Guest column: The fine print to freedom of speech

Evan M. Gildenblatt

Tuesday evening, Kent State was graced with a visit from a diplomat who has served in the United States as a representative of the State of Israel. Among other positions held, Ishmael Khaldi was posted as the Deputy Consul General at the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco and then appointed the Middle East and Arab Affairs Advisor to the Foreign Minister in Jerusalem. What makes him particularly unique, however, is that he was the first Bedouin member of the Israeli Foreign Service and the highest-ranking Muslim officer to date.

The distinctive perspective that Mr. Khaldi holds made him a prime candidate to lecture at Kent State, where we pride ourselves on diversity and inclusion. His remarkable story of growing up in a Bedouin tent, gaining degrees at Israel’s top universities, serving as a border patrolman in the Israeli Defense Forces and rising through the ranks of the foreign ministry, should serve as an inspiration to us all. Mr. Khaldi has shown countless times that, despite being a minority Muslim in a majority Jewish state, opportunities in a democracy are boundless regardless of religion, race, gender, skin color, political affiliation, sexual orientation, etc.

The evening, however, was abruptly interrupted by a Kent State professor who instigated a pre-meditated altercation with the speaker and then proceeded to hurl sickeningly disrespectful allegations at this guest of the university. While I wholeheartedly condemn the actions and words of this faculty member along with his abuse of the powerful influence over students that comes with professorship, I do not write this under such auspices. I write instead to remind us all of the reason why we are here and perhaps inject some much needed wisdom into this unfortunate situation in the hopes that it may become a learning experience.

As reiterated several times over the evening by Mr. Khaldi, the issues at hand are not black and white, and it surely ought to be realized that both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must accept responsibility for their actions in order to make sometimes-painful compromises. That being said, spreading virulent rhetoric with hate speech such as “death to Israel” can only serve to further inflame an already delicate situation. Forethought, let alone sound judgment and a basic sense of respect, dictates that nothing productive can come out of such a remark. An evening intended to be a steward of dialogue was hijacked by an individual with a radical agenda who had no intentions of productively furthering the discussion.

This question and answer session was a missed opportunity to facilitate dialogue and explore the answers to difficult and pressing questions. Of course, though, fringe hate-mongerers with no factual backing will almost always resort to imprudent and unfavorable tactics in order to advance their own skewed agendas. Conceivably, this is simply because there are no reasonable approaches that would make their point look anything but absolutely absurd. We live in a land where free-speech rights guarantee protection of most any speech except that which incites violence.

This does not, however, mean that the right to free speech should be abused and taken advantage of in a way can only be described as negligent. Each and every one of us can apply this on a personal level and begin to take responsibility for our own words and actions. To recklessly and precipitously direct harmful utterances against one another does nothing for the positive advancement of our values as a society. Surely, as a university, we are better than this. I call on all members of this community to condemn reckless actions on the part of those among us and to instead work collaboratively to facilitate thoughtful and productive dialogue.

Contact Evan M. Gildenblatt at [email protected].