Font Size

Cpanel

Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


 

I’m happy to share with you something good coming out of academia this week – the establishment of the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA). As you may recall, I’ve been very concerned about the practice of silencing people who express opinions that are contrary to prevailing positions. Baruch Hashem, academics from across the political spectrum have banned together to address this unfortunate phenomenon, which you can read about in Blog #1. On a less happy note, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has decided to investigate Israel (and Hamas) for war crimes. This is ridiculous. Why? I’ll let Alan Dershowitz explain in Blog #2.   

Blog #1: 

NEW YORK (AP) — Around 200 scholars from across the country have formed the Academic Freedom Alliance, which has a mission to help college educators “speak, instruct, and publish without fear of sanction, bullying, punishment, or persecution.”

Launched Monday, the non-profit organization arose out of discussions among some Princeton University faculty members over how to counter what they see as growing intolerance of differing viewpoints. They plan to serve as advocates for those they believe have been unjustly attacked, and to provide money for legal support if needed. Members will pay an annual fee of $50 if they are tenured professors; $35 for others; and the alliance also is seeking donations.

“We were looking for a way to foster a national conversation about these kinds of issues,” says Princeton’s Keith E. Whittington, who chairs the alliance’s academic committee.

Members range politically from Harvard University’s Cornel West, a Bernie Sanders supporter, to retired Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain, a backer of former President Donald Trump. Others in the alliance include the constitutional scholar Sanford Levinson, based at the University of Texas School of Law; the award-winning novelist Charles Johnson, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington; and Nadine Strossen, the former president of the ACLU and a professor emerita at New York Law School.

Some members have been involved in free speech controversies. Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis was condemned by some students for her 2015 essay “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in which she challenged the school’s banning of teachers and students dating each other. Steven Pinker, the Harvard professor and best-selling linguist, was criticized by members of the Linguistic Society of America in 2011 for alleged insensitivity to racism and sexism. (The group’s board defended Pinker, declaring, “It is not the mission of the Society to control the opinions of its members, nor their expression”).

Whittington, whose books include “Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech,” said the alliance would be “narrowly focused on free speech and academic freedom issues.” He cited two recent examples of why he says the alliance is needed.

Last summer, University of Southern California professor Greg Patton was lecturing on Zoom about the use of filler words in language and mentioned a handful of Chinese terms that some students believed sounded like an English-language racial slur. Patton was placed on leave, and only returned after a school investigation found that “the use of the Mandarin term had a legitimate pedagogical purpose.

Also last summer, Auburn University professor Jesse Goldberg faced calls for his firing, and, he said, threats of violence, after posting a profane tweet that included, “The police do not protect people. They protect capital. They are instruments of violence on behalf of capital.” Auburn called his tweet “inexcusable and completely antithetical to the Auburn Creed,” and reassigned Goldberg from the classroom to a research position.

Asked if the alliance is a response to “cancel culture,” however that might be defined, Whittington called it an “amorphous phrase,” but added that “some of what gets characterized as cancel culture poses a threat to a free society tolerant of dissent.”

“To the extent that there are organized efforts to suppress and sanction professors who espouse controversial or unorthodox views, the alliance seeks to counter those pressures. Such pressures preceded what now gets characterized as cancel culture, but they have some overlap,” he said.

From the AFA mission statement:

The Academic Freedom Alliance is an alliance of college and university faculty members who are dedicated to upholding the principle of academic freedom. This principle is central to the mission of our institutions for the pursuit of truth and knowledge. Our members from across the political spectrum recognize that an attack on academic freedom anywhere is an attack on academic freedom everywhere.

The AFA commits to two means of protecting academic freedom. First, our members will defend faculty members' freedom of thought and expression in their work as researchers and writers or in their lives as citizens, within established ethical and legal bounds; freedom to design courses and conduct classes using reasonable pedagogical judgment; and freedom from ideological tests, affirmations, and oaths.

Second, the AFA will aid in providing legal support to faculty whose academic freedom is threatened by institutions' or officials' violations of constitutional, statutory, contractual, or school-based rights.

