If Richard Falk, the one-time United Nations special rapporteur on “human rights in the Palestinian territories,” were a character in an academic satire, readers might consider him a bit too much. An emeritus professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, his tenure at the UN was marked by wildly biased anti-Israel remarks that many Western diplomats called anti-Semitic. He accused Israel of having “genocidal intentions” against Palestinians. At another point he posted and defended an anti-Semitic cartoon.
He wrote an admiring foreword to a book questioning whether the U.S. government was complicit in the attacks on the World Trade Center, and has written that the “truth about the 9/11 events is not yet known.”
Last year, still an official for the UN Human Rights Council, he wrote an on-line commentary blaming the Boston Marathon bombing in part on “Tel Aviv.” “[A]s long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment, those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy,” wrote Falk, all but justifying the attack as “retribution” for U.S. actions and relationships in the Middle East.
Despite these unhappy and hateful views, some at Princeton do not think Falk has discredited the titles or responsibilities he earned at the august university. This week, Falk, at the invitation of the English Department, gave the Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture at Princeton’s McCosh Hall. He was scheduled to speak about “Edward Said’s Legacy and the Palestinian Struggle.” Three senior faculty members in the English Department objected to the department’s cosponsorship of the lecture, calling Falk “a tendentious critic of Israel and an inflammatory voice on Middle Eastern politics.”
Academic freedom shields a university from responsibility for the invitations extended by autonomous committees. And those who call for punitive action only risk counter-charges of “censorship.” But we’d like to think that any university, while respecting free speech, also wishes to let the world know where it stands when it comes to malice or incompetence.
Those who invited Falk to speak showed us where they stand. Where does the administration stand?