It is right and prudent to hear and to confront those who hold appalling views; I do not believe that even the most fervent commitment to free speech and inquiry requires us to honor them (News, “In About-Face, English Dept. Re-Invites Anti-Israeli Poet,” Nov. 20). Tom Paulin apparently agrees with my second point and has argued that a poet’s reputation ought to be reevaluated in the light of his politics.
I was unable to attend the English department meeting at which the faculty voted to again honor Tom Paulin with the Morris Gray Lectureship, and so have, by my own doing, forfeited my right to have my opposition to renewing that honor formally counted. With respect to that decision, I acknowledge that principled people can disagree about precisely what principle—free speech or the exercise of judgement—is applicable in this case.
It is not clear what Tom Paulin thinks of my first point. It has been reported that, in addition to his other views on the illegitimacy of states and the worthlessness of persons, Paulin supports the Boycott Israeli Goods (BIG) Campaign, which also calls upon artists and intellectuals to boycott any cultural exchange—political or otherwise—with Israelis. If this is correct, and if Paulin accepts our invitation, I would like to inform him that I, a professor of poetry and an Israeli citizen, will be a participant in the event. We have announced our commitment to unfettered speech; I can only hope that Paulin will either honor his own contrary commitments or publicly renounce them.
Oren J. Izenberg ’91
Nov. 21, 2002
The writer is assistant professor of English and American Literature and Language.