The other day I noted that M. Gail Hammer, a professor of religion at Syracuse, canceled the screening of a film on Israeli settlers because of her fear that it would incite the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) students on campus. The director of the film “The Settlers“, Simon Dotan, had been invited by a professor at Nebraska who was co-organizing a Syracuse conference on religion and film, but Hammer nixed that invite. The ironic thing was the BDS would have supported the showing, for the film apparently portrayed Israeli settlers in a negative light.
This was unique, as far as I know, because it was a disinvitation based not on any tangible dissent or opposition, but merely the fear of dissent—and a misguided fear to boot. Hammer’s behavior was reprehensible.
Fortunately, people can back down, as both Hammer and Syracuse have now done. As Syracuse.com reports, Hammer has apologized and the University of Syracuse will be showing the film after all. The Atlantic article by Conor Friedersdorf publicizing Hammer’s actions no doubt contributed to the publicity that led to this reversal:
Michele Wheatly, vice chancellor and provost at SU, emailed the campus community Friday morning to say that Hamner’s decision was not consistent with university policies. She said the university would be reaching out to the filmmaker to arrange a screening on campus.
Hamner also issued a formal apology, saying her reluctance stemmed from a fear of controversy and inexperience planning conferences.
. . . SU’s provost, Wheatly, responded to the controversy this morning [Sept. 2].
“I feel it necessary to reaffirm our commitment to intellectual and respectful debate on controversial issues,” she said in an email to the campus community.
Wheatly pointed to a letter from her predecessor, from 2014. Interim Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina said at the time that SU does not support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, but welcomed discussion, debate and dialogue on campus concerning issues of peace and security in the Middle East.
Wheatly said she was working with Chancellor Kent Syverud and the College of Arts and Sciences to invite Dotan to screen the film on campus. No plans for the screening have been confirmed at this time.
Hammer issued her own statement through the University News Office:
Well, I’ll take that; she certainly uses the right words, and it’s not a “notapology.” What is interesting is her mentioning the “media coverage” that ultimately came from the Atlantic piece. This is a lesson for us: if you see an egregious example of censorship or suppressionof speech, call it to the attention of the media, preferably Big Media like The Atlantic.
h/t: Greg Mayer