From: Ali Abunimah
Date: September 26, 2005 6:21:38 PM CDT
Subject: I am one of the "controversial speakers"

Dear Professor Akin,

I learned that you are involved in a committee to review CMU's policy on "controversial speakers" from an article in the Tartan.

I am one of the three "controversial speakers" named. What disturbs me a great deal is that what is happening at CMU is not isolated. All across this country there is an effort by pro-Israel organizations to shut down any discussion or debate about the Palestine-Israel conflict and particularly any discussion which highlights Israel's gross and well-documented abuses of human rights and violations of international law. Usually the tactics are to claim that any speaker who challenges Israel is "anti-Semitic" or delivering a message of "hate." In some cases such charges have the effect of intimidating people from hosting or co-sponsoring events at which views critical of Israel might be aired.

The Tartan Story says, "DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein and Palestinian-cause speaker Ali Abunimah rounded out the list of three speakers whose lectures allegedly included anti-Semitic material." It does not say who made this allegation, nor what the content of my speech was that could be in anyway construed as "anti-Semitic." As I am sure you know, there is little more damaging in our society than to be accused of anti-Semitism.

I note also that Mr. Aaron Weil, the Director of CMU's Hillel organization is quoted in the press making shocking and disturbing statements. The Tartan story quotes him as saying, "While the speakers brought messages of hate, nobody should misconstrue that with the University's true intention, which is to provide an open and safe forum for all thought." He also said, "The position of our students has been, and remains to be, that while the Constitution guarantees the right of free speech, it does not guarantee right of venue, and that's why we believe those speakers were inappropriate."

Anyone who attended my speech or listened to a recording of it will know that I delivered a message of peace. This ought to be no surprise because, although I am a critic of Israel's policies, I believe fervently in full peace, mutual recognition and equality between Israelis and Palestinians, and have been advocating this for many years and have a long public record of doing so. Regretfully, while on the CMU campus, I was subjected to abuse and harassment including being called a "cockroach" by one students who was carrying a pro-Israel sign. Some students attempted to disrupt my lecture and prevent others from hearing what I had to say, and when I invited those students to come down to the podium to be heard and to express whatever dissent they wished, they walked out of the lecture hall. I wonder if these are the same students who are now claiming that I somehow violated their rights!

I did not consider their atrocious behaviour to be in any way typical of CMU, because the vast majority of the hundreds of students who attended my lecture at CMU and another one the same day at the University of Pittsburgh (some of whom were overflow from CMU because the hall was filled to capacity) listened respectfully, accorded me the warmest and most gracious welcome, and engaged with me in a free and unrestricted debate in which they challenged me and held me to account. I have to admit, that this open, transparent engagement with students is the part of public speaking which I enjoy the most.

In February, shortly after my visit to CMU, Mr. Weil was quoted in the Pitt News making statements which I believed to be false and defamatory, and as a result I felt compelled to contact my attorney. Mr. Weil actually claimed that I had advocated the use of terrorism. Mr. Weil acknowledged that this was untrue and retracted his comments in a phone conversation with my attorney. The Pitt News removed Mr. Weil's comments from their website at that time and printed a letter from me, and I considered the matter closed. Please see this article in the Pitt News.

I am not writing to rehash that incident, however it does make me mindful that my name, my views and words are being used and misrepresented in this political campaign to shut down free speech at CMU and shield Israel from criticism, as well as at other campuses across the country. I find it incomprehensible and very disturbing that Mr. Weil should still be advocating that I and other speakers should have been banned from the CMU campus. On what grounds?

So I wish to extend to you and your committee my full cooperation, including my willingness to travel to Pittsburgh and meet with you. I would be pleased to clarify my views at any point so that you can understand whether or not this censorship campaign is truly responding to a genuine concern that my speaking at CMU somehow curtailed anyone else's freedom, promoted "hate" or "anti-Semitism" in any way whatsoever, or whether, as I suspect this is simply a campaign to make it harder for those who disagree with Israeli policies to air their views on the CMU campus.

Please do not hesitate to contact me, and I would appreciate it if you would convey this message to the other members of the committee as you feel appropriate.

Yours Sincerely,

Ali Abunimah
University of Chicago

Left Out Home
Danny Sleator
Last modified: Sun Oct 2 18:07:28 2005