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Archive for June 9th, 2016

Tragic loss of academic freedom

There is no doubt that the recent murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni poses a real threat to political and economic ties between Egypt and Italy.

Italy is, after all, considered to be Egypt’s most important economic partner in Europe.

Habib Battah shared this link

“A quick glimpse at countries like Turkey, Israel and the United States shows the extent to which academic freedom is constantly under threat.

In Turkey, hundreds of university professors are being investigated for signing a petition against the government’s policy towards Kurds.

In Israel, academic freedom is almost non-existent for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian students and professors. In the United States, there is a situation in which corporatization has encroached on university campuses, eating away the rights of non-tenured professors.

We are thereby in need of the defense of academic freedom in order for students and professors, who are paying high fees for information and to conduct research, to triumph.

That being said, it is worth noting that the threat to academic freedom in Egypt now supersedes that of other countries…

Amid the lack of defenders of academic freedom, the American University in Cairo, where Giulio was a visiting scholar, posted a shameful statement to extend its condolences for his “passing away recently” — Security forces have tightened their grip on all aspects of academic life.

We can see how security personnel at all Egyptian universities have extended their authority over university campuses through approving faculty appointments, deciding whether conferences, seminars and public lectures are to be held or not, and granting faculty members travel permits.

As we all know, anyone conducting social science research that requires fieldwork must get permission from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).

As is evident by its name, CAPMAS reflects a vision of information as a war effort.

These restrictions apply to Egyptian researchers, even those employed in public universities. We can imagine then how state security must have viewed a foreign researcher who spoke Arabic fluently, was present in the street without a permit, and, when questioned, revealed that he was conducting research on the state of workers and their syndicates following the January 25 revolution.

We are not certain of the events surrounding the death of Giulio Regeni, but we know for sure that his murder is a tragic manifestation of how students and researchers have absolutely no rights in Egypt.

It is true that the Egyptian constitution stipulates the freedom of universities (article 21), and the freedom of scientific research (article 23), but the reality is that the over-riding powers of state security forces have led to the systematic violation of constitutional rights.

Researchers and academics have at best fallen suspect to the whims of security officers, and at worse fallen prey to their brutality.”

By Khaled Fahmy

In its Friday issue, the Italian newspaper La Stampa published a photo of the 28-year-old student on its front page, under a headline that read, “Giulio, Egyptian police under accusation.”

According to this and other newspapers, the evidence suggests Regeni’s death was a case of intentional murder, rather than an accident.

These accounts propose he was arrested on January 25, Police Day, and summoned to a police station for an interrogation that led to his torture and death. The newspapers claim Giulio’s body was kept in one of the morgues until Italian authorities demanded to know what happened to him.

Egyptian authorities then, as far as the reports suggest, decided to get rid of the body by dumping it in the desert, claiming Regeni was killed in a road accident.

In addition to the grave repercussions of this tragic incident on Egyptian-Italian relations, it is equally indicative of the dire straits of academic research in Egypt.

Regeni’s gruesome murder will definitely harm the country’s reputation and its ability to attract researchers and students. It signifies the dangers that both Egyptian and foreign researchers face in Egypt today.

In reaction, the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) sent a strongly worded letter addressed to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, expressing outrage at the news of Regeni’s apparent torture and murder.

In its letter, dated February 4, the committee stated that,

what makes this case even more disturbing is that it is but the most recent, if the most deadly, example of the growing danger posed by the current political climate in Egypt to all those engaged in academic work. We have written to you repeatedly over the past months to express our deep concern regarding a range and number of violations of academic freedom and freedom of expression that would require countless pages to list in full: denial of entry to the country and harassment of numerous scholars and researchers; gross state interference in university student and faculty governance; the dismissals and expulsions of hundreds of students and faculty; the sentencing of academics to death.” The committee added that, “Regeni’s murder, far from an aberration, is in fact a predictable outcome of the progression of state repression of academics and students.”

