A Tale of Two Ads

by George Brewer

On February 3rd the Zionist Organization of America announced that it was mobilizing a number of prominent Jews, including Elie Wiesel, to run full page advertisements in American newspapers condemning the Syrian newspaper which had accused Israel of manipulating the Holocaust for political purposes. The Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH) wishes these folks good luck in their ad campaign. After all, in the free marketplace of ideas every voice should be heard, and, as long as they can pay the piper, they should be allowed to call whatever tune they like.

The day after this campaign was announced, however, another Jewish organization, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, announced on its internet Website that college newspapers were not required to run the “vicious” and “inflammatory” advertisements of the “notorious” Bradley Smith and CODOH.

The announcement went on to say that it was no violation of the First Amendment to reject these ads, and that any student newspaper that printed them would be expelled from the Collegiate Network. There’s more here than garden-variety hypocrisy, although that’s part of it. It doesn’t require any great imagination to picture the howls of rage that would follow if CODOH tried to suppress and intimidate newspapers from running Zionist advertisements.

The problem, however, is much deeper than that. The ADL professes to serve the interests of freedom, tolerance, and diversity. It claims that it is in favor of a free market in ideas. But its actions indicate just the opposite. If you want to play the freedom game, then every voice has to be heard. Of course, we expect some limits. We don’t expect, say, the New York Times or the Washington Post to give up a quarter page of advertising on their op-ed pages for free. That’s why you have paid advertisements: the payment represents the commitment of the advertiser, and the reward for the paper for giving up some of its space.

But what happens if some ads are allowed, while other ads are subjected to an orchestrated suppression on political grounds? What you end up with is a controlled market of ideas. Access for some, but not for others. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” We’ve heard that song before. You can’t have freedom unless it is unconditional. You can’t have a free market if someone is attempting to subvert it by shutting down someone else.

Certainly, it’s not illegal for the ADL to campaign to censor and intimidate student newspapers from running CODOH ads. But such tactics violate the spirit of free competition. And that’s the point. Look at in economic terms: If a competitor is selling a better product than you are, then it’s up to you to improve your own product. You don’t make your own product better, by trying to put your competition out of business. You don’t build your business, by trying to destroy the business of the other.

Unfortunately, that is what the ADL is all about as far as CODOH is concerned. The bottom line is that the kind of marketplace of ideas that the ADL evidently wants to see is the marketplace the ADL controls. Who knows, maybe the ADL will start issuing licenses for free speech, good in all 50 states and the Virgin Islands. Then they can start trying to outlaw anyone who doesn’t have one.

Behind its sanctimonious claptrap about “diversity” and “difference”, it should be clear what the ADL really wants. It wants freedom of expression, but it will not tolerate expression that it doesn’t like. It wants competition in ideas, but it can’t stand to compete, probably because it is afraid that it might lose. It wants freedom, but it construes freedom as the right to agree with the ADL.

The Anti-Defamation League just doesn’t get it. Freedom is not about making sure you win. It is not about preordained outcomes. Freedom is about honesty, trust, and perhaps a faith that with intellectual freedom we will all be able to work things out. You cannot have a free market if one competitor establishes a monopoly.

Unfortunately, the tenor of recent ADL pronouncements seem geared towards a monopoly in the marketplace of ideas, towards an ADL-controlled monolith of diversity.

Installed: 02/26/00, 11: 40 AM, EST


Source: The Revisionist, Codoh Series, No. 3, 2000, pp. .
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