Harvard University English professors have reinvited a controversial Irish poet to speak on campus, one week after his appearance was canceled because of his strong anti-Israeli comments.
Professors met for two hours Tuesday and voted to reinvite Tom Paulin, who has made statements comparing U.S.-born settlers in the West Bank with Nazis, and saying they “should be shot dead.”
“Free speech was a principle that needed upholding here,” English professor Peter Sacks said Wednesday. “This was a clear reaffirmation that the department stood strongly by the First Amendment.”
Paulin, an Oxford University lecturer teaching this semester at Columbia University, had been scheduled to appear at Harvard Nov. 14 as part of the English Department’s lecture series.
But the invitation was canceled because of a flood of student complaints about Paulin.
“While we in no sense endorse the extreme statements by Mr. Paulin that have occasioned concern in the Harvard community, we support a university environment that is host to a diversity of views,” Lawrence Buell, the English Department chairman, said in a statement Wednesday.
Harvard professors said Paulin told them he wanted to come to Harvard, probably in the spring, but wanted to discuss the invitation further with the English faculty.
“We are ultimately stronger as a university if we together maintain our robust commitment to free expression, including the freedom of groups on campus to invite speakers with controversial views,” Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers said in a statement.
The cancellation drew significant attention — and dismay from many scholars and First Amendment advocates — not only at Harvard but on other campuses nationwide.
In April, Paulin, quoted in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly, said of American Jewish settlers: “I think they are Nazis, racists; I feel nothing but hatred for them.”
In the same interview, Paulin said he understands “how suicide bombers feel,” but suggested guerrilla warfare would be more effective because attacks on civilians could create a sense a solidarity.
In his poem “Killed in the Crossfire,” he writes of “another little Palestinian boy in trainers jeans and a white teeshirt” killed by the “Zionist SS.”