Incivility erupts at controversial lecture

Alison Weir speaks at her lecture called “Israel-Palestine: What the Media Leaves Out” on Friday, April 19. (Photo by Sarah Sheafer)

The room was packed. There weren’t enough chairs to accomodate everyone in one of the building’s larger rooms, so people were turning to the Education Center’s lobby for additional chairs. Before Alison Weir began her lecture, people could feel the tension in the room. While some of the attendees did not know what to expect, a few came prepared to question Weir’s stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict. After the conclusion of her lecture, during the question and answer portion, the room erupted.

At one point, someone yelled out, “Classic anti-Semitism.” At several moments, some of the attendees exited the room upset. After being told to stop interrupting the speaker, one woman was escorted out of the room for being “disruptive.”

Why did incivility erupt at Friday’s lecture “Israel-Palestine: What the Media Leaves Out” presented by alleged anti-Semite Weir? This question can only be answered by taking a closer look at the events leading up to the lecture.

Circumstances Surrounding the Lecture

While the event was publicized like any other lecture at the College, it reached the radar of the President’s Office. The Department of Sociology and Anthropology, the Office of Institutional Diversity and an outside organization called Charleston Peace One Day initially sponsored the event. Controversy first arose when senior David Lappin contacted the department and office, asking for them to withdraw support of the event, which he said constituted hate speech. While the office ultimately decided to take back its sponsorship, the department continued its support. According to the department’s director Heath Hoffmann, withdrawing support would have gone against the principle of academic freedom.

Unsatisfied with Hoffmann’s response, Lappin contacted the President’s Office. Chief of Staff Brian McGee responded by informing Lappin that the College was officially withdrawing all monetary support of the event.

Traveling Israeli professor Naomi Gale and Marty Perlmutter, Director of the Jewish Studies Program, also expressed concern about the lecture leading up to Friday. At one point, Perlmutter asked to see an outline of the lecture in order to provide a potential respondent, but Weir declined. Lappin, Gale and Perlmutter all said that they wished departmental sponsorship was withdrawn, but wanted the event to go on, supporting free speech.

(To read about what went on prior to the lecture, click here.)

Alison Weir’s Lecture

While students, faculty and members of the community had concerns about the lecture, many of them still attended the event. Before Weir’s critics spoke up, she gave her much anticipated lecture. Weir started off by explaining her background. She told the audience that she didn’t know anything about the conflict until she started researching it 13 years ago. She remembered thinking “the Middle East seemed distant and irrelevant.”

It wasn’t until her first trip to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza during the second intifada as a freelance journalist when she “noticed the coverage appeared one-sided.”

“The more I looked into it, the more shocked I became,” Weir said. “Even though the media consistently calls Israel’s actions as retaliatory, it is not.”

Weir focused on the lack of accurate media coverage done by Americans. She discussed how while the media reports on deaths from both sides, much more of their attention is directed toward Israeli causalities. However, she noted that most deaths occur on the Palestinian side.

In addition to focusing more on Israeli deaths as opposed to Palestinian, she noted that the American media tends to omit certain coverage. “There is dissent in Israel with young soldiers refusing to take part,” Weir said. “We rarely hear about this important aspect.”

Why should Americans care? Weir noted that the United States gives over $8 million per day to Israel. As a result, Americans are directly connected to the region.

“That’s off the charts of our expenditures abroad,” Weir said. “So we are directly connected to what Israel does and therefore it is important to know what it is doing.”

Weir also discussed the history behind the conflict. She said it was important to note because it is often portrayed inaccurately. She called the history “fairly simple” and “not complex.” During the Ottoman Empire, the region was multicultural with Jews and Arabs living peacefully together. However, when political Zionism was on the rise, there was the discussion of a home for the Jewish people to escape persecution. Weir said Palestine was chosen because of its Biblical connections. However, she noted that “it was not a land without a people.”

The region was predominately Arab until Jewish people began to immigrate there. In addition, Weir claimed that the Jewish people ethnically cleansed certain areas leading up to the creation of the state of Israel.

Weir also discussed her first trip to Israel where she saw entire residential areas destroyed. She noted that at one point in her trip, she heard gunfire while visiting Gaza. She assumed at the time it was coincidental, but looking back, she thought the Israelis were trying to send her a message to not go there.

“I saw a people and land being destroyed through the use of American tax dollars,” Weir said. “This is what I saw.”

Traveling Israeli professor Naomi Gale asks Alison Weir to define the borders of Palestine after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, specifically noting Transjordan. Weir responded, “There’s lots of maps. Let them figure it out.” (Photo by Sarah Sheafer)

The Audience’s Response

After Weir’s lecture, Lappin was the first attendee to ask a question. He first thanked her for coming and then asked her whether she recognized the contributions made by Israelis. Before finishing his question, Weir asked that he keep his response short and said, “Don’t give a speech.” From that moment on, matters only seemed to get worse.

