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Updated on Feb. 13, 6:38 pm.

Danny Danon, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, is scheduled to give a talk at Lerner Hall today. His appearance was secured by the student organization Students Supporting Israel (SSI) and sponsored by Alums for Campus Fairness.

One would think that Columbia would welcome an opportunity for its students and community to learn more about the complex issues facing Israel. One would expect the Columbia community to feel privileged by the appearance of such a prestigious, high-ranking official. One would count on Columbia to embrace its own free speech principles found in the affirmative statement of the Rules of Conduct. After all, the University that hosted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of the number one terrorism-sponsoring state should welcome Danny Danon, a dignitary from the oldest democracy in the Middle East. Unfortunately, it appears that such expectations would be wrong.

In its affirmative statement, Columbia states that it is dedicated “to the principle of uninhibited discourse” and explains that the purpose of regulating “time, place, and manner of certain forms of public expression” is to “protect the rights of free speech, free press, and academic freedom.” The affirmation goes on to state that, “Every member of our community therefore retains the right to demonstrate, to rally, to picket, to circulate petitions and distribute ideas, to partake in debates, to invite outsiders to participate, and to retain the freedom to express opinions on any subject whatsoever [emphasis added].”

And yet, the University adopted highly unusual, unexpected, and what appear to be arbitrary restrictions resulting in the exclusion and obstruction of many alumni who wanted to hear Ambassador Danon speak.

Free speech is a precious liberty in a free society. It is often diminished not by a sweeping decree but by the adoption of insidious gradual steps that start by limiting the speaker’s audience—sometimes in the misguided service to, or under the pressure from, other groups—as appears to be happening in this case.

Specifically, prior to the event, Rudy Rochman, president of SSI, informed me that SSI had met with the Columbia’s Event Committee and were granted permission to allow all Columbia ID holders to attend without any prior registration, and to host up to 70 pre-registered guest who have no CUID. Over 100 people, including a number of alumni, registered for the event. However, in the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 10—one business day away from the event—Columbia’s associate dean of Student Engagement, Peter Cerneka, informed SSI that their guest list was summarily cancelled, allowing only 20 guests without CUID (10 of which are to be reserved for the members of Ambassador Danon’s party), and that all CUID holders were to now register via Eventbrite.

Peter Cerneka advised Students & Parents Against Campus Anti-Semitism (SPACA), who contacted him for clarification, that the event restrictions were imposed due to security considerations recommended by the Public Safety Board. Shoshana Bederman, the president of SPACA, later sent out an email explaining that the Public Safety office was later reached out to for comment, and claimed no knowledge of these restrictions or the reasoning behind them.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), Columbia University Apartheid Divest, and a few other affiliated student organizations are planning to stage a protest of Ambassador Danon with the goal of preventing or disrupting his speech.

Aware of the at-times aggressive nature of SJP and JVP activities across the U.S. on college campuses, on Feb. 9 ACF-Columbia sent a letter to President Bollinger, Provost Coatsworth and EVP of Alumni Relations Alverson requesting that the University protect free speech, ensure civility of discourse, and guarantee the safety of attendees. Instead, without any response to the letter, draconian restrictions were imposed the next day, effectively abrogating everyone’s ability to hear Ambassador Danon. While with high-profile guests, changes in security can occur for any number of reasons, these measures disproportionately penalize the organizers of the event over those who are threatening its disruption.

Many alumni members of our organization are disappointed that they have been prevented from hearing Ambassador Danon. This deliberate attempt to limit the audience size is effectively restricting free speech. By this action, Columbia fails its own principles, because for a speech to be truly free, it must be heard.

We request that the Columbia administration reconsiders these restrictions and ensures that free speech, so cherished by the University, can be heard by all alumni and members of the community who have already registered for the event as per the original instructions. I am more than willing to present photo identification, allow my bags to be searched, and follow all reasonable security precautions.

The University should be able to provide reasonable security without punishing event organizers or compromising its own stated principles.

This op-ed had previously stated that Peter Cerneka was the primary advisor to SJP, SSI, and JVP. Spectator regrets this error.

This op-ed had previously stated that Peter Cerneka was the primary advisor to SJP, SSI, and JVP. Spectator regrets this error.

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