A Hollow Defense For Misguided Forum
Raffaela L. Wakeman's letter to The Tech ("Responses to Controversial Forum are Misleading") is, itself, misleading. Her letter was the latest in the ongoing debate over the event "Foreign Policy and Social Justice: A Jewish View, A Muslim View," at which an anti-Semitic Imam and an anti-Israel Rabbi were chosen to give the Muslim and Jewish views. Many people on campus feel that it was inappropriate to give that title to the event, as neither speaker has the support of the community he was held out as representing. Some also take issue with MIT-funded groups like the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences providing funding to an event for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel speakers. Others, including Ms. Wakeman, the VP of the Forum on American Progress (which co-sponsored the event), support it. She made six points to which I feel the need to respond.
1. She is correct that Rabbi Weiss was one of the few speakers at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial conference to say that the Holocaust did happen and that the death toll has not been exaggerated. He also, however, claimed to have documentation proving that the secular zionist Jews had collaborated with the Nazis to kill off the more religious Jews. He said he was unable to elaborate on the nature of that documentation due to time constraints. This is dishonest hate-speech of the worst kind.
2. She is again correct that Weiss is Jewish, and therefore his opinion constitutes "A Jewish view." No one's arguing that the event title is false, just that it is intentionally misleading. The vast majority of Jews disagree with Weiss, so it is dishonest to claim that he represents "A Jewish view," even if that is literally correct.
3. Her third point, that FAP was not involved in the selection of speakers, is a thinly-veiled attempt to pass the buck. By funding the event, FAP and SHASS put their money and their support behind it. If they knew what they were funding, then they are responsible for it. If they did not know what they were funding, then next time they should do their homework better.
4. Wakeman argues that Jewish opinions were sought before the event, and in response the title of the event was changed and the rarity of Weiss' views was mentioned at the event. That doesn't change the fact that the forum brought purveyors of hate speech to MIT. The event title sounds like the title one might give to a reasoned debate between moderates on both sides, not to an event with one anti-Israel speaker and one full-blown anti-Semite. All the organizers did was make the event a bit less misleading than it would have been otherwise.
5. Wakeman says SHASS and FAP merely wanted to foster debate. There are good ways and bad ways to achieve that goal. A good way to achieve it would be a debate between two people on opposite sides. A bad way to achieve it is a misleading event that completely shafts and offends one side so severely that they feel the need to make a lot of noise to correct the misconceptions the event created and express their disapproval. Guess which one happened here?
6. Wakeman's final point is about free speech. I think free speech means that all groups can speak their views. I also think people have a responsibility to use their right to free speech in productive ways, not to propagate lies and hatred. If people say harmful things, they should be criticized for it.
Free speech means that if the Ku Klux Klan wants to hold a rally, it can. If other groups want to say what they think of that rally, they can do so, too. In a university environment, free speech means that these people should be allowed on campus to speak. But by providing a space and funding for this event, SHASS, FAP, and the Social Justice Cooperative went beyond allowing the speakers free speech. They gave a forum to purveyors of lies and hate speech. That's less like the US government protecting the right of the KKK to hold that rally, and more like the US government paying to set up the stage and provide refreshments.
The Little Words Matter
I'm very sorry to have to say that Jeremy B. Katz's argument on his March 6 letter is simply wrong. I would understand his point (and share his outrage) if the event he is referring to had promised "The Jewish View, The Muslim View" on foreign policy and social justice. However, it instead advertised "A Jewish View", and therefore no offense can be taken, nor can it be argued that there was any dishonesty on the part of the organizers and sponsors of the event. Since Rabbi Weiss is Jewish, his opinion is by definition a Jewish opinion, no matter how wrong, right, controversial or orthodox it is. This said, adult listeners attend any conference at their own peril. They should inform themselves about the speakers beforehand, and be prepared to be critical and check any dubious claims afterwards. At the very least, they should be able to tell apart an indefinite article from a definite one.
SJC's Partisan Motives Obvious
Ali S. Wyne's letter (March 6, 2007) confirms what I surmised about the event "Foreign Policy and Social Justice," that it was organized wholly by the Social Justice Cooperative (SJC), with co-sponsorship by the Forum on American Progress (FAP) and the Dean's Office of SHASS. Wyne writes, "I am not in a position to assess the motivations of the Social Justice Cooperative." I would accept that sentiment as genuine. However, one could guess the SJC's motives by looking at their homepage (http://web.mit.edu/justice/www/). A quick look through that page would show that far from being an advocate of open dialog on the subject, the SJC is an intense partisan in the conflict. My guess it that the SJC recognized that a forum run entirely under their own auspices would be seen a propaganda and thus sought out co-sponsorship from the FAP and SHASS.
A suggestion for those interested in promoting dialog on a controversial issue is that when an outside group organizes a forum and asks you to sponsor their forum for dialog, look for diversity of viewpoints in the panel, as opposed to diversity of identity. If the panel leans towards one side of the issue, then research the organizer to determine if they seem more like a neutral party interested in dialog or more like a partisan interested in promoting its own viewpoint.
Delta Zeta Article Does Not Represent MIT Panhel
We as MIT's Panhellenic Association support Delta Zeta Sorority and DePauw University in their efforts to seek a positive outcome after the recent events covered in the media. Delta Zeta has been accused of operating a superficial membership review in an effort to reorganize a chapter. In a letter on Delta Zeta's national Web site, they recognize mistakes were made in the communication process and are working to resolve this matter. Like the five sororities on MIT's campus, Delta Zeta is a member of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), and we trust that they will rely on our common values in their current efforts.
MIT's Panhellenic Association seeks to foster personal development, empower, and enhance the lives of women in the MIT community in order to embrace our role as the largest women's organization on campus. We seek to reaffirm our commitment to recruiting diverse members, supporting women in their endeavors, and championing women's issues on campus.
We are proud to promote our Panhellenic values in many ways. Our members are leaders in various activities, both on and off campus: in ASA, UROPs, class council, and dorm roles among others. We promote scholarship in the MIT community and amongst our members through such programs as events with faculty and faculty advising. Each MIT sorority is committed to recruiting members on the basis of their dedication to the community, their leadership aspirations and their ideals. We value diversity within our chapters, and continue to support inspirational women, irrespective of their race and/or ethnicity. We pride ourselves on the support network we offer to all of our sisters, both at MIT and after graduation. Along with scholarship, we promote personal integrity and service to others, and actively contribute to improving the MIT community.
While we share common values and goals, we celebrate the diversity of our chapters and individual members. If you have any questions, Panhel welcomes any interest in what sororities represent on campus and the values we uphold.
Elizabeth Katcoff '08 Alpha Epsilon Phi President
Laura N. D'Aoust '08 Alpha Phi President
Rose Zhong '08 Kappa Alpha Theta President
Rebecca N. Motola-Barnes '08 Sigma Kappa President
Annika S. Larsson '08 Panhel President