Initially, she emailed, “I will not comment officially. I made the decision based on my personal assessment of the factors before me. To say more than that would be wrong, both factually and morally.”
I reached out again and she sent this longer response:
As a professor in the humanities, I respect, encourage and support the academic freedom of all members of the academy, including Shimon Dotan. I want to be clear, however, that he was never invited by me, or anyone else affiliated with the University, to present his work this semester. While we had considered adding him to an upcoming series, no one from the University ever extended an invitation to him. This is a case of poor communication that has led to a terrible misunderstanding. I regret and apologize for the confusion this situation has caused.
Hamner should not have acted as she did, but I don’t see her as the villain of this story. She didn’t create the chilling effect to which she succumbed, and she appeared to nix the screening with genuine regret, not censorious eagerness.
And it is true that Syracuse University itself didn’t extend an invitation. That was done by a faculty member at a different school who was helping to organize the same conference. But that seems rather beside the point here. The matter of concern here is the reason that the film was excluded: to avoid the perceived risk of ideologically motivated retaliation by campus activists, as well as the risk of losing credibility with “a number of film and Women/Gender studies colleagues.”
A need to be perceived as politically correct proved decisive. I tend to avoid the term “political correctness” in my coverage of college campuses, but this incident fits the Merriam-Webster definition almost exactly: “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities should be eliminated.”
If the email was truthful, the decision was made in a strikingly anti-intellectual manner, with Syracuse colleagues speculating that other members of their community would persecute them merely for inviting a filmmaker to show his work. As an outsider, I don’t know whether that judgment reflects an accurate assessment of BDS protesters and a faction in the film and Women/Gender studies departments, or does them a disservice by underestimating their tolerance.
Either way, Hamner conformed. There is a chilling effect at Syracuse University. Fear of ideologically motivated retaliation is affecting the content of the academic enterprise. Were I Kent Syverud, chancellor and president of Syracuse, I would do my utmost to assess the magnitude of this clear threat to free inquiry on my campus.
The political viewpoint of The Settlers shouldn’t matter. But a final irony is that the documentary, while allowing all sides to speak in their own words, portrays the settlements in a negative light, and is skeptical, at the very least, toward many settlers. A typical educated audience member would emerge with new knowledge of terrorist acts perpetrated by Israeli settlers, explicit racism in the settler movement, and a sense of the apartheid culture that has been created in the West Bank. Had I seen the film before learning of this controversy rather than after, I would have expected any attempts to stop it from being screened to come from the pro-Israel faction that has threatened free speech at the University of California.