Video: NYU Commencement Speaker, Northwestern Professor Rails Against Israel, 'Fascist' Trump in Address to Graduates

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Posted: May 28, 2019 2:01 PM
Video: NYU Commencement Speaker, Northwestern Professor Rails Against Israel, 'Fascist' Trump in Address to Graduates

In many ways, this qualifies as a 'dog bites man' story.  Here we have a professor of journalism -- focusing on "social justice" reporting and "issues relevant to the LGBT community" -- living down to a hackneyed caricature by delivering a shrill, lazy left-wing diatribe to graduates during a commencement address.  The incoming faculty member at my alma mater, Northwestern's Medill school, called President Trump a "fascist," and applauded students fighting to boycott Israel during the convocation ceremony for an NYU's graduate program.  These comments are unremarkable in the sense that they're simply the latest example of paint-by-numbers campus leftism.  But they were offered by someone whose job description presumably entails teaching future reporters, raising questions about when the line between actual journalism and naked ideological activism ceases to exist.  Via the Free Beacon:

"Many of us have been together at Occupy Wall Street, and at Black Lives Matter protests, and against that fascist in the White House," Thrasher said to cheers. When the applause quieted, Thrasher took aim at Israel, which hosts the largest pro-gay "Pride Parade" in the Middle East..."I am so proud, so proud, of NYU's chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace," he said, "for supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against the apartheid state government in Israel." The BDS movement targets Israeli organizations and companies doing business in Israel in an effort to weaken Israel economically and politically, forcing the Israeli government to change its policies. Israel is not an apartheid state.

The casual and flippant use of that F-word does a disservice to our national discourse, but it's also the sort of hyperbolic hysteria one might expect from a professor of "social justice journalism" or whatever.  Prof. Thrasher's attacks on Israel -- the Middle Eastern nation with the best policies on rights for women and gays, by far -- are embarrassingly ignorant. They also border on anti-semitism. Here's Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer explaining why the so-called 'BDS' movement, endorsed by the likes of Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and this blowhard, is fundamentally tantamount to anti-Jewish bigotry:

We must continue to stand firm against the profoundly biased campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel through boycotts divestment and sanctions. While Iran publicly executes its citizens, Turkey jails its journalists, scores of Arab nations punish homosexuality with imprisonment and torture. Why does BDS single Israel out alone for condemnation when there is such a double standard – when the world treats everybody one way and the Jew or the Jewish State another way? There's only one word for it; anti-Semitism. Let us call out the BDS movement for what it is. Let us delegitimize the delegitimizers by letting the world know when there is a double-standard, whether they know it or not, they are actively participating in an anti-Semitic movement.

The double standard is, indeed, the key. It's undeniable and galling.  As for the equally ignorant "apartheid" smear, read this lengthy piece taking apart that comparison, written by a left-leaning Israeli who once lived under South Africa's apartheid regime.  Israel's former ambassador to the United States made a number of similar points in a 2014 Los Angeles Times op/ed (these explainers are needed on a regular basis because anti-Israel forces repeat the slander so frequently):

Today, the word "apartheid" is wielded by Israel's enemies to delegitimize the Jewish state. Adversaries point to the separation between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents of the West Bank, separate Israeli and Palestinian roads, and separate schools, hospitals and legal systems. Although Israelis can elect their leaders, opponents of Israel say, Palestinians cannot. They claim that Israel has erected an "apartheid wall" between Jewish and Arab areas. Yet none of this even remotely resembles apartheid. The vast majority of settlers and Palestinians choose to live apart because of cultural and historical differences, not segregation, though thousands of them do work side by side. The separate roads were created in response to terrorist attacks — not to segregate Palestinians but to save Jewish lives. And Israeli roads are used by Israeli Jews and Arabs alike. The separation of schools is, again, a cultural choice similar to that made by secular and Orthodox Jews and Muslim and Christian Palestinians. Many Palestinians, however, study in Israeli institutions such as Ariel University, located in a settlement. Thousands of Palestinians, many of them from Hamas-controlled Gaza, are treated at Israeli hospitals. Israelis can indeed vote for their leaders, and so too can the Palestinians, but the Palestinian Authority has refused to hold elections for years.

Amb. Oren concluded, "Israel is not an apartheid state and will not become one, even if the Palestinians continue to reject peace. However unwittingly, those who associate apartheid with Israel are aiding the third and perhaps ultimate stage in the effort to destroy the nation. They are also committing a grave injustice to the millions of American and South African blacks who were the victims of true apartheid."  As for the Northwestern lecturer's incendiary and possibly bigoted speech in New York, the university put out a strong statement condemning the 'Boycott, Divest, Sanction' movement and defending academic freedom:

Many were understandably offended by some of the comments made by Dr. Thrasher during his commencement speech at New York University earlier this week. We do not share all of his views, nor do we feel commencement was the appropriate venue to express them. However, academic freedom assures his right to hold them. While Dr. Thrasher will not be the first Northwestern faculty member who supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, Northwestern as an institution unequivocally rejects BDS. To the contrary, we value our many relationships with a variety of universities and research centers in Israel.   As always, Northwestern remains firmly committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. Our goal as an institution is to work toward constructive engagement within the context of freedom of academic inquiry and expression. We expect all members of our community to promote these values in an environment free of coercion and intimidation...

This strikes an appropriate balance, in my view.  Thrasher's views are extreme, offensive, and (at best) rooted in ignorance, and NU is right to reject his BDS advocacy.  But his opinions are not fireable offenses.  I've long been an opponent of hounding people out of jobs for controversial beliefs and statements -- and while I suspect Thrasher may himself be an enthusiastic participant in outrage mob culture, the university is right to ensure that his position won't be swept away by that very toxic phenomenon -- and they must uphold the same standards the next time the Left's knives come out for someone.