In one way or another, every phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been linked with the United Nations. The current…
In one way or another, every phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been linked with the United Nations. The current Geneva conference is but the latest in this tradition—with a difference. In the past, the UN was Israel's benefactor and the Arabs' affliction. Now the sides have been reversed. The Israelis have come to distrust the UN so much that they grudgingly agreed to give it a minimal role at Geneva; the Arabs are so fond of the UN that they wanted its role to be maximal.
For a state with Israel's unique background, the change has been peculiarly painful and damaging. It was the General Assembly's resolution of November 29, 1947, providing for an Arab and Jewish state in Palestine, that opened the way for the formal establishment of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. After five Arab armies invaded Palestine and tried to strangle the new state at birth, a UN mediator, Dr. Ralph Bunche, helped to bring about the armistice agreements of 1949. In these first years, the Security Council tried repeatedly to restrain the Arabs. Egypt closed the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping in 1949 on the ground that, despite the armistice, it considered itself to be in a state of “belligerency” vis-à-vis Israel. Two years later, the Council called on Egypt to put an end to this restriction of the canal and held that it was “unreasonable” for Egypt to behave as if it were still an active belligerent. In 1954, when Israel protested against Egypt's blockade of the port of Eilat, Israel's only outlet to the Red Sea and the East, the Security Council upheld Israel, only to run into a Soviet veto. Though the UN did not open the Suez Canal for Israel or lift the blockade of Eilat—Israel never achieved the first and obtained the second in 1956—at least the UN did what it could. It passed resolutions, which the Arab nations ignored or defied.
Today the UN is Israel's affliction and the Arabs' benefactor. The Soviet veto for the Arabs has given way to the U.S. veto for the Israelis. The change that has taken place in the UN accounts for much of this change in Israel's position. The growth in UN membership from 51 to 135, together with the increasing prevalence of bloc voting, has altered the UN so much that its founding fathers would hardly recognize it. Where Israel is concerned, the bloc set-up works almost automatically against it. The Arabs start with their own eighteen votes. They are sure to pick up eight more from the non-Arab Muslim countries. Then come the twelve inevitable votes from the Communist countries. Twenty-six African nations, which do not now have diplomatic ties with Israel, unwaveringly back the Arabs as part of their dues in the Afro-Asian bloc, and they carry most of the other African nations along with them. About a dozen other “nonaligned” nations, such as India and Yugoslavia (for whom nonalignment has come to mean nonalignment with only one side), make no effort to hide their pro-Arab commitment. In Western Europe, France and Spain are consistently hostile to Israel, and Britain does not lag far behind. If most or all of the Latin-American bloc, as part of its lip service to the “Third World,” goes along, as it usually does, the Arabs can count on at least two-thirds of the General Assembly on almost any issue that lines them up against Israel.
At the time of the October 1973 war, the Security Council was equally one-sided. Of the five permanent members, Communist China and Soviet Russia were so hostile that they did not have diplomatic relations with Israel. The competition between them took the form of seeing which one could be more pro-Arab than the Arabs. Of the remaining three permanent members, the Arabs could count on France, if not Britain too. Three of the ten non-permanent members, Sudan, Yugoslavia, and Indonesia, had no diplomatic relations with Israel, and a fourth, India, virtually belonged in the same category. The 1974-75 Security Council is even worse from Israel's point of view. Of the five non-permanent members whose term expired at the end of 1973, only two had no diplomatic relations with Israel; of the five that replaced them four (Byelorussia, Cameroon, Iraq, and Mauretania) have no diplomatic relations with Israel. The Israeli diplomat who remarked that Arabs could get a majority in the UN for a resolution declaring that the earth is flat was exaggerating only a little.
In a previous article,1 I referred harshly to the UN's role in the October 1973 war. The trouble with referring to the UN as a single entity is that the organization does not live a life of its own. The UN may be international in form, but it is national in content; it is no more than the member states, and especially the permanent members of the Security Council, choose to make it. Whatever it was intended to be, it has become little more than an international forum in which member states ruthlessly pursue their national interests according to certain rules or principles which they recognize, ignore, or violate as they see fit. The UN is not a “supranational” government with any power of its own; it is not the “conscience of mankind,” dispensing a higher law equally to all. Whenever Israel is concerned, a disturbing pattern of behavior has developed. It should disturb the most those who wish the UN the best.
The pattern emerged clearly in 1967. When Egypt began to mass troops in the Sinai region bordering Israel on May 14, and especially when Egypt demanded the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) on May 16, and even more so when Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran and blockaded the Israeli port of Eilat on May 22, a crisis was clearly on its way. What happened in the UN?
On May 23, Canada and Denmark requested an immediate meeting of the Security Council to deal with the Middle East crisis. On May 24, the Soviet representative, Nikolai T. Fedorenko, prevented the Council from even taking up the subject. He accused the Western powers of “artificially heating up the atmosphere” and insistently pooh-poohed the seriousness of the situation.2 As late as May 29, Fedorenko accused the U.S. representative, Ambassador Arthur J. Goldberg, of uselessly engaging in “histrionics of all kinds.”3 Until war broke out on June 5, the Soviet representative sought by one means or another to prevent serious discussion of the issue in the Security Council.
While the Soviet representative was running diplomatic interference, the Egyptian representative, Ambassador Mohammad Awad el-Kony, made head-on verbal attacks on Israel to justify Egypt's actions. He did not deny that they were acts of war, especially in the case of the blockade of Eilat. Nor were the Soviets in a good position to justify the blockade because that would have set a precedent for the unilateral closure of the Dardanelles by Turkey, blockading the Soviet ports in the Black Sea. Ambassador el-Kony boldly defended Egypt's action on the ground that “a state of overt war” had existed and continued to exist between the Arabs and Israelis.4 It is a mistake, then, to think that the Egyptians did not knowingly commit acts of war before June 5. A blockade of an international waterway, such as the Gulf of Aqaba, was an act of war—and the Egyptians did not try to hide that fact as long as they were confident of victory.
Thus, at least two things took place in the Security Council before the 1967 war. First, the Soviets immobilized the Council in the period of aggressive Egyptian actions. Second, a double-bookkeeping system operated as soon as the Egyptians were thrown on the defensive.
The second point is particularly striking because the charge of “Israeli aggression” came to have such importance for the Egyptians. The Egyptian rationale for blockading Eilat on May 22 was equally a rationale for the Israeli attack on June 5. If the one was a justified act of war because a state of war already existed, the other was no more than a justifiable response. So long as the Egyptians thought that they were sure to win the war, they wanted the world to know that they had started it. If the Egyptians had not miscalculated and had won the war, they would have dated it from May 14 or at latest May 22, not June 5.
But as soon as their plans misfired, and the war was lost in six days, the Arabs filled the air with cries of “Israeli aggression.” Forgotten was Ambassador el-Kony's proud boast that a “state of war” had always existed between Israel and the Arab states and that it gave Egypt the “legitimate right” to blockade the Straits of Tiran, an admittedly aggressive act. Now the Arabs were innocent victims of an unprovoked Israeli aggression which had broken the peace and harmony of the Middle East. In this way a double standard was smuggled into the Middle East conflict and has plagued it ever since.
After the 1967 war broke out on June 5, neither the Arabs nor the Israelis asked the Security Council to intervene. The Arabs were at first too confident of victory. As for the Israelis, they were determined to push back the 80,000 or so heavily armed Egyptian troops on their Sinai border and to reopen free passage of the Straits of Tiran. The Security Council met on June 5 without result. The legal position was obviously double-edged. As a fair-minded account by the former Indian ambassador to the UN, Arthur Lall, put it, the UN charter outlaws “not only the use of force or aggression but the threat of force.” On the latter count, Egypt had made threats of force repeatedly in the previous days. When did hostilities begin? When the Gulf of Aqaba was blockaded by Egypt or when Israel responded to it? Only the Soviet Union demanded unconditional condemnation of Israeli “aggression,” and it was supported by no more than two members, all the way by Bulgaria, less forcefully by Mali. On the second day of the war, June 6, the Egyptians knew that they were in trouble. “Late that afternoon,” Lall relates, “the Egyptians informed the Soviet Union that they would accept a cease-fire unless they received immediate military assistance. It was clear, however, that such assistance could not be given.”5
So the Arabs shopped around for a quick ceasefire to save them from further military disaster. A resolution limited to calling for an immediate cease-fire was unanimously voted on the early evening of June 6. But the fighting raged on after the Council's belated awakening to the seriousness of the situation. Still another Soviet-sponsored ceasefire resolution, this one with a specific time limit, was unanimously adopted on June 7. With an Arab military collapse approaching, the Arabs and their Communist allies had changed their attitude toward UN intervention. For at least three weeks before, and for thirty-two hours after the fighting started, they had blocked every effort to bring the issue before the Security Council. Now, suddenly, Security-Council resolutions were flaunted as if they had the force of absolute, peremptory, self-enforcing law. For years, the Security Council had passed resolutions obnoxious to the Arabs without the slightest effect on their behavior. This time it was different. The vaguest call of the Security Council for a cease-fire was touted as if it had come from on high.
Another innovation became a bad habit in the Security Council. As Arthur Lall has noted, “condemnation” has no place in the tasks allotted to the Council in the UN charter. “Unfortunately,” he observed reproachfully, “it has become a tendency of certain organs of the United Nations to overlook the charter injunctions relating to conciliation and the harmonizing of the actions of nations, and to substitute for these approaches that of condemnation. It may, of course, be a matter of opinion as to whether condemnation is a more effective approach toward achieving settlements than the approach of skillful urgings, even demands, and quiet pressures. However, the essential point is that the charter rejects the former approach in favor of the latter, and whatever individual governments may say or do in their bilateral dealings, in the organs of the United Nations they should adhere to the charter's approaches.”6
The chief specialist in these “condemnations”—always, of course, against Israel—was the Soviet Union. While the Egyptians were satisfied for the moment to get no more than a cease-fire, the Soviet representative, Fedorenko, held out for an Israeli withdrawal from Arab territory; the “main task,” he said, was to condemn Israel as “the aggressor.”7 But Fedorenko failed to get Israel condemned as the “aggressor” or ordered to withdraw its forces. As matters stood when the Security Council adjourned on June 14, only a ceasefire had been agreed on by all parties. As Lall noted sadly. “The Council had missed its most constructive opportunities when it had failed to act in May, and thereafter it had never really caught up with the flow of events in the region.”8 And if it failed to act in May, as he makes clear, the Soviet Union was primarily responsible.
But this was only the beginning of the diplomatic battle that followed the military struggle.
We have now come to the magic number: 242.
After several futile attempts to reach an agreement acceptable to all sides in the dispute, the Security Council met again in November 1967. It did not seem like a propitious moment. The Arab states had come together at Khartoum two months earlier and had arrived at an intransigent formula vis-à-vis Israel: no peace, no recognition, no negotiations. Nevertheless, the mood in the Security Council favored one more big try to reach a settlement.
The Arab states, in line with the Khartoum formula, were merely interested in getting Israel out of the occupied territories. For Israel, the occupation of the territories won in June was still a somewhat unreal, fortuitous experience. Most Israelis were as yet less interested in keeping all or some of the territories than in using them to get the Arabs to recognize the state of Israel within “secure borders.” All outside efforts at the November meeting were bent on incorporating and reconciling these two main Arab and Israeli aims.
After a number of false starts by the Afro-Asian bloc, the Soviet Union, and the United States, the winner was—Resolution 242. The chief impresario was the British member, Lord Caradon, who gave a classical exhibition of diplomatic unflappability. The diplomatic struggle accompanying the military battle since 1967 has been based on this resolution. The present Geneva conference was set in motion by Resolution 338 of October 22, 1973, which in turn implements Resolution 242. Thus everything that has happened in the Arab-Israeli conflict in the past six years goes back in one way or another to Resolution 242. How it was concocted and why it was adopted constitute one of the most curious operations in recent diplomatic history.
Caradon's stratagem was to give something to everyone, and everything to no one—in such a way that no one knew whether he had anything.
In the preamble, Caradon managed to write a paragraph which began with something for the Arabs and ended with something for Israel. The first portion emphasized “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and the second “the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security.” Egypt, which had acquired the Gaza territory (that had not been Egyptian) and Jordan, which had acquired the territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Old City of Jerusalem (that had not been Jordanian) by war in 1948, blithely hailed the principle of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” because, in their interpretation, it was aimed solely at Israel. As for the Soviet Union, it had acquired through World War II 272,500 square miles of territory with a population two-and-a-half times as large as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq combined, but was not inhibited from voting for this lofty principle for someone else.9 Israel enjoyed reading the words “a just and lasting peace” and “security,” which had evaded it for so long.
But preambles are merely the appetizers of UN resolutions. The main courses come in the operative paragraphs. The Egyptians wanted most the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from Arab territory. So Caradon gave them the first operative paragraph, which provided for the
Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.
This combination of words was not as clear and simple as it may seem. For a previous Soviet resolution had stipulated that Israel “should immediately and unconditionally withdraw all its forces from the territory of those States [United Arab Republic, Syria, and Jordan] to positions behind the armistice demarcation lines [i.e., before June 5, 1967].” And another Latin-American draft resolution had urgently requested Israel “to withdraw all its forces from all the territories occupied by it as a result of the recent conflict.”
Caradon's formula omitted four key words: “immediately,” “unconditionally,” “all,” and “the.” By omitting “immediately” and “unconditionally” in the Soviet text, it implied that the withdrawal might not be immediate or unconditional. By omitting the first “all,” before the mention of Israeli “forces,” it implied that not all of them might be withdrawn—or, as in the previous case, at least left the question open. But the crucial excision was made in the reference to “the territory,” in the Russian text, or to “all the territories,” in the Latin-American text. By removing “the,” and even more so, “all the” before the word “territories” in his final text, Caradon deliberately left open the possibility that the Israeli withdrawal might be partial rather than complete. The Israelis could accept it because it might be partial; the Arabs could vote for it, albeit less enthusiastically, because it might be complete. In short, what Resolution 242 did not say was fully as important as what it did say.
To make matters even more complicated and dubious, the equally authoritative French version of Resolution 242, owing to the exigencies of the French language, translated “territories occupied” as “des territoires occupés,” making it possible for an interpretation to include the word “the” before territories. Thus, in effect, the English version seemed to favor the Israelis, the French version the Arabs.
The Israelis, of course, wanted recognition of their state within secure borders. So Caradon gave them the second operative paragraph:
Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.
This paragraph also bears close scrutiny. It will be noticed that the state which was in contention, Israel, was not mentioned by name as deserving respect for its “sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence.” Did or did not the reference to “every State” include Israel? It might or it might not, depending on whether Israel was accepted as a valid, legitimate state. True, Israel was a member in good standing of the United Nations. On the other hand, the Arab states had ostentatiously refused to recognize Israel's rightful statehood. Israel in fact wanted to be mentioned by name. But Caradon's resolution bypassed the issue by using the much more general formulation, giving the Arabs the possibility of denying Israel the right to be accepted in their minds as a “State in the area.”
However, assuming that Israel was such a state—and for the United Nations as such, its status was unquestionable—the most important words in the resolution were the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.” Without the reference to such boundaries Israel would probably not have accepted this resolution. For two things were inextricably meshed. One was the abstract acceptance of the state of Israel. But what and where was this state? What boundaries did it have? Without a clear and final delineation of its boundaries, Israel's acceptance as a state could mean anything or nothing. By challenging its boundaries concretely, the Arabs could make a mockery of accepting the state of Israel abstractly. As we shall see, the problem of “boundaries” is one of the most vexed and venomous of all aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Resolution 242 demanded its solution without in the least resolving it.
Resolution 242 included three more major operative paragraphs:
Guaranteed “freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area.” This stipulation was supposed to reopen the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping.
“A just settlement of the refugee problem.” Each side, of course, wanted such a settlement, but whether they could agree on what was “just,” which the resolution did not define, was something else.
And the designation by the Secretary-General of the UN of a “Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution.” On this provision hinged all the others. Everyone knew that Resolution 242 was merely the beginning of a long and tortuous process. This process was made all the more difficult by the Arab refusal to negotiate directly with Israel. As in 1949, the UN resorted to an intermediary to get the process going indirectly.
Alas, we are not yet finished with Resolution 242. Something more was needed before the diplomatic tapestry could be woven.
First, there apparently were private, behind-the-scenes, unwritten understandings. The most important of these related to the most hotly disputed clause about the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” What did the omission of “all” and “the” before “territories” mean? An Arab delegate later revealed that the Arab delegations had been privately given the explanation that the omission of these words “really related to the possibility of minor and mutually agreed rectifications of the frontier.”10 He complained that Israel subsequently wanted more “substantial changes” than the Arabs had been led to expect. There was, evidently, some kind of private understanding about some frontier changes, even if opinions might differ about which were minor or major.
On the other hand, the Egyptian delegate, Mohammad Hassan el-Zayyat, claimed that Lord Caradon had privately told the then Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Riad, that “the words ‘territories occupied’ meant all territories occupied.” El-Zayyat also claimed that the U.S. delegate, Arthur J. Goldberg, had given a private assurance that “not an inch of Egyptian territory is going to be touched.”11 Both Caradon and Goldberg have gone on record denying that Resolution 242 meant any such thing.12 In the fall of 1968, according to former Undersecretary of State, Eugene V. Rostow, who was then in charge of the Arab-Israeli conflict at the State Department, Soviet ambassadors both in Washington and at the UN indicated that they could agree to “insubstantial” modifications of the pre-1967 borders as part of a “package deal.” The next day, however, they reversed themselves.13
The former Indian ambassador, Arthur Lall, who was in a good position to know, tells us what went on behind the scenes between the Soviets and Arabs before the resolution was voted on. The Arab delegates came to the Soviet representative, V. V. Kuznetsov, to complain about the British version. “They insisted that the wording read either that Israeli forces would be withdrawn from ‘all the territories,’ instead of ‘territories’ occupied by Israel, or that Israel would ‘withdraw to the positions of 4 June 1967.’ In addition, the Arabs were unwilling to accept the phrase ‘recognized boundaries’ also occurring in the first operative paragraph.” But the Arabs changed their minds the next day because they “concluded that it was better to get a resolution backed by all fifteen votes in the Council than to insist on a resolution which might not be adopted or might obtain the bare minimum of nine votes.” They also tried to prevail on Caradon to substitute “all the territories” for “territories” in the crucial clause on Israeli withdrawal. He soothingly told them that his draft represented “a delicate balance” which could not be upset.14
It is obviously not safe to rely on anything but the actual words in the resolution. Yet some private give-and-take undoubtedly played a part in getting agreement on the resolution.
Of one all-important aspect of the resolution there can be no doubt. It was a “package deal.”
If it had not been such a deal, the Arabs could have claimed—as they proceeded to claim anyway—that it was necessary or possible to put into effect the first operative paragraph on Israeli withdrawal, in which they were primarily interested, before or without putting into effect the other operative paragraphs in which the Israelis were primarily interested. As a matter of fact, the order in which the various provisions were listed had nothing to do with priority or preeminence. The resolution was to be taken as a whole or not at all.
This point was clearly made by Lord Caradon at the time. He called the resolution “a balanced whole.”15 What he meant by this was later spelled out by him and other authoritative British officials who, after all, knew best what they had put together. In an interview on February 10, 1973, Caradon gave this explanation: “Withdrawal should take place to secure and recognized boundaries, and these words were carefully chosen: they have to be secure, and they have to be recognized. They will not be secure unless they are recognized.” Other British explications have emphasized the term “concurrently” to stress how the parts of Resolution 242 were linked together. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Michael Stewart, stated in the House of Commons on November 17, 1969: “The resolution speaks of secure and recognized boundaries. Those words must be read concurrently with the statement on withdrawal.”16 A British member of the Security Council, K. D. Jamieson, reiterated as late as June 11, 1973, that “we for our part have always considered that there is a close interconnection between all the elements of the settlement envisaged in resolution 242 (1967).”17 Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco, in charge of Middle East affairs, has stated: “The Security Council did not call for unconditional Israeli withdrawal to the armistice lines [of 1949] as had been the case at the time of the 1956 war in Sinai. Rather, it called for ‘withdrawal . . . from territories occupied’ in the 1967 war as part of a package settlement in which the parties would agree to respect each other's right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.”18
It should be clear by now what Resolution 242 did and did not say.
Ah, but no—nothing about Resolution 242 was—or is—that easy.
When the members of the Security Council explained their votes on November 22, 1967, the disparity between their explanations was so great that one might have imagined that they were talking about different things. Although he did not rule out “mutual territorial adjustments,” the Indian member, Gopalaswami Parthasarathi, maintained: “It is our understanding that the draft resolution, if approved by the Council, will commit it to the application of the principle of total withdrawal of Israeli forces from all the territories—I repeat, all the territories—occupied by Israel as a result of the conflict which began on 5 June, 1967.” To which Lord Caradon coyly responded that only the resolution itself was binding but that “all of us, no doubt, have our own views and interpretations and understandings.” Foreign Minister Abba Eban of Israel cautioned: “The representative of India has now sought to interpret the resolution in the image of his own wishes. For us, the resolution says what it says. It does not say that which it has specifically and consciously avoided saying.” But this advice did not stop the Soviet member, Kuznetsov, from declaring that “we voted for the United Kingdom draft resolution, as interpreted by the representative of India, whose views we share.” Heedless of everything that had been said by the United Kingdom delegate, he continued, “We understand the decision to mean the withdrawal of Israel forces from all, and we repeat all, territories belonging to Arab States and seized by Israel following its attack on those States on 5 June 1967.” The Bulgarian member, Milko Tarabanov, echoed Kuznetsov. The Egyptian representative, Mahmoud Riad, insisted that the “full withdrawal of Israel forces from all territories they have occupied as a result of their aggression on 5 June” was the first step to be taken and that other steps could then follow. The Jordanian representative, Abdul Monem Rifa'i, called “the immediate and complete withdrawal”—neither of these qualifiers was in the resolution—the “essential step.” The U.S. member, Arthur Goldberg, gently chided: “The voting, of course, has taken place not on the individual views and policies of various members, but on the draft resolution. I, and I assume other members of the Council, voted for the draft resolution and not for each and every speech that has been made.” But he then slightly opened the door to the possibility of multiple interpretations: “I hastily add that I have voted for my own speech, and I assume others have done likewise with respect to their speeches.” Finally, the Israeli representative, Abba Eban, apparently aiming at the French version, informed the Council that he was communicating “nothing except the original English text of the draft resolution” to his government.19
From all this one might gather that a private understanding had been reached to permit members of the Security Council to vote for the resolution unanimously but to interpret it individually. This diplomatic technique for obtaining unanimity was such that it was sure to breed future confusion and contradiction. Nevertheless, this arrangement was probably the only course if unanimity was desirable or necessary to make any progress at all.
