By David Noble
I am an historian, teacher, and activist. I was asked to say a word about free speech. I have been an activist my whole life, devoted to civil rights and free speech. From the beginning of my activism, in Gainsville, Florida in the 1960's I was very much aware of the presence and prominence of other Jews in these struggles. (The leader of the free speech movement at the University of Florida was a Jewish man named Nick Levin, who bravely defied the authorities and became the target of vicious personal attacks.) I took pride in this knowledge and, as I became more involved, imagined myself carrying on a noble tribal tradition, which I have endeavored to do ever since.
How disturbing it has been, therefore, to discover that well-financed organizations professing to represent all Jews have lately been at the forefront of the suppression of civil rights and free speech. Brandishing the threat of labeling any and all dissenters and critics "anti-semitic," they have, in recent months: blocked Canadian broadcast of Al-Jazeera, interfered with visa applications for visitors with dissenting voices, forced the cancellation of a play about Rachel Corrie, successfully demanded the removal of the children's book Three Wishes from school library shelves, attempted to block at least one academic appointment at York University, and obstructed and publicly attacked democratic decision-making within the Canadian Union of Public Employees of Ontario and the Ontario secondary Schools Teachers' Federation. In addition, they have apparently achieved a stranglehold of censorship on the mainstream media: witness that there are no reporters at this newsworthy event tonight and there has been no coverage whatsoever of NION despite its increasing public visibility. Finally, in my own case, when I exposed the undue influence of the Israel lobby at York University and was publicly vilified and defamed as a racist and anti-semite by my employer, these same organizations prompted and joined the attack rather than coming to the support of a fellow Jew.
Has the noble tradition of which I was so proud come to an end? As tonight's gathering testifies: not at all. The organizations which have been suppressing free speech in the name of all Jews, B'nai B'rith and the Canadian Jewish Congress, do not really represent all Jews, or even most Jews. They are rather Israel-front organizations which speak only for a minority of well-heeled and powerful Zionist zealots. We can rest assured that the majority of Jews, however relatively unorganized and heretofore invisible, continues to defend and struggle for civil rights and free speech and I remain proud to count myself among them.
David Noble's Response to questions:
I don't envy those who must advocate for Israel for it is an impossible task. They cannot rely upon the paucity of their evidence or the incoherence of their arguments to make their case, or upon their impoverished powers of persuasion. Thus they resort to lies, intimidation, and slander, the tactics of thugs, because it is all they have. Their effects are amplified by their association with money and power but their chief weapon is fear. Together, and first and foremost, we must learn to overcome that fear, in ourselves and of each other. Once we have done that we will be able to fight successfully against the money and the power.