Several audience members yelled out, “You’re distorting the facts.” Others interrupted her by saying, “It’s not true.” At one point, Weir said, “I will ask security to escort people out who interrupt.”

An audience member asked Weir if she recognized the state of Israel. She responded, “Recognizing Israel as it stands would mean we recognize that it was okay that they ethnically cleansed the place.” Several audience members challenged Weir, asking her to define the term and cite her sources. When an attendee asked her to give specific examples, the audience clapped. While she mainly told the audience that all her citations were heavily noted on her website, she said she read books, some written by Israelis, that “documented that criteria.”

At one point, a student who said he was not Jewish, asked Weir to comment on the Boston Marathon explosions. He wanted to know how the American population should react to terrorism. While Weir said the event was tragic, she also said she would not “answer questions that [were] shallow.”

Another student asked Weir if she was aware that terrorists in Gaza launched rockets from hospitals and schools, and as a result, this is why there are more Palestinian deaths. The student also informed Weir that the Israelis send leaflets before targeting the source of rocket launches. Weir responded, “This is one of Israel’s propaganda talking points that is untrue.” Many audience members were upset by Weir’s response, and several of them left the lecture as a result.

While the loudest voices came from attendees upset by Weir’s comments, there were a few audience members in support of Weir. One said, “I think you are a hero.”

Several students were upset by how the event unfolded. While sophomore Matt Ramsey said he didn’t know much more than most people about the subject, he did not appreciate the incivility of the room. “I was getting more ticked off by the moment,” Ramsey said. “After being here, I’m worried. If this is the American community, I’m worried.”

Weir also was not pleased by the audience’s response. “I felt that this disruptive behavior hijacked the event,” Weir said. “Students were here to hear me. This was a chance for them to hear what I have to say and instead, these people demanded to get all the attention.”

Weir even noted, “This is the worst event I’ve taken part in.”

While Weir was not pleased by the incivility of the room, she said she did not feel negatively toward the College. Weir said, “I’d be very happy to come to this college again, but in a more normal situation.”


To read the preview of the event, click here.

To read Alison Weir’s response, click here.

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Sarah Sheafer is the editor-in-chief of CisternYard News. She is a senior, double majoring in political science and international studies with a focus in the Middle East.

'Incivility erupts at controversial lecture' have 10 comments

  1. April 21, 2013 @ 12:00 am Madeline

    Criticizing Israel is NOT the same as anti-Semitism. Israel has the right to exist, but not to treat Palestinians as they do now. By the way, I am Jewish.


    • April 21, 2013 @ 9:01 am Cofc student

      I agree that criticism of Israel is not necessarily the same as anti semitism. However, it sometimes is. Knowledge of history and historical/classic hate speech, word and ideas, helps clear up when it is and when it isn’t.


  2. April 21, 2013 @ 12:38 am Victoria

    I attended this event and I was very upset at the way Ms. Weir was treated. I would have liked to hear what she had to say, but for the most part I couldn’t over all the shouting.
    This is not how lectures, or even debates, are conducted at this school. I was very disappointed in the community for demonstrating such appalling behavior.


  3. April 21, 2013 @ 4:09 am Anonymous

    Unfortunately, I’m not surprised by this behavior. I find many Jewish students here unwilling to consider the ethical nature of Israel’s treatment of Palestine. I’ve personally found Jewish students here more inflammatory in their intolerance for Palestine than this speaker appears (from the article). The (frankly unacceptable) rudeness described above is an embarrassment to our college and city. While our history of practical acceptance is dubious at best, the principles this city espouses call for a more concerted effort at religious tolerance. While I grew up here in SC, I’ve always loved learning about religions, and I find Judaism fascinating, but I hope my future experiences with Jews improves greatly, because some at CofC have left a bad taste in my mouth.


  4. April 21, 2013 @ 12:05 pm Anonymous

    Anyone who denies that Alison Weir is an anti-Semite need only do a quick google search of her. The Anti Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center recognize her as such. In an article which she penned she described Judaism as “a ruthless and supremacist faith”. She has accused of organ theft, a conspiracy involving Nazi collaboration, and she even hinted to the fact that she beleives in ancient blood libel.

    Criticizing Israel is not antisemitism, but Alison Weir’s previous statements are. The lady is a bigot and she is scum and she was treated like the bigot she is.


    • April 23, 2013 @ 4:12 pm mat catastrophe

      The ADL classifies a critic of Israel as anti-semitic? I’m shocked.