When the Security Council met in June 1973, however, arbitrary reinterpretations of Resolution 242 came from both sides. The Soviet member, Y. A. Malik, proclaimed that a complete Israeli withdrawal was “a primary prerequisite for peace in the Middle East” and “the key question of a Middle East settlement.”20 On the other hand, the Israeli representative, Yosef Tekoah, held that “the question of secure and recognized boundaries” was “the central problem.”21 Both sought shelter under Resolution 242 which had clearly and deliberately refrained from making withdrawal or boundaries “primary,” “the key,” or “central.” My impression is that by sheer repetition the Arabs and Soviets have come out ahead in this propaganda argument. Most people who read or think about Resolution 242 probably have the impression that it exclusively or mainly “orders” Israel to withdraw completely from the occupied territories.
And yet, all diplomatic activity since 1967 to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict has been based on the shifting sands of this resolution.22
Whatever Resolution 242 said or did not say, its fate depended on what the UN's Special Representative did or did not do. As representative, the Secretary-General appointed the Swedish ambassador to Moscow, Gunnar Jarring, who set up his headquarters in Cyprus.
The failure of the Jarring mission was one of the preconditions of the 1973 war. Why it failed is still critical for a full understanding of the deepest, most irreconcilable issues underlying the entire Arab-Israeli conflict.
The divergent interpretations of Resolution 242 were quick to emerge. Israel advised Jarring that the best way “to promote agreement” as provided for in the resolution was through direct negotiations, the first step of which should be an Israeli-Egyptian meeting to discuss an “agenda for peace.” Egypt—and Jordan too—replied that such discussion was out of the question so long as Israeli armed forces had not withdrawn from the occupied territories. The essential “ambiguity” built into Resolution 242 began to torment Jarring by the end of 1967.
The next gambit took the form of “indirect negotiations.” After some attempt to make “indirect negotiations” lead to “direct negotiations,” Israel accepted the indirect approach without conditions. But again the fundamental differences, especially the dispute over complete Israeli withdrawal, emphasized the hopelessness of Jarring's task. There is no need here to go into all the ingenious efforts made by Jarring to get around the main stumbling blocks. By the end of 1970, after three years of frustration and disenchantment with all sides, he seemed to have reached the end of the road.
Early in 1971, Jarring decided to make one final, desperate effort. What had thwarted him he thought, was the question of priorities. The Egyptians wanted to get a commitment on complete Israeli withdrawal before they did anything else, and the Israelis wanted to be sure of their security before they gave up anything. Jarring decided that the way to break the deadlock was to approach both sides to make “parallel and simultaneous” commitments. On February 8, 1971, Jarring sent proposals to this effect to Israel and Egypt. From Israel, in the main, he asked for a commitment to withdraw its forces from the occupied territories, and from Egypt he essentially wanted “respect for and acknowledgment of each other's right to live in peace with secure and recognized boundaries.” This time, Jarring had most trouble with Israel. On the most vital point of withdrawal, the Israeli reply of February 26, 1971, was willing to accept only the following: “Withdrawal of Israel's armed forces from the Israel-United Arab Republic cease-fire line to the secure, recognized, and agreed boundaries to be established in the peace agreement. Israel will not withdraw to the pre-5 June 1967 lines.”23
What was the trouble? Israel made known its objection that Jarring had overstepped the bounds of his authority as set forth in Resolution 242. In it the special representative had been enjoined “to promote agreement and assist efforts” of the states themselves to reach a peaceful settlement. Jarring, however, specified that Israel was to withdraw to “the former international boundary between Egypt and the British Mandate of Palestine.” The extent of the withdrawal had been deliberately left open in the resolution; Jarring had taken it on himself to spell it out. This was not a merely technical or formal deviation; for Israel, it went to the heart of the matter. Israel had agreed to the resolution in order to negotiate the precise boundaries with Egypt. Now Jarring had done all the “negotiating” by himself and had confronted Israel with a fait accompli.
Neither side was totally satisfied with the map of withdrawal as drawn by Jarring. Egypt's reply demanded Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as well as from Sinai, even though the former had not been Egyptian territory during the British Mandate of Palestine. But the Israeli problem in this respect was probably more serious. Jarring's plan entailed only the Israeli-Egyptian border. Even there, Israel was supposed to get “respect” and “acknowledgment”—at most a promissory note that might be exceedingly difficult to collect on—in return for giving Egypt an immediate commitment on a definite delineation of the Israeli withdrawal. This exchange, from the Israeli point of view, was flagrantly one-sided. Israel had agreed in Resolution 242 to some form of withdrawal in return for “secure and recognized boundaries”—not on one side but on all sides. Jarring, however, could not deliver Jordan at the same time as Egypt, and Syria was out of the question altogether—Syria had never even accepted Resolution 242. If Israel was truly “to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force,” as the resolution required, its existence could not be separated from its boundaries, and its boundaries could not be decided only on the Egyptian front.
Jarring no doubt had opted for the piecemeal approach because he could not bring off a “balanced whole.” Whatever his motives, he had transmogrified Resolution 242 in such a way that his plan was far more acceptable to the Egyptians and their Soviet backers than to the Israelis. Jarring had jarred loose the “package deal” and had spilled the pieces on the floor, hoping to pick them up and put them together as in a jigsaw puzzle one at a time. Whether he would have succeeded is more than doubtful, but he was never given the chance.
By March 1971, Jarring's mission was virtually dead. Those who imagine that Israel lost its great opportunity to make peace by not accepting Jarring's plan in 1971 have not fully understood why it failed.
In 1968, in the first months of Jarring's mission, the influential Egyptian editor, Mohammad Hassanein Heykal, put into words what he must have thought was a very witty idea:
If somebody says, for example, let's assume that Israel would demand recognition of the former cease-fire lines as permanent and recognized boundaries, the answer would be the following: What could prevent us in such a situation from stating that according to our own conception, the secure and recognized boundaries are one Jewish synagogue in Tel Aviv and ten meters around it?24
If this were written about almost any other country, it might stir up a little amusement or, at worst, annoyance. In Tel Aviv, it can inspire real consternation. The reason is not that Israelis are so very different from other people. The cause is buried deep in Israel's peculiar history.
At this point, we must step back a quarter of a century in order to go forward to the present. History has haunted the Arab-Israeli conflict in every phase and at every step, and never more than from 1967 to the present.
The Jewish state envisaged in the original UN partition plan of 1947 was a minuscule geopolitical monstrosity. The plan divided Palestine into seven parts, three Jewish and three Arab, each virtually disjointed, plus Jerusalem, which was to be “internationalized.” A condition of the partition was the economic union of the Jewish and Arab parts. The largest Jewish part consisted of the Negev, then a wasteland.
As if this were not enough, the UN plan also gave the Jewish state the “wrong” parts of Palestine. The Jewish parts were made up of those districts in which the Jews had been able to settle and own land, not where God had presumably put them in biblical times. “The nursery of the Jewish race and the Jewish religion,” as Cecil Roth put it, had been the Kingdom of Judah, which the UN plan allotted to the Arabs. David was anointed King of Judah in Hebron—an Arab center in the UN plan and still today. Tel Aviv was made up of little more than barren and swampy dunes at the beginning of the 20th century, disconcertingly situated in ancient Philistine territory.
If the Arabs had permitted the 1947 partition plan to go through, even temporarily, it is doubtful whether Israel could have survived until the present. Despite misgivings and dissension, the Jews accepted the plan. Confident of their superior numbers and arms, the Arabs did not. The result of the war that followed in 1948 was the enlargement of the Jewish state by about one fourth. But the Jewish state was not the only one that benefited territorially from the war. Instead of going ahead with the projected new Arab state in Palestine, Egypt and Transjordan proceeded to divide the remaining territory between themselves. Egypt gobbled up the Gaza Strip, which it never made part of the state of Egypt but ruled through a military governor. The Emirate of Transjordan, as it was then called, refused to give up the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Old City of Jerusalem, despite the bitter opposition of the other Arab states, and soon changed its name to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. All these territorial changes, according to the armistice agreements of 1949, were supposed to be provisional and temporary. Article XII of the Egyptian-Israeli General Armistice Agreement of February 24, 1949, for example, stated that the provisions “shall remain in force until a peaceful settlement between the parties is achieved.” But such a peaceful settlement was never achieved because the Arab states would never agree to negotiate one with Israel.
So the armistice agreements of 1949, not the UN partition plan of 1947, became the de facto basis of Arab-Israeli relations. No one, and certainly not the Soviet Union, objected to this change. No one denounced Israel as an aggressor because it had turned back the armies of five Arab states and had forced them to sign armistice agreements. No one was scandalized because the Arabs were compelled to pay a penalty for provoking and losing a war. As a result, the armistice agreements of 1949 set a precedent for territorial changes brought about by wars provoked by the Arabs themselves—a precedent which the Arabs have insistently tried to revoke by provoking more wars.
Nevertheless, the armistice agreements of 1949 left a difficult and dubious legacy which is still at the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The trouble with those armistice agreements was that they were nothing more than—armistice agreements. From 1949 to 1967, the boundaries of Israel were not secure and were not recognized because they were not confirmed by a peace settlement. Indeed, since Egypt considered itself to be at war with Israel despite the armistice agreements and, the Egyptians even argued, by virtue of them, secure and recognized boundaries could not result from the armistice agreements of 1949 any more than they could derive from the cease-fire lines of 1967. Ironically, the claim to Palestinian territory by Egypt and Jordan is just as tenuous as they regard Israel's claim to be, since they are equally dependent on the armistice agreements of 1949 for any title to that land. By challenging Israel's boundaries, Egypt and Jordan logically call into question their own. Yet only Israel has been asked to justify being where it is.
History, then, has exerted a tormenting pull on both sides—on the Arabs to reduce Israel to an empty shell, on the Israelis to realize the Zionist dream of restoring the Jews to their ancient “homeland.” This pressure could have been held back if both sides had been able to reach some kind of stable territorial settlement. If such a settlement had been based on the UN partition plan of 1947 or the armistice agreements of 1949, it would not have been fully satisfactory to either side. But at least they would have arrived at some fixed points in their relationship. By never going beyond the armistice agreements or cease-fire lines, everything always remained open, uncertain, unhinged. When Israel asks to be a secure and recognized state, it asks for secure and recognized boundaries. Or conversely, without secure and recognized boundaries, Israel cannot be a secure and recognized state. Arabs and others are sometimes willing to pay lip-service to Israel as a state but never to what boundaries that state has. This is the “dirty little secret” of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The secret has been fairly well kept from the general public—except, of course, in Israel, which has almost been fixated by the problem of boundaries. The impression must still be widespread that the Arab leaders wish nothing more than Israeli withdrawal to the pre-June 5, 1967 boundaries and that all would be well if only the Israelis agreed.
This myth should not have outlived the session of the Security Council in June 1973. Unfortunately, few bother to go through the dreary pages of Security Council discussions, though they sometimes contain the most devastating revelations of what official policies really are.
The Security Council met on June 6, 1973, to consider the Middle East problem as a whole for the first time since November 1967. Almost six years after Resolution 242 had been unanimously adopted, the Arab states had come to the conclusion that it was too ambiguous for their purposes and that it needed modification in their favor in order to serve as a diplomatic bludgeon against Israel. They also had had time to harden their position on the resolution's critical reference to “secure and recognized boundaries.”
The Egyptian press had already foreshadowed that position, which went far beyond any possible interpretation of Resolution 242. On February 25, 1971, Heykal had written in al-Ahram:
There are only two specific Arab goals at present: elimination of the consequences of the 1967 aggression through Israel's withdrawal from all the lands it occupied that year, and elimination of the consequences of the 1948 aggression through the eradication of Israel.
The second goal is not, in fact, specific but abstract, and some of us make the mistake of starting with the second step instead of the first. On the basis of the conditions I have mentioned, it is possible to believe in the possibility of attaining the first goal. As for the second goal, we should learn from the enemy to move step by step.
So, according to this highly authoritative spokesman and confidant of Egypt's top leaders, the goal in Resolution 242 was only the first step. If that were achieved, the second goal would be to go back to 1948 when Israel was established as a state.
An even more authoritative Egyptian spokesman and top leader, President Anwar el-Sadat, made another significant allusion to the first and second steps on February 17, 1972:
Nor do we have the right to compel the Palestinian people to accept the Security Council resolution because the land is their land, both those areas occupied in 1948 and the remainder of Palestine occupied after 1967 (al-Ahram, February 18, 1972).
From this, the Egyptians were clearly thinking far beyond Resolution 242, which seemingly concerned only the post-1967 occupied areas. In the background, but already emerging publicly, was another resolve to undo the 1948 war in the name of the “Palestinian people.”
All this came out openly in the Security Council in June 1973. At the very first meeting on June 6, the Egyptian representative, el-Zayyat, called on the Council to:
Resolve that all the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian nation be respected, including their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries in their homeland of Palestine as it was before the partition, as it was under the Mandate.25
Now the familiar terms, “homeland” and “secure and recognized boundaries” were made to apply to the “Palestinian nation” rather than to Israel. And the homeland of the “Palestinian nation” was so defined—“before the partition, as it was under the [British] Mandate”—that it antedated even the UN plan of 1947, when the state of Israel had not yet been established.
On June 11, the Sudanese representative, Khalid, also brought up 1947 in a somewhat more veiled form:
The truth of the matter is that the June  war is a consequence of the unresolved crisis since Israel burgeoned its way into a State in 1947 [sic]. Any reference to the Armistice Agreement vexes Israel, because going back twenty-five years helps clear our thinking, though it does not necessarily mean that we are unaware of the facts created by war and current international diplomacy. The present cannot be divorced from the past. It is one piece with it. It is the prelude of the future.26
On the same day, another Egyptian representative, Abdel Meguid, again opened up the question of boundaries in this provocative fashion:
The logic of the representative of Israel surprises us, to say the least. He speaks about “safe and recognized boundaries” for Israel. Of what boundaries is he talking: those of 1947, 1948, 1949, 1956, or 1967? When certain States recognized the State of Israel they recognized it with boundaries that were defined in the partition plan—in other words, within a territory that had been allocated to it by a United Nations resolution, and nothing more.27
On June 13, the Egyptian, el-Zayyat, took the position that Egypt gave the Palestinians the right to decide the fate of Israel, again going back to 1947:
It is up to them [the Palestinians], if and when they desire, to put the territorial and political boundaries between them and the Jewish State—if and when they desire to accept the partition resolution of 1947, which they deem to be unjust.28
This strategy of “two stages”—one Egyptian, the other Palestinian—is now so deeply rooted in Egyptian thinking28a that it was expressed by Heykal in al-Ahram on October 19, 1973, just before the present cease-fire agreement:
The issue at present is not connected with the liberation of the Arab territories occupied after June 5, 1967, but concerns the Israeli future in a deeper sense and in the long run—even if this is not obvious right now. The issue is as follows: If the Arabs would be capable of liberating the territories occupied after June 5, 1967, by armed force, then what is there to prevent them in the next stage from liberating Palestine itself by armed force?
This Egyptian line clearly threatens the state of Jordan as well as the state of Israel. King Hussein of Jordan knew what he was doing at the end of November 1973 when he refused to attend the Arab leaders' “summit meeting” in Algiers which issued a declaration that, among other things, called for “Re-establishment of the full national rights for the Palestinian people.” This formula could only mean the dismemberment of Jordan by means of a new Palestinian state in the West Bank, or the overthrow of the Hashemite regime and takeover of all Jordan by the Palestinians. This threat to the present state of Jordan logically flowed from the strategy of returning to the boundaries of 1947—if at all—in the case of Israel. By going so far back, the other Arab states undercut all claim of Jordan to the West Bank, which dated only from the military invasion of 1948. Hussein now has far more to fear from his Arab neighbors than from Israel, though he has been living dangerously by playing the game of his would-be executioners.
In effect, the Arabs had fully worked out their political and military strategy by the time they came to the Security Council in June 1973. It was, basically, a strategy of “stages.” The reason they could not live with Resolution 242 as a “package deal” was that it precluded a strategy of stages. When they could not get what they wanted out of 242, they went back to the Security Council in 1973 to get something stronger. In July, they almost got what they wanted.
The last diplomatic struggle in the UN before the outbreak of war took place over a draft resolution known as document S/10974, submitted by eight co-sponsors (Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Panama, Peru, Sudan, and Yugoslavia) on July 24. The vote two days later showed how much had changed in the UN since November 1967.
S/10974 changed Resolution 242 in at least three basic respects. It substituted “the territories” for “territories” in the second operative paragraph dealing with Israeli withdrawal. It substituted “the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people,” the new code term, for what had been “a just settlement of the refugee problem.” And it substituted a piecemeal approach for the “package deal,” which had been the essence of Resolution 242.
The vote on S/10974 was 13 to 1 (with China not voting). Since the one vote was cast by the United States, the draft resolution was vetoed. Only the Australian and British members expressed some discomfort in going along with the majority.
As has now been admitted, Egypt was already actively preparing for its attack when this vote was taken. If the diplomatic isolation of Israel was one of the preconditions of the attack, Egypt had succeeded in its purpose. Since all those who voted for S/10974 knew in advance that the United States was going to cast a veto, it also represented an advanced state of U.S. isolation in the UN.
This action was but a prelude to what happened in the UN after the war actually broke out.
Before we see how the UN—or, more exactly, the members of the Security Council—dealt with the October 1973 war, let us try to reconstruct, as best we can, how the war came about.
There is one firm bit of evidence from an unimpeachable source, Major General Sa'ad ad-Din al-Shazli, the Egyptian Chief of Staff. He has disclosed that the planning of the war took nine to ten months before the outbreak of hostilities.29 This would put the initiation of active Egyptian war preparations at the beginning of 1973.
A most circumstantial account has been given by the Middle East correspondent of Le Monde, Eric Rouleau. Long persona grata in Egypt, Rouleau has had unrivaled Arab sources, though, of course, we cannot be sure of every detail in the story that he has put together.
Rouleau draws particular attention to one occurrence, unnoticed at the time. In July 1972, about 20,000 Soviet advisers and technicians had been expelled from Egypt. But, Rouleau informs us, an important Soviet military mission came back to Egypt on February 1, 1973. The arrival of the new Soviet military mission would coincide with the date of Egypt's initial war preparations given by General al-Shazli.
The actual date for the outbreak of hostilities, according to Rouleau, was probably fixed in July or August 1973. In any case, Sadat is said to have referred to the “imminence” of war on several occasions in August 1973. No one, it seems, took him seriously. The first operational military measures, such as moving forward Egyptian infantry forces, were taken on September 3. Sadat and Syrian President Assad discussed these military preparations in Cairo on September 10. U.S. intelligence sources allegedly learned on September 26 that Egyptian forces had been put on the alert. When the Americans, it is said, tried to warn the Israelis, the latter refused to be alarmed and interpreted the troop movements as “routine maneuvers.” On October 3, Sadat and Assad informed the Soviet ambassadors in Cairo and Damascus that war was imminent. Soviet planes were immediately sent to evacuate the families of Soviet “advisers” in Egypt and Syria. U.S. diplomats allegedly interpreted the evacuation as evidence of another Soviet-Arab break. Until the morning of October 4, the exact timing of the Arab attack was a closely guarded secret, known only to four men, the presidents and war ministers of Egypt and Syria. At 2 PM on October 6, the attack was launched across the canal by 8,000 men and hundreds of tanks.30
An American version places the Egyptian decision “to resume war with Israel” in March 1973, and the final operational decision to invade the Sinai “sometime in early August,” the operation itself being set for “sometime in October.” The March decision, according to this account, came because Sadat was disappointed with the result of the mission to Washington the month before by his foreign-policy adviser, Hafez Ismail. After March 1973, Sadat was mainly bent on lining up the support of other Arab states and camouflaging his war preparations.31
A reliable Israeli source has reported that the Israeli Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General David Elazar, doubted until the early morning hours of October 6 that war was imminent. A single item of intelligence from one source, not yet revealed publicly, caused the Israeli General Staff to change its evaluation of the situation. Soon after 4 AM that day, General Elazar proposed a preemptive air strike and asked permission to mobilize reserves. The first request was rejected, the second granted. A top state of alert was ordered at 11 AM, too late to save the limited Israeli forces at the canal and in the Golan Heights from being taken by almost absolute surprise.32 As Prime Minister Golda Meir later put it: “What happened was a disaster. It is no secret, and no one intended, or intends, to keep it a secret. We misinterpreted the information we had.”33
Still another version, in the Sunday Times (London), says that the order to prepare to reopen hostilities was given by President Sadat in November 1972. The actual planning, however, began the following February, which would coincide with the arrival of the Soviet military mission. By September 10, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan were lined up together militarily and diplomatically. Egyptian tanks began assembling the last week of September; Syrian tanks and heavy artillery moved to forward positions on October 1. Though these movements were being closely watched, Israeli—and influenced by it, U.S.—intelligence was not convinced that war was imminent until 4 AM on October 6 when, according to this account, “Israeli and American monitors picked up the unmistakable radio traffic patterns of final Arab preparations for war.” When General Elazar proposed a preemptive air strike, Prime Minister Meir is supposed to have asked: “How many friends would we have left if we did that?” Two hours later, Mrs. Meir summoned the U.S. ambassador, Kenneth Keating, who, it is said, reinforced her decision against the preemptive strike by warning her, in effect, that “if Israel struck first, world opinion would make it hard for America to supply Israel with war material.”
This British version also purports to give the inside story of a bitter U.S.-British falling-out during the war. The Israelis, it is said, asked for U.S. arms as early as October 7, the second day of the fighting, and were turned down by Secretary Kissinger. His first diplomatic stance was to call for a cease-fire based on a return to the pre-October 6 positions; it never had a chance because the Egyptians were ahead and had no intention of withdrawing. Four or five days later, Kissinger presented another cease-fire proposal, but this time based on pinning down both warring sides to the positions held at the time; now the Israelis were unhappy because it meant giving up all hope of driving the Egyptians back across the canal. By October 12, Secretary Kissinger and Ambassador Dobrynin had concocted a plan to get Britain to sponsor a resolution in the Security Council for just such a cease-fire “in place.” Unfortunately, the British ambassador in Cairo, Sir Philip Adams, checked this plan with Sadat and found him totally uninterested in it owing to what still seemed the favorable prospects of the Egyptian army. When the British refused to act as front men for the U.S.-USSR scheme, which fell through on October 13, “Kissinger blew up”—if we may believe this account which apparently derives from British sources. Obviously we need to learn much more before we can know what to believe about this entire sequence of events.34
The UN, of all parties, should have had no doubt which side had started the war. Even if it knew nothing about Yom Kippur, the state of Israeli mobilization, or the Egyptian-
Syrian preparations, it had its own observers on the spot. The first report from the war fronts came through on October 6 at 12:14 GMT (two hours earlier than Cairo time): “General heavy activity along Israel-Syria and Suez Canal sectors. Further information will follow.” The second report at 12:21 was still inconclusive. But the third at 13:40 read: “General heavy air and ground activity continues along all sectors. Egyptian ground forces have crossed the Suez Canal in vicinity of OP's Copper, Yellow, Pink, Red, and Blue. Syrian forces have crossed the area between the limits of the forward defended localities indicating the ceasefire lines in the vicinity of Quneitra and near OP November. Detailed summaries of incidents now under preparation.” A more detailed report was made at 2 PM, confirming that Syrian and Egyptian forces had taken the initiative.35
It has been reported without denial that “sizable segments” of the U.S. intelligence community continued to believe for as much as eight hours after the outbreak of hostilities that Israel, not the Arabs, had launched the attack.36 If so, “sizable segments” of the U.S. intelligence community should have their heads examined or were too predisposed against Israel to think clearly.
