward him and his family.
Connecticut College’s Administration has succumbed to this intimidation and completely failed to take action to protect Prof. Pessin from these malicious attacks which violate the appropriate norms of free speech.
We must look at the facts of this situation:
1. Prof. Pessin’s comments on the matter do not have any hateful intent or content, but are simply the thoughts of an intellectual. Academia should be the place where students and faculty have a safe environment to discuss matters that are politically problematic. When students are allowed to bully, harass, and attack the character of a faculty member for expressing ideas that differ from their own, the entire system is destroyed.
2. Lamiya Khandaker, the student who spearheaded this attack, is a self-identified advocate for the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). SJP is an organization that is openly anti-Israel, has created human walls to stop Jewish students from entering buildings where Hillel groups have meetings (Loyola University-Chicago, September 16, 2014), has applauded anti-Semitic symbols and statements, and has actually threatened university members including faculty and students. In 2014, students from this group were suspended from Northeastern University for posing with an AR-15 assault weapon and wearing the headband of the Islamic Jihad. In addition, SJP members have vandalized Jewish fraternities, and defaced statues of Jewish donors and trustees.
3. The Anti-Defamation League considers Khandaker’s organization one which continues to support violence and acts of anti-Semitism. Yet Connecticut College has sided with such an organization over a beloved tenured faculty member with an impeccable 10-year record of serving his students and his institution with honor and integrity. It’s hard not to see this as an act of anti-Semitism focused on the only Jewish professor on its campus who openly advocates for Israel.
4. To identify the actions of these students as furthering free speech is an absolute untruth. Free speech, formerly a given on college campuses across this country, means having safe and civil dialogues where all parties are heard without concern for threats or intimidation. These students are hiding their political motives and bullying tactics under the pretense of their own free speech while violently oppressing Prof. Pessin’s right to free speech via their incendiary accusations of racism. For Connecticut College to allow this violates and insults the most basic liberal values that most of us hold dear.
5. Finally, we must address the claim that Ms. Khandaker feels “unsafe” due to Prof. Pessin’s supposed racism and, in an exaggerated distortion, states that “academics are publicizing” this hate. This is the biggest hypocrisy and double standard. Prof. Pessin supports a two-state solution in the Middle East and his Facebook entries throughout the 2014 Hamas-Israel war compassionately express his outrage over the civilian deaths on both sides. On her own Facebook page (quickly deleted after her campaign began), Lamiya Khandaker openly scoffed at anti-Semitism in the world and called for the destruction of Israel via a one-state solution. She trolled Prof. Pessin’s Facebook entries to find a post that could be distorted in order to bully, discredit, and defame him. She has created a culture of hate where no professor or student would ever feel safe to express views on any controversial topic at Connecticut College again. Israeli news outlets have actually identified her actions as the new “Brownshirt style bullies,” in reference to the actions of anti-Semites that destroyed the important Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism created by Dr. Charles Small.
In the early stages of the creation of American colleges and universities, founders identified the fact that these were places of free thought, free speech and open dialogue. To cower in the face of a student determined to create fear of speaking freely is to destroy the original intent of education. To destroy a man’s career at a student’s whim simply because he is an open supporter of Israel is to kowtow to the student’s intent to wipe him from the campus landscape and to further hate, not stop it.
We, sincere proponents of genuine free speech, will no longer stand in the face of such anti-Semitic and anti-liberal acts of oppression. We will support anyone who believes that Academia should remain a place of free and open dialogue (whatever religion) and we will decry violence and harassment by those determined to annihilate genuine freedom of expression.
This is not about Israel. This is not about Palestine. This is not about Hamas. This is about freedom to work in a safe place where you do not fear that you will be attacked by those whom you serve.
Thank you for your support.
- Petitioning President Bergeron of Connecticut College and Those in Favor of Free Speech on Campus
Support Free Speech and Professor Andrew Pessin
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