Anti-War Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine disrupt speech by Professor Moshe Halbertal
[Featured Image via Fight Back News]
Moshe Halbertal is a law professor at New York University, and Professor of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Hebrew University in Israel. He lectures widely on the ethics of war, particularly asymetric war of the type Israel faces.
Prof. Halbertal was scheduled to deliver a lecture on November 3 at the University of Minnesota Law School, Protecting Civilians: Moral Challenges of Asymmetric Warfare:
In advance of his appearance, The Anti-War Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine organized a protest against his appearance:
Fight Back News reports:
Over 50 supporters of Palestine shut down a Nov. 3 lecture by Hebrew University professor Moshe Halbertal, a co-author of the Israeli military code of ethics, entitled “Protecting Civilians: Moral Challenges of Asymmetric Warfare.” Organized by the MN Anti-War Committee and endorsed by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP UMN), the protesters prevented Halbertal from presenting his defense of IDF conduct in last summer’s Gaza War. Three of the protesters were arrested, as police tried to maintain what they called “decorum.” …
Speakers rose from the audience, one after another, making it impossible for Halbertal’s talk to proceed. Some 20 people intervened in the event, challenging Halbertal on Israeli war crimes in Gaza last summer, and the current violations of international law and human rights in the West Bank. Most ended their remarks with chants, such as “These are massacres, not mistakes! These are war crimes! Free, free Palestine!” and “Occupation is a crime, free, free Palestine!” Many in the audience joined in and some Palestine supporters were removed simply for showing visible support to the protesters. Observers were troubled to see police used disproportionate force in removing Palestinian and other Black and brown protesters.
The lecture was scheduled for one hour, but most of that time was taken up by interruptions. Even after being ejected from the lecture hall by campus police, the protesters continued to disrupt the event from the hallway, as Sabry Wazwaz, of the Anti-War Committee, led a rally which was audible from inside the auditorium for 30 more minutes.
Students for Justice in Palestine posted an approving link on its Facebook page, making clear that it viewed the disruption as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement:
Leora Eisenberg, a high school student who wanted to attend the lecture, posted on Facebook:
So, you think BDS wants peace?
I was lost. I needed to get a lecture by noted Jewish-Israeli lecturer and philosopher Moshe Halbertal on the ethics of war. I had just come from school. I knew I’d be the youngest in the audience, and I was okay with that. I’ve always been precocious, especially for Israel.
I saw one lame protester in front of the building. So, one person showed up to protest the “apartheid regime.” Carry on. Protest. You have your rights.
As I came into the building, I heard some really loud chanting. I mean, really loud. And as a Russian-Israeli Jew, I know loud. I didn’t realize it was in front of the lecture hall. I couldn’t actually get in.
Because if I did, they would probably physically assault me. They championed their slogans of peace… right? (“Hey hey, ho ho, they occupation has got to go!”) But they also had at least three police officers standing in front of the doors and brandished (fake) blood-covered babies and made some vaguely anti-Semitic slurs. (all while holding signs proclaiming that Zionism is not Judaism)
I was afraid to go in. And when I finally could (through the secret back door), I was shaking too hard to focus. At one point, a BDS protester burst in, started screaming and was escorted back out by the cops– at which point, I heard the protesters drift off (and finally be taken outside).
So, you still think BDS wants peace?
Think again. I didn’t realize peaceniks make 17-year-olds girls scared to go to lectures on foreign policy. I didn’t realize peaceniks could be so violent.
She also posted video:
The Anti-War Committee tweeted photos, as did others:
We will have more information as it becomes available.
UPDATE: U. Minnesota Law Prof. Dale Carpenter, who writes at Volokh Conspiracy (Washington Post), was in attendance and gives this first hand account:
On Tuesday afternoon an Israeli academic was shouted down by two dozen protesters as he tried to begin a lecture before about 100 students and faculty at the University of Minnesota. The speaker was Moshe Halbertal, a professor at NYU Law School and a professor of Jewish thought and philosophy at Hebrew University. He was invited to deliver the Dewey Lecture in the Philosophy of Law, which is organized annually by the law school. That the freedom to present a lecture is threatened in this way at a public university is appalling, calling not only for punishment of violations but for a clear statement defending the free exchange of ideas.
The lecture, which I attended, was delayed half an hour as one by one the protesters stood up to shout denunciations of Israel and were escorted from the hall by university police. One young woman came screaming back into the lecture after having been ejected. Outside the hall, the protesters chanted so loudly that it was difficult to hear Halbertal, much less to concentrate on what he was saying, until 45 minutes after the lecture was to have begun….
When he was finally able to speak, Halbertal argued that in fighting “asymmetric wars” (typically, wars between professional militaries and insurgencies or resistance movements) professional combatants should err on the side of protecting noncombatants from casualties, even when they thereby increase risks to themselves or to their cause.
It was a careful and nuanced presentation, one that was far more dovish and human-rights oriented than caricatures of Halbertal as a “war crimes apologist” by protesters suggested. But the protesters had no interest in hearing the lecture or in allowing the audience to hear it. Halbertal told me that in all of his lectures on the subject of warfare, including at Columbia University, this was the first time he had been subjected to a disruptive demonstration.
The Dean of the Law School issued the following Statement (pdf):
Yesterday, the Law School hosted Professor Moshe Halbertal, a well known, widely respected expert on ethics and the law of war, for the annual Dewey Lecture on law and philosophy. Unfortunately, the start of Professor Halbertal’s lecture was delayed for over 30 minutes by protesters shouting slogans and denouncing the Law School for inviting a speaker whose views they chose to caricature but not to hear. While it is regrettable that the protesters (none, I believe, from the Law School) chose to deny themselves the opportunity to engage and learn from a speaker of Halbertal’s distinction, it is unacceptable that they should seek to deny other students and community members their own opportunity to hear an invited guest speak. Values of free speech and academic freedom are central to the University’s mission; we disregard them at our peril.
The protesters were eventually removed from the building by campus police, who handled the situation with great professionalism and restraint. After the lecture concluded, audience members, including some quite critical of Israel, had an opportunity to ask questions and engage Professor Halbertal in discussion. Ironically, the central theme of Professor Halbertal’s talk was that the military should be prepared to accept greater risks to its own forces in order to enhance protections for civilian non-combatants, not something one would expect to generate much protest.
But whether a speaker’s views are controversial is beside the point. As members of a University community, we should welcome—indeed, insist—on hearing a wide range of viewpoints, and we should condemn any efforts to silence free speech through protests of the sort that took place at the Law School yesterday. The Law School will continue to do both.
Dean & William S. Pattee Professor of Law
University of Minnesota Law School
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