From all this, it is abundantly clear that the key Arab war decisions antedated the meetings of the Security Council in June-July 1973. Even if the United States had not vetoed S/10974, it is hard to see what the Arabs would have gained immediately, inasmuch as its provisions were not self-enforceable. A 13-1 vote was not much worse than a 14-0 vote if the diplomatic isolation of Israel was the objective. The United States might even have cast a favorable vote without doing much more for Egypt. Some Egyptian comments have sought to give the impression that the vote on S/10974 was the last straw, after which war was inevitable. In fact, the diplomatic struggle over S/10974 was a propaganda operation which led to the war because it was so successful, not because it was such a failure.
As for the Soviet Union, the available evidence indicates that it must be judged by Lord Salisbury's rule that “those who have the absolute power of preventing lamentable events, and, knowing what is taking place, refuse to exercise that power, are responsible for what happens.” The Soviet Union certainly had the power to prevent this war, because it had to furnish the enormous quantity of arms that made it possible. The Soviet military missions with the Egyptian and Syrian forces certainly knew what was taking place, advised both Arab commands in their planning, and trained the Arab military in the use of Soviet equipment, much of it of the latest vintage.37 The Soviet Union is not in the habit of giving away thousands of tanks, and hundreds of planes, missiles, rockets, and artillery pieces without having a good idea of what is going to be done with them. Even if the Soviet ambassadors in Cairo and Damascus were not officially informed that war was imminent until October 3, Soviet military intelligence had other sources of information, and there is reason to believe that preparations for the airlift and re-supply operation had been set in motion considerably before October 3.
These are some aspects of the situation that should be kept in mind as we follow what happened in the UN after October 6.
The UN did not react to the October 1973 war the way it had reacted to the June 1967 war. When the earlier war broke out on June 5, none of the combatants asked for a cease-fire, but their reticence did not stop the Security Council from voting for a cease-fire twenty-four hours later. In 1973, the combatants again did not ask for a cease-fire, but this time the Security Council did not vote for a cease-fire until seventeen days later.
In those seventeen days, this is what happened in the Security Council:
October 8: This first meeting of the Security Council after the outbreak of war was requested by the United States, which, however, did not present any cease-fire resolution, no doubt because it would have been a futile gesture. The Egyptian representative, el-Zayyat, accused Israel of “aggression” on October 6 and pretended that the Israelis had attacked at points where the UN did not have observers. The Chinese member, Huang, was so sure of what had happened in the Middle East that he denounced Israel for having “flagrantly launched on 6 October fresh military attacks on a large scale in expanded aggression against Egypt, Syria, and the Palestinian guerrillas.” In a demonstration of how little ideology may have to do with reality, the Chinese spokesman accused the Soviet Union as well as the United States of “conniving at and supporting the Israeli policies of expansion and aggression.” It remained for the Soviet Union's Malik to reveal why the Security Council had done nothing and was not likely to do anything until the Soviet Union was ready and willing to let it do something. Reminiscent of Fedorenko's obstructionism before the June 1967 war, Malik coolly criticized the Security Council for having come together at all and insisted that no new decision or resolution was called for on the part of the Council.38
So the first session of the Council after the out-break of war was an almost total waste of time in an atmosphere of almost total unreality. Meanwhile, in Washington, a U.S. government spokesman reported that the Soviets were already providing a “massive” airlift of military supplies to Egypt and Syria.
October 9: The Yugoslav member, Minic, went farther than anyone had yet dared to go by threatening possible “sanctions” to punish Israel for its “aggression.” The Syrian representative, Ismail, repeated a false report that Israeli planes had bombed the Soviet embassy in Damascus and had killed thirty of its members. Malik then outdid himself. “This bloody act is similar to the acts of Hitler when entire cities and villages were removed from the face of the earth,” he shouted. And then this: “Like savage, barbaric tribes, in their mad destruction they [the Israelis] have annihilated, destroyed, and tried to remove from the surface of the earth cities, villages, the cultural heritage of mankind. They have ravaged entire civilizations.” He accused Israel of responsibility for “world inflation and the rise of prices throughout the world.” When the Israeli representative Tekoah tried to express his sympathy for all the human losses suffered in the war, including those at the Soviet cultural center in Damascus, which had been hit, Malik heatedly interrupted him with the words: “The Soviet delegation is unwilling to hear excuses and condolences from a representative of the murderers and international gangsters”—and stalked out of the chamber. At this, according to the Washington Post's correspondent at the UN, Anthony Astrachan, “diplomats crowding the Council chamber burst into applause. Other diplomats said later that there had been a feeling of lynch mob and pogrom in the chamber of peace.”40
Other than that, very little of importance happened at the second meeting of the Security Council.40
October 11: For the first time, an Arab representative, Baroody of Saudi Arabia, the UN's licensed jester, virtually gave up the pretense of an Israeli attack on October 6 and fell back on the plea that it was “immaterial” which side had started the present conflict. Malik, however, was less inhibited. He continued to inveigh against Israel as the “aggressor country,” whose representatives at the UN were trying to justify “the barbarous murders of peaceful populations.” He compared them to the Hitlerites: “This was how they ‘Coventrified’ Coventry; that was how they destroyed thousands of towns in the Soviet Union and tens of thousands of villages.” Tekoah replied to Malik: “You mentioned, in your usual manner, Goebbels and his methods. If my memory does not fail me, there was a time when Goebbels was Stalin's ally; and if my memory does not fail me, you were brought up in the so-called Stalinist school.” Malik spoke again, perhaps thinking that he had gone too far: “Do not speculate on these feelings of anti-Semitism. Do not accuse me of this. My best friends are Jews. I can mention their names here: Brodsky, Chernjak, and Shub.”
Apart from these pleasantries, very little worth preserving happened at the third meeting of the Security Council.41
October 12: This relatively short meeting was taken up with tired charges and counter-charges, as if all the speakers knew that nothing they said could change anything.42
October 13-20: No meetings of the Security Council.
Yet it was while the Council was not in session that the crucial turn in the war occurred. On October 13, the Israeli position was so precarious that President Nixon decided to start the resupply effort to Israel. On October 15, a small Israeli force turned the tide of battle by crossing the canal and establishing a foothold on the West Bank. According to Rouleau, it took the Egyptian high command in Cairo three or four days to realize how serious the situation had become. On October 16, President Sadat was so little cognizant of the true state of affairs at the front that he still spoke of liberating all of Sinai. On the same day, Soviet Prime Minister Kosygin arrived in Cairo. Evidently the U.S. resupply effort had shaken the Soviet leaders sufficiently to make them more amenable to renewed U.S. overtures for a cease-fire. Rouleau says that Sadat very probably was not fully conscious of the seriousness of the Israeli breakthrough until the 18th. Only on the 19th, in a meeting with Kosygin, was Sadat willing to accept a cease-fire in principle.43 When Kosygin returned to Moscow later that same day, the men in the Kremlin must have received the news from Egypt with something akin to consternation. For they proceeded to send messages of such grave import to Washington that Secretary of State Kissinger, who was preparing to leave for Peking shortly, abruptly changed his plans and rushed off to Moscow in the early morning hours of October 20. One can only assume that Dr. Kissinger would not have acted with such unseemly haste if the Soviet messages had not been extraordinarily alarming. What these messages were, we still do not know and have been given no hint.
This sequence of events was the reason there were no meetings of the Security Council between October 13 and 20. It was also the reason why the Council was called together at 10:15 on the night of October 21. Now that the Soviets and their Egyptian clients were hell-bent on getting a ceasefire without delay, the Council could meet again.
October 21-22: On the seventeenth day of the war, the fifth meeting of the Security Council opened on the night of October 21 with the presentation by the U.S. member, John Scali, of a joint U.S.-USSR resolution, the product of the previous two days of hard bargaining in Moscow by Secretary Kissinger and General Secretary Brezhnev. It was made up of three interrelated parts: 1) A cease-fire in place within twelve hours after adoption of the resolution; 2) implementation of Resolution 242 “in all its parts” immediately after the cease-fire; and 3) “negotiations [to] start between the parties concerned” aimed at establishing “a just and durable peace in the Middle East” immediately and “concurrently” with the cease-fire and “under appropriate auspices.” It was also explained by Mr. Scali that the cease-fire applied “not only to the parties directly concerned but also to those who have joined in the fighting by sending units” and that both sponsors had agreed that there should be an immediate exchange of prisoners of war.
In the discussion, Baroody of Saudi Arabia used the occasion to defend the Germans during and after the Weimar regime for having considered the Jews to be “their enemy” and for having believed that they had “been sold out by the Jews.” The Indian, Sen, revealed that members of the Security Council had been informed only at 7 PM that evening that a meeting was planned and that he had received definite word only at 8:30 PM that the meeting was to be held. The members were thus given only about three hours for consultation among themselves and no time at all to get guidance or instructions from their governments. As Sen put it, “The United States and the Soviet Union have come to an agreement the details of which are not fully known and perhaps cannot and should not be known to us now or in the foreseeable future” and “the two Powers, however great and however powerful, have come to an agreement and we have to underwrite it quickly.” The Chinese member, Huang, also protested against the methods of the two superpowers: “This practice of imposing one's view on the Security Council is most unreasonable and is one we cannot agree to.” Nevertheless, the vote at about 1 AM on October 22 went 14 to 0 in favor of the resolution (with China not voting).44
Resolution 338 of October 22, as it came to be known, was clearly a “trade-off.” Egypt got the cease-fire which it desperately needed. Israel got a reinstatement of Resolution 242 as a “package deal” in the words “in all its parts,” a promise of “negotiations,” and a U.S.-USSR commitment, not in the resolution, for an immediate prisoner exchange. And so Resolution 242, with all its ambiguities and contradictory interpretations intact, was reincarnated in Resolution 338 but with something added that Israel had never obtained before—“negotiations” between “the parties concerned,” whatever that might come to mean.
For all but two members of the Security Council, the night of October 21-22 was probably the most humiliating experience in UN history. After seventeen days of doing nothing in the face of an Israeli “disaster,” the Security Council suddenly shook itself out of inertia in order, as a Chinese member rightly put it,45 “to rubber-stamp” a U.S.-USSR deal with hardly enough time to know what it was doing when the Egyptians were facing disaster. The double standard had never operated more ruthlessly.
October 23: This sixth meeting of the Security Council was requested by Egypt because the proclamatory cease-fire provision of Resolution 338 had not been implemented and Israeli forces had succeeded in cutting off the Egyptian Third Army on the east bank of the canal. Each side accused the other of having violated the cease-fire agreement. According to Rouleau, the Israeli advance across the canal had resulted in the first signs of “panic” in both Cairo and Moscow. It would seem that the two top Egyptian commanders, including General al-Shazli, offered to resign, and Sadat himself thought of giving up the Presidency. If we may trust Rouleau, the Russians reacted with an “unaccustomed firmness” that surprised the Egyptian leaders. The Russians undertook to re-supply the Egyptian Third Army by air if necessary, and allegedly told Sadat: “We will not permit a new defeat; we will be at your sides until the end and whatever the consequences may be.”46
The Russians, who had now put their own power and prestige on the line, moved on three fronts—in Cairo to bolster Egyptian morale, in Washington to put additional pressure on the Israelis, and in the UN to give their next move a semblance of international legitimacy. In Washington, Secretary Kissinger and Ambassador Dobrynin worked out a new UN resolution urging the embattled forces in the Middle East to return to the original line of October 22 and requesting the UN Secretary-General to send observers to supervise the cease-fire. Unfortunately, no one knew where the original line had been. The resolution of October 22 had been drawn up so hastily that no provision had been made to implement it. To make matters worse, the Russians in the UN decided to take things into their own hands. They presented Ambassador Scali with a draft resolution which had changed a few key words from the version agreed on by Kissinger and Dobrynin in Washington. “Urges” was changed to “demands” in the provision pertaining to the return of the forces to the mysterious line of October 22, and the line itself was defined as that which had prevailed at the time of the vote by the Security Council, without the leeway of twelve hours clearly set forth in Resolution 338. This contretemps delayed the Council meeting on October 23 until agreement was reached to go back to the original Kissinger-Dobrynin version.47
For thirteen of the fifteen members, the meeting itself was in some ways even more humiliating than the previous one had been. Most of them had been ready to swallow their pride and go along with the first U.S.-USSR gang-up, but the second one, so soon after, was almost too much. Malik chose to behave in his most insufferable bully-boy fashion. His main victim was none other than Chiao Kuan-hua, the deputy foreign minister of the People's Republic of China. Malik took it upon himself to demand a vote on the new resolution without any prior discussion. When the Chinese representative protested, Malik repeatedly interrupted and tried to cut him off. The meeting degenerated into such a brawl that the presiding officer had to suspend it for ten minutes, the first such occurrence in the history of the Security Council. The Chinese member was finally able to complete his statement, which took about half an hour. The vote was 14 to 0 (with China not voting). Malik still could not leave the matter alone. When he spoke after the vote, he temporarily forgot that Israel was supposed to be the enemy and showed off his considerable repertoire of insult at the expense of the Chinese.
Several members could no longer repress their indignation. The Sudanese member, Khalid, started off by saying: “When we accepted the ceasefire resolution [of October 22] we did so in trust, and therefore refrained from discussing its implications. We marked the hasty manner in which it was conceived, we marked the hasty manner in which it was presented to us, we marked our rejection, as loyal members of this Organization and as a nonaligned country, of any concept of condominium that reduces this Council to a rubber stamp.” The Indonesian member, Anwar Sani, observed: “Two days ago we were asked to vote on a draft resolution practically without being given time to study it properly.” He expressed regret that his delegation had not asked how the previous cease-fire resolution was going to be implemented. The Peruvian member, Perez de Cuellar, spoke of Resolution 338's “obvious lack of clarity” and suggested that the continuation of military action could be attributed “precisely to the lack of clarity in resolution 338 (1973) and also to the excessive speed with which it was adopted.” Sadly, he confessed: “Once again we have adopted, almost without considering it, a draft resolution submitted by the United States and the Soviet Union.” Then Huang of China revealed that his delegation had been asked to vote on the latest resolution without even having seen it.48
In truth, the first cease-fire Resolution 338 of October 22 was a diplomatic monstrosity. It violated every conceivable requirement for a successful cease-fire. As the British member of the Security Council, Sir Donald Maitland, soon observed, “It is unfortunately clear that a cease-fire in such a complex military situation could not have been self-policing. If the cease-fire is to be maintained, there must be proper arrangements on the ground to supervise it, of the sort which have been tested and have on the whole proved effective over the years.”49 Resolution 338 made no such arrangement. Instead, it was rushed through as if the United States and the Soviet Union could wave a magic wand and, by their joint fiat, bring to a sudden halt a war that had been raging in a Middle Eastern desert for seventeen boiling, bleeding days. Of the ten Arab states that had participated in the war against Israel, only one, Egypt, had accepted the cease-fire. The response of Syria had so little to do with what was actually in Resolution 338 that it approached the ludicrous.50 Syria had never accepted Resolution 242; it did not, in fact, accept Resolution 338; it did not agree to attend the Geneva conference. Yet no Security Council resolution was ever passed or offered condemning or even gently reproaching Syria. Instead, an intense and incessant propaganda campaign was launched against Israel for having committed the crime of lèse majesté by not stopping in its tracks as soon as the Soviet Union decided to save the Egyptian army from disaster.
The road to Geneva was paved with Resolutions 242 and 338. They were the best the diplomatic mind could devise.
What is there to be learned from this history, if it is not to be repeated? One of the chief factors that makes this conflict so difficult to resolve is its asymmetry. The areas and populations of the combatants are so disproportionate that the perspective of each side must be fundamentally different. Israel cannot possibly swallow up Egypt, let alone the rest of the Arab world. The Arabs can very easily conceive of swallowing up Israel. Loss of territory means totally different things to Egypt and Israel—to the former, loss of territory; to the latter, the very basis of existence. If Israel had suffered the 1967 defeat, it would not be here today or it would have survived in such a puny, mangled state that the Arabs could have finished it off at will. But Egypt could survive an unprecedented debacle and immediately prepare for another, greater battle. Even though the Arabs have feared and fought against Israeli “expansionism,” they well know that, even for Israeli extremists, it has logistical and historical limits. No such consolation can reassure the Israelis.
The Arabs cannot deny that this asymmetry exists; it is what gives them confidence in ultimate victory. As a consequence, any peace settlement which does not take this factor into consideration cannot be fair or “just” to both sides.
Yet the Arabs also face a problem with some Israelis' version of the strategy of stages. The more extremist or religious Zionists have regarded each war, even if forced on them, as a stage in the reclamation of the biblical land of Israel and the relocation of the Jews in the “right” places. In a postwar self-examination of Israeli “illusions” bred by the 1967 victory, Foreign Minister Abba Eban recently cited “the illusion that Israel's historic legacy was exclusively a matter of geography and not also, and principally, a heritage of prophetic values of which the central value was peace” and “the fallacy that to see anything temporary in some of Israel's positions west of the Jordan was tantamount to alienation from the biblical culture.”51 As long as the Arabs refused to settle for any boundaries, Israelis were almost irresistibly tempted to set those boundaries by themselves on the basis of historic legacy and military security. Though the Israelis did not threaten the Arab world the way the Arabs threatened Israel, that is not to say that the Arabs have not felt threatened, if to a much lesser degree, and much of it self-inflicted.
No diplomacy can do much about a holy war. A strategy of stages based on immemorial claims is a prescription for protracted conflict. The only way out of the dilemma is to start with the present and the living and not with the past and the dead. It is too late for Arabs to say that so many Jews do not belong in Palestine; they are there, and they cannot be removed or dispossessed without another Holocaust. It is too late for Israelis to say that the West Bank does not belong to the Arabs; they are there, and they cannot be removed or disregarded without incalculable suffering. The trouble with history is that it is non-negotiable, and diplomacy is negotiation or it is nothing.
Without seeking to negotiate the Arab-Israeli differences here, it may be useful to clarify the terms of such a negotiation. Secretary Kissinger has given his understanding of what the Geneva conference is all about: “The question then is where are the borders and what are the security arrangements, and this is what is going to be negotiated in the next phase in accordance with Security Council Resolution 242.”52 On the Israeli side, Defense Minister Dayan has asserted: “The central issue is the borders of the state of Israel.”53 However difficult its implementation may be, the concept of “borders” is at least sufficiently clear and concrete to provide a basis for meaningful negotiations.
Those who have accepted Resolutions 242 and 338 on the road to Geneva have implicitly agreed to negotiate in good faith on “secure and recognized boundaries,” as stated in Resolution 242, and “a just and durable peace,” as in Resolution 338. There can be no negotiation if the Egyptians simply demand that the Israelis withdraw to the pre-June 5, 1967 borders, or if the Israelis take the position that they have already negotiated their borders with God. There must have been something wrong with the 1967 borders if they were such as to provoke a war on June 5. And, even if the borders should be God-given ones, the Jewish God has never been strong on security for His chosen people.
Something can also be gained from a closer examination of the term “secure and recognized boundaries.” The two adjectives have become inseparable, but they need to be clearly differentiated. Boundaries can be recognized without being secure, and they can be secure without being recognized. Moreover, it is much easier to know what recognized boundaries are than what secure boundaries are. In the present circumstances, Israeli security depends on so much more than boundaries that the very notion of secure boundaries is far more complex than it may seem to be. Israeli security cannot be separated from, but neither can it be reduced to, Israeli territory.
Unfortunately, the very term, “secure boundaries,” lends itself to some misconception. Security in this world is relative, but the term tends to make it appear to be absolute, as if boundaries by themselves can be secure or not secure instead of more or less secure. Surely the 1949 boundaries were more secure from the Israeli point of view than the 1947 boundaries in the sense that they were easier to defend. The post-1967 boundaries seemed to be easier to defend than the previous ones and yet they proved to be harder to defend because they lulled the Israelis into a false sense of security. The idea that Israel could have had security after the 1967 war by unilaterally withdrawing to the former boundaries is hardly credible; those were the very boundaries that had brought on the war in the first place. These examples of the security problem should be enough to show how tricky and deceptive the concept of security can be.
Until now, however, Israel has had neither recognized nor secure boundaries. It may be useful, as a starting point, to agree on the principle of recognized boundaries before tackling the more difficult question of secure boundaries. If, as heretofore, the Arabs refuse to recognize any boundaries for Israel, there is little point in trying to get them to recognize more secure boundaries.
The Israeli craving for security is historically understandable, but it will never be satisfied simplistically or to the exclusion of other factors. The Arabs, on the other hand, were not satisfied with any previous boundaries, and it is up to them to negotiate in good faith on boundaries before any progress can even be hoped for. If there is going to be negotiation in good faith at Geneva, the old issues in the UN are bound to arise again. Is negotiation in accordance with Security Council Resolution 242 going to take the form of a “package deal” or will it degenerate into a demand for a unilateral and arbitrary “priority” that favors only one side? Is Israeli withdrawal to be separated from agreeing on more secure, recognized boundaries? Is a strategy of stages going to be pursued, making impossible any prospect of a “durable peace”? These are some of the questions that were never satisfactorily answered in the Security Council and, therefore, must still seek for answers in Geneva. Diplomacy may be able to help but, like psychoanalysis, diplomacy helps those who want to be helped.
1 “From 1967 to 1973: The Arab-Israeli Wars,” COMMENTARY, December 1973.
2 United Nations, Security Council Doc. S/1342 (May 24, 1967), p. 4.
3 Ibid., S/1343 (May 29, 1967), p. 20.
4 El-Kony stated that “there is not a shadow of doubt as to the continued existence of the state of war between the Israelis and both the Arabs of Palestine and their brethren in the Arab countries” and that “a state of overt war has been existing.” It was this state of war, he insisted, that gave the Egyptian government “the legitimate right” to restrict navigation in the Straits of Tiran “with respect to shipping to an enemy” (S/1343 [May 29, 1967], p. 8).
