Free Speech for Thee, and Not for Me
JNS.org – As most are aware, hate speech is protected under the Constitution. However, there is a huge distinction between what’s said in the town square and what is uttered on the university campus. Within the university, one is supposed to create a non-hostile environment that is conducive for learning for all students.
Free speech on college campuses is one of the most thorny of constitutional issues. We take the First Amendment to be a cherished American right. At college, students should be able to engage freely in the exhilarating intellectual pursuits of the mind. Being able to question, challenge, and debate is what makes the university experience so extraordinary. Contrary to what is deemed popular in the age of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” I believe nothing should be “off-limits,” and that students should fully participate in civil debate and be able to support their arguments with evidence.
The ideal objective of the university should be the quest for the truth. It should be part of what John Stuart Mill described as “the marketplace of ideas.”
Having had said that, the operative word here is “civil.” Why is it that there are protections in place for almost every other minority group, but not for our Jewish students?
Why is it that a student can be suspended from school for writing the “N” word on Facebook, but Jewish students often are afraid to cross the quad with a yarmulke on his head or a Star of David around her neck.
The plethora of antisemitic incidents on college campuses has been reaching a fevered pitch. A Google search shows some alarming incidences: This week, Purchase College in Harrison, NY, has been disgraced by Nazi posters depicting swastikas and Adolf Hitler. On Dec. 3, at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, a student found a book for a research project defaced with a swastika; on one page was written, “Jews have no business at CMU,” and in other handwriting, “You are right.”
A 77-year-old Jewish psychology professor, Elizabeth Midlarsky, at Teacher’s College of Columbia University on New York City’s Upper West Side, found two red swastikas and the word “Yid” spray-painted on the walls of her office. On Nov. 20 at Duke University in Durham, NC, a swastika defaced a memorial that some students had put up in memory of the 11 Jewish worshipers killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting.
Oftentimes, these cowardly, anonymous acts go unpunished.
What is even more disturbing is that under the cover of “free speech,” organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine have acted as a base for support for frenzied anti-Israel activities on American campuses, which create a predominant feeling of hostility towards Israel and the Jewish people.
Their students might have the right to their free speech, but it is only free speech for thee, and not for me. Oftentimes, Jewish students are bullied, harassed, and intimidated when they want to hold a pro-Israel rally.
Their songs of peace, “Oseh Shalom,” are often drowned out by: “From the river to the sea, Palestine should be free.”
It’s a chant that leaves one wondering, “Where does that leave Israel?” And “what do they intend to do with our people?”
And sometimes, such as at a 2016 Students for Justice in Palestine rally at Hunter College on New York City’s Upper East Side, the chant was “Jews out of CUNY” and “Death to Jews.”
Substitute the word “black” for Jews in those two sentences, and ask yourself if university administrators would still consider this an acceptable free-speech issue on their campuses.
Often ignored are ties between groups that hold the rallies and fight for the BDS movement, and their links to terrorist organizations.
In 2016, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who had worked for the US Department of the Treasury, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He explained how the largest organizer of the BDS movement in the United States, Students for Justice in Palestine, is orchestrated and largely funded by a Hamas front group, American Muslims for Palestine. He also described how the heads of this entity are former officers of the Holy Land Foundation, which in 2001 was convicted of money-laundering and funneling the money to Hamas, a State Department-listed terrorist organization.
Many times, university administrators feign ignorance about what constitutes antisemitism. That is precisely why the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is necessary. It simply gives a definition so that university administrators can recognize antisemitism when they see it.
This definition is the exact same one as that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and is used in another branch of our federal government, the US Department of State. It defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
It also specifically states: “Manifestations might include the targeting of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” However, it adds that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) sponsored the Awareness Act, and it passed in December of 2016 by a vote of 99-0. However, it was tied up in the House Judiciary Committee by chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who erroneously interpreted this as “an assault on free speech.”
Amid all of this depressing talk, there is a bit of good news: Goodlatte will be retiring at the end of this month, and Jerald Nadler (D-NY), who is going to assume the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee in January, has already signed on to the bill in the House.
So perhaps the same protections that every other minority group gets will soon be given to our Jewish and pro-Israel students.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy center in Washington, DC.