Hebrew U. to host Al-Habbash: Freedom of speech or freedom to incite?

An academic institution should be capable of distinguishing between freedom of speech and unethical incitement to violence.

Eytan Meir

OpEds Eytan Meir
Eytan Meir

This week Hebrew University’s Truman Institute will be hosting an event featuring Mahmoud Al-Habbash – a top adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas and a vocal advocate of religious war and terrorism against Israel.

Al-Habbash served as the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Religious Affairs from 2009 until 2014, when he was appointed Abbas’ Advisor on Religious and Islamic Affairs and Supreme Shari’ah Judge. In these roles, Al-Habbash has unabashedly praised terrorism and repeatedly called for religious war against Israel.

Following the foreseeable uproar over Al-Habbash’s invitation, Hebrew U stated that it “espouses freedom of expression and pluralism, as long as no violation of the law is involved. The Truman Institute acts to promote peace and enable respectful dialogue as the basis for furthering discussion to bring about a solution to the conflict.”

But if peace and respectful dialogue is what they were after, they sorely missed the mark.

Al-Habbash’s continuous calls for religious war against the State of Israel are tantamount to a call for murder, a call that has been duly answered by the Palestinian Arabs.

Those who are so quick to speak out against “right-wing incitement” are now conveniently silent...
This is yet another instance of an academic institution failing to distinguish between free speech and incitement. It is absurd and indefensible that a publicly-funded university should use its resources to provide a platform and grant legitimacy to a man that has the blood of innocents on his hands.

This gross misuse of public funds is also an exceedingly insensitive gesture to the students of Hebrew U, many of whom have lost loved ones to the very terrorism incited by Al-Habbash. One can assume that Al-Habbash’s praise for “martyrs” would also extend to the terrorist who killed nine students in a Hebrew U cafeteria during the Second Intifada.

At a time when innocent Jews are being murdered in the streets by Palestinian Arabs, it is incumbent upon us to crack down on incitement. A clear line must be drawn between free speech and incitement – calling for the murder of innocent Jews crosses that line.

Ironically, those who are so quick to speak out against “right-wing incitement” are now conveniently silent; perhaps they don’t deem Al-Habbash’s statement of “we kiss every forehead, every hand, and every foot that carries out religious war” as incitement.

Despite being a respectable and venerated institution, Hebrew University has consistently allowed for radicalism to permeate its campus grounds. Recently, several professors have made remarks equating right-wing personalities and groups to Nazis and have bullied students who differ from them ideologically. On this occasion, the university is actively complicit in enabling dangerous extremism to run rampant on campus.

Granting Al-Habbash a platform to spread his venomous incitement under the guise of free speech simply affirms the aphorism attributed to George Orwell: “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”

The writer is the International Relations Coordinator for  Im Tirtzu, an extra-parliamentary movement of Israeli intellectuals, students and IDF reservists that works to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel and is a strong force in promoting Zionism with branches at 15 Israeli universities and colleges.