Columbia University “may offer Tom Paulin a permanent position”

December 09, 2002

CONTENTS

1. English department warms up to anti-Semitic Oxford University poet
2. "What to do with Tom Paulin?"
3. A man who publicly advocates murder
4. Open letter to Columbia president published today (Dec. 9, 2002) from five distinguished Columbia Alumni
5. Letter to New York Times by the award-winning British novelist Linda Grant
6. "Harvard at Bay: What to do with Tom Paulin?" (National Review, Dec. 3, 2002)
7. "Harvard and Columbia promote Anti-Semitic poet" (New York Observer, Nov. 26, 2002)
8. "Confused at Harvard" (By Jay Ambrose, Anchorage Daily News, Dec. 2, 2002)
9. Harvard, stupid law professors (Weekly Standard, Dec. 2, 2002)
10. Harvard invites banned poet back (BBC news, Nov. 21, 2002)



ENGLISH DEPARTMENT WARMS UP TO ANTI-SEMITIC OXFORD UNIVERSITY POET

[Note by Tom Gross]

Since quite a number of people on this list have asked me for more on the controversy surrounding Tom Paulin, I am sending a further dispatch, as a follow-up to the previous three. For those new to this list, I wrote an article published on November 12, questioning the appropriateness of the Harvard English faculty honoring Paulin on November 14 (article at www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-gross111202.asp ). A few hours after the article was published, Harvard abruptly disinvited Paulin, a highly unusual step. Many welcomed this, but others did not. Harvard then re-invited Paulin a week later, a decision that was met by further protests.

Since my original article was published, over a thousand pieces have appeared on this controversy throughout the word, including some in-depth analyses in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Arabic.

I attach a few of the more recent pieces in English, with a summary first for those who don't have time to read them in full.

-- Tom Gross


* For background on the Paulin invitation, see
Harvard invites Oxford academic who wants some Jews "shot dead" (Nov. 12, 2002)
Harvard withdraws its invitation to Tom Paulin (Nov. 12, 2002)
Harvard reinvites Oxford’s Paulin; "Harvard Crimson" calls Paulin "ghastly, repulsive and sickening" (Nov. 20, 2002)
Saudi paper: Paulin's views on Jews are "repulsive" (Nov. 20, 2002)

 

SUMMARIES

“WHAT TO DO WITH TOM PAULIN?”

1. Open letter to Columbia president published today (December 9, 2002) from five distinguished Columbia Alumni. They call on Columbia's English Department not to bring "shame upon the university" by "offering [Paulin] a permanent appointment". "The notorious Tom Paulin," they say, "[is] apparently seeking to relocate from England to NY."

 

2. Letter to New York Times by the award-winning British novelist Linda Grant (in response to one of the three articles the NY Times has now published on Paulin.) Grant says that Harvard has reinvited Paulin on the "principle of freedom of speech" but that last year Paulin "wrote to The Guardian, in London, asking why it permitted 'Zionists' like me and the author and critic Ian Buruma to write for and express our views in the paper." (Both Grant and Buruma are left-leaning British Jews who have long opposed the policies of the Israeli Likud and Labor parties regarding settlements and other issues).

 

3. "Harvard at Bay: What to do with Tom Paulin?" (The National Review, December 3, 2002). The National Review's senior editor William F Buckley discusses the controversy. He notes that even The New York Observer [a weekly liberal newspaper which often carries very anti-Israel pieces -- TG] says in its editorial, "Columbia should fire Mr. Paulin immediately, on the principle that having an anti-Semite on the payroll does a disservice to Columbia professors, students, and alumni who don't subscribe to the view that calling for the murder of Jews is something an Ivy League professor should be doing in his off hours."

 

A MAN WHO PUBLICLY ADVOCATES MURDER

4. Above-mentioned editorial from The New York Observer, which says that "Paulin has not confined his anti-Semitism to one newspaper interview" (as some of his defenders have claimed). The Observer criticizes Alan Dershowitz and other professors at Harvard who have defended Paulin for the "absurd ... twisted logic" they have used (NY Observer's words, not mine.)

 

5. "Confused at Harvard" (By Jay Ambrose, Anchorage Daily News, December 2, 2002). (Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers, and this article has since appeared in a number of other newspapers.) He writes: "I've never been invited to speak at Harvard, and what that means is perfectly clear, at least if you buy the logic employed by faculty members of the famous institution's English department. I have been deprived of free speech. That is precisely the argument some on the English faculty made after the group invited an Oxford poet to speak, canceled the invitation and then extended it again. The fact that this man had publicly advocated murder should not get in the way of his coming, these faculty members concluded, because that would get in the way of free speech ... the English profs are using free speech as an excuse to do something reprehensible."