5 Arthur Lall, The UN and the Middle East Crisis, 1967 (Columbia University Press, 1968), p. 51.
6 Lall, p. 65.
7 S/1351 (June 8, 1967), p. 4.
8 Lall, p. 106.
9 On September 2, 1964, Pravda defended the Soviet acquisition of territory in these terms: “A people which has been attacked, has defended itself, and wins the war is bound in sacred duty to establish in perpetuity a political situation which will ensure the liquidation of the sources of aggression. It is entitled to maintain this state of affairs as long as the danger of aggression does not cease. A nation which has attained security at the cost of numerous victims will never agree to the restoration of previous borders. No territories are to be returned as long as the danger of aggression prevails.”
10 Al-Pachachi, United Arab Emirates, S/PV. 1724 (June 13, 1973), p. 51.
11 S/PV. 1726 (June 14, 1973), pp. 117-18.
12 Lord Caradon, interview of February 10, 1978, and Arthur J. Goldberg, speech in Washington, May 8, 1973, cited in S/PV. 1721 (June 11, 1973), pp. 43-5, 56.
13 Eugene V. Rostow, Peace in the Balance (Simon & Schuster, 1972), p. 270.
14 Lall, pp. 253-54.
15 S/1382 (November 22, 1967), p. 7.
16 Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), House of Commons, November 17, 1969, p. 846. See also George Brown, In My Way, Gollancz (London, 1971), p. 233.
17 S/PV. 1721 (June 11, 1973), p. 33.
18 Department of State Bulletin, June 11, 1973, pp. 846-47.
19 S/1382 (November 22, 1967), pp. 6-7 (Parthasarathi); 7 (Caradon); 10 (Eban); 12-13 (Kuznetsov); 14 (Tarabanov); 15 (Riad, Rifa'i); 18 (Goldberg); 19 (Eban).
20 S/PV. 1723 (June 12, 1973), p. 11, and S/PV. 1733 (July 20, 1973), p. 58.
21 S/PV. 1733, p. 32.
22 On Resolution 242, see also Eugene V. Rostow's article in this issue, especially pp. 52-53.—Ed.
23 The final report on the Jarring mission, with documents, is S/10929, dated May 18, 1973.
24 Al-Ahram, February 2, 1968.
25 S/PV. 1717 (June 6, 1973), p. 41.
26 S/PV. 1721 (June 11, 1973), pp. 9 10.
27 Ibid., p. 72.
28 S/PV. 1724 (June 13, 1973), pp. 98 100.
28a On the “two-stage” strategy, see also Gil Carl AlRoy's article on p. 56 of this issue.—Ed.
29 Al-Ahram, December 6, 1973.
30 Le Monde, November 24, 25-26, 1973.
31 Edward R. F. Sheehan, New York Times Magazine, November 18, 1973.
32 Ze'ev Schul, Jerusalem Post Weekly, December 4, 1973, p. 12.
33 Interview on Israeli radio, Jerusalem Post Weekly, December 11, 1973, p. 11. Accordng to the former Israeli Chief of Staff, Haim Bar-Lev, now Minister of Commerce and Industry, Israeli intelligence had no shortage of reliable information on Egyptian and Syrian preparations, but “the evaluation did not stand the test” (ibid., November 6, 1973, P. 8).
34 “Insight on the Middle East War,” Sunday Times Weekly Review (London), December 9 and 16, 1973.
35 S/7930/Add. 2141 and S/7930/Add. 2142 (October 6, 1973).
36 John W. Finney, New York Times, October 31, 1973.
37 The enormity of the Soviet Union's investment in this war may be gathered from Israeli estimates, which are probably as close as we can get to it. According to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Syria used 450 tanks in 1967 and 2,700 in 1973, the Egyptians 1,000 tanks in 1967 and 2,600 in 1973 as well as 230 planes in 1967 and 680 in 1973 (Jerusalem Post Weekly, November 27, 1973, p. 5). The Syrians used about the same number of tanks against the Golan Heights as General Sir Bernard Montgomery had at the Battle of El Alamein in World War II.
38 S/PV. 1743 (October 8, 1973), pp. 3-43.
39 Anthony Astrachan, “The October War at the UN,” Midstream, December 1973, p. 53.
40 S/PV. 1744 (October 9, 1973), pp. 8 (Minic), 41 (Ismail), 43-45, 47 (Malik), 51 (Tekoah, Malik).
41 S/PV. 1745 (October 11, 1973), pp. 31 (Baroody), 77, 81 (Malik), 97 (Tekoah), 103-5 (Malik).
42 S/PV. 1746 (October 12, 1973).
43 Le Monde, November 25-26, 1973.
44 S/PV. 1747 (October 21, 1973), pp. 6 (Scali), 12-15 (Baroody), 53-55 (Sen), 67 (Huang).
45 S/PV. 1748 (October 23, 1973), p. 27-30 (Chiao).
46 Le Monde, November 25-26, 1973.
47 Astrachan, op. cit., p. 57.
48 S/PV. 1748 (October 23, 1973), pp. 16-36 (Malik, Chiao), 42 (Khalid), 61 (Anwar Sani), 62-63 (Perez de Cuellar), 66 (Huang).
49 S/PV. 1748 (October 23, 1973), p. 46.
50 Ibid., p. 122.
51 Jersualem Post Weekly, December 4, 1973, p. 10.
52 Interview in Peking, New York Times, November 13, 1973, p. 16.
53 Speech in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem Post Weekly, November 27, 1973, p. 5.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.
The Road to Geneva
Must-Reads from Magazine
t can be said that the Book of Samuel launched the American Revolution. Though antagonistic to traditional faith, Thomas Paine understood that it was not Montesquieu, or Locke, who was inscribed on the hearts of his fellow Americans. Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense is a biblical argument against British monarchy, drawing largely on the text of Samuel.
Today, of course, universal biblical literacy no longer exists in America, and sophisticated arguments from Scripture are all too rare. It is therefore all the more distressing when public intellectuals, academics, or religious leaders engage in clumsy acts of exegesis and political argumentation by comparing characters in the Book of Samuel to modern political leaders. The most common victim of this tendency has been the central character in the Book of Samuel: King David.
Most recently, this tendency was made manifest in the writings of Dennis Prager. In a recent defense of his own praise of President Trump, Prager wrote that “as a religious Jew, I learned from the Bible that God himself chose morally compromised individuals to accomplish some greater good. Think of King David, who had a man killed in order to cover up the adultery he committed with the man’s wife.” Prager similarly argued that those who refuse to vote for a politician whose positions are correct but whose personal life is immoral “must think God was pretty flawed in voting for King David.”
Prager’s invocation of King David was presaged on the left two decades ago. The records of the Clinton Presidential Library reveal that at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, an email from Dartmouth professor Susannah Heschel made its way into the inbox of an administration policy adviser with a similar comparison: “From the perspective of Jewish history, we have to ask how Jews can condemn President Clinton’s behavior as immoral, when we exalt King David? King David had Batsheva’s husband, Uriah, murdered. While David was condemned and punished, he was never thrown off the throne of Israel. On the contrary, he is exalted in our Jewish memory as the unifier of Israel.”
One can make the case for supporting politicians who have significant moral flaws. Indeed, America’s political system is founded on an awareness of the profound tendency to sinfulness not only of its citizens but also of its statesmen. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” James Madison informs us in the Federalist. At the same time, anyone who compares King David to the flawed leaders of our own age reveals a profound misunderstanding of the essential nature of David’s greatness. David was not chosen by God despite his moral failings; rather, David’s failings are the lens that reveal his true greatness. It is in the wake of his sins that David emerges as the paradigmatic penitent, whose quest for atonement is utterly unlike that of any other character in the Bible, and perhaps in the history of the world.
While the precise nature of David’s sins is debated in the Talmud, there is no question that they are profound. Yet it is in comparing David to other faltering figures—in the Bible or today—that the comparison falls flat. This point is stressed by the very Jewish tradition in whose name Prager claimed to speak.
It is the rabbis who note that David’s predecessor, Saul, lost the kingship when he failed to fulfill God’s command to destroy the egregiously evil nation of Amalek, whereas David commits more severe sins and yet remains king. The answer, the rabbis suggest, lies not in the sin itself but in the response. Saul, when confronted by the prophet Samuel, offers obfuscations and defensiveness. David, meanwhile, is similarly confronted by the prophet Nathan: “Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.” David’s immediate response is clear and complete contrition: “I have sinned against the Lord.” David’s penitence, Jewish tradition suggests, sets him apart from Saul. Soon after, David gave voice to what was in his heart at the moment, and gave the world one of the most stirring of the Psalms:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
. . . Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
The tendency to link David to our current age lies in the fact that we know more about David than any other biblical figure. The author Thomas Cahill has noted that in a certain literary sense, David is the only biblical figure that is like us at all. Prior to the humanist autobiographies of the Renaissance, he notes, “we can count only a few isolated instances of this use of ‘I’ to mean the interior self. But David’s psalms are full of I’s.” In David’s Psalms, Cahill writes, we “find a unique early roadmap to the inner spirit—previously mute—of ancient humanity.”
At the same time, a study of the Book of Samuel and of the Psalms reveals how utterly incomparable David is to anyone alive today. Haym Soloveitchik has noted that even the most observant of Jews today fail to feel a constant intimacy with God that the simplest Jew of the premodern age might have felt, that “while there are always those whose spirituality is one apart from that of their time, nevertheless I think it safe to say that the perception of God as a daily, natural force is no longer present to a significant degree in any sector of modern Jewry, even the most religious.” Yet for David, such intimacy with the divine was central to his existence, and the Book of Samuel and the Psalms are an eternal testament to this fact. This is why simple comparisons between David and ourselves, as tempting as they are, must be resisted. David Wolpe, in his book about David, attempts to make the case as to why King David’s life speaks to us today: “So versatile and enduring is David in our culture that rare is the week that passes without some public allusion to his life…We need to understand David better because we use his life to comprehend our own.”
The truth may be the opposite. We need to understand David better because we can use his life to comprehend what we are missing, and how utterly unlike our lives are to his own. For even the most religious among us have lost the profound faith and intimacy with God that David had. It is therefore incorrect to assume that because of David’s flaws it would have been, as Amos Oz has written, “fitting for him to reign in Tel Aviv.” The modern State of Israel was blessed with brilliant leaders, but to which of its modern warriors or statesmen should David be compared? To Ben Gurion, who stripped any explicit invocation of the Divine from Israel’s Declaration of Independence? To Moshe Dayan, who oversaw the reconquest of Jerusalem, and then immediately handed back the Temple Mount, the locus of King David’s dreams and desires, to the administration of the enemies of Israel? David’s complex humanity inspires comparison to modern figures, but his faith, contrition, and repentance—which lie at the heart of his story and success—defy any such engagement.
And so, to those who seek comparisons to modern leaders from the Bible, the best rule may be: Leave King David out of it.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.
Three attacks in Britain highlight the West’s inability to see the threat clearly
This lack of seriousness manifests itself in several ways. It’s perhaps most obvious in the failure to reform Britain’s chaotic immigration and dysfunctional asylum systems. But it’s also abundantly clear from the grotesque underfunding and under-resourcing of domestic intelligence. In MI5, Britain has an internal security service that is simply too small to do its job effectively, even if it were not handicapped by an institutional culture that can seem willfully blind to the ideological roots of the current terrorism problem.
In 2009, Jonathan Evans, then head of MI5, confessed at a parliamentary hearing about the London bus and subway attacks of 2005 that his organization only had sufficient resources to “hit the crocodiles close to the boat.” It was an extraordinary metaphor to use, not least because of the impression of relative impotence that it conveys. MI5 had by then doubled in size since 2001, but it still boasted a staff of only 3,500. Today it’s said to employ between 4,000 and 5,000, an astonishingly, even laughably, small number given a UK population of 65 million and the scale of the security challenges Britain now faces. (To be fair, the major British police forces all have intelligence units devoted to terrorism, and the UK government’s overall counterterrorism strategy involves a great many people, including social workers and schoolteachers.)
You can also see that unseriousness at work in the abject failure to coerce Britain’s often remarkably sedentary police officers out of their cars and stations and back onto the streets. Most of Britain’s big-city police forces have adopted a reactive model of policing (consciously rejecting both the New York Compstat model and British “bobby on the beat” traditions) that cripples intelligence-gathering and frustrates good community relations.
If that weren’t bad enough, Britain’s judiciary is led by jurists who came of age in the 1960s, and who have been inclined since 2001 to treat terrorism as an ordinary criminal problem being exploited by malign officials and politicians to make assaults on individual rights and to take part in “illegal” foreign wars. It has long been almost impossible to extradite ISIS or al-Qaeda–linked Islamists from the UK. This is partly because today’s English judges believe that few if any foreign countries—apart from perhaps Sweden and Norway—are likely to give terrorist suspects a fair trial, or able to guarantee that such suspects will be spared torture and abuse.
We have a progressive metropolitan media elite whose primary, reflexive response to every terrorist attack, even before the blood on the pavement is dry, is to express worry about an imminent violent anti-Muslim “backlash” on the part of a presumptively bigoted and ignorant indigenous working class. Never mind that no such “backlash” has yet occurred, not even when the young off-duty soldier Lee Rigby was hacked to death in broad daylight on a South London street in 2013.
Another sign of this lack of seriousness is the choice by successive British governments to deal with the problem of internal terrorism with marketing and “branding.” You can see this in the catchy consultant-created acronyms and pseudo-strategies that are deployed in place of considered thought and action. After every atrocity, the prime minister calls a meeting of the COBRA unit—an acronym that merely stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A but sounds like a secret organization of government superheroes. The government’s counterterrorism strategy is called CONTEST, which has four “work streams”: “Prevent,” “Pursue,” “Protect,” and “Prepare.”
Perhaps the ultimate sign of unseriousness is the fact that police, politicians, and government officials have all displayed more fear of being seen as “Islamophobic” than of any carnage that actual terror attacks might cause. Few are aware that this short-term, cowardly, and trivial tendency may ultimately foment genuine, dangerous popular Islamophobia, especially if attacks continue.R
ecently, three murderous Islamist terror attacks in the UK took place in less than a month. The first and third were relatively primitive improvised attacks using vehicles and/or knives. The second was a suicide bombing that probably required relatively sophisticated planning, technological know-how, and the assistance of a terrorist infrastructure. As they were the first such attacks in the UK, the vehicle and knife killings came as a particular shock to the British press, public, and political class, despite the fact that non-explosive and non-firearm terror attacks have become common in Europe and are almost routine in Israel.
The success of all three plots indicates troubling problems in British law-enforcement practice and culture, quite apart from any other failings on the parts of the state in charge of intelligence, border control, and the prevention of radicalization. At the time of writing, the British media have been full of encomia to police courage and skill, not least because it took “only” eight minutes for an armed Metropolitan Police team to respond to and confront the bloody mayhem being wrought by the three Islamist terrorists (who had ploughed their rented van into people on London Bridge before jumping out to attack passersby with knives). But the difficult truth is that all three attacks would be much harder to pull off in Manhattan, not just because all NYPD cops are armed, but also because there are always police officers visibly on patrol at the New York equivalents of London’s Borough Market on a Saturday night. By contrast, London’s Metropolitan police is a largely vehicle-borne, reactive force; rather than use a physical presence to deter crime and terrorism, it chooses to monitor closed-circuit street cameras and social-media postings.
Since the attacks in London and Manchester, we have learned that several of the perpetrators were “known” to the police and security agencies that are tasked with monitoring potential terror threats. That these individuals were nevertheless able to carry out their atrocities is evidence that the monitoring regime is insufficient.
It also seems clear that there were failures on the part of those institutions that come under the leadership of the Home Office and are supposed to be in charge of the UK’s border, migration, and asylum systems. Journalists and think tanks like Policy Exchange and Migration Watch have for years pointed out that these systems are “unfit for purpose,” but successive governments have done little to take responsible control of Britain’s borders. When she was home secretary, Prime Minister Theresa May did little more than jazz up the name, logo, and uniforms of what is now called the “Border Force,” and she notably failed to put in place long-promised passport checks for people flying out of the country. This dereliction means that it is impossible for the British authorities to know who has overstayed a visa or whether individuals who have been denied asylum have actually left the country.
It seems astonishing that Youssef Zaghba, one of the three London Bridge attackers, was allowed back into the country. The Moroccan-born Italian citizen (his mother is Italian) had been arrested by Italian police in Bologna, apparently on his way to Syria via Istanbul to join ISIS. When questioned by the Italians about the ISIS decapitation videos on his mobile phone, he declared that he was “going to be a terrorist.” The Italians lacked sufficient evidence to charge him with a crime but put him under 24-hour surveillance, and when he traveled to London, they passed on information about him to MI5. Nevertheless, he was not stopped or questioned on arrival and had not become one of the 3,000 official terrorism “subjects of interest” for MI5 or the police when he carried out his attack. One reason Zaghba was not questioned on arrival may have been that he used one of the new self-service passport machines installed in UK airports in place of human staff after May’s cuts to the border force. Apparently, the machines are not yet linked to any government watch lists, thanks to the general chaos and ineptitude of the Home Office’s efforts to use information technology.
The presence in the country of Zaghba’s accomplice Rachid Redouane is also an indictment of the incompetence and disorganization of the UK’s border and migration authorities. He had been refused asylum in 2009, but as is so often the case, Britain’s Home Office never got around to removing him. Three years later, he married a British woman and was therefore able to stay in the UK.
But it is the failure of the authorities to monitor ringleader Khuram Butt that is the most baffling. He was a known and open associate of Anjem Choudary, Britain’s most notorious terrorist supporter, ideologue, and recruiter (he was finally imprisoned in 2016 after 15 years of campaigning on behalf of al-Qaeda and ISIS). Butt even appeared in a 2016 TV documentary about ISIS supporters called The Jihadist Next Door. In the same year, he assaulted a moderate imam at a public festival, after calling him a “murtad” or apostate. The imam reported the incident to the police—who took six months to track him down and then let him off with a caution. It is not clear if Butt was one of the 3,000 “subjects of interest” or the additional 20,000 former subjects of interest who continue to be the subject of limited monitoring. If he was not, it raises the question of what a person has to do to get British security services to take him seriously as a terrorist threat; if he was in fact on the list of “subjects of interest,” one has to wonder if being so designated is any barrier at all to carrying out terrorist atrocities. It’s worth remembering, as few do here in the UK, that terrorists who carried out previous attacks were also known to the police and security services and nevertheless enjoyed sufficient liberty to go at it again.B
ut the most important reason for the British state’s ineffectiveness in monitoring terror threats, which May addressed immediately after the London Bridge attack, is a deeply rooted institutional refusal to deal with or accept the key role played by Islamist ideology. For more than 15 years, the security services and police have chosen to take note only of people and bodies that explicitly espouse terrorist violence or have contacts with known terrorist groups. The fact that a person, school, imam, or mosque endorses the establishment of a caliphate, the stoning of adulterers, or the murder of apostates has not been considered a reason to monitor them.
This seems to be why Salman Abedi, the Manchester Arena suicide bomber, was not being watched by the authorities as a terror risk, even though he had punched a girl in the face for wearing a short skirt while at university, had attended the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Didsbury Mosque, was the son of a Libyan man whose militia is banned in the UK, had himself fought against the Qaddafi regime in Libya, had adopted the Islamist clothing style (trousers worn above the ankle, beard but no moustache), was part of a druggy gang subculture that often feeds individuals into Islamist terrorism, and had been banned from a mosque after confronting an imam who had criticized ISIS.
It was telling that the day after the Manchester Arena suicide-bomb attack, you could hear security officials informing radio and TV audiences of the BBC’s flagship morning-radio news show that it’s almost impossible to predict and stop such attacks because the perpetrators “don’t care who they kill.” They just want to kill as many people as possible, he said.
Surely, anyone with even a basic familiarity with Islamist terror attacks over the last 15 or so years and a nodding acquaintance with Islamist ideology could see that the terrorist hadn’t just chosen the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena because a lot of random people would be crowded into a conveniently small area. Since the Bali bombings of 2002, nightclubs, discotheques, and pop concerts attended by shameless unveiled women and girls have been routinely targeted by fundamentalist terrorists, including in Britain. Among the worrying things about the opinion offered on the radio show was that it suggests that even in the wake of the horrific Bataclan attack in Paris during a November 2015 concert, British authorities may not have been keeping an appropriately protective eye on music venues and other places where our young people hang out in their decadent Western way. Such dereliction would make perfect sense given the resistance on the part of the British security establishment to examining, confronting, or extrapolating from Islamist ideology.
The same phenomenon may explain why authorities did not follow up on community complaints about Abedi. All too often when people living in Britain’s many and diverse Muslim communities want to report suspicious behavior, they have to do so through offices and organizations set up and paid for by the authorities as part of the overall “Prevent” strategy. Although criticized by the left as “Islamophobic” and inherently stigmatizing, Prevent has often brought the government into cooperative relationships with organizations even further to the Islamic right than the Muslim Brotherhood. This means that if you are a relatively secular Libyan émigré who wants to report an Abedi and you go to your local police station, you are likely to find yourself speaking to a bearded Islamist.
From its outset in 2003, the Prevent strategy was flawed. Its practitioners, in their zeal to find and fund key allies in “the Muslim community” (as if there were just one), routinely made alliances with self-appointed community leaders who represented the most extreme and intolerant tendencies in British Islam. Both the Home Office and MI5 seemed to believe that only radical Muslims were “authentic” and would therefore be able to influence young potential terrorists. Moderate, modern, liberal Muslims who are arguably more representative of British Islam as a whole (not to mention sundry Shiites, Sufis, Ahmmadis, and Ismailis) have too often found it hard to get a hearing.
Sunni organizations that openly supported suicide-bomb attacks in Israel and India and that justified attacks on British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan nevertheless received government subsidies as part of Prevent. The hope was that in return, they would alert the authorities if they knew of individuals planning attacks in the UK itself.
It was a gamble reminiscent of British colonial practice in India’s northwest frontier and elsewhere. Not only were there financial inducements in return for grudging cooperation; the British state offered other, symbolically powerful concessions. These included turning a blind eye to certain crimes and antisocial practices such as female genital mutilation (there have been no successful prosecutions relating to the practice, though thousands of cases are reported every year), forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, the mass removal of girls from school soon after they reach puberty, and the epidemic of racially and religiously motivated “grooming” rapes in cities like Rotherham. (At the same time, foreign jihadists—including men wanted for crimes in Algeria and France—were allowed to remain in the UK as long as their plots did not include British targets.)
