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In a country where some high school students cannot even correctly identify the century in which the American Civil War was waged, and who are able to name more of the Seven Dwarfs than sitting Supreme Court Justices, at least students in Andover High School will be very familiar with the historical term "ethnic cleansing," and how the world's singular and most egregious example of its continued practice is, of course, found in the "apartheid Zionist regime" of Israel. Thanks to the efforts of perennial hater of America and Israel, Ron Francis, an Andover High physics teacher, and six of the School's history teachers, students will be have the opportunity of listening to the Leftist, anti-American, anti-Israel view of the "Wheels of Justice" organization, apologists for the Palestinian cause who preach a one-sided message to students that the violent Palestinian effort of self-determination against the "project -- not State -- of Israel is the result, singularly, of the "colonization, occupation, displacement, apartheid and the denial of the rights of Palestinian refugees."
There was some controversy at the end of October when Andover High's principal, alerted to the actual nature and content of the Wheels of Justice traveling bus tour, temporarily postponed the visit until other speakers, offering a counterbalance to the dialogue, could be found. Tom Meyers, president of the teacher's union and an outspoken supporter of Mr. Francis and his views, was "shocked, shocked" by the School's decision to exclude the lecturers and limit someone's First Amendment rights, although it is not entirely clear exactly whose rights were being denied. The Constitution protects an individual's right to express their views, no matter how reprehensible, in what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes termed the broad, public "marketplace of ideas," but nowhere is it incumbent on any institution, and certainly not public schools, to be forced to sponsor, or provide a public platform for, the ravings of any outside individual, merely because that individual has a message he or she is eager to express.
If Fred Phelps from Westboro Baptist Church was invited to speak to Andover's Gay Student Alliance, for instance, to preach his world view that includes such subtle observations as "God hates fags," or the Aryan Nation had been asked to share their opinions with the school's Diversity Club or Middle East Club (for which Francis serves as advisor), no one would be having this discussion and Mr. Meyers would not be bemoaning any threat to anyone's evaporating First Amendment Rights. It is only when the subject of derision is Israel that any speech -- no matter how hateful, historically inaccurate, or anti-Semitic at its core -- is acceptable in high schools and on campuses. While it is still not acceptable in civil social circles to publicly express Jew hatred, at least in America, it has become very convenient for anti-Semites that they are able to express what David Frum has termed their "genocidal liberalism" by aiming their crypto-hatreds at Israel, instead, by relentlessly condemning it and calling for its eradication.
They do so, as Mr. Francis has done, by inviting extremist speakers like Wheels of Justice and spearheading an Israel divestment project in his home town of Somerville. Though the divestment effort failed, that did not discourage Francis from publicly hailing the election of the terrorist group Hamas to lead the Palestinians, saying that their new role as State-sponsored terrorists was a bit of a "silver lining," nor is he shy in justifying murderous attacks on Israeli citizens. "I do not condemn the Palestinian people because the actions they are taking," he wrote in a newspaper article, "given the circumstances they face, [are] completely understandable and within the bounds of normal human behavior. I have to ask myself, would I be any different?" Probably not, which is why, in a recent Boston protest demonstration, Mr. Francis could be seen marching along with placards with such exhortations as "Long Live the Intifada" emblazoned across them.
The fundamental flaw of these extremist views is that in his obsessive reverence for everything Palestinian and the demonizing of Israel -- including the core belief that Israel will never be recognized -- Francis does his students a great disservice by indoctrinating them with a worldview that can, and should, be challenged by different perspectives; in fact, it is a view so extreme and intractable that it cannot even be considered a reasonable outlook in a world where negotiation, geopolitical reality, and truth ought to come into discussions before, and in the place of, rabid ideology.
Mr. Francis, for instance, to paraphrase Professor Edward Alexander's characterization of Noam Chomsky, is an individual who is rendered nearly speechless if unable to use the word "Zionism" and "ethnic cleansing" in every sentence. Israel is repeatedly accused of social and cultural atrocities by Francis and his same-thinking, virulent critics, a charge that is 'absurd,' says Mitchell Bard, Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.
"While detractors make outrageous claims about Israel committing genocide or ethnic cleansing, the Palestinian population has continued to explode," Bard notes. "In Gaza, for example, the population increased from 731,000 in July 1994 to 1,225,911 in July 2002, an increase of 68 percent. The growth rate was 3.95 percent, one of the highest in the world. According to the UN, the total Palestinian population in all the disputed territories ... was 1,006,000 in 1950, and rose to 1,094,000 in 1970, and exploded to 2,152,000 in 1990."
