On Free Speech, Boycotts And Selective Liberal Outrage

by William Skink

People have the right to express their political opinions outside of the workplace without fear of retaliation by an employer. Political speech is protected speech.

So what would you do if you were asked by your employer to sign a loyalty oath to get your paycheck? The oath would stipulate what actions you were forbidden to engage in in your private time against a specific nation. And to make it more interesting, what if that oath was not to your own country of residency, America, but to a foreign nation? In this case, Israel.

Would you sign the oath?

Bahia Amawi did not sign the oath, and now she is out of a job. In Texas. In 2018. Here is more from the Intercept piece describing what happened to Amawi:

She was prepared to sign her contract renewal until she noticed one new, and extremely significant, addition: a certification she was required to sign pledging that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”

That language would bar Amawi not only from refraining from buying goods from companies located within Israel, but also from any Israeli companies operating in the occupied West Bank (“an Israeli-controlled territory”). The oath given to Amawi would also likely prohibit her even from advocating such a boycott given that such speech could be seen as “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.”

Israel is lucky to have such good friends in Texas willing to shred Americans first amendment protections in order to keep a growing boycott movement at bay. I guess if the racists who support apartheid are afraid of a speech pathologist in Texas, maybe the incremental genocide of the Palestinian people is not inevitable.

Closer to home, the “victory” of stopping Steve Bannon got a nice dose of cold water thrown on it from the former professor who was willing to take Bannon on. In an oped about Steve Bannon, political correctness and inclusivity, Michel Valentin says things like this:

Petitioning makes for effortlessly acquired self-righteous, feel-good brownie points, which is fine and dandy — but it is not significant. It is more a politically correct sign of weakness than a radical, politically enlightening act.

Educators’ public responsibility has a name: engagement, as J.P. Sartre, the French existentialist philosopher, argued. Professors’ knowledge, critical formation, pedagogy and ethical dimension should empower them to take on “evil” and show why, how and for what reason people err into the wrong side of the human, ethical divide — including white nationalists, who are ignorant, misinformed and oppressed by the “system,” as are many of us. Poverty, resentment and alienation bring about bigotry and misdirected violence (René Girard’s “scapegoat theory”).

Instead of signing futile petitions, professors should address “political evil” in open forums, explain its roots and even help ignorant “political victimizers” deconstruct and shift their paradigms. Why? Because corporate greed, exploitative globalization and unparalleled, pitiless, dehumanizing, universal competition are responsible for community decay and individuals’ angry dis-empowerment. They inflame paranoid, racist violence. It is one thing to preach to a small choir of students in classes held in artificial “free-speech” and “hate-free” zones. It is another “to [publicly] take arms against a sea of troubles/ And by opposing end them” or, even, to bring knowledge to prisoners.

Right on, Michel.

I have often wondered why some of these academics who have been getting a lot of headlines about racism and white supremacy don’t seem nearly as upset by systems and institutions of racism that prop up the illegal Israeli occupation. Could it be that calling out the Apartheid in Israel could have actual consequences to their careers instead of nice articles about how they struggle to stop the scourge of white supremacy and the idol they venerate, Donald Trump?

Here is some speculation from Valentin:

The petition’s goal is inclusivity. Why, then, did the petitioners never stand up in defense of the only major institutional force that combats ignorance, alienation and “evil,” i.e. the liberal arts-based, affordable, public higher education? One understands professors who denounce “white hate pamphlets” on campus by screaming “Fire!” One does not understand why these same educators, over the years, never publicly screamed “Help!” to protest the University of Montana’s destruction of the Humanities, depriving Montanans of the means to understand and appreciate otherness.

Are they “sheltered” and therefore captive of their allegiance to institutional power? Which would explain how their “protected inclusion” made them immune to the “radical exclusion” felt by others: all the personnel, adjuncts, lecturers and professors terminated since 2015, while retiring faculty were not replaced? Is the firing of English and foreign languages faculty not an action of exclusion? If yes, why then the biased silence of these “inclusiveness petitioners”? Why “courageously” ask for inclusivity on one hand, while accepting exclusion on the other?

Free speech is not a guarantee, and once liberal supporters of free speech quickly became more worried about fake news and how Trump got elected. That has created the space for the tech-giants to get into bed with government and the result has been probably one of the biggest, concerted efforts to limit and suppress speech this country has ever seen.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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