 

6. "Harvard's disappearing backbone" from The Weekly Standard (an influential Washington weekly magazine), December 2, 2002. The magazine says that Harvard's English professors (as quoted in the Boston Globe, defending their decision to re-invite Paulin) have merely shown that they don't understand the U.S. First Amendment.

 

7. "Harvard invites banned poet back" (BBC news.) The BBC cites the First Amendment argument as a reason for reiniviting Paulin without offering any counter-quotes explaining that the First Amendment (in the words of the Weekly Standard) "has nothing to do with the decision by a private university to bestow, or not bestow, the honor of delivering the annual Morris Gray poetry lecture."



FULL ARTICLES

“A RACIST HOODLUM”

Columbia Alumni letter re Tom Paulin
Columbia Spectator
December 9, 2002

Dear President Bollinger,

One might have thought Columbia's perpetually troubled English Department had already brought enough shame upon the university. First came the Edward Said saga: membership in an international terror organization; fabrication of the facts of his life to fit the myth of Palestinian dispossession; throwing stones at Israelis from the border of Lebanon. Then followed the Gayatri Spivak performance in Leeds in June of this year, celebrating both the suicide hijackings of 9/11 and the daily suicide bombings in Israel as (in her inimitable prose) "purposive self-annihilation, a confrontation between oneself and oneself, the extreme end of autoeroticism..."

But now the English Department may be on the verge of offering a permanent appointment to a racist hoodlum (in a line descending from Ezra Pound to Leroi Jones-Amiri Baraka) who makes Said and Spivak look morally sensitive and intellectually tactful. This, of course, is the notorious Tom Paulin, the Irish poet apparently seeking to relocate from England to NY.

Mr. Paulin, long known as a stalwart of the IRA school of poetics, has more recently turned his attention to Israel. According to the London Daily Telegraph ("Oxford poet 'wants US Jews shot'", 13 April 2002), Mr. Paulin told an interviewer for Al-Ahram that he abhorred "Brooklyn-born" Jewish "settlers" and believed "they should be shot dead." He added, for good measure, that he had quit the Labor Party because Tony Blair presides over "a Zionist government" and that he for his part "never believed that Israel had the right to exist at all." Columbia's James Shapiro, English professor and one of Paulin's ardent defenders, has told the Columbia Spectator (20 November 2002)) that these remarks "did not step over the line." Apparently Professor Shapiro's moral dividing line is like the receding horizon: he walks towards it, but can never reach it.

Has incitement to murder now become one of the qualifications for appointment in a department that once employed John Erskine, Mark Van Doren, F.W. Dupee, and Lionel Trilling? As alumni of Columbia, we hope not. Do we, as Orwell famously asked, have the right to expect common decency even of a (minor) poet? We hope yes.

Sincerely yours,

Edward Alexander (BA, '57)
Jerold S. Auerbach (PhD, '65)
Stephen M. Rittenberg (BA,'57, MD, '63)
Sol Z. Rosen (LLB, 1960)
Albert Silbowitz (BA, '62)

 

“PAULIN COMMITTED TO CENSORSHIP OF POLITICAL OPINIONS WITH WHICH HE DOES NOT AGREE”

New York Times Letters
To the Editor:

On the basic principle of freedom of speech, Harvard University was right to reinstate its invitation to the poet Tom Paulin (news article, Nov. 21). It should be noted, however, that Mr. Paulin is himself committed to the censorship of political opinions with which he does not agree.

Last year Mr. Paulin wrote to The Guardian, in London, asking why it permitted "Zionists" like me and the author and critic Ian Buruma to write for and express our views in the paper. He is also a supporter of the boycott of Israeli academics, denying those who (like me) deplore the policies of the current Israeli government the right to speak in international forums, solely on the basis of their nationality.

Linda Grant
Seattle, Nov. 23, 2002

 

PAULIN “SPEAKS NAZI LANGUAGE WHEN HE ADDRESSES THE PROBLEMS OF THE MIDEAST”

Harvard at Bay
What to do with Tom Paulin?
By William F Buckley
The National Review
December 3, 2002

The back and forth at Harvard is much-noticed news almost everywhere. In Israel, to be sure, as also in the Arab press. But also in Great Britain and France, where anti-Semitism is a way of life, however well-mannered. The issue is a poet, Tom Paulin, an Oxford don who teaches this season at Columbia and was invited to give the Morris Gray lecture at Harvard.

