By: Dr. Steven Bayme  | 

Letter to the Editor: Shameful (Vol. 46, Issue 3)

To the Editor:

Permit me to express my sadness and dismay to learn that Yeshiva College students shouted down President Carter during his appearance at the Forest Hills Jewish Community Center last October 18th as reported in your October 20th issue. The nature of a democratic election requires the free expression of different points of view. One need not agree with what is being said. However, one has no right to deny legitimate expression of opinion. When the President of the United States is heckled in so crude and vile a fashion, the sin is only magnified.

To permit President Carter a fair hearing dees not imply advocating his reelection. Were Governor Reagan the subject of such abuse, my disappointment would be as great. Citizens of a democracy should exercise their responsibility through involvement in the political process. By all means, one should campaign and get out the vote for the candidate of one’s choice. The senseless heckling of opposition candidates, however, serves only to undermine a democratic process which has protected the rights of Jews and other citizens for over 200 years.

In addition to the moral question of the validity of such heckling, one must ask what exactly were its effects. The impression created on television indicated that a band of Orthodox Jews acted contrary to the wishes of the members of the audience and succeeded only in angering those present. Will more people vote against Carter because some militants refuse him the right of speech? I hardly think so. If anything, the only result of such an encounter was to solidify the image many Americans have that Orthodox Jews are so intransigent on issues affecting Israel’s security, that they become irrational in their behavior and simply should not be heeded. Thus legitimate dissent from Administration foreign policy becomes transformed into emotional and irrational behavior that only discredits its advocates. 

America remains a democracy which sanctifies the legitimate expression. of free speech. Our country is not Nazi Germany, and President Carter is not Adolph Hitler. To indicate such contempt for the democratic process and for the President of the United States can only disgust those dedicated to the free America that has offered Jews so many opportunities in terms of entrance into the American economy and society.

In 1968 student leftists heckled Hubert Humphrey for his support of the Vietnam war and succeeded in bringing us Richard Nixon and Watergate. Their senseless and self-defeating activity offended so many of us who similarly called for an end of the war. So today those of us who have strong disagreements with the policies of the Carter Administration must recognize that the means for expressing those disagreements lie within the democratic process and not outside of it.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, college education aims to inculcate within the students the ability to make rational, free and critical choices. Such decision-making depends upon an open atmosphere in which ideas can be exchanged and rationally discussed. That students have abandoned the universe of rational discourse for an illiberal world which limits free speech only to those with whom one agrees, reflects the failure of all of us as a faculty to educate our students towards the above goals. That, perhaps, is the saddest aspect of all in this election.

Dr. Steven Bayme