This approach, simultaneously cynical and naive, was never as successful as its proponents hoped. Again and again, Muslim chaplains who were approved to work in prisons and other institutions have sometimes turned out to be Islamist extremists whose words have inspired inmates to join terrorist organizations.
Much to his credit, former Prime Minister David Cameron fought hard to change this approach, even though it meant difficult confrontations with his home secretary (Theresa May), as well as police and the intelligence agencies. However, Cameron’s efforts had little effect on the permanent personnel carrying out the Prevent strategy, and cooperation with Islamist but currently nonviolent organizations remains the default setting within the institutions on which the United Kingdom depends for security.
The failure to understand the role of ideology is one of imagination as well as education. Very few of those who make government policy or write about home-grown terrorism seem able to escape the limitations of what used to be called “bourgeois” experience. They assume that anyone willing to become an Islamist terrorist must perforce be materially deprived, or traumatized by the experience of prejudice, or provoked to murderous fury by oppression abroad. They have no sense of the emotional and psychic benefits of joining a secret terror outfit: the excitement and glamor of becoming a kind of Islamic James Bond, bravely defying the forces of an entire modern state. They don’t get how satisfying or empowering the vengeful misogyny of ISIS-style fundamentalism might seem for geeky, frustrated young men. Nor can they appreciate the appeal to the adolescent mind of apocalyptic fantasies of power and sacrifice (mainstream British society does not have much room for warrior dreams, given that its tone is set by liberal pacifists). Finally, they have no sense of why the discipline and self-discipline of fundamentalist Islam might appeal so strongly to incarcerated lumpen youth who have never experienced boundaries or real belonging. Their understanding is an understanding only of themselves, not of the people who want to kill them.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.
Review of 'White Working Class' By Joan C. Williams
Williams is a prominent feminist legal scholar with degrees from Yale, MIT, and Harvard. Unbending Gender, her best-known book, is the sort of tract you’d expect to find at an intersectionality conference or a Portlandia bookstore. This is why her insightful, empathic book comes as such a surprise.
Books and essays on the topic have accumulated into a highly visible genre since Donald Trump came on the American political scene; J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy planted itself at the top of bestseller lists almost a year ago and still isn’t budging. As with Vance, Williams’s interest in the topic is personal. She fell “madly in love with” and eventually married a Harvard Law School graduate who had grown up in an Italian neighborhood in pre-gentrification Brook-lyn. Williams, on the other hand, is a “silver-spoon girl.” Her father’s family was moneyed, and her maternal grandfather was a prominent Reform rabbi.
The author’s affection for her “class-migrant” spouse and respect for his family’s hardships—“My father-in-law grew up on blood soup,” she announces in her opening sentence—adds considerable warmth to what is at bottom a political pamphlet. Williams believes that elite condescension and “cluelessness” played a big role in Trump’s unexpected and dreaded victory. Enlightening her fellow elites is essential to the task of returning Trump voters to the progressive fold where, she is sure, they rightfully belong.
Liberals were not always so dense about the working class, Williams observes. WPA murals and movies like On the Waterfront showed genuine fellow feeling for the proletariat. In the 1970s, however, the liberal mood changed. Educated boomers shifted their attention to “issues of peace, equal rights, and environmentalism.” Instead of feeling the pain of Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck characters, they began sneering at the less enlightened. These days, she notes, elite sympathies are limited to the poor, people of color (POC), and the LGBTQ population. Despite clear evidence of suffering—stagnant wages, disappearing manufacturing jobs, declining health and well-being—the working class gets only fly-over snobbery at best and, more often, outright loathing.
Williams divides her chapters into a series of explainers to questions she has heard from her clueless friends and colleagues: “Why Does the Working Class Resent the Poor?” “Why Does the Working Class Resent Professionals but Admire the Rich?” “Why Doesn’t the Working Class Just Move to Where the Jobs Are?” “Is the Working Class Just Racist?” She weaves her answers into a compelling picture of a way of life and worldview foreign to her targeted readers. Working-class Americans have had to struggle for whatever stability and comfort they have, she explains. Clocking in for midnight shifts year after year, enduring capricious bosses, plant closures, and layoffs, they’re reliant on tag-team parenting and stressed-out relatives for child care. The campus go-to word “privileged” seems exactly wrong.
Proud of their own self-sufficiency and success, however modest, they don’t begrudge the self-made rich. It’s snooty professionals and the dysfunctional poor who get their goat. From their vantage point, subsidizing the day care for a welfare mother when they themselves struggle to manage care on their own dime mocks both their hard work and their beliefs. And since, unlike most professors, they shop in the same stores as the dependent poor, they’ve seen that some of them game the system. Of course that stings.
White Working Class is especially good at evoking the alternate economic and mental universe experienced by Professional and Managerial Elites, or “PMEs.” PMEs see their non-judgment of the poor, especially those who are “POC,” as a mark of their mature understanding that we live in an unjust, racist system whose victims require compassion regardless of whether they have committed any crime. At any rate, their passions lie elsewhere. They define themselves through their jobs and professional achievements, hence their obsession with glass ceilings.
Williams tells the story of her husband’s faux pas at a high-school reunion. Forgetting his roots for a moment, the Ivy League–educated lawyer asked one of his Brooklyn classmates a question that is the go-to opener in elite social settings: “What do you do?” Angered by what must have seemed like deliberate humiliation by this prodigal son, the man hissed: “I sell toilets.”
Instead of stability and backyard barbecues with family and long-time neighbors and maybe the occasional Olive Garden celebration, PMEs are enamored of novelty: new foods, new restaurants, new friends, new experiences. The working class chooses to spend its leisure in comfortable familiarity; for the elite, social life is a lot like networking. Members of the professional class may view themselves as sophisticated or cosmopolitan, but, Williams shows, to the blue-collar worker their glad-handing is closer to phony social climbing and their abstract, knowledge-economy jobs more like self-important pencil-pushing.
White Working Class has a number of proposals for creating the progressive future Williams would like to see. She wants to get rid of college-for-all dogma and improve training for middle-skill jobs. She envisions a working-class coalition of all races and ethnicities bolstered by civics education with a “distinctly celebratory view of American institutions.” In a saner political environment, some of this would make sense; indeed, she echoes some of Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign themes. It’s little wonder White Working Class has already gotten the stink eye from liberal reviewers for its purported sympathies for racists.
Alas, impressive as Williams’s insights are, they do not always allow her to transcend her own class loyalties. Unsurprisingly, her own PME biases mostly come to light in her chapters on race and gender. She reduces immigration concerns to “fear of brown people,” even as she notes elsewhere that a quarter of Latinos also favor a wall at the southern border. This contrasts startlingly with her succinct observation that “if you don’t want to drive working-class whites to be attracted to the likes of Limbaugh, stop insulting them.” In one particularly obtuse moment, she asserts: “Because I study social inequality, I know that even Malia and Sasha Obama will be disadvantaged by race, advantaged as they are by class.” She relies on dubious gender theories to explain why the majority of white women voted for Trump rather than for his unfairly maligned opponent. That Hillary Clinton epitomized every elite quality Williams has just spent more than a hundred pages explicating escapes her notice. Williams’s own reflexive retreat into identity politics is itself emblematic of our toxic divisions, but it does not invalidate the power of this astute book.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
When music could not transcend evil
he story of European classical music under the Third Reich is one of the most squalid chapters in the annals of Western culture, a chronicle of collective complaisance that all but beggars belief. Without exception, all of the well-known musicians who left Germany and Austria in protest when Hitler came to power in 1933 were either Jewish or, like the violinist Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin’s father-in-law, had close family ties to Jews. Moreover, most of the small number of non-Jewish musicians who emigrated later on, such as Paul Hindemith and Lotte Lehmann, are now known to have done so not out of principle but because they were unable to make satisfactory accommodations with the Nazis. Everyone else—including Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Walter Gieseking, Herbert von Karajan, and Richard Strauss—stayed behind and served the Reich.
The Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, then as now Europe’s two greatest orchestras, were just as willing to do business with Hitler and his henchmen, firing their Jewish members and ceasing to perform the music of Jewish composers. Even after the war, the Vienna Philharmonic was notorious for being the most anti-Semitic orchestra in Europe, and it was well known in the music business (though never publicly discussed) that Helmut Wobisch, the orchestra’s principal trumpeter and its executive director from 1953 to 1968, had been both a member of the SS and a Gestapo spy.
The management of the Berlin Philharmonic made no attempt to cover up the orchestra’s close relationship with the Third Reich, no doubt because the Nazi ties of Karajan, who was its music director from 1956 until shortly before his death in 1989, were a matter of public record. Yet it was not until 2007 that a full-length study of its wartime activities, Misha Aster’s The Reich’s Orchestra: The Berlin Philharmonic 1933–1945, was finally published. As for the Vienna Philharmonic, its managers long sought to quash all discussion of the orchestra’s Nazi past, steadfastly refusing to open its institutional archives to scholars until 2008, when Fritz Trümpi, an Austrian scholar, was given access to its records. Five years later, the Viennese, belatedly following the precedent of the Berlin Philharmonic, added a lengthy section to their website called “The Vienna Philharmonic Under National Socialism (1938–1945),” in which the damning findings of Trümpi and two other independent scholars were made available to the public.
Now Trümpi has published The Political Orchestra: The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics During the Third Reich, in which he tells how they came to terms with Nazism, supplying pre- and postwar historical context for their transgressions.1 Written in a stiff mixture of academic jargon and translatorese, The Political Orchestra is ungratifying to read. Even so, the tale that it tells is both compelling and disturbing, especially to anyone who clings to the belief that high art is ennobling to the spirit.U
nlike the Vienna Philharmonic, which has always doubled as the pit orchestra for the Vienna State Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic started life in 1882 as a fully independent, self-governing entity. Initially unsubsidized by the state, it kept itself afloat by playing a grueling schedule of performances, including “popular” non-subscription concerts for which modest ticket prices were levied. In addition, the orchestra made records and toured internationally at a time when neither was common.
These activities made it possible for the Berlin Philharmonic to develop into an internationally renowned ensemble whose fabled collective virtuosity was widely seen as a symbol of German musical distinction. Furtwängler, the orchestra’s principal conductor, declared in 1932 that the German music in which it specialized was “one of the very few things that actually contribute to elevating [German] prestige.” Hence, he explained, the need for state subsidy, which he saw as “a matter of [national] prestige, that is, to some extent a requirement of national prudence.” By then, though, the orchestra was already heavily subsidized by the city of Berlin, thus paving the way for its takeover by the Nazis.
The Vienna Philharmonic, by contrast, had always been subsidized. Founded in 1842 when the orchestra of what was then the Vienna Court Opera decided to give symphonic concerts on its own, it performed the Austro-German classics for an elite cadre of longtime subscribers. By restricting membership to local players and their pupils, the orchestra cultivated what Furtwängler, who spent as much time conducting in Vienna as in Berlin, described as a “homogeneous and distinct tone quality.” At once dark and sweet, it was as instantly identifiable—and as characteristically Viennese—as the strong, spicy bouquet of a Gewürztraminer wine.
Unlike the Berlin Philharmonic, which played for whoever would pay the tab and programmed new music as a matter of policy, the Vienna Philharmonic chose not to diversify either its haute-bourgeois audience or its conservative repertoire. Instead, it played Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert (and, later, Bruckner and Richard Strauss) in Vienna for the Viennese. Starting in the ’20s, the orchestra’s recordings consolidated its reputation as one of the world’s foremost instrumental ensembles, but its internal culture remained proudly insular.
What the two orchestras had in common was a nationalistic ethos, a belief in the superiority of Austro-German musical culture that approached triumphalism. One of the darkest manifestations of this ethos was their shared reluctance to hire Jews. The Berlin Philharmonic employed only four Jewish players in 1933, while the Vienna Philharmonic contained only 11 Jews at the time of the Anschluss, none of whom was hired after 1920. To be sure, such popular Jewish conductors as Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter continued to work in Vienna for as long as they could. Two months before the Anschluss, Walter led and recorded a performance of the Ninth Symphony of Gustav Mahler, his musical mentor and fellow Jew, who from 1897 to 1907 had been the director of the Vienna Court Opera and one of the Philharmonic’s most admired conductors. But many members of both orchestras were open supporters of fascism, and not a few were anti-Semites who ardently backed Hitler. By 1942, 62 of the 123 active members of the Vienna Philharmonic were Nazi party members.
The admiration that Austro-German classical musicians had for Hitler is not entirely surprising since he was a well-informed music lover who declared in 1938 that “Germany has become the guardian of European culture and civilization.” He made the support of German art, music very much included, a key part of his political program. Accordingly, the Berlin Philharmonic was placed under the direct supervision of Joseph Goebbels, who ensured the cooperation of its members by repeatedly raising their salaries, exempting them from military service, and guaranteeing their old-age pensions. But there had never been any serious question of protest, any more than there would be among the members of the Vienna Philharmonic when the Nazis gobbled up Austria. Save for the Jews and one or two non-Jewish players who were fired for reasons of internal politics, the musicians went along unhesitatingly with Hitler’s desires.
With what did they go along? Above all, they agreed to the scrubbing of Jewish music from their programs and the dismissal of their Jewish colleagues. Some Jewish players managed to escape with their lives, but seven of the Vienna Philharmonic’s 11 Jews were either murdered by the Nazis or died as a direct result of official persecution. In addition, both orchestras performed regularly at official government functions and made tours and other public appearances for propaganda purposes, and both were treated as gems in the diadem of Nazi culture.
As for Furtwängler, the most prominent of the Austro-German orchestral conductors who served the Reich, his relationship to Nazism continues to be debated to this day. He had initially resisted the firing of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Jewish members and protected them for as long as he could. But he was also a committed (if woolly-minded) nationalist who believed that German music had “a different meaning for us Germans than for other nations” and notoriously declared in an open letter to Goebbels that “we all welcome with great joy and gratitude . . . the restoration of our national honor.” Thereafter he cooperated with the Nazis, by all accounts uncomfortably but—it must be said—willingly. A monster of egotism, he saw himself as the greatest living exponent of German music and believed it to be his duty to stay behind and serve a cause higher than what he took to be mere party politics. “Human beings are free wherever Wagner and Beethoven are played, and if they are not free at first, they are freed while listening to these works,” he naively assured a horrified Arturo Toscanini in 1937. “Music transports them to regions where the Gestapo can do them no harm.”O
nce the war was over, the U.S. occupation forces decided to enlist the Berlin Philharmonic in the service of a democratic, anti-Soviet Germany. Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, who succeeded him as principal conductor, were officially “de-Nazified” and their orchestra allowed to function largely undisturbed, though six Nazi Party members were fired. The Vienna Philharmonic received similarly privileged treatment.
Needless to say, there was more to this decision than Cold War politics. No one questioned the unique artistic stature of either orchestra. Moreover, the Vienna Philharmonic, precisely because of its insularity, was now seen as a living museum piece, a priceless repository of 19th-century musical tradition. Still, many musicians and listeners, Jews above all, looked askance at both orchestras for years to come, believing them to be tainted by Nazism.
Indeed they were, so much so that they treated many of their surviving Jewish ex-members in a way that can only be described as vicious. In the most blatant individual case, the violinist Szymon Goldberg, who had served as the Berlin Philharmonic’s concertmaster under Furtwängler, was not allowed to reassume his post in 1945 and was subsequently denied a pension. As for the Vienna Philharmonic, the fact that it made Helmut Wobisch its executive director says everything about its deep-seated unwillingness to face up to its collective sins.
Be that as it may, scarcely any prominent musicians chose to boycott either orchestra. Leonard Bernstein went so far as to affect a flippant attitude toward the morally equivocal conduct of the Austro-German artists whom he encountered in Europe after the war. Upon meeting Herbert von Karajan in 1954, he actually told his wife Felicia that he had become “real good friends with von Karajan, whom you would (and will) adore. My first Nazi.”
At the same time, though, Bernstein understood what he was choosing to overlook. When he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time in 1966, he wrote to his parents:
I am enjoying Vienna enormously—as much as a Jew can. There are so many sad memories here; one deals with so many ex-Nazis (and maybe still Nazis); and you never know if the public that is screaming bravo for you might contain someone who 25 years ago might have shot me dead. But it’s better to forgive, and if possible, forget. The city is so beautiful, and so full of tradition. Everyone here lives for music, especially opera, and I seem to be the new hero.
Did Bernstein sell his soul for the opportunity to work with so justly renowned an orchestra—and did he get his price by insisting that its members perform the symphonies of Mahler, with which he was by then closely identified? It is a fair question, one that does not lend itself to easy answers.
Even more revealing is the case of Bruno Walter, who never forgave Furtwängler for staying behind in Germany, informing him in an angry letter that “your art was used as a conspicuously effective means of propaganda for the regime of the Devil.” Yet Walter’s righteous anger did not stop him from conducting in Vienna after the war. Born in Berlin, he had come to identify with the Philharmonic so closely that it was impossible for him to seriously consider quitting its podium permanently. “Spiritually, I was a Viennese,” he wrote in Theme and Variations, his 1946 autobiography. In 1952, he made a second recording with the Vienna Philharmonic of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, whose premiere he had conducted in 1911 and which he had recorded in Vienna 15 years earlier. One wonders what Walter, who had converted to Christianity but had been driven out of both his native lands for the crime of being Jewish, made of the text of the last movement: “My friend, / On this earth, fortune has not been kind to me! / Where do I go?”
As for the two great orchestras of the Third Reich, both have finally acknowledged their guilt and been forgiven, at least by those who know little of their past. It would occur to no one to decline on principle to perform with either group today. Such a gesture would surely be condemned as morally ostentatious, an exercise in what we now call virtue-signaling. Yet it is impossible to forget what Samuel Lipman wrote in 1993 in Commentary apropos the wartime conduct of Furtwängler: “The ultimate triumph of totalitarianism, I suppose it can be said, is that under its sway only a martyred death can be truly moral.” For the only martyrs of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics were their Jews. The orchestras themselves live on, tainted and beloved.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
He knows what to reveal and what to conceal, understands the importance of keeping the semblance of distance between oneself and the story of the day, and comprehends the ins and outs of anonymous sourcing. Within days of his being fired by President Trump on May 9, for example, little green men and women, known only as his “associates,” began appearing in the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post to dispute key points of the president’s account of his dismissal and to promote Comey’s theory of the case.
“In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty,” the New York Times reported on May 11. “Comey Demurred.” The story was a straightforward narrative of events from Comey’s perspective, capped with an obligatory denial from the White House. The next day, the Washington Post reported, “Comey associates dispute Trump’s account of conversations.” The Post did not identify Comey’s associates, other than saying that they were “people who have worked with him.”
Maybe they were the same associates who had gabbed to the Times. Or maybe they were different ones. Who can tell? Regardless, the story these particular associates gave to the Post was readable and gripping. Comey, the Post reported, “was wary of private meetings and discussions with the president and did not offer the assurance, as Trump has claimed, that Trump was not under investigation as part of the probe into Russian interference in last year’s election.”
On May 16, Michael S. Schmidt of the Times published his scoop, “Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation.” Schmidt didn’t see the memo for himself. Parts of it were read to him by—you guessed it—“one of Mr. Comey’s associates.” The following day, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. On May 18, the Times, citing “two people briefed” on a call between Comey and the president, reported, “Comey, Unsettled by Trump, Is Said to Have Wanted Him Kept at a Distance.” And by the end of that week, Comey had agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
As his testimony approached, Comey’s people became more aggressive in their criticisms of the president. “Trump Should Be Scared, Comey Friend Says,” read the headline of a CNN interview with Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes. This “Comey friend” said he was “very shocked” when he learned that President Trump had asked Comey for loyalty. “I have no doubt that he regarded the group of people around the president as dishonorable,” Wittes said.
Comey, Wittes added, was so uncomfortable at the White House reception in January honoring law enforcement—the one where Comey lumbered across the room and Trump whispered something in his ear—that, as CNN paraphrased it, he “stood in a position so that his blue blazer would blend in with the room’s blue drapes in an effort for Trump to not notice him.” The integrity, the courage—can you feel it?
On June 6, the day before Comey’s prepared testimony was released, more “associates” told ABC that the director would “not corroborate Trump’s claim that on three separate occasions Comey told the president he was not under investigation.” And a “source with knowledge of Comey’s testimony” told CNN the same thing. In addition, ABC reported that, according to “a source familiar with Comey’s thinking,” the former director would say that Trump’s actions stopped short of obstruction of justice.
Maybe those sources weren’t as “familiar with Comey’s thinking” as they thought or hoped? To maximize the press coverage he already dominated, Comey had authorized the Senate Intelligence Committee to release his testimony ahead of his personal interview. That testimony told a different story than what had been reported by CNN and ABC (and by the Post on May 12). Comey had in fact told Trump the president was not under investigation—on January 6, January 27, and March 30. Moreover, the word “obstruction” did not appear at all in his written text. The senators asked Comey if he felt Trump obstructed justice. He declined to answer either way.
My guess is that Comey’s associates lacked Comey’s scalpel-like, almost Jesuitical ability to make distinctions, and therefore misunderstood what he was telling them to say to the press. Because it’s obvious Comey was the one behind the stories of Trump’s dishonesty and bad behavior. He admitted as much in front of the cameras in a remarkable exchange with Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
Comey said that, after Trump tweeted on May 12 that he’d better hope there aren’t “tapes” of their conversations, “I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.”
Collins asked whether that friend had been Wittes, known to cable news junkies as Comey’s bestie. Comey said no. The source for the New York Times article was “a good friend of mine who’s a professor at Columbia Law School,” Daniel Richman.
Every time I watch or read that exchange, I am amazed. Here is the former director of the FBI just flat-out admitting that, for months, he wrote down every interaction he had with the president of the United States because he wanted a written record in case the president ever fired or lied about him. And when the president did fire and lie about him, that director set in motion a series of public disclosures with the intent of not only embarrassing the president, but also forcing the appointment of a special counsel who might end up investigating the president for who knows what. And none of this would have happened if the president had not fired Comey or tweeted about him. He told the Senate that if Trump hadn’t dismissed him, he most likely would still be on the job.
Rarely, in my view, are high officials so transparent in describing how Washington works. Comey revealed to the world that he was keeping a file on his boss, that he used go-betweens to get his story into the press, that “investigative journalism” is often just powerful people handing documents to reporters to further their careers or agendas or even to get revenge. And as long as you maintain some distance from the fallout, and stick to the absolute letter of the law, you will come out on top, so long as you have a small army of nightingales singing to reporters on your behalf.
“It’s the end of the Comey era,” A.B. Stoddard said on Special Report with Bret Baier the other day. On the contrary: I have a feeling that, as the Russia investigation proceeds, we will be hearing much more from Comey. And from his “associates.” And his “friends.” And persons “familiar with his thinking.”
