Saturday, August 04, 2012

Talk Is Cheap- And Overrated

Perhaps it's something in the air.  Or in the water.   Or the food supply.

In mid-July, Chick-fil-a president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy stated in a radio interview

I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,  I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.  

Asked three days later about the company's support of traditional, rather than same-sex, marriage, Cathy replied "guilty as charged."

Fighting words, those- at least judging from the firestorm of criticism from supporters of gay rights, including the mayors of Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco.     Suggestions of discrimination or discriminatory intent were made by partisans, although little hard evidence has been proven by individuals who, hitherto, apparently had been unconcerned about possible discrimination by the fast food chain- or by its competitors.    However, an offending remark had been made, and that cannot be allowed.

It may be of equal parts fitting and reprehensible, then, that a Tucson-area man has been fired after visiting a Chick-fil-a drive thru, ordering water, and giving a hard time to the young woman at the window.   CFO/Treasurer Adam Smith of Vante Co. videotaped himself and, after the video went viral, his company announced in a statement "the actions of Mr. Smith do not reflect our corporate values in any manner."

Given that Smith acted on his own time without any reference to his employer, he likely was dismissed because said employer was concerned about the impact of his sentiments upon the firm's reputation, an outcome cheered by many on the right.   He now reportedly has received numerous calls and death threats, perhaps by some of the same conservatives who had complained that Dan Cathy's free speech had been violated, and has fled with his family from his home.

Neither the criticism of the CEO for his remarks about traditional marriage nor the dismissal of the CFO for obnoxiously expressing his contrary view ran afoul of the speech clause of the First Amendment, given that clearly neither involved government.   But a third instance in which free expression of political values is being vigorously discouraged involves the report of the working group of the University of California's Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion which, as Ken White of Salon describes, was

tasked to explore how the UC could be made more inclusive and welcoming for Jewish students (and) found that many were distressed by the rhetoric emerging from campus debates about Israel and its policies. Organized events like “Israeli Apartheid Week” have become increasingly contentious and fraught with incendiary language, particularly at UC Irvine and UC Berkeley, where such protests led to a lawsuit asserting that the university failed to protect Jewish students from assaults by violent anti-Israel protesters.

Anti-Israel protests, the Jewish Student Campus Climate Fact-Finding Team Report & Recommendations notes

routinely include “Apartheid Walls”– a depiction of the barrier/wall constructed by Israel along its border with the West Bank; “die ins” in which students portraying Palestinians spontaneously fall down as though they have been subject to mass killings by Israelis; mock “checkpoints” which are intended to mimic Israel checkpoints on the West Bank in which students coming through the “check point” are supposed to experience what Palestinians are allegedly subjected to. These “check points” include students re-enacting scenes in which Israeli soldiers are portrayed as engaging in indiscriminate acts of violence and degradation of Palestinians; and the dissemination of literature and information which accuse Israel of “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing” and the imposition of an “apartheid state.” These protests describe alleged atrocities committed by Israelis devoid of context with the unmistakable message that Israelis/Jews are carrying out a unilateral campaign of violence directed against innocent Palestinians. Most outrageously for Jewish students, the protests routinely analogize Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews.

The council's working group recommends the university “push its current harassment and nondiscrimination provisions further, clearly define hate speech in its guidelines, and seek opportunities to prohibit hate speech on campus.”

Equating Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories to the treatment of blacks in South Africa is a radical distortion of the concept of apartheid, as explained by Richard A. Goldstone (hardly an ardent Zionist), who explains that in the territories

there is no intent to maintain “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.” This is a critical distinction, even if Israel acts oppressively toward Palestinians there. South Africa’s enforced racial separation was intended to permanently benefit the white minority, to the detriment of other races. By contrast, Israel has agreed in concept to the existence of a Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, and is calling for the Palestinians to negotiate the parameters.

But until there is a two-state peace, or at least as long as Israel’s citizens remain under threat of attacks from the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will see roadblocks and similar measures as necessary for self-defense, even as Palestinians feel oppressed. As things stand, attacks from one side are met by counterattacks from the other. And the deep disputes, claims and counterclaims are only hardened when the offensive analogy of “apartheid” is invoked.

Those seeking to promote the myth of Israeli apartheid often point to clashes between heavily armed Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank, or the building of what they call an “apartheid wall” and disparate treatment on West Bank roads. While such images may appear to invite a superficial comparison, it is disingenuous to use them to distort the reality. The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks; while it has inflicted great hardship in places, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the state in many cases to reroute it to minimize unreasonable hardship. Road restrictions get more intrusive after violent attacks and are ameliorated when the threat is reduced.

But this should not be about historical or demographic distortion or minimizing, by analogy with Palestine, the atrocities committed against South African blacks by the white minority before apartheid was ended.   As White argues, "The best response to 'hate speech' is more speech, not unconstitutional regulation that will lead to expensive litigation. Speech can be painful. But censorship is not the right balm for that pain. Vigorous rebuttal is."

Similarly, the answer to Chick-fil-a is not to ridicule or attack "homophobia." Nor should the vow of public officials to block establishment of stores in their cities replace "kiss-ins," lobbying of franchise operators, or other tools of a democratic republic.

It's happening a lot in this country, a formal or informal assertion of speech codes.   Talk is mistaken for behavior, speech with action, and the results are not pretty.

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