The AFA seeks to counteract pressures on employers to take actions against employees whose views, statements, or teachings they may disapprove or dislike. We oppose such pressures from the government, college or university officials, and individuals or groups inside or outside colleges and universities. 

Recognizing the array of political viewpoints in a college or university that respects academic freedom, the AFA's defense of faculty members' academic freedom does not depend on viewpoint, nor does it endorse the content of what they express. What we defend is members' right of expression.

You can see more information about the AFA at its website.

 

Blog #2: 

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has just made a decision that self-inflicts a lethal wound on what could have been a noble international experiment. The prosecutor, with a long record of bias against Western democracies, has ruled that a criminal investigation should be opened against both the democratic nation of Israel and the terrorist group Hamas. By suggesting a moral equivalent between the two, she has destroyed the credibility of her court.

This benighted decision marks the end of any hope for the ICC. Both the United States and Israel openly oppose this decision, along with many other Western democracies which are silently against it.

In the first place the ICC has absolutely no jurisdiction over either the United States or Israel, both of which adamantly refused to sign the Rome Treaty which created that court. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has categorically rejected the ICC’s claim of jurisdiction over Israel or the US. A court simply cannot assert jurisdiction over sovereign nations which have refused to accept its jurisdiction.

Second, in order to unlawfully seize jurisdiction in clear violation of the intent of the Rome Statute, the prosecutor has unilaterally declared Palestine to be a state. But Palestine is not a state. It has no recognized borders, and it has none of the other attributes of statehood. Nor does the prosecutor’s ill-advised decision purport to include the terrorist-controlled Gaza Strip as a state, despite its claim to be able to assess the conduct of Hamas terrorists. Gaza is no more a state than the fictional caliphate of ISIS.

The prosecutor claims she will look neutrally and equally at the alleged crimes committed by Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces. But Hamas doesn’t even purport to accept the rule of law. It boasts about its desire to kill Israeli civilians, including babies, women and the elderly. It targets schools with rockets and terror tunnels. It glorifies terrorists who have killed civilians. The IDF, on the other hand, is regulated by the rule of law, governed by its advocate general, and answerable to the Israeli Supreme Court.

This brings us to yet another reason why the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel. The Rome Treaty provides for a concept called complementarity. This important principle of international law denies the ICC jurisdiction over acts committed by any nation which has a legal system that deals with allegations of criminal misconduct under the rule of law. Israel’s judicial system is highly regarded among objective jurists and scholars. Israel’s Supreme Court is one of the best in the world. It repeatedly holds individual Israeli soldiers accountable for any violations of the law of war or international law in general. Accordingly, under the Rome Treaty, the ICC has no jurisdiction to second guess the decisions of the Israeli judiciary. Nor does it have jurisdiction to condemn Israel’s settlement policy. Regardless of whether that policy is wise or unwise, the issue is a political one to be resolved by negotiation rather than judicial fiat.

So it is the ICC that is acting lawlessly. It has placed itself above the law and the very treaty that created it. Not surprisingly, Hamas announced that it is thrilled with the decision of the ICC to investigate both Israel and Hamas, because the decision puts that undemocratic terrorist group on the same plane as a democratic nation governed by rule of law. 

Interestingly the ICC will not be investigating the crimes of the Palestinian Authority, which is the entity which actually claims statehood. The PA has adopted a “pay for slay” policy under which terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians by Palestinians is rewarded with payment to the terrorist’s family. The US, along with many other nations, strongly opposes this pay for slay policy, but the ICC has apparently not included it within the scope of its investigation.

There was hope that perhaps someday the US might sign on to the Rome Treaty and join the ICC. That hope is now gone. After investigating Israel’s self-defense actions in Gaza, the ICC’s next target might well be the military actions of American military service men and women in Afghanistan, as well as in other places where we have engaged in military operations. No American administration will agree to allow a court so obviously biased against Western democracies to have jurisdiction over the brave young men and women who fight in our military.

So good riddance to the ICC as a potential mechanism for preventing and punishing genocide. By ignoring actual genocides in Syria and massive war crimes in many other parts of the world, and focusing instead on a democracy that is trying to defend itself against terrorists who have called for its destruction, the ICC prosecutor has destroyed the credibility of her court.