Anyone interested in finding critical perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict at a US university will readily recognize the seemingly unavoidable dynamic that the presence of a Palestinian or pro-Palestinian speaker on campus will generate. The period of questions and discussion following the speaker’s talk will be more or less hijacked by audience members who insist upon presenting the speaker as one-sided, as having ignored or misrepresented the Israeli viewpoint, and, therefore, as being in need of correction. While such responses are typically coded as demands for fairness and equal time, the effect is to normalize particular pro-Israel political positions and to silence dissenting viewpoints by policing the boundaries of acceptable or recognizable discourse on the topic of the Israel-Palestine conflict, with the clear implication that any discourse of Palestinian self-determination or cultural and intellectual autonomy must centrally incorporate Israeli view-points on the Palestinian people, without reciprocity. I argue that this kind of exchange, or failure of critical exchange, should be understood in the context of larger trends in American political culture, the ongoing transformation of the public sphere in mass-mediated societies, and resulting shifts in norms of public speech, shifts that pose significant challenges to the norms of academic discourse.

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