The other charge Israel-haters have grown fond of making is that Israel is an "apartheid State" with an "apartheid wall," no better than the South African government much of the world rallied so hard to dismantle. Francis's accusation that the Israeli government is based on the "privilege" of one group -- the Jews -- at the expense of all others is eerily similar to the rants of such other astute political theorists as former Klansman David Duke, who wrote an entire book about what he describes as the evils of Jewish "supremacism." The notion is the same: ascribe to Israel and the Jews unbridled, undeserved power and show how it has transformed them from victim into victimizer. This is the core idea of the divestment campaigns, as well as the party line of such groups as Wheels of Justice.
"The idea," says investigative journalist Lee Kaplan, "is to indoctrinate the next generation of anti-Israel activists through a false presentation of Israel as an 'apartheid state' (despite its being the only pluralistic democracy in the Middle East). By equating Israel with apartheid-era South Africa, the radical activists aim to suggest that it can be dismantled by international pressure." That semantic linkage of Israel with South Africa is based on Francis's twisted belief that such measures as the Israeli security wall and border check points have been set up, not for the legitimate reasons that they have been, namely, to impede the homicidal aggression of Arab terrorism, but rather to create and exploit, as was done to blacks in South Africa, a Palestinian underclass unable to integrate and enjoy the benefits of Israeli society and economic life.
But Francis's oft-repeated view mangles the truth that in Israel many groups, not only Jews, enjoy the benefits of a capitalistic democracy. In fact, David Meir-Lev writes, Arabs "have 12 representatives in the Israeli Parliament, judges sitting on the Israeli courts and on the Israeli Supreme Court benches, and Ph.D's and tenured professors teaching in Israeli colleges and universities. They are a population that enjoys more freedom, education, and economic opportunity than do any comparable Arab populations anywhere in the Arab world."
Francis and his Leftist cohorts describe themselves as "human rights activists," even though they seem singularly obsessed with the failings and moral lapses of Israel -- and only Israel -- among all countries in the world, in many of which civil strife, actual genocide, ethnic purging, enslavement, mass murder, and totalitarianism prevail. "Could the singling out of Israel," Professor Alexander ironically asks, "possibly have anything to do with the fact that it is a Jewish country?"
Nor can Francis and his like-minded supporters refrain from questioning the fundamental legitimacy of the Israeli state, describing the "Colonial settler state" as one whose right to exist in the family of nations is still open to serious debate. No claim by the Jews to the "occupied" land of Israel -- religious, historical, cultural, or political -- is valid because Palestine is perceived to be eternally Arab land, while every struggle for Palestinian self-determination is justifiable, even when that process includes the slaughter of civilians. "Despite the fact that Israel is the only country in world history that came into existence via peaceful, legal, constructive means and by majority vote of the world governing body," writes Meir-Lev, "Israel is the one and only country whose right to exist is challenged." Mr. Francis never seems to question the legitimacy, say, of a country like Pakistan or frets about the eight million Hindus expelled from India when Pakistan was created, with a total of some fifteen million refugees and one million deaths as a result.
More important in the context of the Andover High situation is the fundamental question about what role teachers should have, if any, in promoting personal ideology, and in exposing students to one-sided, historically-inaccurate, and debatable views of difficult political issues. Why this particular issue to shove down students' throats among all the incendiary geopolitical situations on earth? Why the linkage of Israel with the U.S.'s alleged "occupation" of Iraq, together with its anti-American sentiment and its nearly seditious fawning over Iraqi insurgents who murder Americans? "Students are in school to be educated," said David Horowitz, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and critic of ideology-driven instruction in schools and colleges, "and have a universally recognized right at least in American schools not to be indoctrinated." Like many Israel-haters, Francis also repeatedly dredges up the familiar canards about Jews and Israel: that they have great power, that they manipulate public opinion, that they have a malevolent ability to control the world media and suppress the "truth" about their political objectives (a truth, of course, that only Mr. Francis and his fellow paranoid scholars of history are able to see and reveal). "A ... strategy is to control the discourse in the media about Zionism," Francis wrote, for example, "they are also very good at this...," those cunning, deceptive Jews.
The good news, at least, is that at Andover High School, Mr. Francis teaches physics and not journalism.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a lecturer at Boston University, University of Massachusetts, and Wentworth Institute, writes frequently about politics, religion, culture, real estate, and business. Contact him at email@example.com
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