USACBI stands with New York University Ph.D. and highly-regarded professional journalist Steven Thrasher.
Thrasher, who used to write a well-regarded column for the Guardian newspaper (U.S.) has come under attack by NYU President Andrew Hamilton and College of Liberal Arts Dean Philip Brian Harper for expressing strong support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement against Israel in his recent speech to NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science doctoral graduation. Thrasher expressed his support by criticizing Israel as an “apartheid state.”
Hamilton responded that the remarks were “one-sided” and “made some in the audience feel unwelcome and excluded.”
Dean Harper added that Thrasher’s remarks made some members of the audience feel “voiceless.”
Hamilton and Harper are engaging in what Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights have called the “Palestine exception to free speech.”
Thrasher was exercising both his First Amendment rights and his academic freedom in an academic setting.
Hamilton and Harper are also using a tired logic of political “equivalence” in arguing that Thrasher was “silencing” his audience.
Palestinians live daily under Israeli occupation and violence. In the recently concluded March of Return protests against the Occupation, and ongoing Israeli settler-colonialism, at least 214 Palestinians were murdered by Israeli security forces.
There is no reason for any speaker to remain silent in the face of these facts. Silence would be complicity. Thrasher has refused to take that course.
Similarly, American institutions of higher education routinely criticize individuals or groups who support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement. Yet this is not perceived as “silencing,” or “one-sided” debate. Indeed, Hamilton’s public rebuke of Thrasher included a reiteration of the NYU administration’s official position that it does not support boycotts of Universities.
Significantly, in addition to supporting the BDS movement, Thrasher condemned other forms of social inequality, like racism, Islamophobia, and anti-semitism. Hamilton chose not to comment on those remarks, instead singling out as a violation of University decorum Thrasher’s support for BDS.
Yet Thrasher was making clear that his support for BDS was part and parcel of his critique of racism, including Israeli state racism, directed against Palestinians.
Like the far-right in the United States today, the NYU administration is implicitly arguing that “free speech” should exist only for political viewpoints that include support for the state of Israel.
In the face of such a bald double-standard, Steven Thrasher spoke truth to power. USACBI stands with him.