In spite of its strident tone, MESA’s letter is the least that can be said in reaction to the dire state of academic freedom in Egypt. It also sheds light on the weakness of local oppositional voices in speaking out against the precarious existence that our universities, and educational and cultural institutes, are subjected to.

With the exception of a few civil society organizations, most significantly the March 9 Movement for the Independence of Universities and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, there are hardly any other voices that speak in defense of academic freedom and its significance.

The truth of the matter is that academic freedom and freedom of thought have always been under threat everywhere in the world. Such freedoms are in constant need of valiant defense against attempts to restrict them under the pretexts of the preservation of “societal norms” or “national security.”

That being said, it is worth noting that the threat to academic freedom in Egypt now supersedes that of other countries. This is not only due to what the Egyptian state deems a “war on terrorism,” which warrants all freedoms until it ends, but also due to the absence of defenders of academic freedom.

This comes at a time when voices that claim that academic freedom is an unnecessary luxury — or go as far as calling it a goblet of poison — are being heard loud and clear.

Amid the lack of defenders of academic freedom, the American University in Cairo, where Giulio was a visiting scholar, posted a shameful statement to extend its condolences for his “passing away recently” — Security forces have tightened their grip on all aspects of academic life.

We are not certain of the events surrounding the death of Giulio Regeni, but we know for sure that his murder is a tragic manifestation of how students and researchers have absolutely no rights in Egypt.

I understand the need for state security agencies to suspect, investigate and gather information on what is going on in the country. This is, after all, their role and duty.

I also understand and accept that these agencies have an added responsibility to curb lurking national threats. But state security agencies must abide by the law and the constitution. They must be subjected to public scrutiny and be held accountable.

An outlook that encourages scientific research, empowers researchers and students to approach original and critical subject matters must exist to balance state security’s skeptical mindset. Scientific research does not flourish by ruminating on the past or recycling information.

Therefore, state security agencies must lay their hands off our academic institutions.

We must separate public mobilization from statistics, for the logic behind such association is long gone.

Both society and the state need to perceive academic research as a necessity, not a luxury. Academic freedom must be understood as the basis for the advancement of society, rather than being yet another Western term that we parrot. Academics, including university professors, students, and researchers must hold on to the value of academic freedom, not only by demanding that state agencies stop harassing and monitoring them, but also through requiring them to facilitate their work.

Without holding on to the freedom of research and expression, we, foreigners and Egyptians, will remain vulnerable and susceptible to the gruesome destiny that Giulio Regeni faced.

This article was originally published in Arabic on albedaiah.

Commencement Address 2016 at American University in Beirut

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Dear graduating students,

This is the first commencement I have ever attended (I did not attend my own graduation). Further, I have to figure out how lecture you on success when I do not feel successful yet –and it is not false modesty.

Success as a Fragile Construction

For I have a single definition of success: you look in the mirror every evening, and wonder if you disappoint the person you were at 18, right before the age when people start getting corrupted by life.

Let him or her be the only judge; not your reputation, not your wealth, not your standing in the community, not the decorations on your lapel.

If you do not feel ashamed, you are successful. All other definitions of success are modern constructions; fragile modern constructions.

The Ancient Greeks’ main definition of success was to have had a heroic death. But as we live in a less martial world, even in Lebanon, we can adapt our definition of

success as having taken a heroic route for the benefits of the collective, as narrowly or broadly defined collective as you wish.

So long as all you do is not all for you, secret societies used to have a rule for uomo d’onore: do something for yourself and something for other members.

And virtue is inseparable from courage. Like the courage to do something unpopular.

Take risks for the benefit of others; it doesn’t have to be humanity, it can be helping say Beirut Madinati or the local municipality.

The more micro, the less abstract, the better.

Success requires absence of fragility. I’ve seen billionaires terrified of journalists, wealthy people who felt crushed because their brother in law got very rich, academics with Nobel who were scared of comments on the web.

The higher you go, the worse the fall. For almost all people I’ve met, external success came with increased fragility and a heightened state of insecurity.