Well, when this happened, some spoilsport publicized a remark the poet had made to an Egyptian weekly, to wit, that "Brooklyn-born" Jewish settlers on the West Bank "should be shot dead. I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them." That stretch of prosody is without discernible poetry, but this of course was not considered in ensuing events. The English department at Harvard, on second thought, rescinded the invitation. President Lawrence Summers applauded this decision. But what then happened was a firestorm of free-speech protest, in which three Harvard Law School luminaries figured, Laurence Tribe, Alan Dershowitz, and Charles Fried. The English department, on third thought, re-invited the poet to speak, and now it was news all over the country and indeed the world. We are asked to consider what are the bounds, if any, on utterances of a particular nature if inconsistent with civil comity in a university. We are asked what hate speech should the colleges hate, and how exactly to give voice to that hate. And, inevitably, whether academic freedom is exercised, or is flouted, by speech of a particular character.

What then to do? The New York Observer, which usually flutters if there is the faintest liberal breeze in the air, is stentorian on the subject. In its editorial, it says, "Columbia should fire Mr. Paulin immediately, on the principle that having an anti-Semite on the payroll does a disservice to Columbia professors, students, and alumni who don't subscribe to the view that calling for the murder of Jews is something an Ivy League professor should be doing in his off hours."

The other view, that of the law professors cited above, is that freedom of speech is absolute, and nowhere more ideally protected than in universities.

Well, what concretely to do about the poet's forthcoming lecture? There will of course be some picketers outside, but doesn't something a little more resourceful come to mind?

In the spring of 1962, Commander George Lincoln Rockwell was invited by a student committee at Hunter College in New York to be the speaker at one of its monthly events.

Rockwell was the "Commander" of the American Nazi Party. He dressed in a Nazi commander's uniform, with swastikas here and there, and preached the faith of Hitler. He had a cadre of a dozen or two subordinate Nazis, and took such opportunities as he could to display the Nazi faith in Washington, where he was based, and elsewhere.

Hunter College's undergraduates were predominantly Jewish, and when news of the scheduled event was brought to Hunter president John Meng, a Roman Catholic, he made a decision which lives in Solomonic heraldry. It took the form of a letter to the faculty.

Today's students (he wrote) know of Nazism and what it did only by cursory reading. You and I know of it from direct experience in a world war. I will not overrule the invitation because I am committed to giving the student association plenary authority in the matter.

But, as a symbol of the gravity of the invitation to Mr. Rockwell, I call on members of the faculty to join me in attending the Passover Assembly at Park Avenue at 7 P.M. That is when the meeting with Commander Rockwell is scheduled. I feel sure that many members of the student body will wish to join us in that memorial meeting. That was a truly eloquent means of handling an aberrational invitation.

Granted that Mr. Paulin is a poet, and not a Nazi. His problem is that he speaks Nazi language when he addresses the problems of the Mideast. That he is a poet is not, in the circumstances, what anybody is interested in, any more than it would have distracted the Hunter College community if George Lincoln Rockwell was also a rock star. There are salient considerations that have been raised at Harvard, and it is these that President Summers of Harvard needs now to act on.

 

“ARE THERE NO RESPONSIBLE SCHOLARS LEFT IN THE IVY LEAGUE?”

Harvard and Columbia promote Anti-Semitic poet
The New York Observer
November 26, 2002

It's disappointing when a school like Harvard University takes a step toward endorsing anti-Semitic hate speech. But that's just what's happening up in Cambridge, where bigotry and hatred have gained a foothold under a false cloak of freedom of speech.

Last week, Harvard's English Department renewed an invitation to poet Tom Paulin to deliver its annual Morris Gray Lecture, one week after the department had wisely decided to cancel Mr. Paulin's lecture because of public statements he recently made calling for the murder of Jewish people. Harvard had rescinded its initial invitation to Mr. Paulin when the university learned that, earlier this year, he had told Al-Ahram Weekly, a Cairo-based newspaper, that "Brooklyn-born" Jewish settlers on the West Bank "should be shot dead." He went on to say, "I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them." He added, "I never believed that Israel had the right to exist at all."

Apprised of these statements, Harvard's English Department disinvited Mr. Paulin, having no wish to offer a prestigious platform to a man who was calling for the murder of innocent people, and who was doing so at a time when scores of people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are being killed each week. Harvard's president, Lawrence Summers, who recently gave a speech warning that anti-Semitism was "finding support in progressive intellectual communities," issued a statement supporting the decision to revoke Mr. Paulin's invitation.

