The university’s student newspaper, the Justice, described one of the paintings thusly: “A slender outline of the state of Israel, colored with the green, white, black and red of the Palestinian flag and encircled by a twine of rope and barbed wire, sits in the forefront of a scattered collage of images: a key, an ominous grey wall, a pool of red.”
Still, it came as a shock when Brandeis officials shut down the exhibit four days into a two-week run at the university’s Goldfarb Library, citing complaints about the exhibit’s one-sidedness.
“This is outrageous. This is an educational institution that is supposed to promote debate and dialogue,” said Halperin, who happens to be a veteran of the Israeli Army. “Let’s talk about what it is: 12-year-olds from a Palestinian refugee camp. Obviously it’s not going to be about flowers and balloons.”
Brandeis is historically a Jewish institution, and no doubt some sensibilities were deeply offended. The university’s president, Jehuda Reinharz, has generally won plaudits for reaching out to the Arab world in a variety of ways — including bringing Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan to Brandeis as the commencement speaker this spring. Nevertheless, for a university to censor art of any kind is outrageous.
Even more outrageous, Reinharz continues to defend his actions, saying at commencement, “At Brandeis, we believe that art can educate, inspire, and spur healthy and constructive debate, and can best serve those purposes in a university context if it is accompanied by thoughtful contextualization.” Art can and should also provoke, disturb, and offend — but not, apparently, at Brandeis.
Buying critics’ silence with golden gag orders
Imagine a prominent elected official buying the silence of former employees who might criticize him — and using taxpayer money to do it. It sounds surreal, but you don’t have to imagine it. That’s because, last October, the Boston Globe caught state treasurer Tim Cahill engaging in precisely that practice. At Cahill’s behest, six former employees and one candidate for a job signed confidentiality and severance agreements specifying that they “shall not disparage the state treasurer’s office.” The payments, all told, appear to have cost well north of $100,000.
This particular Muzzle is a close call, since no one’s free-speech rights were violated. But if the First Amendment stands for anything, it stands for the right — indeed, the obligation — of the press to subject our elected officials to close, tough scrutiny. Cahill’s golden gag orders undermined that.
The story took some unusual twists. One former employee who’d signed a confidentiality agreement, Jeffrey Stearns, left a brand-new position as assistant vice-chancellor at UMass Boston after it was alleged that pornography had been found on his computer at the treasurer’s office. UMass officials said the confidentiality agreement may have been among the reasons Stearns’s problems had not come up when he was hired. (It remains unclear why a porn incident at Stearns’s previous job, even if proven, was considered such a big deal at UMass.) It was also learned that lucrative, secrecy-ensuring severance agreements are not unique to Cahill’s office: the Boston Redevelopment Authority was found to have engaged in the same practice, buying the silence of two former lawyers for an estimated $250,000.