An Israeli university professor was shouted down for at least half an hour Tuesday by pro-Palestinian students protesting his invitation to speak at the University of Minnesota law school, but an attendee later said that the Israeli was arguing in favor of protecting civilians during urban combat, a position the pro-Palestinian group may have liked to hear had they let him speak.
The law school dean blasted the students’ “unacceptable” efforts to “silence free speech” on campus.
In a post Wednesday on the Washington Post’s Volokh Conspiracy blog, Dale Carpenter, a University of Minnesota law professor, described the scene he saw unfold as Moshe Halbertal, a professor at New York University Law School and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, tried to begin his talk to about 100 students and faculty:
The lecture, which I attended, was delayed half an hour 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.
Ironically, protesters later complained that their “free speech” rights had been silenced by the arrest of a few of the protesters.
Quoting the protest organizers, the Minnesota Daily reported that three of the protesters were arrested while disrupting the lecture.
The groups organizing the protest included members of the Anti-War Committee, Students for a Democratic Society and Students for Justice in Palestine, the student newspaper reported.
Meredith Aby-Keirstead of the Anti-War Committee told the Minnesota Daily, “This University is supposed to represent the state of Minnesota. I can’t just stand by and watch the University hire a war crimes apologist to come and speak here.”
Another attendee told the paper that protesters were shouting, “Free, free Palestine.”
The law school’s dean, David Wippman, in a statement Wednesday, blasted the protesters for trying to silence the university guest and, more generally, free speech on campus.
The dean accused the students of choosing to “caricature but not to hear” Halbertal’s views.
“While it is regrettable that the protesters (none, I believe, from the law school) chose to deny themselves the opportunity to engage and learn from a speaker of Halbertal’s distinction, it is unacceptable that they should seek to deny other students and community members their own opportunity to hear an invited guest speak,” Wippman said.
“As members of a university community, we should welcome — indeed, insist on — hearing a wide range of viewpoints, and we should condemn any efforts to silence free speech through protests of the sort that took place at the law school,” the dean added.
Though the protesters accused the Israeli academic of being a “war crimes apologist,” in his lecture — titled “Protecting Civilians: Moral Challenges of Asymmetric Warfare” — Halbertal argued in favor of protecting noncombatants.
Carpenter, the law school professor who attended the lecture, observed that while the talk did not directly address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “When he was finally able to speak, Halbertal argued that in fighting ‘asymmetric wars’ (typically, wars between professional militaries and insurgencies or resistance movements) professional combatants should err on the side of protecting noncombatants from casualties, even when they thereby increase risks to themselves or to their cause.”
“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. But the protesters had no interest in hearing the lecture or in allowing the audience to hear it,” Carpenter wrote.
(H/T: Legal Insurrection)
Featured image: Shutterstock/Ken Wolter