The worst are those “former something” types with 4 page CVs who, after leaving office, and addicted to the attention of servile bureaucrats, find themselves discarded:

as if you went home one evening to discover that someone suddenly emptied your house of all its furniture.

But self-respect is robust –that’s the approach of the Stoic school, which incidentally was a Phoenician movement.

(If someone wonders who are the Stoics I’d say Buddhists with an attitude problem, imagine someone both very Lebanese and Buddhist).

I’ve seen robust people in my village Amioun who were proud of being local citizens involved in their tribe; they go to bed proud and wake up happy.

Or Russian mathematicians who, during the difficult post-Soviet transition period, were proud of making $200 a month and do work that is appreciated by twenty people –and considered that showing one’s decorations –or accepting awards–were a sign of weakness and lack of confidence in one’s contributions.

And, believe it or not, some wealthy people are robust –but you just don’t hear about them because they are not socialites, live next door, and drink Arak baladi not Veuve Cliquot.

Personal History

Now a bit of my own history. Don’t tell anyone, but all the stuff you think comes from deep philosophical reflection gambling instinct –just imagine a compulsive gambler

playing high priest.

People don’t like to believe it: my education came from trading and risk taking with some help from school.

I was lucky to have a background closer to that of a classical Mediterranean or a Medieval European than a modern citizen.

For I was born in a library –my parents had an account at Librarie Antoine in Bab Ed Driss and a big library.

They bought more books than they could read so they were happy someone was reading the books for them.

Also my father knew every erudite person in Lebanon, particularly historians.

So we often had Jesuit priests at dinner and because of their multidisciplinary erudition they were the only role models for me: my idea of education is to have professors just to eat with them and ask them questions.

So I valued erudition over intelligence –and still do.

I initially wanted to be a writer and philosopher; one needs to read tons of books for that –you had no edge if your knowledge was limited to the Lebanese Baccalaureat program.

So I skipped school most days and, starting at age 14, started reading voraciously.

Later I discovered an inability to concentrate on subjects others imposed on me.

I separated school for credentials and reading for one’s edification.

First Break

I drifted a bit with no focus, and remained on page 8 of the Great Lebanese Novel until the age of 23 (my novel was advancing one page per year).

Then I got a break on the day when at Wharton I accidentally discovered probability theory and became obsessed with it.

But, as I said it did not come from lofty philosophizing and scientific hunger, only from the thrills and hormonal flush one gets while taking risks in the markets.

A friend had told me about complex financial derivatives and I decided to make a career in them.

It was a combination of trading and complex mathematics.

The field was new and uncharted. But they were very difficult mathematically.

Greed and fear are teachers. I was like people with addictions who have a below average intelligence but were capable of the most ingenious tricks to procure their drugs.

When there was risk on the line, suddenly a second brain in me manifested itself and these theorems became interesting.

When there is fire, you will run faster than in any competition. Then I became dumb again when there was no real action.

Furthermore, as a trader the mathematics we used was adapted to our problem, like a glove, unlike academics with a theory looking for some application.

Applying math to practical problems was another business altogether; it meant a deep understanding of the problem before putting the equations on it.

So I found getting a doctorate after 12 years in quantitative finance much easier than getting simpler degrees.

I discovered along the way that the economists and social scientists were almost always applying the wrong math to the problems, what became later the theme of The Black Swan. Their statistical tools were not just wrong, they were outrageously wrong –they still are.

Their methods underestimated “tail events“, those rare but consequential jumps. They were too arrogant to accept it.

This discovery allowed me to achieve financial independence in my twenties, after the crash of 1987.

So I felt I had something to say in the way we used probability, and how we think about, and manage uncertainty.

Probability is the logic of science and philosophy; it touches on many subjects: theology, philosophy, psychology, science, and the more mundane risk engineering–incidentally probability was born in the Levant in the 8th Century as 3elm el musadafat, Science of hazard) used to decrypt messages.