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
In April, COMMENTARY asked a wide variety of writers,
thinkers, and broadcasters to respond to this question: Is free speech under threat in the United States? We received twenty-seven responses. We publish them here in alphabetical order.
Floyd AbramsFree expression threatened? By Donald Trump? I guess you could say so.
When a president engages in daily denigration of the press, when he characterizes it as the enemy of the people, when he repeatedly says that the libel laws should be “loosened” so he can personally commence more litigation, when he says that journalists shouldn’t be allowed to use confidential sources, it is difficult even to suggest that he has not threatened free speech. And when he says to the head of the FBI (as former FBI director James Comey has said that he did) that Comey should consider “putting reporters in jail for publishing classified information,” it is difficult not to take those threats seriously.
The harder question, though, is this: How real are the threats? Or, as Michael Gerson put it in the Washington Post: Will Trump “go beyond mere Twitter abuse and move against institutions that limit his power?” Some of the president’s threats against the institution of the press, wittingly or not, have been simply preposterous. Surely someone has told him by now that neither he nor Congress can “loosen” libel laws; while each state has its own libel law, there is no federal libel law and thus nothing for him to loosen. What he obviously takes issue with is the impact that the Supreme Court’s 1964 First Amendment opinion in New York Times v. Sullivan has had on state libel laws. The case determined that public officials who sue for libel may not prevail unless they demonstrate that the statements made about them were false and were made with actual knowledge or suspicion of that falsity. So his objection to the rules governing libel law is to nothing less than the application of the First Amendment itself.
In other areas, however, the Trump administration has far more power to imperil free speech. We live under an Espionage Act, adopted a century ago, which is both broad in its language and uncommonly vague in its meaning. As such, it remains a half-open door through which an administration that is hostile to free speech might walk. Such an administration could initiate criminal proceedings against journalists who write about defense- or intelligence-related topics on the basis that classified information was leaked to them by present or former government employees. No such action has ever been commenced against a journalist. Press lawyers and civil-liberties advocates have strong arguments that the law may not be read so broadly and still be consistent with the First Amendment. But the scope of the Espionage Act and the impact of the First Amendment upon its interpretation remain unknown.
A related area in which the attitude of an administration toward the press may affect the latter’s ability to function as a check on government relates to the ability of journalists to protect the identity of their confidential sources. The Obama administration prosecuted more Espionage Act cases against sources of information to journalists than all prior administrations combined. After a good deal of deserved press criticism, it agreed to expand the internal guidelines of the Department of Justice designed to limit the circumstances under which such source revelation is demanded. But the guidelines are none too protective and are, after all, simply guidelines. A new administration is free to change or limit them or, in fact, abandon them altogether. In this area, as in so many others, it is too early to judge the ultimate treatment of free expression by the Trump administration. But the threats are real, and there is good reason to be wary.
Floyd Abrams is the author of The Soul of the First Amendment (Yale University Press, 2017).
Ayaan Hirsi AliFreedom of speech is being threatened in the United States by a nascent culture of hostility to different points of view. As political divisions in America have deepened, a conformist mentality of “right thinking” has spread across the country. Increasingly, American universities, where no intellectual doctrine ought to escape critical scrutiny, are some of the most restrictive domains when it comes to asking open-ended questions on subjects such as Islam.
Legally, speech in the United States is protected to a degree unmatched in almost any industrialized country. The U.S. has avoided unpredictable Canadian-style restrictions on speech, for example. I remain optimistic that as long as we have the First Amendment in the U.S., any attempt at formal legal censorship will be vigorously challenged.
Culturally, however, matters are very different in America. The regressive left is the forerunner threatening free speech on any issue that is important to progressives. The current pressure coming from those who call themselves “social-justice warriors” is unlikely to lead to successful legislation to curb the First Amendment. Instead, censorship is spreading in the cultural realm, particularly at institutions of higher learning.
The way activists of the regressive left achieve silence or censorship is by creating a taboo, and one of the most pernicious taboos in operation today is the word “Islamophobia.” Islamists are similarly motivated to rule any critical scrutiny of Islamic doctrine out of order. There is now a university center (funded by Saudi money) in the U.S. dedicated to monitoring and denouncing incidences of “Islamophobia.”
The term “Islamophobia” is used against critics of political Islam, but also against progressive reformers within Islam. The term implies an irrational fear that is tainted by hatred, and it has had a chilling effect on free speech. In fact, “Islamophobia” is a poorly defined term. Islam is not a race, and it is very often perfectly rational to fear some expressions of Islam. No set of ideas should be beyond critical scrutiny.
To push back in this cultural realm—in our universities, in public discourse—those favoring free speech should focus more on the message of dawa, the set of ideas that the Islamists want to promote. If the aims of dawa are sufficiently exposed, ordinary Americans and Muslim Americans will reject it. The Islamist message is a message of divisiveness, misogyny, and hatred. It’s anachronistic and wants people to live by tribal norms dating from the seventh century. The best antidote to Islamic extremism is the revelation of what its primary objective is: a society governed by Sharia. This is the opposite of censorship: It is documenting reality. What is life like in Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Northern Nigerian States? What is the true nature of Sharia law?
Islamists want to hide the true meaning of Sharia, Jihad, and the implications for women, gays, religious minorities, and infidels under the veil of “Islamophobia.” Islamists use “Islamophobia” to obfuscate their vision and imply that any scrutiny of political Islam is hatred and bigotry. The antidote to this is more exposure and more speech.
As pressure on freedom of speech increases from the regressive left, we must reject the notions that only Muslims can speak about Islam, and that any critical examination of Islamic doctrines is inherently “racist.”
Instead of contorting Western intellectual traditions so as not to offend our Muslim fellow citizens, we need to defend the Muslim dissidents who are risking their lives to promote the human rights we take for granted: equality for women, tolerance of all religions and orientations, our hard-won freedoms of speech and thought.
It is by nurturing and protecting such speech that progressive reforms can emerge within Islam. By accepting the increasingly narrow confines of acceptable discourse on issues such as Islam, we do dissidents and progressive reformers within Islam a grave disservice. For truly progressive reforms within Islam to be possible, full freedom of speech will be required.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the founder of the AHA Foundation.
Lee C. BollingerI know it is too much to expect that political discourse mimic the measured, self-questioning, rational, footnoting standards of the academy, but there is a difference between robust political debate and political debate infected with fear or panic. The latter introduces a state of mind that is visceral and irrational. In the realm of fear, we move beyond the reach of reason and a sense of proportionality. When we fear, we lose the capacity to listen and can become insensitive and mean.
Our Constitution is well aware of this fact about the human mind and of its negative political consequences. In the First Amendment jurisprudence established over the past century, we find many expressions of the problematic state of mind that is produced by fear. Among the most famous and potent is that of Justice Brandeis in Whitney v. California in 1927, one of the many cases involving aggravated fears of subversive threats from abroad. “It is the function of (free) speech,” he said, “to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” “Men feared witches,” Brandeis continued, “and burned women.”
Today, our “witches” are terrorists, and Brandeis’s metaphorical “women” include the refugees (mostly children) and displaced persons, immigrants, and foreigners whose lives have been thrown into suspension and doubt by policies of exclusion.
The same fears of the foreign that take hold of a population inevitably infect our internal interactions and institutions, yielding suppression of unpopular and dissenting voices, victimization of vulnerable groups, attacks on the media, and the rise of demagoguery, with its disdain for facts, reason, expertise, and tolerance.
All of this poses a very special obligation on those of us within universities. Not only must we make the case in every venue for the values that form the core of who we are and what we do, but we must also live up to our own principles of free inquiry and fearless engagement with all ideas. This is why recent incidents on a handful of college campuses disrupting and effectively censoring speakers is so alarming. Such acts not only betray a basic principle but also inflame a rising prejudice against the academic community, and they feed efforts to delegitimize our work, at the very moment when it’s most needed.
I do not for a second support the view that this generation has an unhealthy aversion to engaging differences of opinion. That is a modern trope of polarization, as is the portrayal of universities as hypocritical about academic freedom and political correctness. But now, in this environment especially, universities must be at the forefront of defending the rights of all students and faculty to listen to controversial voices, to engage disagreeable viewpoints, and to make every effort to demonstrate our commitment to the sort of fearless and spirited debate that we are simultaneously asking of the larger society. Anyone with a voice can shout over a speaker; but being able to listen to and then effectively rebut those with whom we disagree—particularly those who themselves peddle intolerance—is one of the greatest skills our education can bestow. And it is something our democracy desperately needs more of. That is why, I say to you now, if speakers who are being denied access to other campuses come here, I will personally volunteer to introduce them, and listen to them, however much I may disagree with them. But I will also never hesitate to make clear why I disagree with them.
Lee C. Bollinger is the 19th president of Columbia University and the author of Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century. This piece has been excerpted from President Bollinger’s May 17 commencement address.
Richard A. Epstein
Today, the greatest threat to the constitutional protection of freedom of speech comes from campus rabble-rousers who invoke this very protection. In their book, the speech of people like Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald constitutes a form of violence, bordering on genocide, that receives no First Amendment protection. Enlightened protestors are both bound and entitled to shout them down, by force or other disruptive actions, if their universities are so foolish as to extend them an invitation to speak. Any indignant minority may take the law into its own hands to eradicate the intellectual cancer before it spreads on their own campus.
By such tortured logic, a new generation of vigilantes distorts the First Amendment doctrine: Speech becomes violence, and violence becomes heroic acts of self-defense. The standard First Amendment interpretation emphatically rejects that view. Of course, the First Amendment doesn’t let you say what you want when and wherever you want to. Your freedom of speech is subject to the same limitations as your freedom of action. So you have no constitutional license to assault other people, to lie to them, or to form cartels to bilk them in the marketplace. But folks such as Murray, Mac Donald, and even Yiannopoulos do not come close to crossing into that forbidden territory. They are not using, for example, “fighting words,” rightly limited to words or actions calculated to provoke immediate aggression against a known target. Fighting words are worlds apart from speech that provokes a negative reaction in those who find your speech offensive solely because of the content of its message.
This distinction is central to the First Amendment. Fighting words have to be blocked by well-tailored criminal and civil sanctions lest some people gain license to intimidate others from speaking or peaceably assembling. The remedy for mere offense is to speak one’s mind in response. But it never gives anyone the right to block the speech of others, lest everyone be able to unilaterally increase his sphere of action by getting really angry about the beliefs of others. No one has the right to silence others by working himself into a fit of rage.
Obviously, it is intolerable to let mutual animosity generate factional warfare, whereby everyone can use force to silence rivals. To avoid this war of all against all, each side claims that only its actions are privileged. These selective claims quickly degenerate into a form of viewpoint discrimination, which undermines one of the central protections that traditional First Amendment law erects: a wall against each and every group out to destroy the level playing field on which robust political debate rests. Every group should be at risk for having its message fall flat. The new campus radicals want to upend that understanding by shutting down their adversaries if their universities do not. Their aggression must be met, if necessary, by counterforce. Silence in the face of aggression is not an acceptable alternative.
Richard A. Epstein is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.
David FrenchWe’re living in the midst of a troubling paradox. At the exact same time that First Amendment jurisprudence has arguably never been stronger and more protective of free expression, millions of Americans feel they simply can’t speak freely. Indeed, talk to Americans living and working in the deep-blue confines of the academy, Hollywood, and the tech sector, and you’ll get a sense of palpable fear. They’ll explain that they can’t say what they think and keep their jobs, their friends, and sometimes even their families.
The government isn’t cracking down or censoring; instead, Americans are using free speech to destroy free speech. For example, a social-media shaming campaign is an act of free speech. So is an economic boycott. So is turning one’s back on a public speaker. So is a private corporation firing a dissenting employee for purely political reasons. Each of these actions is largely protected from government interference, and each one represents an expression of the speaker’s ideas and values.
The problem, however, is obvious. The goal of each of these kinds of actions isn’t to persuade; it’s to intimidate. The goal isn’t to foster dialogue but to coerce conformity. The result is a marketplace of ideas that has been emptied of all but the approved ideological vendors—at least in those communities that are dominated by online thugs and corporate bullies. Indeed, this mindset has become so prevalent that in places such as Portland, Berkeley, Middlebury, and elsewhere, the bullies and thugs have crossed the line from protected—albeit abusive—speech into outright shout-downs and mob violence.
But there’s something else going on, something that’s insidious in its own way. While politically correct shaming still has great power in deep-blue America, its effect in the rest of the country is to trigger a furious backlash, one characterized less by a desire for dialogue and discourse than by its own rage and scorn. So we’re moving toward two Americas—one that ruthlessly (and occasionally illegally) suppresses dissenting speech and the other that is dangerously close to believing that the opposite of political correctness isn’t a fearless expression of truth but rather the fearless expression of ideas best calculated to enrage your opponents.
The result is a partisan feedback loop where right-wing rage spurs left-wing censorship, which spurs even more right-wing rage. For one side, a true free-speech culture is a threat to feelings, sensitivities, and social justice. The other side waves high the banner of “free speech” to sometimes elevate the worst voices to the highest platforms—not so much to protect the First Amendment as to infuriate the hated “snowflakes” and trigger the most hysterical overreactions.
The culturally sustainable argument for free speech is something else entirely. It reminds the cultural left of its own debt to free speech while reminding the political right that a movement allegedly centered around constitutional values can’t abandon the concept of ordered liberty. The culture of free speech thrives when all sides remember their moral responsibilities—to both protect the right of dissent and to engage in ideological combat with a measure of grace and humility.
David French is a senior writer at National Review.
Pamela GellerThe real question isn’t whether free speech is under threat in the United States, but rather, whether it’s irretrievably lost. Can we get it back? Not without war, I suspect, as is evidenced by the violence at colleges whenever there’s the shamefully rare event of a conservative speaker on campus.
Free speech is the soul of our nation and the foundation of all our other freedoms. If we can’t speak out against injustice and evil, those forces will prevail. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society. Without it, a tyrant can wreak havoc unopposed, while his opponents are silenced.
With that principle in mind, I organized a free-speech event in Garland, Texas. The world had recently been rocked by the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. My version of “Je Suis Charlie” was an event here in America to show that we can still speak freely and draw whatever we like in the Land of the Free. Yet even after jihadists attacked our event, I was blamed—by Donald Trump among others—for provoking Muslims. And if I tried to hold a similar event now, no arena in the country would allow me to do so—not just because of the security risk, but because of the moral cowardice of all intellectual appeasers.
Under what law is it wrong to depict Muhammad? Under Islamic law. But I am not a Muslim, I don’t live under Sharia. America isn’t under Islamic law, yet for standing for free speech, I’ve been:
- Prevented from running our advertisements in every major city in this country. We have won free-speech lawsuits all over the country, which officials circumvent by prohibiting all political ads (while making exceptions for ads from Muslim advocacy groups);
- Shunned by the right, shut out of the Conservative Political Action Conference;
- Shunned by Jewish groups at the behest of terror-linked groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations;
- Blacklisted from speaking at universities;
- Prevented from publishing books, for security reasons and because publishers fear shaming from the left;
- Banned from Britain.
A Seattle court accused me of trying to shut down free speech after we merely tried to run an FBI poster on global terrorism, because authorities had banned all political ads in other cities to avoid running ours. Seattle blamed us for that, which was like blaming a woman for being raped because she was wearing a short skirt.
This kind of vilification and shunning is key to the left’s plan to shut down all dissent from its agenda—they make legislation restricting speech unnecessary.
The same refusal to allow our point of view to be heard has manifested itself elsewhere. The foundation of my work is individual rights and equality for all before the law. These are the foundational principles of our constitutional republic. That is now considered controversial. Truth is the new hate speech. Truth is going to be criminalized.
The First Amendment doesn’t only protect ideas that are sanctioned by the cultural and political elites. If “hate speech” laws are enacted, who would decide what’s permissible and what’s forbidden? The government? The gunmen in Garland?
There has been an inversion of the founding premise of this nation. No longer is it the subordination of might to right, but right to might. History is repeatedly deformed with the bloody consequences of this transition.
Pamela Geller is the editor in chief of the Geller Report and president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
Jonah GoldbergOf course free speech is under threat in America. Frankly, it’s always under threat in America because it’s always under threat everywhere. Ronald Reagan was right when he said in 1961, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
This is more than political boilerplate. Reagan identified the source of the threat: human nature. God may have endowed us with a right to liberty, but he didn’t give us all a taste for it. As with most finer things, we must work to acquire a taste for it. That is what civilization—or at least our civilization—is supposed to do: cultivate attachments to certain ideals. “Cultivate” shares the same Latin root as “culture,” cultus, and properly understood they mean the same thing: to grow, nurture, and sustain through labor.
In the past, threats to free speech have taken many forms—nationalist passion, Comstockery (both good and bad), political suppression, etc.—but the threat to free speech today is different. It is less top-down and more bottom-up. We are cultivating a generation of young people to reject free speech as an important value.
One could mark the beginning of the self-esteem movement with Nathaniel Branden’s 1969 paper, “The Psychology of Self-Esteem,” which claimed that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life.” This understandable idea ran amok in our schools and in our culture. When I was a kid, Saturday-morning cartoons were punctuated with public-service announcements telling kids: “The most important person in the whole wide world is you, and you hardly even know you!”
The self-esteem craze was just part of the cocktail of educational fads. Other ingredients included multiculturalism, the anti-bullying crusade, and, of course, that broad phenomenon known as “political correctness.” Combined, they’ve produced a generation that rejects the old adage “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me” in favor of the notion that “words hurt.” What we call political correctness has been on college campuses for decades. But it lacked a critical mass of young people who were sufficiently receptive to it to make it a fully successful ideology. The campus commissars welcomed the new “snowflakes” with open arms; truly, these are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
“Words hurt” is a fashionable concept in psychology today. (See Psychology Today: “Why Words Can Hurt at Least as Much as Sticks and Stones.”) But it’s actually a much older idea than the “sticks and stones” aphorism. For most of human history, it was a crime to say insulting or “injurious” things about aristocrats, rulers, the Church, etc. That tendency didn’t evaporate with the Divine Right of Kings. Jonathan Haidt has written at book length about our natural capacity to create zones of sanctity, immune from reason.
And that is the threat free speech faces today. Those who inveigh against “hate speech” are in reality fighting “heresy speech”—ideas that do “violence” to sacred notions of self-esteem, racial or gender equality, climate change, and so on. Put whatever label you want on it, contemporary “social justice” progressivism acts as a religion, and it has no patience for blasphemy.
When Napoleon’s forces converted churches into stables, the clergy did not object on the grounds that regulations regarding the proper care and feeding of animals had been violated. They complained of sacrilege and blasphemy. When Charles Murray or Christina Hoff Summers visits college campuses, the protestors are behaving like the zealous acolytes of St. Jerome. Appeals to the First Amendment have as much power over the “antifa” fanatics as appeals to Odin did to champions of the New Faith.
That is the real threat to free speech today.
Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor at National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
KC JohnsonIn early May, the Washington Post urged universities to make clear that “racist signs, symbols, and speech are off-limits.” Given the extraordinarily broad definition of what constitutes “racist” speech at most institutions of higher education, this demand would single out most right-of-center (and, in some cases, even centrist and liberal) discourse on issues of race or ethnicity. The editorial provided the highest-profile example of how hostility to free speech, once confined to the ideological fringe on campus, has migrated to the liberal mainstream.
The last few years have seen periodic college protests—featuring claims that significant amounts of political speech constitute “violence,” thereby justifying censorship—followed by even more troubling attempts to appease the protesters. After the mob scene that greeted Charles Murray upon his visit to Middlebury College, for instance, the student government criticized any punishment for the protesters, and several student leaders wanted to require that future speakers conform to the college’s “community standard” on issues of race, gender, and ethnicity. In the last few months, similar attempts to stifle the free exchange of ideas in the name of promoting diversity occurred at Wesleyan, Claremont McKenna, and Duke. Offering an extreme interpretation of this point of view, one CUNY professor recently dismissed dialogue as “inherently conservative,” since it reinforced the “relations of power that presently exist.”
It’s easy, of course, to dismiss campus hostility to free speech as affecting only a small segment of American public life—albeit one that trains the next generation of judges, legislators, and voters. But, as Jonathan Chait observed in 2015, denying “the legitimacy of political pluralism on issues of race and gender” has broad appeal on the left. It is only most apparent on campus because “the academy is one of the few bastions of American life where the political left can muster the strength to impose its political hegemony upon others.” During his time in office, Barack Obama generally urged fellow liberals to support open intellectual debate. But the current campus environment previews the position of free speech in a post-Obama Democratic Party, increasingly oriented around identity politics.
Waning support on one end of the ideological spectrum for this bedrock American principle should provide a political opening for the other side. The Trump administration, however, seems poorly suited to make the case. Throughout his public career, Trump has rarely supported free speech, even in the abstract, and has periodically embraced legal changes to facilitate libel lawsuits. Moreover, the right-wing populism that motivates Trump’s base has a long tradition of ideological hostility to civil liberties of all types. Even in campus contexts, conservatives have defended free speech inconsistently, as seen in recent calls that CUNY disinvite anti-Zionist fanatic Linda Sarsour as a commencement speaker.
In a sharply polarized political environment, awash in dubiously-sourced information, free speech is all the more important. Yet this same environment has seen both sides, most blatantly elements of the left on campuses, demand restrictions on their ideological foes’ free speech in the name of promoting a greater good.
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
Laura KipnisI find myself with a strange-bedfellows problem lately. Here I am, a left-wing feminist professor invited onto the pages of Commentary—though I’d be thrilled if it were still 1959—while fielding speaking requests from right-wing think tanks and libertarians who oppose child-labor laws.
Somehow I’ve ended up in the middle of the free-speech-on-campus debate. My initial crime was publishing a somewhat contentious essay about campus sexual paranoia that put me on the receiving end of Title IX complaints. Apparently I’d created a “hostile environment” at my university. I was investigated (for 72 days). Then I wrote up what I’d learned about these campus inquisitions in a second essay. Then I wrote about it all some more, in a book exposing the kangaroo-court elements of the Title IX process—and the extra-legal gag orders imposed on everyone caught in its widening snare.
I can’t really comment on whether more charges have been filed against me over the book. I’ll just say that writing about being a Title IX respondent could easily become a life’s work. I learned, shortly after writing this piece, that I and my publisher were being sued for defamation, among other things.
Is free speech under threat on American campuses? Yes. We know all about student activists who wish to shut down talks by people with opposing views. I got smeared with a bit of that myself, after a speaking invitation at Wellesley—some students made a video protesting my visit before I arrived. The talk went fine, though a group of concerned faculty circulated an open letter afterward also protesting the invitation: My views on sexual politics were too heretical, and might have offended students.