But it seems that Mr. Summers' concerns about anti-Semitism on college campuses were all too prescient. A group of Harvard students and professors, unable to distinguish between someone expressing his or her views and someone calling for people "to be shot dead," cried "censorship" and demanded that the English department re-invite Mr. Paulin. A Harvard psychology professor named Patrick Cavanagh wrote to the Harvard Crimson in defense of Mr. Paulin and calling Mr. Summers "Ayatollah Summers." Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz – never one to miss a chance to get some publicity – also leapt to the anti-Semitic poet's defense, as did Harvard Law professors Lawrence Tribe and Charles Fried. In an absurd case of twisted logic, the law professors signed a letter to the Crimson in which they tried to argue that disinviting Mr. Paulin would set a "truly dangerous" precedent. Rather than stand up to these juvenile attempts at intimidation, the English Department re-invited Mr. Paulin to deliver the lecture. Emboldened by their cheap victory, professors Cavanagh, Dershowitz, Tribe and Fried are likely planning to invite Louis Farrakhan to deliver Harvard's commencement address.

By the way, Mr. Paulin has not confined his anti-Semitism to one newspaper interview. In 2001, he published a poem in which he referred to the Israeli army as "the Zionist SS" and declared that "we ... dumb goys" would no longer fall for the "lying phrase" and "weasel" language of Zionists.

Harvard is not the only Ivy League school in Mr. Paulin's orbit: He is currently a visiting professor at Columbia University. Columbia should fire Mr. Paulin immediately, on the principle that having an anti-Semite on the payroll does a disservice to Columbia professors, students and alumni who don't subscribe to the view that calling for the murder of Jews is something an Ivy League professor should be doing in his off hours.

America's colleges and universities are allowing anti-Semitism to flourish under the guise of academic freedom. It's time to recognize this disease and to fight it. Are there no responsible scholars left in the Ivy League?

 

CONFUSED AT HARVARD

Confused at Harvard
By Jay Ambrose
Anchorage Daily News
Scripps Howard News Service
December 2, 2002

I've never been invited to speak at Harvard, and what that means is perfectly clear, at least if you buy the logic employed by faculty members of the famous institution's English department. I have been deprived of free speech.

That is precisely the argument some on the English faculty made after the group invited an Oxford poet to speak, canceled the invitation and then extended it again. The fact that this man had publicly advocated murder – or something very much like that – should not get in the way of his coming, these faculty members concluded, because that would get in the way of free speech.

There are many devises by which you can limit someone's freedom to speak out. You can come up with a speech code for students, which a Harvard Law School committee is considering. You can gather up the writings of a person and burn them or, if you are in government, you can try to outlaw the publication of those writings. If a person is giving a speech somewhere, you can run in and stuff a sock in his mouth.

But by no credible definition of the phrase is it a violation of "free speech" to fail to ask someone to come speak at your institution, and that would hold true even if you have previously invited him and then changed your mind. If a failure of the English department at Harvard to invite people to speak is an infringement on their free speech, then all of us who have not had that honor have thus had our free speech curtailed. Unless my friends are holding the truth from me, I would assume that is most of us.

Now what you could say, of course, is that an institution of learning that crudely establishes criteria of who will be and won't be allowed to talk will be limiting the chances of students to have the face-to-face experience of encountering a wide range of ideas. But what we have here is not an issue of disallowing speech but of proactively soliciting a speaker. And it hardly seems a clumsy, oafish, anti-intellectual stance to say that a good reason to reconsider an invitation are a poet's comments that U.S.-born Jewish settlers in Israel are "Nazis" who "should be shot dead."

So said Tom Paulin, the invited one, in a widely quoted newspaper interview. The poet's words are hard to explain away, especially when so much killing is going on in Israel. Was he engaging in hyperbole? If so, it was astonishingly irresponsible hyperbole. And no matter whether he meant his words literally or as a figurative means of expressing intense disgust, his is not rhetoric suggestive of a keenly analytical mind that has something meaningful to contribute, certainly not if his lecture ventures into a discourse of how Middle East suffering might be alleviated. Inviting him to speak at Harvard in fact confers a kind of legitimacy on someone whose quoted words in combination come down to one word: hate.

Meanwhile, at the same time the English profs are using free speech as an excuse to do something reprehensible, another part of Harvard is meandering its way to an actual infringement of free speech. Mostly because a couple of first-year students at the law school wrote a vile word and some racially offensive thoughts in an online exchange, the school's dean established a Committee on Healthy Diversity. By next spring, it will spout recommendations – and it may do as an association of black students recommends and establish a speech code. Bad thought, strangely named committee. Don't do it.