So the past thirty years for me have been flaneuring across subjects, bothering people along the way, pulling pranks on people who take themselves seriously.

You take a medical paper and ask some scientist full of himself how he interprets the “p-value”; the author will be terrorized.

The International Association of Name Droppers

The second break came to me when the crisis of 2008 happened and felt vindicated and made another bundle putting my neck on the line.

But fame came with the crisis and I discovered that I hated fame, famous people, caviar, champagne, complicated food, expensive wine and, mostly wine commentators.

I like mezze with local Arak baladi, including squid in its ink (sabbidej), no less no more, and wealthy people tend to have their preferences dictated by a system meant to milk them.

My own preferences became obvious to me when after a dinner in a Michelin 3 stars with stuffy and boring rich people, I stopped by Nick’s pizza for a $6.95 dish and I haven’t had a Michelin meal since, or anything with complex names.

I am particularly allergic to people who like themselves to be surrounded by famous people, the IAND (International Association of Name Droppers).

So, after about a year in the limelight I went back to the seclusion of my library (in Amioun or near NY), and started a new career as a researcher doing technical

work.

When I read my bio I always feel it is that of another person: it describes what I did, Not what I am doing and would like to do.

On Advice and Skin in the Game

I am just describing my life.

I hesitate to give advice because every major single piece of advice I was given turned out to be wrong and I am glad I didn’t follow them.

I was told to focus and I never did.

I was told to never procrastinate and I waited 20 years for The Black Swan and it sold 3 million copies.

I was told to avoid putting fictional characters in my books and I did put in Nero Tulip and Fat Tony because I got bored otherwise.

I was told to Not insult the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal; the more I insulted them the nicer they were to me and the more they solicited Op-Eds.

I was told to avoid lifting weights for a back pain and became a weightlifter: never had a back problem since.

If I had to relive my life I would be even more stubborn and uncompromising than I have been.

One should never do anything without skin in the game.

If you give advice, you need to be exposed to losses from it. It is an extension to the silver rule.

So I will tell you what tricks I employ.

Do not read the newspapers, or follow the news in any way or form. To be convinced, try reading last years’ newspaper.

It doesn’t mean ignore the news; it means that you go from the events to the news, not the other way around.

If something is nonsense, you say it and say it loud. You will be harmed a little but will be antifragile – in the long run people who need to trust you will trust you.

When I was still an obscure author, I walked out of a studio Bloomberg Radio during an interview because the interviewer was saying nonsense.

Three years later Bloomberg Magazine did a cover story on me.

Every economist on the planet hates me (except of course those of AUB).

I’ve suffered two smear campaigns, and encouraged by the most courageous Lebanese ever since Hannibal, Ralph Nader, I took reputational risks by exposing large evil corporations  such as Monsanto, and suffered a smear campaign for it.

Treat the doorman with a bit more respect than the big boss.

If something is boring, avoid it –save taxes and visits to the mother in law. Why?

Because your biology is the best nonsense detector; use it to navigate your life.

The No-Nos

There are a lot of such rules in my books, so for now let me finish with a maxim. The following are no-nos:

Muscles without strength, friendship without trust, opinion without risk, change without aesthetics, age without values, food without nourishment, power without fairness,

facts without rigor, degrees without erudition, militarism without fortitude, progress without civilization, complication without depth, fluency without content,

and, most of all, religion without tolerance.

 

Robert Fisk: The immortality of a great, if flawed, historian

August 13, 2011 (Note the date)

Note: A couple of days ago, Amine Maaluf gave an interview to an insignificant Israeli channel i24. I still couldn’t get hold of a transcript in English, French or Arabic in order to write about it. However, there was an uproar in Lebanon over this interview: The gist of it is that Amine is wooing the Zionist lobbies and Israel with an eye for the purpose of snatching a Nobel for literature. More often than not, Nobel awards for Peace or Literature are highly politicized.

How many of the Nato admirals fighting the beast of Tripoli realise the origin of their title?

