Anti-Israel protest (illustration)
Anti-Israel protest (illustration)Elan Kawesch

An American professor detailed in an op-ed on Wednesday the shocking case of discrimination against an Israeli professor he had witnessed the day before.

The account, written by Professor Dale Carpenter of University of Minnesota Law School and published in the Washington Post, details the raucous heckling that awaited the visiting Professor Moshe Halbertal, a NYU Law School professor and professor of Jewish thought and philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

"On Tuesday afternoon an Israeli academic was shouted down by two dozen protesters as he tried to begin a lecture before about 100 students and faculty at the University of Minnesota," began Carpenter. He noted that Halbertal "was invited to deliver the Dewey Lecture in the Philosophy of Law, which is organized annually by the law school."

That lecture was delayed "as one by one the protesters stood up to shout denunciations of Israel and were escorted from the hall by university police. One young woman came screaming back into the lecture after having been ejected. Outside the hall, the protesters chanted so loudly that it was difficult to hear Halbertal, much less to concentrate on what he was saying, until 45 minutes after the lecture was to have begun."

Condemning the discrimination, the professor wrote: "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."

He noted that a group named the "Anti-War Committee" apparently organized the heckling, after it bragged about it on Twitter and then hypocritically claimed the protesters' "free speech" was violated when a few were arrested.

"It appears that no law students were involved, but many of the demonstrators were college-aged and the protest was endorsed by a group called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a university group," he added.

Irony? "Dovish" speech calls to endanger soldiers

Ironically, Halbertal's speech on "Protecting Civilians: Moral Challenges of Asymmetric Warfare" did not even directly address Israel, although he mentioned his experience helping draft the IDF's code of ethics.

In fact, Halbertal argued that in asymmetric wars such as those between armies and terrorist groups "professional combatants should err on the side of protecting noncombatants from casualties, even when they thereby increase risks to themselves or to their cause."

According to Carpenter, "it was a careful and nuanced presentation, one that was far more dovish and human-rights oriented than caricatures of Halbertal as a 'war crimes apologist' by protesters suggested."

Analyzing the two cores issues in the incident, the professor wrote that "one is that there is no right to shout down a speaker at an academic lecture on the grounds of a public university. The University of Minnesota prohibits such disruptions, as do other universities."

"Now the university has an obligation to investigate and punish any violations of these policies."

He continued, writing: "The second principle is that a university community - including its faculty, staff, administrators, and students - must cultivate a norm of respect for free speech that goes beyond ensuring mere First Amendment compliance. Members of a university community have an obligation to consider opposing viewpoints and, if not always a duty to listen to them, then at least a duty to allow others to listen to them."

Condemning the "heckler's veto," he concluded saying "there are legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies and innumerable legitimate ways those criticisms can be aired. But preventing others from hearing Israeli speakers who aren’t even defending Israeli policy cannot be one of them."