Saturday, August 6, 2016

Skokie, and lessons for today

Sar Shalom

In 1977 and 1978, the National Socialist Party of America (NSPA) attempted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, home to numerous survivors of the Holocaust. Acting much like today's university administrators presented with proposals for controversial presentations, the village government refused the NSPA permission to march. The NSPA responded by suing the village, the proceedings of which, both in court and in public, became the subject of the 1981 film Skokie.

If there is any group which is deserving of safe space, it would be the survivors of the Holocaust who traveled thousands of miles from the horrors they experienced, and sought nothing more than to rebuild their lives. Yet, the courts ruled that the neo-Nazis' right to free speech overrode the Holocaust survivors' right to a safe space. The message for today's activists on campus is that there is no right to a safe space on campus that overrides otherwise protected free speech. If someone does not trespass an accepted limit for free speech, then such speech's violating a "safe space" cannot serve as a basis to prohibit it.

A final point is the message delivered by Aryeh Neier to an audience in the synagogue about the difference between the NPSA's planned march through Skokie and the Nazis' original marches through Germany. Neier's point was that the Nazis' ability to march was not what enabled them to grow, rather, it was their ability to restrain anyone who would speak or act against them, and the inability or unwillingness of the Weimar government to protect the rights of those who opposed the Nazis. Such is the case today with Students for Justice for Palestine (SJP) and allied groups on campus today. They freely disrupt presentations by pro-Israel speakers, denying them their right to peacably conduct their talks. The university administrations, as did the Weimar goverment 86 years ago, allows SJP to do so. That is where we must push for a change.


  1. There is something about the very concept of university "safe spaces" that I find vaguely nauseating.

    The word "pussitudeonous" comes to mind.

    I read somewhere that at Brown University they have "safe spaces" with teddy bears and coloring books, or something quite along those lines.

    When did university become a sort-of fascistic nursery school?

    When I was an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut the very last thing in this world that we wanted were "safe spaces."

    My friends tended to be feisty, irresponsible, and intellectually curious.

    My very first roomate was the kind of guy who sported long hair and an earring, rode a motorcycle, and carried around books by Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski in his bookbag.

    The very last thing in this world that we wanted were "safe spaces."

    In the 60s, radical students wanted to kill "the man."

    In the 80s and 90s, we merely wanted to smack him around a bit.

    Today the kids ask him for milk and cookies.

    1. You got part of my point in that you lambaste those on campus today who accord no precedential value to the decision to permit the Skokie march in the 1970s. However, you miss my second point about failure to restrain those who would infringe others' rights to free speech. An example from Canary Mission:

      "In spite of Israel being a welcoming home to many migrant workers from the Philippines, this did not stop the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) at San Francisco State University (SFSU) from successfully forging an alliance .... This alliance came together to shout down Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, while he was speaking at SFSU."

      To rephrase what you have written before about the president of SFSU, he is acting the way the Weimar Republic acted towards the brownshirts whenever they disrupted meetings of their opponents.

  2. Keeping in mind that infamous 'journalist' Glenn Greenwald is on record at as saying that the biggest regret of his life (his words) was that he's too young to have helped the Nazis march there. "Radical libertarian" Greenwald also legally defended neo Nazi Matt Hale when Mr Hale was denied a Bar license in Chicago. Greenwald also volunteered to defend Mr Hale for free when he was successfully convicted of murder when he killed the family of a Federal judge 'because they were Jews'

  3. The Skokie march is something I know a little about. I grew up in Skokie. In 1978, I was at the American Bar Association meeting in New York City where the hot topic was the march. Most of the attendees supported the right of the Nazis to march. I pointed out that downtown Skokie is a residential neighborhood. It is not downtown Chicago. My mother car-pooled with my fried Mark Rosenberg's mother for Hebrew school The Rosenbergs lived in downtown Skokie and the march would have been right past their house. Mrs. Rosenberg was a holocaust survivor, she had the numbers tattooed on her arm. I said then, and still believe, that the right to speak is important but that right also implies the right to be ignored. Jefferson believed that good ideas would defeat bad ones but we have to let everyone speak. But we have to have the right to ignore or laugh at bad ideas. I don't know if you remember, but ultimately the Nazis marched in some park and nobody came. The Ku Klux Klan had a rally at some town in Tennessee and the city shut down, the Klan couldn't find a glass of water or a place to go to the bathroom. Ignoring these idiots is the best way to deal with them. On another topic, while I'm at it,