“Admiral” comes from the French amiral, which comes from the Arabic amir al-bahr which means “Master of the Sea”.

Our own “First Sea Lord” captures the original rather well. Then there’s the Spanish hero El Cid which comes from the Arabic el-sayed (“the Lord”). We eat lemon sorbet which comes from the Arabic charbat. We lie down on a mattress which originates with the Arabic matrah. And so on.

Amin Maalouf is promising an extensive study of etymology when, as a new member of the “Immortals” – he has just been elected to the Académie Française in Paris – he puts his Arab-European culture to good use at its Thursday meetings.

If the French have banned the burka, they might as well know that matraque (truncheon) comes from the Arabic matraq. Maalouf is better known in France than Britain, although many will have admired his wonderful novels, among them The Rock of Tanios, a grim, painfully accurate account of sectarian life in Lebanon’s Chouf mountains and colonial interference in the Levant.

However, I believe his finest work is The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, a non-fiction account of the first “war of civilisation” drawn mostly from Arab rather than European documents. It revealed how the starving knights of Christendom ate their dead Muslim victims near the Syrian city of Homs. Even Assad’s lads haven’t quite resorted to this.

Now Maalouf returns with more non-fiction, Disordered World, Setting a Course for the 21st Century, and I fear for his reputation.

The New York Times puffed him as “the clear, calm, cogent and persuasive voice from the Arab world that the West has been waiting for”.

Well, not quite. Maalouf, a Maronite Christian who has spent the past 30 years in self-imposed exile in Paris, admits that “I am not a specialist on the Muslim world, still less an Islamic scholar”.

Perhaps for this reason, his view of the Middle East-Western world is dizzying yet deeply flawed. When he says that “the end of the balance of terror has created a world obsessed with terror”, I can only agree. Yet when he tells us that “rich or poor, arrogant or downtrodden, occupiers or occupied, they are – we are – all aboard the same fragile raft and we are all going down together”, I can only say that this is nonsense.

The Palestinians who are occupied by the Israelis and the Israelis who are occupying the West Bank are not in the “same fragile raft”.

One lot have won (for now). The other lot have lost.

The real question – in the case of Palestine – is whether the Israelis will stop stealing Palestinian land that does not belong to them, upon which they are building colonies for Israelis, and Israelis only, against all international law.

It is worth reflecting – as Maalouf does not – that back in 1983, he was part of a Lebanese delegation which visited Israel for Amin Gemayel, when the Lebanese president was going along with America’s hopeless desire for an Israeli-Lebanese peace agreement. Maalouf inspected the damage caused by Palestinian Katyusha rockets to the Jewish town of Kiryat Shmona.

I can see why he has buried himself in the idea of “both sides losing“, but there is a moral, ethical side to this which seems to be missing from Maalouf’s writing. In 1982, the Israelis in Lebanon had inflicted infinitely more suffering (17,500 dead, mostly Lebanese civilians) than the Palestinians had caused in Israel.

(And Israel continued to occupy South Lebanon till 2000, with hundreds more casualties, when they had to withdraw without any negotiations or conditions)

(There is a difference between the right of “Know your existential enemy” and cooperating with the enemy at any level)

When it comes to democracies, Maalouf tells us that he doesn’t “know many which function better” than America’s. Really?

And when he asks himself whether “in the course of the past few decades have the Americans and Israelis not borne a more specific responsibility” for the world’s decline, the answer “probably” is not good enough.

But he is a friendly soul. I met him many years ago, just after the publication of The Rock of Tanios, at a Maronite monastery high in the fog-covered early summer hills of the Metn, where monks offered the most devastating arak with breakfast.

A slightly chubby, humorous man, Maalouf looked like what he was and is: a great author.

As a political animal, however, he sometimes sounds like a boring prelate.

“My profound [sic] conviction,” he tells us, “is that too much weight is placed on the influence of religion on people, and too little on the influence of people on religion.” This may impress “Immortals” but not, I suspect, us ordinary folk. But let’s not be too hard on the great man.