Speech codes really, truly are means of instructing people on what they can and cannot say; they really, truly do aim to control speech; they really, truly are tyrannical; they really, truly do contravene one of the noblest principles handed down to us through Western civilization. As an alternative, I have a plan for the confused people at Harvard. If some of those law students persist in their stupidities despite other people freely pointing out their mental and moral deficiencies, let the English faculty deal with them. It can refuse to invite them to give speeches.

 

HARVARD’S DISAPPEARING BACKBONE

Harvard's disappearing backbone
The Weekly Standard "scrapbook"
From the December 2, 2002 issue

Last week, The Scrapbook foolishly ran an item under the headline, "Harvard Grows a Backbone." We won't make that mistake again. Shortly after we applauded the university for disinviting Ulster poet and Oxford lecturer Tom Paulin – who had been scheduled to deliver the annual Morris Gray poetry lecture – Harvard's English department unanimously reinvited him. Professor Peter Sacks was quoted in the Boston Globe on the reinvitation: "Free speech was a principle that needed upholding here. This was a clear reaffirmation that the department stood strongly by the First Amendment."

The "speech" that Harvard's English teachers here pay obeisance to is arguably not protected by the First Amendment. Specifically, it was an incitement to murder American Jews who had become Israeli settlers. Last April, Paulin told the Egyptian paper Al-Ahram Weekly that these "Brooklyn-born" settlers "should be shot dead. I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them." Paulin has complained that this line was wrenched from its context. Okay, here's a little more context from the same interview: "I can understand how [Palestinian] suicide bombers feel," Paulin said. "I think, though, it is better to resort to conventional guerrilla warfare. I think attacks on civilians in fact boost morale."

Not to be pedantic, but the First Amendment also has nothing to do with the decision by a private university to bestow, or not bestow, the honor of delivering the annual Morris Gray poetry lecture. Of course, we don't actually expect the English faculty to understand constitutional law. We suspect that for them the words "First Amendment" serve the purpose of a ritual incantation. Translation: "We wouldn't want anyone to think that we're too spineless to take a stand against someone who declares open season on the Jews. We'll honor whom we damn well please. It's a matter of high principle. Now shut up and leave us alone."

In an apparently unrelated development, the Harvard Law School is simultaneously immersed in a debate over adopting a code restricting offensive speech. It will be interesting to see if the law students carve out an exception for inciting the murder of Jews (perhaps restricted to poets with a BBC pedigree), or if that will remain the franchise of the English department.

One witty correspondent, rightfully making fun of our "backbone" headline, forwarded us the Chronicle of Higher Education's report on Harvard's cave-in with the comment: "file under osteoporosis." This reminded us of the timeless Winston Churchill send-up of Ramsay MacDonald in the House of Commons, January 28, 1931:

I remember, when I was a child, being taken to the celebrated Barnum's Circus, which contained an exhibition of freaks and monstrosities, but the exhibit on the programme which I most desired to see was the one described as "The Boneless Wonder." My parents judged that that spectacle would be too revolting and demoralizing for my youthful eye, and I have waited fifty years to see the Boneless Wonder sitting on the Treasury Bench.

Now you can see the same thing at the finest American universities. The passage of an additional 70 years has not made the spectacle any less revolting and demoralizing.

 

“FREE SPEECH WAS A PRINCIPLE THAT NEEDED UPHOLDING HERE”

Harvard invites banned poet back
BBC news
November 21, 2002

Tom Paulin: Ban caused widespread debate

Poet Tom Paulin has been invited back to speak at Harvard University after his earlier ban linked to comments he made about Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.

Paulin, an Oxford fellow who has been teaching at Columbia University in New York, had his offer cancelled after he made the comments in an interview to an Egyptian newspaper.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly in April, Paulin said US-born settlers in the occupied territories were "Nazis, racists" and he had "nothing but hatred" for them.

The university cancelled a lecture he was to give to the English Department after complaints from pro-Israeli groups.

But the English department decided to offer the invitation again – in the interests of free speech – after a two-hour meeting.

"Free speech was a principle that needed upholding here," English professor Peter Sacks said on Wednesday. "This was a clear reaffirmation that the department stood strongly by the First Amendment."

Paulin was supposed to speak on 14 November, but will probably not make the lecture until next spring.

The banning of Paulin caused widespread debate in academic circles.

"We are ultimately stronger as a university if we together maintain our robust commitment to free expression, including the freedom of groups on campus to invite speakers with controversial views," said Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers.

In the interview, Paulin, who was born in Northern Ireland, also said he understood "how suicide bombers feel" but suggested the Palestinians should wage a guerrilla war instead of attacking civilians.

Last year he wrote a poem for the Observer newspaper, labelling Israeli soldiers "Zionist SS".

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.