Why are Jews surprised that they have “a reputation for being sleazy thieves,” asks Israeli-American author Miko Peled, who also believes debating whether the Holocaust actually happened is a legitimate form of free speech and has equated Zionism, the Jewish people’s right to live in their ancient homeland, with racism. These are the enlightened perspectives Mr. Peled will be sharing at a public event on Thursday evening at Bucknell University.
News of Mr. Peled’s appearance at the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania college surfaced in a December 5, 2018 email sent by Bucknell English professor Michael Drexler. In the email, Drexler promotes Peled’s two books and describes Peled as an “Israeli peace and Palestinian rights activist, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement [BDS] and a passionate advocate for a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine.”
In response to an inquiry from the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center, Drexler addressed accusations that Peled “is an anti-Semite and that his appearance is not about free speech but hate speech.” He wrote:
Miko Peled is not an anti-Semite. He is not addressing the issue of free speech nor was he invited to push the boundaries of acceptable speech. He is offering his perspective as an Israeli citizen who is committed to ending the Occupation and supporting Palestinian rights.
Prof. Drexler, a member of the Academic Advisory Council of Jewish Voice for Peace, is responsible for inviting Peled to speak at Bucknell. The Anti-Defamation League describes JVP as “a radical anti-Israel activist group that advocates for a complete economic, cultural and academic boycott of the state of Israel and disseminates the view that Israel and its U.S. supporters are fundamentally racist oppressors of non-Jews, ... perpetuating the classic anti-Jewish stereotype of Jews as self-centered elitists, disdainful of non-Jews, who are focused on their own interests, sometimes at others’ expense.”
Drexler’s Twitter account is relentlessly critical of Israel and its supporters. For example, “How sad that Israel has become a leading manufacturer of death and fear.” Another tweet describes Israel as “a dead end project in a shitty part of the world.”
Pro-Israel groups and Bucknell students, faculty and alumni alike are offended that Peled was invited to speak.
One individual close to the situation, who requested anonymity, voiced concern that in recent years anti-Israel bias in certain classes, as well as faculty support for BDS, has made campus life for Jewish Bucknell students not as friendly as it once was.
Drexler denies that Peled’s appearance may contribute to a hostile campus environment for Jewish students. But according to the campus anti-Semitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative, the individual close to the situation has every reason to be concerned.
“BDS activities are at the heart of the rise in anti-Semitism on campuses nationwide, and are often accompanied by harassment, discrimination, destruction of property and even assaults directed against Jewish students,” explained AMCHA co-founder and director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. “Our research shows that anti-Semitism is far more likely to occur on campuses where BDS was present, campuses with at least one active anti-Zionist student group, and campuses with one or more faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel.”
The Zionist Organization of America, in a January 3, 2019 letter to Bucknell’s board of trustees, expressed “deep concern” that Bucknell is hosting a lecture by Miko Peled, “who lacks any academic credentials and whose record demonstrates that he is viciously anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, even encouraging denial of the Holocaust.”
Max Samarov, Executive Director of Research and Campus Strategy for the Israel education group StandWithUs, told the Haym Salomon Center, "Miko Peled has a disturbing record of anti-Semitism,” citing Princeton University and San Diego State University, where even anti-Israel student groups found Peled’s anti-Semitism so offensive that they canceled his scheduled speeches.
StandWithUs, along with Alums for Campus Fairness, a nonprofit that brings together alumni to counter anti-Semitism on college campuses, sent a letter dated January 4, 2019 to university president John Bravman and the board of trustees that read in part, “In light of the anti-Semitic positions Mr. Peled publicly espouses, which marginalize and stigmatize Israeli and Jewish students on campus, we write to request that the University take all reasonable and necessary action to affirmatively and publicly distance itself from such discrimination and ensure a safe and hospitable environment for the entire Bucknell community, including, as others have recently done, rescinding Mr. Peled’s invitation to speak.”
In a statement sent to the Haym Salomon Center, Bucknell Chief Communications Officer Andy Hirsch explained:
While we are aware and highly sensitive to the fact that some members of our campus community find Mr. Peled's views offensive, in keeping with its mission to educate students for a lifetime of critical thinking, ... Bucknell is committed to the exchange of diverse viewpoints. That includes viewpoints with which members of our community might disagree, sometimes vehemently.
Bucknell values, respects and has myriad resources to support students of all religions, including specifically its Jewish students, and will continue to do so. We have had numerous conversations specific to this event to reinforce those support structures.
Regardless of what occurs Thursday evening, the controversy surrounding Peled’s appearance may only have just begun.
The law firm Rieders Travis has filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights that states:
Bucknell University is a private university that receives federal and state funding. The invitation extended to Miko Peled and therefore a platform to vocalize bigotry, is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. Miko Peled was invited to speak at Bucknell University under the guise of an “Israeli Peace and Palestinian rights activist.” As the following facts show, Miko Peled is not welcomed in academic circles of thought and he actively and on a regular basis through Twitter, Facebook and his own websites, articulates anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric. The two are inexorably intertwined so as to represent a violation of the statute.