“No serious observer,” he writes, “who has combed through the accounts of meetings at which the decision to go to war [in Iraq in 2003] was taken has reported the slightest evidence to suggest the real motive was to install democracy in Iraq.”

Instead, the US created a system of political representation based on religious or ethnic origin. “That the great US democracy brought the Iraqi people this poisoned gift of sacrosanct communitarianism is a shame and an indignity.”

And then the Maalouf “coup”. He is astonished to find “the leader of the Western democracies wondering at the dawn of the 21st century if it might not be a good idea after all to support the emergence of democratic regimes in Egypt, Arabia, Pakistan… But this fine idea was soon forgotten… the country of Abraham Lincoln reached the conclusion that all this was much too risky… free elections would bring the most radical elements to power… Democracy would have to wait.”

Let’s hope the other “Immortals” listen to that.

Note: I read all of Maaluf works, except the latest one Sitting on the banks of the River Seine, and wrote extensive reviews on them. When it comes to offering opinions, like in Disordered World and  Setting a Course for the 21st Century, Maaluf blackens half the book with lame excuses on the ground that he is Not an expert on the subject matter.

No!  Rich and poor are Not in the same boat. The thousands of migrants fleeing war-torn countries and drowning in seas are Not in the same leisure boats of the rich and powerful.

Time for Remembrance. July 29, 2009

I demand of Him never to die.

Time has no beginning.

Big Bang and the ones that fizzled are point of views.

Time should have no end.

Man created time to reason with death.

Man created time to race against death.

 

I demand an all encompassing Merciful God.

I demand Him to reconsider the timeless sentences.

I have a rage toward a death that may last forever.

I cannot fathom eternity;

I was not trained for eternal life or death.

Time should have to start and it should end.

Indeed, the sun will die.

Earth will melt into thin air.

 

Everything has its time clock;

Cells, iron and stone all have their own clocks.

 

Man created time to reason with death.

Man created time to race against death.

I demand of Him to remember everything.

I demand of Him to be the eternal witness.

I need Him to witness

That, once upon a time, I did exist.

 

Man created time to reason with death.

Man created time to race against death.

Oh my God, oh his Devils,

Someone, please, win this race for me.

Andrew Cuomo and Other Democrats Launch Severe Attack on Free Speech to Protect Israel

Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman. June 6, 2016

One of the greatest free speech threats in the West is the growing, multi-nation campaign literally to outlaw advocacy of boycotting Israel.

People get arrested in Paris — the site of the 2015 “free speech” (for Muslim critics) rally — for wearing pro-boycott T-shirts.

Pro-boycott students on U.S. campuses — where the 1980s boycott of apartheid South Africa flourished — are routinely sanctioned for violating anti-discrimination policies.

Canadian officials have threatened to criminally prosecute boycott advocates.

British government bodies have legally barred certain types of boycott advocacy.

Israel itself has outright criminalized advocacy of such boycotts.

Notably, all of this has been undertaken with barely a peep from those who styled themselves free speech crusaders when it came time to defend anti-Muslim cartoons.

But now, New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo (above, in the 2016 Celebrate Israel Parade) has significantly escalated this free speech attack on U.S. soil, aimed at U.S. citizens.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

“Even more disturbing, Cuomo’s executive order requires that one of his commissioners compile “a list of institutions and companies” that — “either directly or through “Whenever the government creates a blacklist based on political views it raises serious First Amendment concerns and this is no exception.”

One of the greatest free speech threats in the west is now spreading on U.S. soil.
theintercept.com|By Glenn Greenwald

The prince of the New York political dynasty yesterday issued an executive order directing all agencies under his control to terminate any and all business with companies or organizations that support a boycott of Israel.

It ensures that citizens who hold and express a particular view are punished through the denial of benefits that other citizens enjoy: a classic free speech violation (imagine if Cuomo issued an order stating that “anyone who expresses conservative viewpoints shall have all state benefits immediately terminated”).

