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Writing letters to the editor is "fundamental to the democratic process in our country," says George Beres, who says he's had 302 published. Opinions, Served Often

Freedom of expression under attack on University campus

May 18, 2006

At the University, as at other universities, freedom of expression - long taken for granted under a Constitution that guarantees it - is becoming less secure, as it is throughout our nation. At the federal level, legitimate concern over national security has allowed something illegitimate to threaten us: A paranoid president who has traded values of law for shallow autocracy.

Two major programs at the University, on May 18 and 19, show us how easy it is to trash our chances to speak openly. Thursday, Ward Churchill speaks in the EMU Ballroom, where just two years ago his public views on the cause of 9/11 resulted in his being denied the right to speak as scheduled. Friday, Middle East authority Jeff Blankfort appears at the University Gumwood Room to describe how a foreign nation's lobby expands the influence of Israel on campus and in government.

As a member of the Wayne Morse Board of Eugene, I feel there is ironic necessity for him to visit the statue of the senator at the Morse Free Speech Plaza of the Lane County Building. Morse would not have tolerated denial of Churchill's freedom of speech by Morse-related programs. He also would have challenged fellow legislators who allow themselves to be intimidated by Israeli lobbies. His righteous indignation would have soared even higher over Lane County's decision to pull the plug on the Morse Youth free speech amplification on Saturdays at the Morse Plaza.

Not all are willing to hear a Churchill speak, nor be exposed to Israel's ominous infiltration of our government. No surprise in a nation where just a year ago, a majority approved of George Bush's war policies. That's fair.

People should have the freedom to listen to what they wish. But the principle becomes endangered when they allow a voice to be silenced.

Efforts to silence have been underlying factors in attempts by some to quell free expression about Israel on the University campus. A good example is New York Post columnist Daniel pipes labeling University faculty member Doug Card anti-Semetic in 2004. Card brought a libel suit against Pipes for wrongly alleging he made anti-Semitic comments. The Pipes pattern of intimidation is found in two lower profile incidents affecting the sponsor of the Blankfort appearance. The Pacifica Forum was ejected from two campus meeting sites by frightened sponsors who gave it no hearing on charges of anti-Semitism erroneously leveled by two individuals. Then a member of the Forum was labeled anti-Semitic in three published letters from faculty members who reacted to his claim that absence of a Middle East Studies program allows Israel to get favored emphasis in the curriculum.

There is room for differences of opinion on a campus committed to free expression. Concern has to grow when some attempt to squelch it.

Free speech in the land of Wayne Morse

Friday, February 18, 2005

IN MY OPINION by George Beres

I never met Oregon's gadfly senator of the mid-20th century, Wayne Morse. I'm told he never squirmed. But today he might be squirming in his grave.

In some ways, were Morse with us, he would be having a field day. He'd be his old self, angry and outspoken about what is happening in Washington, D.C., and Iraq. But something in his old back yard of Eugene would stir in him an emotion foreign to his lifetime: embarrassment. How, he would ask, could the center bearing his name at the University of Oregon Law School turn away an invited speaker, depriving him of something always vital to Morse: freedom of expression?

That's what has happened at the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics. It has disinvited Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado professor at the center of a national controversy. Churchill was to share with his wife, Colorado professor Natsu Taylor Saito, a luncheon address at a conference co-sponsored by the Morse Center.

Churchill, an ethnic studies professor, is controversial because of an essay he wrote in 2001 suggesting there was some justification for the 9/11 attacks. The UO decision to remove him from the Morse program followed action by Hamilton College of New York to cancel his appearance there.

There is irony in the announcement of Churchill being dropped from a UO event coming a month to the day before scheduled reopening of the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza at the Lane County building in downtown Eugene. On March 15, the remodeled plaza will be opened with the unveiling of a life-size statue of Oregon's most famous senator.

As a board member of the Morse Corp., I've seen the statue. It has the senator in a typical pose, gesturing vigorously with a forefinger. From what I know of the man, today he would be pointing that finger directly at the center that bears his name.

Many were the times citizens -- including those in his home state -- did not want to hear what Morse had to say. But he had the courage and freedom to say it. Prime example is his early opposition to the war in Vietnam, as one of only two U.S. senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that illegally expanded the war.

Churchill's essay -- written more than three decades and three wars later -- used extreme language. He described some victims in the World Trade Center as "technocrats" and "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official who executed Hitler's plan to exterminate Jews during World War II. True or not, his words stirred a lot of anger, just like Morse's statements that went counter to government policy.

