The Dom Post editorial:
Two kinds of liberal politics collided at Victoria University this week, when holidaying Israeli soldiers arrived to speak about their country’s 2014 invasion of Gaza.
That war was disproportionate in every sense, from Israel’s vastly superior military power to the Palestinians’ far larger death toll (2251 Gazans died). It was also miserably familiar – one more act to prolong the hatred and bloodshed in a region already drenched in both.
On the face of it, then, the call by a group of academics and student activists to stop the event had a certain logic. Why should proponents of the war be allowed to talk while many of its victims are dead? And what might they offer that, say, a United Nations report in June, which found suggestions of war crimes on both sides, does not?
Call that one kind of liberalism, one that believes people can be disqualified from even offering their perspective, at least in an official setting, because their actions are so objectionable.
The problem is it’s completely wrong. The better, simpler liberalism is the one that insists on allowing people to say their bit, even when it offends.
This is Voltaire’s famous credo – “defending to the death your right to say it” and all that. It’s fundamental to a democracy, which relies on ordinary people making their own minds up. And it’s supposed to be an idea that animates a university, a place where every theory ought to be able to be debated freely.
So Victoria’s English lecturer Dougal McNeill may be right to castigate Israel for the Gazan war, or to call the soldiers’ speeches “apologetics for military violence”, but he is entirely wrong to think either means the soldiers should be barred from talking.
The point is not that activists are wrong. It is that they are so convinced they are right that they are prepared to shout down anyone who disagrees. This is a grim, insidious way of thinking.
They believe their right not to be offended outweighs other’s rights to make speech or receive it.