How Universities Enable the Hijacking of Free Speech When Jews are Involved
A totalitarianism and hate that should frighten us all.
In a country where multiculturalism has a reverent following and criticism of protected minorities has essentially been criminalized as “hate speech,” it is more than ironic that on some Canadian campuses radical students have taken it upon themselves to target one group, Jewish students, with a hatred that is nominally forbidden for any others. And with a recent incident that took place on November 20th, York University, in particular, has now revealed a troubling pattern of tolerating physical and emotional assaults by pro-Palestinian radicals against Jewish students and others who dare to demonstrate any support for Israel or question the tactics of Islamists in their efforts to destroy the Jewish state.
Herut Canada, “a Zionist movement dedicated to social justice, the unity of the Jewish people, and the territorial integrity of the Land of Israel,” was sponsoring an on-campus event featuring Reservists on Duty, former IDF soldiers who would be discussing BDS and the particular challenges facing the IDF in its interaction with terrorism. But York’s perennially-radical group, Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University (SAIA York), was having no part of the visit and, joined by off-campus members of the equally radical Antifa organization, disrupted the event with some 600 activists heckling, chanting through bull horns, and even physical assaulting other students—all aimed at shutting down the event and preventing attendees from hearing what the guests from the IDF had to say about negotiating for peace.
What was particularly revealing, and chilling, about the hate-filled protest (or riot, more accurately) was the virulence of the chants and messages on the placards, much of it seeming to suggest that more sinister hatreds and feelings—over and above concern for Israeli military operations—were simmering slightly below the surface. Many of the furious protestors, for instance, shrieked out, “Viva, Viva Intifada” and “Long live the Intifada,” a grotesque and murderous reference to the Second Intifada, during which Arab terrorists murdered some 1000 Israelis and wounded more than 14,000 others.
That pro-Palestinian student activists, those who purport to be motivated by a desire to bring “justice” to the Middle East, could publicly call for the renewed slaughter of Jews in the name of Palestinian self-determination demonstrates quite clearly how ideologically debased the human rights movement has become. Activists on and off U.S. campuses, who never have to face a physical threat more serious than getting jostled while waiting in line for a latte at Starbucks, are quick to denounce Israel’s very real existential threats and the necessity of the Jewish state to take counter measures to thwart terrorism. And quick to label the killing of Hamas terrorists by the IDF as “genocide,” these well-meaning but morally-blind individuals see no contradiction in their calls for the renewed murder of Jews for their own sanctimonious cause, not to mention the irony of the protestors decrying the very presence and alleged barbarity of the IDF at York while simultaneously calling for the continued murder of Jews in the name of Palestinian self-determination.
Other protestors were less overt in their angry chants, carrying signs and shouting out the oft-heard slogan, “Free, Free Palestine,” or, as they eventually screamed out, “Viva, viva Palestina!” That phrase suggests the same situation that a rekindled Intifada would help bring about, namely that if the fictive nation of “Palestine” is “liberated,” is free, there will, of course, be no Israel between the Jordan River and Mediterranean—and no Jews.
Another deadly chorus emanated from protestors during the rally: “Resistance is justified when people are occupied!” That is an oft-repeated, but disingenuous and false notion that stateless terrorists have some recognized human right to murder civilians whose government has purportedly occupied their territory. It may be comforting for Israel’s ideological foes to rationalize the murder of Jews by claiming some international right to do it with impunity and a sense of righteousness. Unfortunately, however, as legal experts have inconveniently pointed out, the rally participants and their terror-appeasing apologists elsewhere are completely wrong about the legitimacy of murder as part of “resistance” to an occupying force.
Something is clearly amiss on North American campuses, and the York incident is emblematic of a much larger problem endemic to universities today, that anti-Israel activists have hijacked the dialogue of the Israeli/Palestinian conversation and have decided that they, and they alone, should and will decide whose views will be heard and whose will not, something that supporters of Israel have been experiencing for more than a decade already. Anti-Israel campus activists have conducted an ongoing campaign to delegitimize and libel Israel, and their tactics include a concerted attempt to shut down dialogue and debate—anything that will help to “normalize” Zionism, permit pro-Israel views to be aired, or generate support for the Jewish state.
