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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Mailbag: Sept. 18

Honest protest versus dishonest slander

I thought I would discuss yesterday’s talk given by Rabbi Dovid Weiss as well as give some of my thoughts on the controversy surrounding his visit to campus.

From what I gathered from the talk and other media sources, Weiss believes that there should not be a Jewish state, and that there is no biblical foundation for the State of Israel.

Whatever one thinks about that argument, it is far from hateful. He did not deny the Holocaust occurred and did not call for genocide or expulsion of his own people from the land of Israel/Palestine.

For the most part, the anti-speech protesters were respectful, although some of them engaged onlookers with their propagandistic flyers and misinformation.

Overhearing some of these untruths, half-truths, and outright lies, I challanged some of the anti-speech protesters with what I knew about Weiss. And to the extent that these interchanges became ad hominem and interfered with his talk, I regret my part in that. Unlike cooler heads at the event (the rabbi, the coolest of them all), I lost my temper at times. But I would like to think that even in expressing my passionate views, I at least told the truth.

A problem I have with these anti-protest groups is not that they protested the speech of Weiss, but rather the level of dishonesty into which they engaged. I am not naïve to believe that propaganda and lies aren’t staples of partisan debate. And while I don’t personally think telling lies is the right approach in advocating a position, I realize that passionate debate sometimes devolves into deception. But I believe students and student groups ought to be held to a higher ethical standard. This anti-speech group engaged in the most slanderous campaign of misinformation about Weiss. The deceit spanned from misleading propaganda to outright lies. Particularly troubling was the behavior of a fellow graduate student of mine in the department of Near Eastern studies.

My fellow graduate student, who hearsay and my intuition tells me was the chief loud-mouth and organizer of these protests, put himself behind a set of lies in an attempt to poison the well of those, in general, who believe in the free exchange of ideas. As graduate students and future academics, we are held to a high ethical standard in the work we submit, both to our instructors and for publication. But this high standard of truth, in my view, ought to extend to the words we tell our fellow students and our professors. The professors and students in our department ought to expect that we are telling each other the truth. While not having any hard evidence at this point (although, plenty of hearsay), I firmly believe that this fellow graduate student used the good rapport he has with the professors and his fellow graduate students to feed them misleading information.  As graduate students (indeed, professors as well), we are extremely busy with our work and do not have time to investigate claims made about issues and individuals. This gentleman, no doubt, took advantage of this fact. And the fact that Weiss said nothing hateful, the allegations of “”hate-speech”” are shown to be lies, which, had they done any research of this rabbi, they would have known to be the case.

To be clear, I am not opposed to those who protested Weiss, but I do object to the behavior of this fellow graduate student, whose actions cannot be excused by his passion for the State of Israel or Zionism.  Academic honesty does not stop at the paper’s edge. Rather, it carries through in our words and actions.

John Costello

Near Eastern studies graduate student

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