Compiling a list of the most egregious uses of the shootings in Arizona this month to stifle legitimate debate would be a herculean task. But surely among the worst is a statement issued by Bard College president Leon Botstein, who invoked the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in an attempt to shut up those who are asking questions about his institution’s decision to give the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) the status of an authorized student club with full access to campus facilities.
ISM is, of course, more than just another left-wing group that agitates against Israel. It is an avowedly anti-Zionist organization that has as its mission the task of sending activists into the Arab-Israeli conflict as non-combatant auxiliaries for Palestinian terror groups and their political fronts. The ISM gained fame a few years ago as the group that sent Rachel Corrie, an American college student from Washington State, into Gaza to act as a human shield for the Hamas terrorist organization. Corrie became an anti-Zionist martyr when an Israeli bulldozer that was demolishing a home that housed a Hamas arms-smuggling tunnel crushed her while she was defending it with her body.
Bard, a liberal arts school in New York’s Hudson Valley, is well known for its summer music festival, but it has now also apparently earned the distinction of being the only American college campus with an active ISM chapter. Given the extremism of this organization and its penchant for placing its volunteers in harm’s way, there are, understandably, some who question the decision to treat it as the moral equivalent of a chess club. A good argument can be made that it is not the college’s job to decide which political groups students can or cannot join. But it is slightly disingenuous to claim, as Botstein does, that the issue here is whether students should be allow to debate or express their opinions about the Middle East. Bard students certainly have the right to denounce the existence of a Jewish state, oppose its right to self-defense, and defend those who advocate and carry out terrorism in order to further that cause. But it is not unreasonable to assert that groups that exist in order to literally facilitate such actions might be considered as falling outside the bounds of even the most freewheeling campus debates.
Botstein urges critics of the ISM to keep the Arizona shooting in mind and thus lower their voices. But rather than acting as if the group’s critics are conducting some kind of a witch hunt, he would do better to worry about the consequences of allowing a group that is prepared to sacrifice the lives of students to further the cause of anti-Zionism. And instead of worrying that Bard’s Israel-haters will get their feelings hurt by those who question the propriety of their presence on campus, he might also spare a thought for the question of whether facilitating ISM’s rabid bias against Israel and its supporters might be creating a hostile environment for Jewish students there, as turned out to be the case when anti-Israel activism ran amok at the University of California’s Irvine campus a few years ago.