I didn’t take any of this too seriously, even as right-wing pundits crowed, with Wellesley as their latest outrage bait. It was another opportunity to mock student activists, and the fact that I was myself a feminist rather than a Charles Murray or a Milo Yiannopoulos, made them positively gleeful.
I do find myself wondering where all my new free-speech pals were when another left-wing professor, Steven Salaita, was fired (or if you prefer euphemism, “his job offer was withdrawn”) from the University of Illinois after he tweeted criticism of Israel’s Gaza policy. Sure the tweets were hyperbolic, but hyperbole and strong opinions are protected speech, too.
I guess free speech is easy to celebrate until it actually challenges something. Funny, I haven’t seen Milo around lately—so beloved by my new friends when he was bashing minorities and transgender kids. Then he mistakenly said something authentic (who knew he was capable of it!), reminiscing about an experience a lot of gay men have shared: teenage sex with older men. He tried walking it back—no, no, he’d been a victim, not a participant—but his fan base was shrieking about pedophilia and fleeing in droves. Gee, they were all so against “political correctness” a few minutes before.
It’s easy to be a free-speech fan when your feathers aren’t being ruffled. No doubt what makes me palatable to the anti-PC crowd is having thus far failed to ruffle them enough. I’m just going to have to work harder.
Laura Kipnis’s latest book is Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus.
Eugene KontorovichThe free and open exchange of views—especially politically conservative or traditionally religious ones—is being challenged. This is taking place not just at college campuses but throughout our public spaces and cultural institutions. James Watson was fired from the lab he led since 1968 and could not speak at New York University because of petty, censorious students who would not know DNA from LSD. Our nation’s founders and heroes are being “disappeared” from public commemoration, like Trotsky from a photograph of Soviet rulers.
These attacks on “free speech” are not the result of government action. They are not what the First Amendment protects against. The current methods—professional and social shaming, exclusion, and employment termination—are more inchoate, and their effects are multiplied by self-censorship. A young conservative legal scholar might find himself thinking: “If the late Justice Antonin Scalia can posthumously be deemed a ‘bigot’ by many academics, what chance have I?”
Ironically, artists and intellectuals have long prided themselves on being the first defenders of free speech. Today, it is the institutions of both popular and high culture that are the censors. Is there one poet in the country who would speak out for Ann Coulter?
The inhibition of speech at universities is part of a broader social phenomenon of making longstanding, traditional views and practices sinful overnight. Conservatives have not put up much resistance to this. To paraphrase Martin Niemöller’s famous dictum: “First they came for Robert E. Lee, and I said nothing, because Robert E. Lee meant nothing to me.”
The situation with respect to Israel and expressions of support for it deserves separate discussion. Even as university administrators give political power to favored ideologies by letting them create “safe spaces” (safe from opposing views), Jews find themselves and their state at the receiving end of claims of apartheid—modern day blood libels. It is not surprising if Jewish students react by demanding that they get a safe space of their own. It is even less surprising if their parents, paying $65,000 a year, want their children to have a nicer time of it. One hears Jewish groups frequently express concern about Jewish students feeling increasingly isolated and uncomfortable on campus.
But demanding selective protection from the new ideological commissars is unlikely to bring the desired results. First, this new ideology, even if it can be harnessed momentarily to give respite to harassed Jews on campus, is ultimately illiberal and will be controlled by “progressive” forces. Second, it is not so terrible for Jews in the Diaspora to feel a bit uncomfortable. It has been the common condition of Jews throughout the millennia. The social awkwardness that Jews at liberal arts schools might feel in being associated with Israel is of course one of the primary justifications for the Jewish State. Facing the snowflakes incapable of hearing a dissonant view—but who nonetheless, in the grip of intersectional ecstasy, revile Jewish self-determination—Jewish students should toughen up.
Eugene Kontorovich teaches constitutional law at Northwestern University and heads the international law department of the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.
Nicholas LemannThere’s an old Tom Wolfe essay in which he describes being on a panel discussion at Princeton in 1965 and provoking the other panelists by announcing that America, rather than being in crisis, is in the middle of a “happiness explosion.” He was arguing that the mass effects of 20 years of post–World War II prosperity made for a larger phenomenon than the Vietnam War, the racial crisis, and the other primary concerns of intellectuals at the time.
In the same spirit, I’d say that we are in the middle of a free-speech explosion, because of 20-plus years of the Internet and 10-plus years of social media. If one understands speech as disseminated individual opinion, then surely we live in the free-speech-est society in the history of the world. Anybody with access to the unimpeded World Wide Web can say anything to a global audience, and anybody can hear anything, too. All threats to free speech should be understood in the context of this overwhelmingly reality.
It is a comforting fantasy that a genuine free-speech regime will empower mainly “good,” but previously repressed, speech. Conversely, repressive regimes that are candid enough to explain their anti-free-speech policies usually say that they’re not against free speech, just “bad” speech. We have to accept that more free speech probably means, in the aggregate, more bad speech, and also a weakening of the power, authority, and economic support for information professionals such as journalists. Welcome to the United States in 2017.
I am lucky enough to live and work on the campus of a university, Columbia, that has been blessedly free of successful attempts to repress free speech. Just in the last few weeks, Charles Murray and Dinesh D’Souza have spoken here without incident. But, yes, the evidently growing popularity of the idea that “hate speech” shouldn’t be permitted on campuses is a problem, especially, it seems, at small private liberal-arts colleges. We should all do our part, and I do, by frequently and publicly endorsing free-speech principles. Opposing the BDS movement falls squarely into that category.
It’s not just on campuses that free-speech vigilance is needed, though. The number-one threat to free speech, to my mind, is that the wide-open Web has been replaced by privately owned platforms such as Facebook and Google as the way most people experience the public life of the Internet. These companies are committed to banning “hate speech,” and they are eager to operate freely in countries, like China, that don’t permit free political speech. That makes for a far more consequential constrained environment than any campus’s speech code.
Also, Donald Trump regularly engages in presidentially unprecedented rhetoric demonizing people who disagree with him. He seems to think this is all in good fun, but, as we have already seen at his rallies, not everybody hears it that way. The place where Trumpism will endanger free speech isn’t in the center—the White House press room—but at the periphery, for example in the way that local police handle bumptious protestors and the journalists covering them. This is already happening around the country. If Trump were as disciplined and knowledgeable as Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which so far he seems not to be, then free speech could be in even more serious danger from government, which in most places is its usual main enemy.
Nicholas Lemann is a professor at Columbia Journalism School and a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Michael J. LewisFree speech is a right but it is also a habit, and where the habit shrivels so will the right. If free speech today is in headlong retreat—everywhere threatened by regulation, organized harassment, and even violence—it is in part because our political culture allowed the practice of persuasive oratory to atrophy. The process began in 1973, an unforeseen side effect of Roe v. Wade. Legislators were delighted to learn that by relegating this divisive matter of public policy to the Supreme Court and adopting a merely symbolic position, they could sit all the more safely in their safe seats.
Since then, one crucial question of public policy after another has been punted out of the realm of politics and into the judicial. Issues that might have been debated with all the rhetorical agility of a Lincoln and a Douglas, and then subjected to a process of negotiation, compromise, and voting, have instead been settled by decree: e.g., Chevron, Kelo, Obergefell. The consequences for speech have been pernicious. Since the time of Pericles, deliberative democracy has been predicated on the art of persuasion, which demands the forceful clarity of thought and expression without which no one has ever been persuaded. But a legislature that relegates its authority to judges and regulators will awaken to discover its oratorical culture has been stunted. When politicians, rather than seeking to convince and win over, prefer to project a studied and pleasant vagueness, debate withers into tedious defensive performance. It has been decades since any presidential debate has seen any sustained give and take over a matter of policy. If there is any suspense at all, it is only the possibility that a fatigued or peeved candidate might blurt out that tactless shard of truth known as a gaffe.
A generation accustomed to hearing platitudes smoothly dispensed from behind a teleprompter will find the speech of a fearless extemporaneous speaker to be startling, even disquieting; unfamiliar ideas always are. Unhappily, they have been taught to interpret that disquiet as an injury done to them, rather than as a premise offered to them to consider. All this would not have happened—certainly not to this extent—had not our deliberative democracy decided a generation ago that it preferred the security of incumbency to the risks of unshackled debate. The compulsory contraction of free speech on college campuses is but the logical extension of the voluntary contraction of free speech in our political culture.
Michael J. Lewis’s new book is City of Refuge: Separatists and Utopian Town Planning (Princeton University Press).
Heather Mac DonaldThe answer to the symposium question depends on how powerful the transmission belt is between academia and the rest of the country. On college campuses, violence and brute force are silencing speakers who challenge left-wing campus orthodoxies. These totalitarian outbreaks have been met with listless denunciations by college presidents, followed by . . . virtually nothing. As of mid-May, the only discipline imposed for 2017’s mass attacks on free speech at UC Berkeley, Middlebury, and Clare-mont McKenna College was a letter of reprimand inserted—sometimes only temporarily—into the files of several dozen Middlebury students, accompanied by a brief period of probation. Previous outbreaks of narcis-sistic incivility, such as the screaming-girl fit at Yale and the assaults on attendees of Yale’s Buckley program, were discreetly ignored by college administrators.
Meanwhile, the professoriate unapologetically defends censorship and violence. After the February 1 riot in Berkeley to prevent Milo Yiannapoulos from speaking, Déborah Blocker, associate professor of French at UC Berkeley, praised the rioters. They were “very well-organized and very efficient,” Blocker reported admiringly to her fellow professors. “They attacked property but they attacked it very sparingly, destroying just enough University property to obtain the cancellation order for the MY event and making sure no one in the crowd got hurt” (emphasis in original). (In fact, perceived Milo and Donald Trump supporters were sucker-punched and maced; businesses downtown were torched and vandalized.) New York University’s vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, Ulrich Baer, displayed Orwellian logic by claiming in a New York Times op-ed that shutting down speech “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people.”
Will non-academic institutions take up this zeal for outright censorship? Other ideological products of the left-wing academy have been fully absorbed and operationalized. Racial victimology, which drives much of the campus censorship, is now standard in government and business. Corporate diversity trainers counsel that bias is responsible for any lack of proportional racial representation in the corporate ranks. Racial disparities in school discipline and incarceration are universally attributed to racism rather than to behavior. Public figures have lost jobs for violating politically correct taboos.
Yet Americans possess an instinctive commitment to the First Amendment. Federal judges, hardly an extension of the Federalist Society, have overwhelmingly struck down campus speech codes. It is hard to imagine that they would be any more tolerant of the hate-speech legislation so prevalent in Europe. So the question becomes: At what point does the pressure to conform to the elite worldview curtail freedom of thought and expression, even without explicit bans on speech?
Social stigma against conservative viewpoints is not the same as actual censorship. But the line can blur. The Obama administration used regulatory power to impose a behavioral conformity on public and private entities. School administrators may have technically still possessed the right to dissent from novel theories of gender, but they had to behave as if they were fully on board with the transgender revolution when it came to allowing boys to use girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.
Had Hillary Clinton had been elected president, the federal bureaucracy would have mimicked campus diversocrats with even greater zeal. That threat, at least, has been avoided. Heresies against left-wing dogma may still enter the public arena, if only by the back door. The mainstream media have lurched even further left in the Trump era, but the conservative media, however mocked and marginalized, are expanding (though Twitter and Facebook’s censorship of conservative speakers could be a harbinger of more official silencing).
Outside the academy, free speech is still legally protected, but its exercise requires ever greater determination.
Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The War on Cops.
John McWhorterThere is a certain mendacity, as Brick put it in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in our discussion of free speech on college campuses. Namely, none of us genuinely wish that absolutely all issues be aired in the name of education and open-mindedness. To insist so is to pretend that civilized humanity makes nothing we could call advancement in philosophical consensus.
I doubt we need “free speech” on issues such as whether slavery and genocide are okay, whether it has been a mistake to view women as men’s equals, or to banish as antique the idea that whites are a master race while other peoples represent a lower rung on the Darwinian scale. With all due reverence of John Stuart Mill’s advocacy for the regular airing of even noxious views in order to reinforce clarity on why they were rejected, we are also human beings with limited time. A commitment to the Enlightenment justifiably will decree that certain views are, indeed, no longer in need of discussion.
However, our modern social-justice warriors are claiming that this no-fly zone of discussion is vaster than any conception of logic or morality justifies. We are being told that questions regarding the modern proposals about cultural appropriation, about whether even passing infelicitous statements constitute racism in the way that formalized segregation and racist disparagement did, or about whether social disparities can be due to cultural legacies rather than structural impediments, are as indisputably egregious, backwards, and abusive as the benighted views of the increasingly distant past.
That is, the new idea is not only that discrimination and inequality still exist, but that to even question the left’s utopian expectation on such matters justifies the same furious, sloganistic and even physically violent resistance that was once levelled against those designated heretics by a Christian hegemony.
Of course the protesters in question do not recognize themselves in a portrait as opponents of something called heresy. They suppose that Galileo’s opponents were clearly wrong but that they, today, are actually correct in a way that no intellectual or moral argument could coherently deny.
As such, we have students allowed to decree college campuses as “racist” when they are the least racist spaces on the planet—because they are, predictably given the imperfection of humans, not perfectly free of passingly unsavory interactions. Thinkers invited to talk for a portion of an hour from the right rather than the left and then have dinner with a few people and fly home are treated as if they were reanimated Hitlers. The student of color who hears a few white students venturing polite questions about the leftist orthodoxy is supported in fashioning these questions as “racist” rhetoric.
The people on college campuses who openly and aggressively spout this new version of Christian (or even Islamist) crusading—ironically justifying it as a barricade against “fascist” muzzling of freedom when the term applies ominously well to the regime they are fostering—are a minority. However, the sawmill spinning blade of their rhetoric has succeeding in rendering opposition as risky as espousing pedophilia, such that only those natively open to violent criticism dare speak out. The latter group is small. The campus consensus thereby becomes, if only at moralistic gunpoint à la the ISIS victim video, a strangled hard-leftism.
Hence freedom of speech is indeed threatened on today’s college campuses. I have lost count of how many of my students, despite being liberal Democrats (many of whom sobbed at Hillary Clinton’s loss last November), have told me that they are afraid to express their opinions about issues that matter, despite the fact that their opinions are ones that any liberal or even leftist person circa 1960 would have considered perfectly acceptable.
Something has shifted of late, and not in a direction we can legitimately consider forwards.
John McWhorter teaches linguistics, philosophy, and music history at Columbia University and is the author of The Language Hoax, Words on the Move, and Talking Back, Talking Black.
Kate Bachelder OdellIt’s 2021, and Harvard Square has devolved into riots: Some 120 people are injured in protests, and the carnage includes fire-consumed cop cars and smashed-in windows. The police discharge canisters of tear gas, and, after apprehending dozens of protesters, enforce a 1:45 A.M. curfew. Anyone roaming the streets after hours is subject to arrest. About 2,000 National Guardsmen are prepared to intervene. Such violence and disorder is also roiling Berkeley and other elite and educated areas.
Oh, that’s 1970. The details are from the Harvard Crimson’s account of “anti-war” riots that spring. The episode is instructive in considering whether free speech is under threat in the United States. Almost daily, there’s a new YouTube installment of students melting down over viewpoints of speakers invited to one campus or another. Even amid speech threats from government—for example, the IRS’s targeting of political opponents—nothing has captured the public’s attention like the end of free expression at America’s institutions of higher learning.
Yet disruption, confusion, and even violence are not new campus phenomena. And it’s hard to imagine that young adults who deployed brute force in the 1960s and ’70s were deeply committed to the open and peaceful exchange of ideas.
There may also be reason for optimism. The rough and tumble on campus in the 1960s and ’70s produced a more even-tempered ’80s and ’90s, and colleges are probably heading for another course correction. In covering the ruckuses at Yale, Missouri, and elsewhere, I’ve talked to professors and students who are figuring out how to respond to the illiberalism, even if the reaction is delayed. The University of Chicago put out a set of free-speech principles last year, and others schools such as Princeton and Purdue have endorsed them.
The NARPs—Non-Athletic Regular People, as they are sometimes known on campus—still outnumber the social-justice warriors, who appear to be overplaying their hand. Case in point is the University of Missouri, which experienced a precipitous drop in enrollment after instructor Melissa Click and her ilk stoked racial tensions last spring. The college has closed dorms and trimmed budgets. Which brings us to another silver lining: The economic model of higher education (exorbitant tuition to pay ever more administrators) may blow up traditional college before the fascists can.
Note also that the anti-speech movement is run by rich kids. A Brookings Institution analysis from earlier this year discovered that “the average enrollee at a college where students have attempted to restrict free speech comes from a family with an annual income $32,000 higher than that of the average student in America.” Few rank higher in average income than those at Middlebury College, where students evicted scholar Charles Murray in a particularly ugly scene. (The report notes that Murray was received respectfully at Saint Louis University, “where the median income of students’ families is half Middlebury’s.”) The impulses of over-adulated 20-year-olds may soon be tempered by the tyranny of having to show up for work on a daily basis.
None of this is to suggest that free speech is enjoying some renaissance either on campus or in America. But perhaps as the late Wall Street Journal editorial-page editor Robert Bartley put it in his valedictory address: “Things could be worse. Indeed, they have been worse.”
Kate Bachelder Odell is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal.
Jonathan RauchIs free speech under threat? The one-syllable answer is “yes.” The three-syllable answer is: “Yes, of course.” Free speech is always under threat, because it is not only the single most successful social idea in all of human history, it is also the single most counterintuitive. “You mean to say that speech that is offensive, untruthful, malicious, seditious, antisocial, blasphemous, heretical, misguided, or all of the above deserves government protection?” That seemingly bizarre proposition is defensible only on the grounds that the marketplace of ideas turns out to be the most powerful engine of knowledge, prosperity, liberty, social peace, and moral advancement that our species has had the good fortune to discover.
Every new generation of free-speech advocates will need to get up every morning and re-explain the case for free speech and open inquiry—today, tomorrow, and forever. That is our lot in life, and we just need to be cheerful about it. At discouraging moments, it is helpful to remember that the country has made great strides toward free speech since 1798, when the Adams administration arrested and jailed its political critics; and since the 1920s, when the U.S. government banned and burned James Joyce’s great novel Ulysses; and since 1954, when the government banned ONE, a pioneering gay journal. (The cover article was a critique of the government’s indecency censors, who censored it.) None of those things could happen today.
I suppose, then, the interesting question is: What kind of threat is free speech under today? In the present age, direct censorship by government bodies is rare. Instead, two more subtle challenges hold sway, especially, although not only, on college campuses. The first is a version of what I called, in my book Kindly Inquisitors, the humanitarian challenge: the idea that speech that is hateful or hurtful (in someone’s estimation) causes pain and thus violates others’ rights, much as physical violence does. The other is a version of what I called the egalitarian challenge: the idea that speech that denigrates minorities (again, in someone’s estimation) perpetuates social inequality and oppression and thus also is a rights violation. Both arguments call upon administrators and other bureaucrats to defend human rights by regulating speech rights.
Both doctrines are flawed to the core. Censorship harms minorities by enforcing conformity and entrenching majority power, and it no more ameliorates hatred and injustice than smashing thermometers ameliorates global warming. If unwelcome words are the equivalent of bludgeons or bullets, then the free exchange of criticism—science, in other words—is a crime. I could go on, but suffice it to say that the current challenges are new variations on ancient themes—and they will be followed, in decades and centuries to come, by many, many other variations. Memo to free-speech advocates: Our work is never done, but the really amazing thing, given the proposition we are tasked to defend, is how well we are doing.
Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought.
Nicholas Quinn RosenkranzSpeech is under threat on American campuses as never before. Censorship in various forms is on the rise. And this year, the threat to free speech on campus took an even darker turn, toward actual violence. The prospect of Milo Yiannopoulos speaking at Berkeley provoked riots that caused more than $100,000 worth of property damage on the campus. The prospect of Charles Murray speaking at Middlebury led to a riot that put a liberal professor in the hospital with a concussion. Ann Coulter’s speech at Berkeley was cancelled after the university determined that none of the appropriate venues could be protected from “known security threats” on the date in question.
The free-speech crisis on campus is caused, at least in part, by a more insidious campus pathology: the almost complete lack of intellectual diversity on elite university faculties. At Yale, for example, the number of registered Republicans in the economics department is zero; in the psychology department, there is one. Overall, there are 4,410 faculty members at Yale, and the total number of those who donated to a Republican candidate during the 2016 primaries was three.
So when today’s students purport to feel “unsafe” at the mere prospect of a conservative speaker on campus, it may be easy to mock them as “delicate snowflakes,” but in one sense, their reaction is understandable: If students are shocked at the prospect of a Republican behind a university podium, perhaps it is because many of them have never before laid eyes on one.
To see the connection between free speech and intellectual diversity, consider the recent commencement speech of Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust:
Universities must be places open to the kind of debate that can change ideas….Silencing ideas or basking in intellectual orthodoxy independent of facts and evidence impedes our access to new and better ideas, and it inhibits a full and considered rejection of bad ones. . . . We must work to ensure that universities do not become bubbles isolated from the concerns and discourse of the society that surrounds them. Universities must model a commitment to the notion that truth cannot simply be claimed, but must be established—established through reasoned argument, assessment, and even sometimes uncomfortable challenges that provide the foundation for truth.
Faust is exactly right. But, alas, her commencement audience might be forgiven a certain skepticism. After all, the number of registered Republicans in several departments at Harvard—e.g., history and psychology—is exactly zero. In those departments, the professors themselves may be “basking in intellectual orthodoxy” without ever facing “uncomfortable challenges.” This may help explain why some students will do everything in their power to keep conservative speakers off campus: They notice that faculty hiring committees seem to do exactly the same thing.
In short, it is a promising sign that true liberal academics like Faust have started speaking eloquently about the crucial importance of civil, reasoned disagreement. But they will be more convincing on this point when they hire a few colleagues with whom they actually disagree.
Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz is a professor of law at Georgetown. He serves on the executive committee of Heterodox Academy, which he co-founded, on the board of directors of the Federalist Society, and on the board of directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Ben ShapiroIn February, I spoke at California State University in Los Angeles. Before my arrival, professors informed students that a white supremacist would be descending on the school to preach hate; threats of violence soon prompted the administration to cancel the event. I vowed to show up anyway. One hour before the event, the administration backed down and promised to guarantee that the event could go forward, but police officers were told not to stop the 300 students, faculty, and outside protesters who blocked and assaulted those who attempted to attend the lecture. We ended up trapped in the auditorium, with the authorities telling students not to leave for fear of physical violence. I was rushed from campus under armed police guard.