Margaret Hallock, director of the Morse Center, said she believes that in the aftermath of the controversy growing around Churchill, his presentation with his wife would "overshadow two days' worth of other presentations." What would add to Morse's anger is the assumption that the center agrees with Colorado's governor, who said Churchill holds "pro-terrorist views."

At issue is Churchill's written statement: "On the morning of 9/11, a few more chickens -- along with some half-million dead Iraqi children -- came home to roost in a big way at the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center."

In response, Churchill has said: "I am not a defender of the 9/11 attacks, but simply pointed out if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned."

Morse might have used different words. But his willingness to speak the unpopular when it needed to be heard would have resulted in his saying the same thing. Were he to disagree with Churchill, Morse still would insist on the man's right to express his views.

If Churchill ever does make it to Eugene, there's at least one venue where he could freely speak: The Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza.

George Beres is a board member of the Wayne Morse Corp. The views expressed here are his own.

January 5, 2005
Guest Viewpoint: Wild accusations of anti-Semitism stoke fears, squelch debate
By George Beres

Eugene is a university town, so it's natural to ask: From what does "academic freedom" need to be protected? The threats always have been there, but never more pronounced than today, according to a Dec. 25 Associated Press article suggesting that higher education is facing a simultaneous effort by a loose coalition of attackers - conservative extremists, Christian fundamentalists and pro-Israel lobbyists.

Many of us safe in the shelter of Oregon mistakenly identify such attackers as cranks. They supposedly are all "out there somewhere," as in the case of a discredited New York Post columnist, Daniel Pipes. He wrongly accused University of Oregon instructor Doug Card of teaching anti-Semitism in his sociology classes.

I have awakened to the unhappy reality that Pipes clones are alive and flourishing in our midst.

The Dec. 2 Register-Guard reported a settlement of Card's lawsuit against Pipes. I wrote Card not to congratulate him, but to commiserate about a result that served Pipes' purposes. Pipes and his fellow defendant, Jonathan Schanzer, changed their original criticism of Card, now saying, "He does not condone extremism in the classroom."

Yet Pipes exploited the propaganda value of the situation by getting Card to publicly condemn anti-Semitism, as if the professor harbored secret views to the contrary. He also got him to condemn professors who use their classrooms to promote anti-Semitism, as if that were some common cancer on the campus.

What those public comments accomplished was to strengthen efforts to mislead the public about alleged anti-Semitism by college teachers. That fits with what I've observed of Pipes' efforts to create a culture of suspicion in society, stemming from instructions given nationwide for letters to the editor to be written labeling as anti-Semitic anyone who criticizes policies of Israel.

I've observed a related controversy on the UO campus as a member of the Pacifica Forum, created to discuss issues of peace and its absence. We have met on or near the campus for more than a decade. Participation is open to all.

A year ago, one of our guests went to our sponsor, the Wesley Foundation, accusing the forum of having anti-Semitic programs. The foundation asked us to find another location. Pacifica was given no opportunity to confront its accuser. The sponsor wished to risk no "complications," and Pacifica had to leave.

The forum returned to campus to meet on Fridays in the Erb Memorial Union, because the Survival Center generously gave nominal sponsorship to Pacifica. Within weeks, the accuser confronted the center's student board with the same groundless charges. The center reacted without exploring the validity of the complaint. When Pacifica was granted a brief meeting with the board, the students said their decision was based on a Pacifica exhibit pamphlet, which suggested that some Jews were guilty of self-victimization.

Did Pacifica endorse that claim? Or was it in the exhibit to illustrate demonization of Jews, which Pacifica opposes? The Survival Center will never know, because it did not ask. It was reacting to intimidation. The facts made no difference.

The Survival Center and the Wesley Foundation are well-meaning, and generous with sponsorship. There was no smallness on their part in evicting Pacifica Forum.

But there was fear - fear of further pressure from a tiny minority that alleges discrimination even in the absence of provocation. That minority wields power through fear.

The tactic is used with equal effectiveness by Christian fundamentalists whose growing control of the federal administration is a strange variety of churchly proselyting - converting a supposedly godless democracy into a theocracy.

The strategy is to reject dialogue - a means fine-tuned by the propaganda of Pipes and his fellows who seek to insulate Israel from criticism from any source.

Professor Card and the Pacifica Forum are among local victims of that panic-mongering. The true victim is freedom of expression made voiceless when attacked with the weapon of fear by those with self-serving motives.

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