Even more disturbing, Cuomo’s executive order requires that one of his commissioners compile “a list of institutions and companies” that — “either directly or through a parent or subsidiary” — support a boycott. (McCarthite era of compiling names?)

That government list is then posted publicly, and the burden falls on them to prove to the state that they do not, in fact, support such a boycott.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told The Intercept: “Whenever the government creates a blacklist based on political views it raises serious First Amendment concerns and this is no exception.” Reason’s Robby Soave denounced it today as “brazenly autocratic.”

To read the relevant provisions of Cuomo’s order is to confront the mentality of petty censoring tyranny, flavored with McCarthyite public shaming, in its purest form. See for yourself:

Making matters worse still is the imperious nature of Cuomo’s order.

As Salon’s Ben Norton noted, “The New York legislature has unsuccessfully tried to push through anti-boycott legislation for months.” So instead, Cuomo just unilaterally decreed this punishment of boycott advocates.

New York’s Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer wasted no time, now demanding a federal statute that tracks Cuomo’s order.

Hillary Clinton, last July, wrote a public letter to her (and the Democratic Party’s) billionaire supporter, self-described Israel fanatic Haim Saban, endorsing the core principle of this censorship effort — that boycotting Israel is a form of anti-Semitism — and did so again in her March speech before AIPAC. Numerous Republicans support similar measures.

Beyond the McCarthyism and profound free speech threat, the stench of hypocrisy of Cuomo and Democrats is suffocating. Just over two months ago, Cuomo banned state officials from traveling to North Carolina in order to support the boycott against that American state in protest over its anti-transgender law.

That pro-boycott executive order from Cuomo began by proclaiming that “New York state is a national leader in protecting the civil rights and liberties of all of its citizens” and thus barred “publicly funded travel” to North Carolina.

But in justifying this punishment for Israel critics, Cuomo’s counsel told the New York Times: “It’s one thing to say I want to engage in political speech. It’s another thing to say I’m going to sanction you or penalize you for engaging in commercial activity.”

But that — “I’m going to sanction you or penalize you for engaging in commercial activity” — is exactly what Cuomo did just two months ago by boycotting North Carolina.

Think about how warped that is: To the governor of New York, it’s not only permissible but noble to boycott an American state, but it’s immoral and worthy of punishment to boycott Israel, a foreign country guilty of a decadeslong brutal and illegal occupation.

Questions submitted by The Intercept to Cuomo were not answered as of publication.

More ironic still is that Cuomo, in imposing a boycott of North Carolina, said he was doing so because in “a free society the equal rights of all citizens … must be protected and cherished” — exactly the principle that the boycott of Israel is seeking to fulfill by ending oppression and discrimination against Palestinians.

But even if you disagree with the Israel boycott itself, no rational person should want Andrew Cuomo and other elected officials to have the power to dictate which political views are acceptable and which ones result in denial of state benefits.

The free speech hypocrisy on the part of all sorts of people here is obvious.

In 2012, conservatives were furious when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would block the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A from expanding in the city as punishment for its owner’s anti-gay activism, depicting this move as a grave threat to free speech (a position we shared).

Throughout 2015, pundits such as New York’s Jonathan Chait wrapped themselves in the free speech flag when it came time to defend racist and anti-gay speech on campus, insisting that all forms of speech, even “hate speech,” should be protected (positions we also share).

Yet now, a systematic, international campaign — fully bipartisan in the U.S. — is being implemented to abuse state resources and the force of law for a full-frontal assault on free speech and free assembly rights, and virtually none of them is objecting because it’s all in service of protecting Israel from criticism.

It’s bizarre enough that someone gets elected as governor of New York and then believes it’s part of his job to shield Israel from criticism.

That he does so by assaulting the free speech rights of citizens of his own country — just weeks after imposing a boycott on another American state — tells you all you need to know about the role Israel continues to play in American discourse and the willingness of people to stomp on free speech principles the moment doing so benefits their political goals.


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