  5. April 22, 2013 @ 10:19 am College of Charleston Student

    Alison Weir’s presentation was completely incorrect and rude. As a Jewish student here on campus, I recognize that not all of Israel’s actions are correct and same goes for the Palestinians. But Weir refused to answer our questions about possible solutions. No one wants to see a conflict continue in the region. We need to find a solution, not complain about treatment of both sides. We need to stop pointing fingers and assist in creating peace. I found Weir’s lecture to be offensive and biased. I can understand that everyone has biases, including myself. But her presentation was nothing but rude and ignorant. If you want to become an expert in a field, you need to explore both sides instead of just one. I did so last year while living in Israel and I suggest Weir should do the same before she gives another lecture.


    • April 24, 2013 @ 3:38 pm objective observer

      If facts are offensive, then you are in the wrong place. The purpose of CoC is education. That is impossible when facts are dismissed simply because they offend someone’s sensibilities or are considered ‘rude’. It is the ignorant acceptance of one narrative that is ‘completely incorrect’ and ‘offensive.’


  6. April 22, 2013 @ 10:19 pm Brian Champlin

    I’m still in complete awe and pretty angry about what went down at this event. I showed up as a member of the community, looking for a little intellectual stimulation and some insight into what is – for most of the people on the planet, including myself – a murkier affair altogether. I’ll be straight up and tell you that I went in with a little bias against Israel (the STATE of Israel that is). Generally, I’m open to the idea that the interests of the state of Israel are not the same as US interests, that Israel and AIPAC have a heavy hand in our politics, that something is most definitely askew and we could be doing better for ourselves with an approach that favors the state of Israel less and human beings in general more. However, I’m intellectually open and ready to hear any argument or perspective. In fact, I seek that out. In any case, I enjoyed the lecture but not the nonsense that ensued afterwards. Like I said, I’m in awe. Let me speak directly to you, you adults that behaved like children. Like horrible, spoiled children with shitty parents. Are you familiar with Homey the Clown? I feel that no matter what I say – however patient with my discourse I am – you won’t “get it”, and the best thing I can do for all of humanity is to give you a good smack with the homey-don’t-play-that sock. But some of you are just a few years from the grave and that might – gasp – be the final push you need to make the big leap. And of, the world would be so much less without you. So I’d better not break out the sock. Anyway, here’s the rub, you fools: I would have been open to hearing your dissenting perspectives if they were presented in a civil, even slightly mature and respectful way. Instead, you chose to be completely and solely inflammatory and disruptive. Let me say that again: I would have been genuinely open to hearing your views and thoughts. But you presented no coherent views and thoughts; you perpetrated chaos. So I’m left feeling unsatisfied, feeling intellectually cheated. And I’m left only to guess at your intentions. Did you not want a decent, mature, civil conversation exactly because you were afraid of where that conversation would lead? I wonder. I guess I’ll have to satisfy my curiosity elsewhere – i.e. find the pro-Israel intellects elsewhere – because you all certainly don’t offer anything other than hate and immaturity. And shame on the College for failing to secure an environment that encourages rational, civil discourse and discussion. Ms. Weir would have been happy to answer any and all dissenting views/questions had they been presented normally. And after all, it was her event. I wonder if any of you will take her up on her offer for a debate…. If so, look out, I’m bringing my homey don’t play that sock.

    Brian Champlin


  7. April 23, 2013 @ 2:48 pm Emily Richards

    I am a former CofC student and attended Ms. Weir’s event this past week. As someone who follows American politics closely, I know very little about the conflict and was very interested on Ms. Weir’s topic of media bias in this country concerning this issue. I think most of us would agree that media bias is alive and doing very well here in the US. Why not with this issue as well? So I was all ears when the presentation started. I was horrified with her findings and the results of her study, although not at all surprised. But what I did find surprising was the blatant and uncivilized attacks on a guest speaker at such a prestigious school like CofC. Of course strong opinions run deep regarding this issue. However, I was absolutely appalled and ashamed of those that took it amongst themselves to ruin and hijack an event, leaving the rest of us with a bad taste in our mouths. I would even go as far as saying I expect behavior like this from young, enthusiastic college aged people/activists, but the majority of this was coming from individuals, my parents and grandparents age. What an example to set. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Disagreement is to be expected, outright ad hominem attacks and vitriol is not. Those that rudely spoke out of turn, yelled over others, threw insults and had no respect for other view points surely lost gaining anyone to their side of the debate after such behavior. Not one of these folks asked questions pertaining to Ms. Weir’s subject matter, media bias in the US. They only asked questions and had statements concerning Israel’s right to exist, defense of Israel and to attack the presenter. Shameful. The college was also entirely unprepared to host such a controversial speaker, but I’m glad they did. I hope they keep having such events and allowing ALL points of view to be posed. This is still America right?
    I hope Ms. Weir took time to give our fair city a second look outside of the college. It was a pleasure to have her here and I hope she returns. Next time maybe Ms. Weir should reach out to the CofC chapter of YAL (Young Americans for Liberty) as her host, as I’m sure they’d be glad to have her.


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