The case of Julio Pino, the Kent State professor who shouted “death to Israel” at an address by an Israeli diplomat, has received a good deal of attention. In a rare, if commendable, instance of administrative courage, Kent State president Lester Lefton issued a statement condemning Pino’s behavior as “reprehensible, and an embarrassment to our university.” Lefton also noted that “we hope that our faculty will always model how best to combine passion for one’s position with respect for those with whom we disagree. Calling for the destruction of the state from which our guest comes (as do some of our students, faculty and community members) is a grotesque failure to model these values.”
Only in the academy could Lefton’s statement be considered anything but common sense. Yet it earned a rebuke from AAUP president Cary Nelson, who mused, “Calling out a political slogan during a question period falls well within the speech rights of any member of a university community.”
I suspect that few non-academics would consider “death to Israel” a “political slogan,” but this item wasn’t the strangest aspect of Nelson’s statement. He further criticized Lefton’s “invention of an absurd form of hospitality: you must not question the moral legitimacy or the right to exist of a guest’s home country.”
On today’s campuses, it might well be routine, as Nelson implies, for significant numbers of professors to “question the moral legitimacy or the right to exist” of Israel. But for what other country does such a standard apply? How often, for instance, do we hear faculty members shouting “death to Tanzania”? Or suggesting that Uruguay lacks moral legitimacy, and should be divided between Brazil and Argentina? Or claiming that New Zealand doesn’t have a right to exist?
Merely to pose the questions indicates the absurdity of Nelson’s argument. And he’s the president of the nation’s most prestigious faculty organization.