The Danger of Authoritarian Rhetoric


When the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “The Shame of Princeton,” I knew something was wrong. But it was only upon hearing Professor Emeritus Richard Falk deliver the 11th Edward Said Memorial Lecture that I realized just how harmful the words of a “respected” academic can be.

On February 18, Falk spoke about his standard topic: the historic Palestinian struggle for independence. For the next hour and a half he argued for the righteousness of the Palestinian struggle, the greatness of their cause, and the deplorable abuse that Israeli occupiers inflicted upon the Palestinian people. He constructed a narrative of peaceful Palestinian farmers disturbed by an onslaught of colonialist Zionists eager to take their land. Unfortunately, this narrative does not do justice to the truth. By skewing and wholly misrepresenting key facts, Falk used his position of authority to sell radical lies to his audience.

The most revealing historical inaccuracy that Falk took for granted was the concept of an “historical Palestine,” claiming that it had existed for at least a thousand years before the state of Israel was founded. While the name Palestine or Palestina was coined by the Romans who conquered Judea, the people living on that land 2000 years ago were not Palestinians, but Jews. Still after the expulsion of Jews, the land was settled by various peoples who never claimed to be Palestinian. And even when the British took over, the term “Palestinian” referred to geographic location, such as the Palestinian Arabs or the Palestinian Jews, and not to a specific people or nation. Most Pro-Palestinians admit that the notion of a disparate Palestinian nation is a product of the last 65 years, whereas Jews enjoy a historical connection from Jewish control of the land between 1000 BC and AD 63. If a historical claim to the land exists, it would seem to be Israel.

Falk further misrepresented the nature of the Palestinian Liberation organization when he claimed that the Palestinian Liberation Organization was founded after 1967, thus implying that it was a reaction to the Six-Day War. In fact, the PLO was chartered in 1964; Article 19 of their charter says that: “Zionism is a colonialist movement in its inception, aggressive and expansionist in its goal, racist in its configurations, and fascist in its means and aims.” This early expression of Palestinian ill-will casts light on the currently popular claim in Europe and the pro-Palestinian community that Israeli settlement construction is the largest obstruction of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Proponents argue that when a Palestinian State is created under a plan similar to the Oslo Accords, Israel will have to withdraw its settlers and that establishing settlements, especially in disputed areas, is counterproductive to peace. However, the failure of the Palestinians to recognize Israel and the re-ratification of the PLO charter in 2005 shows that much of the problem stems from not the Israeli settlements but rather the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

The prevailing opinion in the Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestinian communities is that both Israel and Palestine have made mistakes. The debate between the two groups is mostly centered on whether the Israelis or Palestinians are more to blame for the current situation. Instead of promoting peace, Falk endorsed rock throwing and boycotting as means of aiding in the creation of a Palestinian state. He claimed that Israelis, or “Zionists” as he called them, are violators of international laws and unwilling partners for peace. But history proves this false. In 1967, for example, Israel gave the holiest Jewish site, the Temple Mount to Jordan. In 1972, Israel offered the Sinai back to the Egyptians. In 1993 they offered the Palestinians 98% of the West Bank and Gaza, but were rejected by Arafat. More recently, Hamas responded to Israel’s 2055 unilateral and unconditional withdrawal from Gaza by launching over 10,000 rockets into Israel. Fatah, the more moderate Palestinian party currently governing the West Bank, also refuses to recognize Israel’s existence.

Falk’s speech would be problematic on its own simply for the way falsifies history and attacks the peaceful atmosphere necessary for productive dialogue. It is even more cause for concern, however, that it was delivered at Princeton, a university dedicated to guiding its students to the truth, whether in foreign affairs or otherwise. Falk brought a one-sided, bigoted view to campus. The situation in the Middle East is unfortunate, but Princeton should be bringing in speakers that actually have constructive solutions to offer. The argument typically waged in defense of inviting dubious speakers to campus in the hopes that they promote constructive dialogue is flawed—Falk’s speech, as we saw, managed to hoodwink The Prince, whose correspondent wrote an uncritical piece about the professor, portraying him as a level-headed speaker and ignoring his support of Ayatollah Khomeini and anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric in the debate. Our university should not grant such spewers of vitriol as Falk a podium from which to shout their views, and we should certainly not pay them for their deception, as our English department did. If we want constructive dialogue on these kinds of issues, we should host middle-of-the-road speakers or provide opportunities for scholars of opposing opinions to debate each other. Falk’s speech was indefensible—the shame of Princeton indeed.

Ben Wolfson is a freshman from Riverdale, NY, majoring in the ORFE Department. He can be reached at

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