The tendentious, virtue-signaling brownshirts at York who attempted to suppress the speech of pro-Israel speakers whose views they had predetermined could not even be uttered on campus share a common set of characteristics with groups like the radical Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) who have led the assault against Israel and Jewish students who support it: it is they, and they alone, who know what it acceptable speech, what ideas are appropriate and allowed, which groups are victims of oppression and should therefore receive special accommodation for their behavior and speech, which views are progressive (and therefore virtuous) and which views are regressive (and therefore hateful), which cause is worthy of support and which is, because of its perceived moral defects, worthy of opprobrium.
Leading up to the York event, protestors had put up posters which read, “All Out. No Israeli Soldiers on Our Campus.” To help further reinforce the malignancy of the IDF, the posters included a photograph of a grotesque Jewish soldier brandishing an automatic weapon over a cowering Arab child. As other anti-Israel groups have expressed with chants and posters calling for “Zionists Off Our Campus” and similar messages targeting Jews and other supporters of Israel, the York posters reveal a very dangerous trend on campuses in which self-righteous, morally-preening brats take it upon themselves to speak for entire universities in deciding which views will be tolerated and which must be suppressed. That York administrators, and officials at many other universities as well, regularly allow this represents a failure by academia to live up to its oft-professed goal of encouraging free and open expression and debate.
York administrators may be cautious about curbing the speech of SAIA York, particularly because its members are perceived to be a protected minority group, but the issue here is not about speech but about behavior. In fact, York's own student code of conduct specifically prohibits “threats of harm, or actual harm, to a person's physical or mental wellbeing,” including “verbal and non-verbal aggression verbal abuse; intimidation; [and] harassment” ―all of which were clearly violated by the demonstrators' physically intimidating protests. York's Community Standards for Student Conduct specifically “prohibits: disruption of, or interference with, University activities, such as: causing a substantial disorder . . ; creating dangerous situations (intentional or not); making or causing excessive noise; disrupting classes, events or examinations . . ; [and] blocking exit routes”—all of which regulations were violated by the rioters at the November 20th event.
More importantly, the notion that a vocal minority of self-important ideologues can determine what views may or may not be expressed on a particular campus is not only antithetical to the purpose of a university, but is vaguely fascistic by relinquishing power to a few to decide what can be said and what speech is allowed and what must be suppressed; it is what former Yale University president Bartlett Giamatti characterized as the “tyranny of group self-righteousness.”
The sententious activists fueling this ideological bullying may well feel that they have access to all the truth and facts, but even if this were true—which it demonstrably and regularly is not—it certainly does not empower them with the right to have the only voice and to disrupt, shout down, or totally eliminate competing opinions in political or academic debates. No one individual or group has the moral authority or intellectual might to decide what may and may not be discussed, and especially young, sanctimonious students—whose expertise and knowledge about the Middle East, in particular, is frequently characterized by distortions, lies, lack of context, corrosive bias against Israel, and errors in history and fact.
University officials regularly proclaim that they have a “commitment to the principles of freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech and freedom of association.” But that empty exhortation has shown itself, repeatedly, to be, at best, disingenuous, and, at worst, a masking of the true intention of campus radicals: enabling favored victim groups to utter vitriol and libel against Israel and Jews, with the pretense that they have somehow encouraged intellectual debate and productive political discussion. This is not rigorous debate and dialogue at all; it is Jew-hatred dressed up in academic clothes.
There is no other explanation for why educated, well-intentioned and humane individuals, experiencing paroxysms of moral self-righteousness in which they are compelled to speak out for the perennial victim, can loudly and publicly advocate for the murder of Jews—who already have created and live in a viable sovereign state—on behalf of a group of genocidal enemies of Israel whose tragic condition may well be their own doing, and, at any rate, is the not the sole fault of Israel’s. That these activists are willing, and ready, to sacrifice the Jewish state, and Jewish lives, in the name of social justice and a specious campaign of self-determination by Palestinian Arabs, shows how morally corrupt and deadly the conversation about human rights has become.
And its lethal nature and intent should frighten us all.
Richard L. Cravatts, PhD, President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.