If the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has driven many to despair, so has the current state of the discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A hurricane of protest by academics greeted the Philadelphia-based Web site Campus-watch.org, which invited students to, in essence, denounce their professors for unacceptable teaching on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - unacceptable, that is, to the conservative Middle East Forum, which sponsors the Web site.
Trouble is, some views found unacceptable to the Middle East Forum are considered legitimate, if tough, criticism of Israel's policies.
Too many Americans believe that to criticize the current Israeli government headed by Ariel Sharon is to oppose Israel itself. So balanced reportage and legitimate opinion in several news outlets - including the Inquirer and National Public Radio - have been the subject of boycotts and wild charges of anti-Semitism.
Yet supporters of current Israel policies are not the only ones trying to squelch free speech: A riot prevented former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at a university in Montreal and several colleges have canceled speakers because they feared controversy.
You don't have to be paranoid to be troubled by the intense identification of some college students with the Palestinian cause, even with suicide bombings, as well as out-and-out anti-Semitic vandalism on many campuses.
It's hard to trust the "marketplace of ideas" that our universities are supposed to be if only some ideas are allowed to be marketed.
Harvard's president Lawrence Summers recently spoke about apparent upticks in hate - and was denounced by some for name-calling.
A reading of Summers' actual remarks shows no such thing. He couched his concerns among multiple affirmations of the right to criticize Israel, but also questioned the effect of a movement to force the university to divest its holdings in companies that do business there. He worries that smart people are taking actions that are "anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent."
There's a tough one. Even valid criticism of Israel's policies can be used by anti-Semites to further their cause, thereby being anti-Semitic in effect. Many critics know the creepy feeling of being applauded much too heartily by people with questionable intentions. Does that mean they should refrain from criticizing Israel? We don't believe so.
At the same time, is it possible to wonder if anti-Semitism might really be becoming a problem without being deemed a McCarthyite? And is it ever allowed to point out that some supporters of the Palestinian state do, in fact, want it to replace Israel, not coexist with it? It should be.
A solution to the Mideast conflict, if one ever comes, will be carefully structured and nuanced with meanings on several levels.
But a solution to the Mideast conflict becomes more remote if the discussions remain as strident and coercive as they have become.