A conflict between Jewish and black students that began over a black speaker's denunciation of Zionism has prompted a series of protests at the University of Maryland and raised questions about freedom of speech on college campuses.
The controversy, which erupted after a speech last month by Kwame Toure -- previously known as Stokely Carmichael, a black activist who became prominent in the 1960s -- has dominated the pages of the student newspaper and led some student leaders to demand that extremist speakers be banned from the College Park campus. During the last week, black and Jewish students have met with Chancellor John Slaughter in an effort to ease the tensions, but there has been little movement toward resolution.
According to several students who attended the speech, Toure, in answer to a question, said, "The only good Zionist is a dead Zionist."
The effort to bar Toure and other controversial speakers from the University of Maryland follows a similar dispute at Catholic University, where a speech by Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, was canceled and then rescheduled off campus because some students complained that her support for legalized abortion was in conflict with Catholic doctrine. At Georgetown University, similar disputes have emerged over the rights of gay student organizations to have official affiliations with the school and to sponsor activities such as dances on campus.
In response to Toure's remarks at Maryland, Jewish student leaders organized two protests, picketed in front of the student center and asked for an apology from the Black Student Union, which sponsored the event as part of Black History Month. They also urged that Toure be barred from future appearances on campus and that his fee of $700 for the Feb. 5 speech be withheld.
Toure's honorarium has not been paid. It was to come indirectly from student fees, which support sanctioned organizations such as the Black Student Union.
Tim Gilmour, an assistant to Slaughter, said Friday that the university will not withhold the honorarium from Toure and will continue to allow speakers of all viewpoints.
"There's been a tremendous uproar over it," said Ed Martin, vice president of the Black Student Union, which sponsored the event as part of Black History Month. "The issue has not been resolved. Things will get worse." Martin said the black student leaders did not intend to apologize for Toure's remarks, and he added, "If we have to pay him out of our pockets, we'll pay him."
Esther Abramowitz, program director for the Hillel Jewish Student Center, said she was confident that the two groups will meet and resolve their differences.
"In my mind, it's very serious," she said. "I don't feel Jewish students feel justified in having their money going to someone who wants them dead . . . . It's divided two student groups. It's time it ends."
The incident has renewed debate over academic freedom and the role of universities as sanctuaries for free speech. "Colleges have been a place for diversity of opinion, a place of education," said Martin. "Kwame Toure was another form of education, but not everyone was agreeing with what he was saying."
Jacob Blumenthal, treasurer of the Jewish Student Union, agreed that "there should be a general air of intellectual search and discovery that has to be preserved." But he added that such a protection does not apply when speakers incite violence.
Blumenthal, who attended Toure's speech with eight Jewish students, said he was threatened by some of the 70 students in the audience.
In an editorial Friday in the Diamondback, the largest student newspaper on campus, Slaughter called the controversy "tragic" but rejected the suggestion that campus leaders bar extremist speakers.
He said he was "repulsed" by Toure's views on Zionism. But he added that "the best defense against violent and extremist behavior is not a new set of rules or sanctions that attempt to penalize the offending group. The best defense is a campus committed to tolerance and compassion."
Blumenthal cited previous incidents -- including the painting of swastikas on the Jewish student newspaper office door -- as evidence of existing tension on campus.
"This hasn't resulted in a growth of anti-Semitism as much as a display of what was already there," he said.