Prof. Phyllis CheslerThe writer, a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum and recipient of the 2013 National Jewish Book Award, is the author of sixteen books, including Women and Madness, Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, and The New Anti-Semitism. She has written four studies about honor killing, Her latest books are An American Bride in Kabul, (Palgrave Macmillan) and Living History: On The Front Lines for Israel and the Jews.Professor Chesler may be reached at her website www.phyllis-chesler.com
A petition to support Professor Andrew Pessin's right to free speech—which includes his pro-Israel point of view—now has almost 10,000 signatures.
In addition, this morning, Dr. Pessin tells this reporter, "We trust that the administration is willing to work together with us to help repair my good name and reputation, and that of the College's, and we look forward to cooperating with them."
Professor Pessin is the latest casualty of what might be described as a "killer bee swarm" on the local and global internet. It took only one student, Lamiya Khandaker, who defamed Pessin in a student newspaper, to launch a university-wide and global campaign against Pessin defending last summer's military campaign against the terrorist group Hamas by the Israeli government.
Pessin has been fighting a campaign to brand him as racist for his support of Israel's Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014, based on a remark posted to Facebook in which he compared Hamas to ""a rabid pit bull is chained in a cage, regularly making mass efforts to escape."
Khandaker's use of certain key words and concepts regarding Pessin—"I feel unsafe as a Muslim;" there is "subtle institutional racism;" Pessin is a "racist" because he allegedly compared Palestinians to "rabid pit bulls"—all functioned as zeitgeist signals to a previously conditioned mob and they lit out after him.
Pessin began receiving hate mail and death threats following Khandaker's allegations, and was forced to take a medical leave due to the level of stress this incident placed on him.
In point of fact, and contrary to what Khandaker alleged, Pessin was referring to the terrorist Hamas leadership when he made the "pit bull" comment, not to Palestinian people.
Khandaker, who is a Students for Justice for Palestine operative, targeted Pessin not because, as she admits, she was ever "victimized" as his student in class, but precisely because Pessin is a popular professor; thus, other students may come to agree with his point of view.
Khandaker writes: "Many students find him smart, engaging, and influential. But that is the problem… they are going to listen and absorb. They are going to be influenced by his words, and that is the biggest danger." She is afraid that his pro-Israel views (with which she disagrees) might gain traction. She means to stop that in its tracks.
What has just happened at Connecticut College is potentially as important a case as is the matter of the faked death of the twelve-year old Palestinian boy, Mohammed Al-Dura. Both are important "teacheable moments." L'Affaire Pessin is not the same as the Al Dura matter, but it exemplifies what has been happening all across North America for the last fifteen years in terms of the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hostility, verbal and physical aggression, and dangerous demonstrations of hate—all couched in the language of liberation, academic freedom, and free speech.
Free speech is allowed for all those who "hate" Israel and misrepresent her and for all those who romanticize Palestinian terrorism as justified. Bullying, intimidation, outright censorship, physical menace, and reputational defamation is the fate of all those who defend Israel or who have a more informed and/or a different point of view.
Her first letter appeared on March 2, 2015; on March 3, a second letter supporting her appeared in the same student newspaper. By March 18, a petition appeared which called upon the administration to condemn Pessin's racism (Pessin began receiving hate mail and death threats); by March 23, the first academic department at the college released a public condemnation of Pessin—and the administration created a website to post all such condemnatory comments.
That is the day that Professor Pessin took a medical leave.
By April 13th, pro-Palestinian programming began appearing on campus: films, one-sided panel discussions on Palestine, a musical performance by Palestinian musicians, a lecture about Israeli terrorism, a lecture by a professor who advocates the boycott of Israel.
The petition on behalf of Professor Andrew Pessin states the following:
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…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.
Please consider signing it. And stay tuned for some breaking news.