Is free speech under assault?
Of course it is.
On campus, free speech is under assault thanks to a perverse ideology of intersectionality that claims victim identity is of primary value and that views are a merely secondary concern. As a corollary, if your views offend someone who outranks you on the intersectional hierarchy, your views are treated as violence—threats to identity itself. On campus, statements that offend an individual’s identity have been treated as “microaggressions”–actual aggressions against another, ostensibly worthy of violence. Words, students have been told, may not break bones, but they will prompt sticks and stones, and rightly so.
Thus, protesters around the country—leftists who see verbiage as violence—have, in turn, used violence in response to ideas they hate. Leftist local authorities then use the threat of violence as an excuse to ideologically discriminate against conservatives. This means public intellectuals like Charles Murray being run off of campus and his leftist professorial cohort viciously assaulted; it means Ann Coulter being targeted for violence at Berkeley; it means universities preemptively banning me and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Condoleezza Rice and even Jason Riley.
The campus attacks on free speech are merely the most extreme iteration of an ideology that spans from left to right: the notion that your right to free speech ends where my feelings begin. Even Democrats who say that Ann Coulter should be allowed to speak at Berkeley say that nobody should be allowed to contribute to a super PAC (unless you’re a union member, naturally).
Meanwhile, on the right, the president’s attacks on the press have convinced many Republicans that restrictions on the press wouldn’t be altogether bad. A Vanity Fair/60 Minutes poll in late April found that 36 percent of Americans thought freedom of the press “does more harm than good.” Undoubtedly, some of that is due to the media’s obvious bias. CNN’s Jeff Zucker has targeted the Trump administration for supposedly quashing journalism, but he was silent when the Obama administration’s Department of Justice cracked down on reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News, and when hacks like Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes openly sold lies regarding Iran. But for some on the right, the response to press falsities hasn’t been to call for truth, but to instead echo Trumpian falsehoods in the hopes of damaging the media. Free speech is only important when people seek the truth. Leftists traded truth for tribalism long ago; in response, many on the right seem willing to do the same. Until we return to a common standard under which facts matter, free speech will continue to rest on tenuous grounds.
Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of The Daily Wire and the host of The Ben Shapiro Show.
Judith ShulevitzIt’s tempting to blame college and university administrators for the decline of free speech in America, and for years I did just that. If the guardians of higher education won’t inculcate the habits of mind required for serious thinking, I thought, who will? The unfettered but civil exchange of ideas is the basic operation of education, just as addition is the basic operation of arithmetic. And universities have to teach both the unfettered part and the civil part, because arguing in a respectful manner isn’t something anyone does instinctively.
So why change my mind now? Schools still cling to speech codes, and there still aren’t enough deans like the one at the University of Chicago who declared his school a safe-space-free zone. My alma mater just handed out prizes for “enhancing race and/or ethnic relations” to two students caught on video harassing the dean of their residential college, one screaming at him that he’d created “a space for violence to happen,” the other placing his face inches away from the dean’s and demanding, “Look at me.” All this because they deemed a thoughtful if ill-timed letter about Halloween costumes written by the dean’s wife to be an act of racist aggression. Yale should discipline students who behave like that, even if they’re right on the merits (I don’t think they were, but that’s not the point). They certainly don’t deserve awards. I can’t believe I had to write that sentence.
But in abdicating their responsibilites, the universities have enabled something even worse than an attack on free speech. They’ve unleashed an assault on themselves. There’s plenty of free speech around; we know that because so much bad speech—low-minded nonsense—tests our constitutional tolerance daily, and that’s holding up pretty well. (As Nicholas Lemann observes elsewhere in this symposium, Facebook and Google represent bigger threats to free speech than students and administrators.) What’s endangered is good speech.
Universities were setting themselves up to be used. Provocateurs exploit the atmosphere on campus to goad overwrought students, then gleefully trash the most important bastion of our crumbling civil society. Higher education and everything it stands for—logical argument, the scientific method, epistemological rigor—start to look illegitimate. Voters perceive tenure and research and higher education itself as hopelessly partisan and unworthy of taxpayers’ money.
The press is a secondary victim of this process of delegitimization. If serious inquiry can be waved off as ideology, then facts won’t be facts and reporting can’t be trusted. All journalism will be equal to all other journalism, and all journalists will be reduced to pests you can slam to the ground with near impunity. Politicians will be able to say anything and do just about anything and there will be no countervailing authority to challenge them. I’m pretty sure that that way lies Putinism and Erdoganism. And when we get to that point, I’m going to start worrying about free speech again.
Judith Shulevitz is a critic in New York.
Harvey SilverglateFree speech is, and has always been, threatened. The title of Nat Hentoff’s 1993 book Free Speech for Me – but Not for Thee is no less true today than at any time, even as the Supreme Court has accorded free speech a more absolute degree of protection than in any previous era.
Since the 1980s, the high court has decided most major free-speech cases in favor of speech, with most of the major decisions being unanimous or nearly so.
Women’s-rights advocates were turned back by the high court in 1986 when they sought to ban the sale of printed materials that, because deemed pornographic by some, were alleged to promote violence against women. Censorship in the name of gender–based protection thus failed to gain traction.
Despite the demands of civil-rights activists, the Supreme Court in 1992 declared cross-burning to be a protected form of expression in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, a decision later refined to strengthen a narrow exception for when cross-burning occurs primarily as a physical threat rather than merely an expression of hatred.
Other attempts at First Amendment circumvention have been met with equally decisive rebuff. When the Reverend Jerry Falwell sued Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt for defamation growing out of a parody depicting Falwell’s first sexual encounter as a drunken tryst with his mother in an outhouse, a unanimous Supreme Court lectured on the history of parody as a constitutionally protected, even if cruel, form of social and political criticism.
When the South Boston Allied War Veterans, sponsor of Boston’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade, sought to exclude a gay veterans’ group from marching under its own banner, the high court unanimously held that as a private entity, even though marching in public streets, the Veterans could exclude any group marching under a banner conflicting with the parade’s socially conservative message, notwithstanding public-accommodations laws. The gay group could have its own parade but could not rain on that of the conservatives.
Despite such legal clarity, today’s most potent attacks on speech are coming, ironically, from liberal-arts colleges. Ubiquitous “speech codes” limit speech that might insult, embarrass, or “harass,” in particular, members of “historically disadvantaged” groups. “Safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” protect purportedly vulnerable students from hearing words and ideas they might find upsetting. Student demonstrators and threats of violence have forced the cancellation of controversial speakers, left and right.
It remains unclear how much campus censorship results from politically correct faculty, control-obsessed student-life administrators, or students socialized and indoctrinated into intolerance. My experience suggests that the bureaucrats are primarily, although not entirely, to blame. When sued, colleges either lose or settle, pay a modest amount, and then return to their censorious ways.
This trend threatens the heart and soul of liberal education. Eventually it could infect the entire society as these students graduate and assume influential positions. Whether a resulting flood of censorship ultimately overcomes legal protections and weakens democracy remains to be seen.
Harvey Silverglate, a Boston-based lawyer and writer, is the co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (Free Press, 1998). He co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in 1999 and is on FIRE’s board of directors. He spent some three decades on the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts, two of those years as chairman. Silverglate taught at Harvard Law School for a semester during a sabbatical he took in the mid-1980s.
Christina Hoff SommersWhen Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist . . . classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”
Some blame the new campus intolerance on hypersensitive, over-trophied millennials. But the students who signed that letter don’t appear to be fragile. Nor do those who recently shut down lectures at Berkeley, Middlebury, DePaul, and Cal State LA. What they are is impassioned. And their passion is driven by a theory known as intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?
Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. A white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race. A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender. According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”
But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins (former president of the American Sociology Association), disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations. Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking. So don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome.
How could comfortably ensconced college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars like bell hooks refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”? Most take it in stride because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is catnip to many undergrads.
Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech . . . has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald and Charles Murray are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”
It is hard to know how our institutions of higher learning will find their way back to academic freedom, open inquiry, and mutual understanding. But as long as intersectional theory goes unchallenged, campus fanaticism will intensify.
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of several books, including Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. She also hosts The Factual Feminist, a video blog. @Chsommers
John StosselYes, some college students do insane things. Some called police when they saw “Trump 2016” chalked on sidewalks. The vandals at Berkeley and the thugs who assaulted Charles Murray are disgusting. But they are a minority. And these days people fight back.
Someone usually videotapes the craziness. Yale’s “Halloween costume incident” drove away two sensible instructors, but videos mocking Yale’s snowflakes, like “Silence U,” make such abuse less likely. Groups like Young America’s Foundation (YAF) publicize censorship, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sues schools that restrict speech.
Consciousness has been raised. On campus, the worst is over. Free speech has always been fragile. I once took cameras to Seton Hall law school right after a professor gave a lecture on free speech. Students seemed to get the concept. Sean, now a lawyer, said, “Protect freedom for thought we hate; otherwise you never have a society where ideas clash, and we come up with the best idea.” So I asked, “Should there be any limits?” Students listed “fighting words,” “shouting fire in a theater,” malicious libel, etc.— reasonable court-approved exceptions. But then they went further. Several wanted bans on “hate” speech, “No value comes out of hate speech,” said Javier. “It inevitably leads to violence.”
No it doesn’t, I argued, “Also, doesn’t hate speech bring ideas into the open, so you can better argue about them, bringing you to the truth?”
“No,” replied Floyd, “With hate speech, more speech is just violence.”
So I pulled out a big copy of the First Amendment and wrote, “exception: hate speech.”
Two students wanted a ban on flag desecration “to respect those who died to protect it.”
One wanted bans on blasphemy:
“Look at the gravity of the harm versus the value in blasphemy—the harm outweighs the value.”
Several wanted a ban on political speech by corporations because of “the potential for large corporations to improperly influence politicians.”
Finally, Jillian, also now a lawyer, wanted hunting videos banned.
“It encourages harm down the road.”
I asked her, incredulously, “you’re comfortable locking up people who make a hunting film?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It’s unnecessary cruelty to feeling and sentient beings.”
So, I picked up my copy of the Bill of Rights again. After “no law . . . abridging freedom of speech,” I added: “Except hate speech, flag burning, blasphemy, corporate political speech, depictions of hunting . . . ”
That embarrassed them. “We may have gone too far,” said Sean. Others agreed. One said, “Cross out the exceptions.” Free speech survived, but it was a close call. Respect for unpleasant speech will always be thin. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton wanted violent video games banned. John McCain and Russ Feingold tried to ban political speech. Donald Trump wants new libel laws, and if you burn a flag, he tweeted, consequences might be “loss of citizenship or a year in jail!” Courts or popular opinion killed those bad ideas.
Free speech will survive, assuming those of us who appreciate it use it to fight those who would smother it.
John Stossel is a FOX News/FOX Business Network Contributor.
Warren TreadgoldEven citizens of dictatorships are free to praise the regime and to talk about the weather. The only speech likely to be threatened anywhere is the sort that offends an important and intolerant group. What is new in America today is a leftist ideology that threatens speech precisely because it offends certain important and intolerant groups: feminists and supposedly oppressed minorities.
So far this new ideology is clearly dominant only in colleges and universities, where it has become so strong that most controversies concern outside speakers invited by students, not faculty speakers or speakers invited by administrators. Most academic administrators and professors are either leftists or have learned not to oppose leftism; otherwise they would probably never have been hired. Administrators treat even violent leftist protestors with respect and are ready to prevent conservative and moderate outsiders from speaking rather than provoke protests. Most professors who defend conservative or moderate speakers argue that the speakers’ views are indeed noxious but say that students should be exposed to them to learn how to refute them. This is very different from encouraging a free exchange of ideas.
Although the new ideology began on campuses in the ’60s, it gained authority outside them largely by means of several majority decisions of the Supreme Court, from Roe (1973) to Obergefell (2015). The Supreme Court decisions that endanger free speech are based on a presumed consensus of enlightened opinion that certain rights favored by activists have the same legitimacy as rights explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution—or even more legitimacy, because the rights favored by activists are assumed to be so fundamental that they need no grounding in specific constitutional language. The Court majorities found restricting abortion rights or homosexual marriage, as large numbers of Americans wish to do, to be constitutionally equivalent to restricting black voting rights or interracial marriage. Any denial of such equivalence therefore opposes fundamental constitutional rights and can be considered hate speech, advocating psychological and possibly physical harm to groups like women seeking abortions or homosexuals seeking approval. Such speech may still be constitutionally protected, but acting upon it is not.
This ideology of forbidding allegedly offensive speech has spread to most of the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. Rather than seeing themselves as taking one side in a free debate, progressives increasingly argue (for example) that opposing abortion is offensive to women and supporting the police is offensive to blacks. Some politicians object so strongly to such speech that despite their interest in winning votes, they attack voters who disagree with them as racists or sexists. Expressing views that allegedly discriminate against women, blacks, homosexuals, and various other minorities can now be grounds for a lawsuit.
Speech that supposedly offends women or minorities has already cost some people their careers, their businesses, and their opportunities to deliver or hear speeches. Such intimidation is the intended result of an ideology that threatens free speech.
Warren Treadgold is a professor of history at Saint Louis University.
Matt WelchLike a sullen zoo elephant rocking back and forth from leg to leg, there is an oversized paradox we’d prefer not to see standing smack in the sightlines of most our policy debates. Day by day, even minute by minute, America simultaneously gets less free in the laboratory, but more free in the field. Individuals are constantly expanding the limits and applications of their own autonomy, even as government transcends prior restraints on how far it can reach into our intimate business.
So it is that the Internal Revenue Service can charge foreign banks with collecting taxes on U.S. citizens (therefore causing global financial institutions to shun many of the estimated 6 million-plus Americans who live abroad), even while block-chain virtuosos make illegal transactions wholly undetectable to authorities. It has never been easier for Americans to travel abroad, and it’s never been harder to enter the U.S. without showing passports, fingerprints, retinal scans, and even social-media passwords.
What’s true for banking and tourism is doubly true for free speech. Social media has given everyone not just a platform but a megaphone (as unreadable as our Facebook timelines have all become since last November). At the same time, the federal government during this unhappy 21st century has continuously ratcheted up prosecutorial pressure against leakers, whistleblowers, investigative reporters, and technology companies.
A hopeful bulwark against government encroachment unique to the free-speech field is the Supreme Court’s very strong First Amendment jurisprudence in the past decade or two. Donald Trump, like Hillary Clinton before him, may prattle on about locking up flag-burners, but Antonin Scalia and the rest of SCOTUS protected such expression back in 1990. Barack Obama and John McCain (and Hillary Clinton—she’s as bad as any recent national politician on free speech) may lament the Citizens United decision, but it’s now firmly legal to broadcast unfriendly documentaries about politicians without fear of punishment, no matter the electoral calendar.
But in this very strength lies what might be the First Amendment’s most worrying vulnerability. Barry Friedman, in his 2009 book The Will of the People, made the persuasive argument that the Supreme Court typically ratifies, post facto, where public opinion has already shifted. Today’s culture of free speech could be tomorrow’s legal framework. If so, we’re in trouble.
For evidence of free-speech slippage, just read around you. When both major-party presidential nominees react to terrorist attacks by calling to shut down corners of the Internet, and when their respective supporters are actually debating the propriety of sucker punching protesters they disagree with, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that our increasingly shrill partisan sorting is turning the very foundation of post-1800 global prosperity into just another club to be swung in our national street fight.
In the eternal cat-and-mouse game between private initiative and government control, the former is always advantaged by the latter’s fundamental incompetence. But what if the public willingly hands government the power to muzzle? It may take a counter-cultural reformation to protect this most noble of American experiments.
Matt Welch is the editor at large of Reason.
Adam. J. WhiteFree speech is indeed under threat on our university campuses, but the threat did not begin there and it will not end there. Rather, the campus free-speech crisis is a particularly visible symptom of a much more fundamental crisis in American culture.
The problem is not that some students, teachers, and administrators reject traditional American values and institutions, or even that they are willing to menace or censor others who defend those values and institutions. Such critics have always existed, and they can be expected to use the tools and weapons at their disposal. The problem is that our country seems to produce too few students, teachers, and administrators who are willing or able to respond to them.
American families produce children who arrive on campus unprepared for, or uninterested in, defending our values and institutions. For our students who are focused primarily on their career prospects (if on anything at all), “[c]ollege is just one step on the continual stairway of advancement,” as David Brooks observed 16 years ago. “They’re not trying to buck the system; they’re trying to climb it, and they are streamlined for ascent. Hence they are not a disputatious group.”
Meanwhile, parents bear incomprehensible financial burdens to get their kids through college, without a clear sense of precisely what their kids will get out of these institutions in terms of character formation or civic virtue. With so much money at stake, few can afford for their kids to pursue more than career prospects.
Those problems are not created on campus, but they are exacerbated there, as too few college professors and administrators see their institutions as cultivators of American culture and republicanism. Confronted with activists’ rage, they offer no competing vision of higher education—let alone a compelling one.
Ironically, we might borrow a solution from the Left. Where progressives would leverage state power in service of their health-care agenda, we could do the same for education. State legislatures and governors, recognizing the present crisis, should begin to reform and renegotiate the fundamental nature of state universities. By making state universities more affordable, more productive, and more reflective of mainstream American values, they will attract students—and create incentives for competing private universities to follow suit.
Let’s hope they do it soon, for what’s at stake is much more than just free speech on campus, or even free speech writ large. In our time, as in Tocqueville’s, “the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of a democratic republic,” especially “where instruction which awakens the understanding is not separated from moral education which amends the heart.” We need our colleges to cultivate—not cut down—civic virtue and our capacity for self-government. “Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form,” Madison wrote in Federalist 55. If “there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government,” then “nothing less than the chains of despotism” can restrain us “from destroying and devouring one another.”
Adam J. White is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Cathy YoungA writer gets expelled from the World Science Fiction Convention for criticizing the sci-fi community’s preoccupation with racial and gender “inclusivity” while moderating a panel. An assault on free speech, or an exercise of free association? How about when students demand the disinvitation of a speaker—or disrupt the speech? When a critic of feminism gets banned from a social-media platform for unspecified “abuse”?
Such questions are at the heart of many recent free-speech controversies. There is no censorship by government; but how concerned should we be when private actors effectively suppress unpopular speech? Even in the freest society, some speech will—and should—be considered odious and banished to unsavory fringes. No one weeps for ostracized Holocaust deniers or pedophilia apologists.
But shunned speech needs to remain a narrow exception—or acceptable speech will inexorably shrink. As current Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai cautioned last year, First Amendment protections will be hollowed out unless undergirded by cultural values that support a free marketplace of ideas.
Sometimes, attacks on speech come from the right. In 2003, an Iraq War critic, reporter Chris Hedges, was silenced at Rockford College in Illinois by hecklers who unplugged the microphone and rushed the stage; some conservative pundits defended this as robust protest. Yet the current climate on the left—in universities, on social media, in “progressive” journalism, in intellectual circles—is particularly hostile to free expression. The identity-politics left, fixated on subtle oppressions embedded in everyday attitudes and language, sees speech-policing as the solution.
Is hostility to free-speech values on the rise? New York magazine columnist Jesse Singal argues that support for restrictions on public speech offensive to minorities has remained steady, and fairly high, since the 1970s. Perhaps. But the range of what qualifies as offensive—and which groups are to be shielded—has expanded dramatically. In our time, a leading liberal magazine, the New Republic, can defend calls to destroy a painting of lynching victim Emmett Till because the artist is white and guilty of “cultural appropriation,” and a feminist academic journal can be bullied into apologizing for an article on transgender issues that dares to mention “male genitalia.”
There is also a distinct trend of “bad” speech being squelched by coercion, not just disapproval. That includes the incidents at Middlebury College in Vermont and at Claremont McKenna in California, where mobs not only prevented conservative speakers—Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald—from addressing audiences but physically threatened them as well. It also includes the use of civil-rights legislation to enforce goodthink in the workplace: Businesses may face stiff fines if they don’t force employees to call a “non-binary” co-worker by the singular “they,” even when talking among themselves.
These trends make a mockery of liberalism and enable the kind of backlash we have seen with Donald Trump’s election. But the backlash can bring its own brand of authoritarianism. It’s time to start rebuilding the culture of free speech across political divisions—a project that demands, above all, genuine openness and intellectual consistency. Otherwise it will remain, as the late, great Nat Hentoff put it, a call for “free speech for me, but not for thee.”
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason.
Robert J. ZimmerFree speech is not a natural feature of human society. Many people are comfortable with free expression for views they agree with but would withhold this privilege for those they deem offensive. People justify such restrictions by various means: the appeal to moral certainty, political agendas, demand for change, opposing change, retaining power, resisting authority, or, more recently, not wanting to feel uncomfortable. Moral certainty about one’s views or a willingness to indulge one’s emotions makes it easy to assert that others are doing true damage or creating unacceptable offense simply by presenting a fundamentally different perspective.
The resulting challenges to free expression may come in the form of laws, threats, pressure (whether societal, group, or organizational), or self-censorship in the face of a prevailing consensus. Specific forms of challenge may be more or less pronounced as circumstances vary. But the widespread temptation to consider the silencing of “objectionable” viewpoints as acceptable implies that the challenge to free expression is always present.
The United States today is no exception. We benefit from the First Amendment, which asserts that the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. However, fostering a society supporting free expression involves matters far beyond the law. The ongoing and increasing demonization of one group by another creates a political and social environment conducive to suppressing speech. Even violent acts opposing speech can become acceptable or encouraged. Such behavior is evident at both political rallies and university events. Our greatest current threat to free expression is the emergence of a national culture that accepts the legitimacy of suppression of speech deemed objectionable by a segment of the population.
University and college campuses present a particularly vivid instance of this cultural shift. There have been many well-publicized episodes of speakers being disinvited or prevented from speaking because of their views. However, the problem is much deeper, as there is significant self-censorship on many campuses. Both faculty and students sometimes find themselves silenced by social and institutional pressures to conform to “acceptable” views. Ironically, the very mission of universities and colleges to provide a powerful and deeply enriching education for their students demands that they embrace and protect free expression and open discourse. Failing to do so significantly diminishes the quality of the education they provide.
My own institution, the University of Chicago, through the words and actions of its faculty and leaders since its founding, has asserted the importance of free expression and its essential role in embracing intellectual challenge. We continue to do so today as articulated by the Chicago Principles, which strongly affirm that “the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” It is only in such an environment that universities can fulfill their own highest aspirations and provide leadership by demonstrating the value of free speech within society more broadly. A number of universities have joined us in reinforcing these values. But it remains to be seen whether the faculty and leaders of many institutions will truly stand up for these values, and in doing so provide a model for society as a whole.
Robert J. Zimmer is the president of the University of Chicago.