SAN DIEGO, May 5, 2016 – In the last three days we’ve had a demonstration of exactly what the state of free speech is at San Diego State University. My Freedom Center put up posters around the SDSU campus calling support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel “Jew hatred” and listing the names of leaders of this movement at SDSU. The view that BDS is an anti-Semitic campaign that seeks the destruction of the Jewish state is a conclusion drawn by Larry Summers when he was president of Harvard, by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, by the Anti-Defamation League and by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among many other liberal figures and institutions. BDS is a campaign inspired by Palestinian terrorists and funded by a network associated with the terrorist organization Hamas, which openly calls for the extermination of the Jews. On the posters were listed the names not of random students who support BDS but activist leaders of organizations that are pushing Boycott resolutions on this campus, that openly support terrorist attacks on Israel, and who harass individuals who oppose them.
The response to our posters was this: The president of Students for Justice in Palestine and his allies denounced this author as a proponent of hate speech even though the sentiment expressed on the posters was anti-hate speech, demanded that I be condemned by the university administration, and that the administration make them safe from having to confront an opinion they opposed - namely that BDS was an anti-Semitic movement.
So determined were these leftists to shut down our views that when President Hirshman issued a statement affirming the importance of free speech, they formed a mob to express their anger. Led by SJP activists we had named, the mob trapped the president of this university in a police cruiser he was sitting in, and held him hostage for two hours. When they finally released him, President Hirshman did not announce that he was going to discipline them and did not even scold them for the outrage they had committed. Legally he could have sued them for what the law recognizes as “false imprisonment.” Nor did he lecture them on the importance of civil discourse, let alone non-coercive behavior in an institution of higher learning. Instead the president of this university who had been held prisoner against his will, apologized for any hurt feelings he might have caused his captors and said he would meet with them to discuss whether my free speech could be curtailed without violating the First Amendment which guarantees us all free speech. He called this travesty a “balance” between “free speech” and “safety.”
Why would the president of a liberal university do that? Obviously because he was intimidated, not only physically but by the prospect of further disruptions on his campus that would be detrimental to its image and his career. That is the true situation on this campus. Free speech on this and other campuses is threatened by anti-Israel activists and leftwing activists generally, and by no one else. It is I who have to have armed guards, assigned by the university itself, to protect my physical safety and ensure that I will get through my speech without obstruction.
As to the press coverage, I want to praise the editors of the Daily Aztec for printing an ad I had bought in its pages explaining the rationale of my campaign. I want to praise them for then standing up for freedom of the press when SJP and the left attacked them for printing the ad. The left will only be satisfied when campuses are completely closed to any views on the Middle East or other volatile subjects that oppose their own.
Unfortunately, a more powerful press institution, the San Diego Union Tribune disgraced itself in an editorial statement that deliberately lied about my posters and then expressed support for the leftists – which it conflated with Muslims – who are working actively to suppress my speech. Here is the Union Tribune editorial as it pertains to our campaign:
“Are students who support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) effort to isolate Israel — on the grounds that it is an apartheid state that persecutes Palestinians — de facto terrorists? That is an absurd statement. We sympathize with the Muslim students at San Diego State University who were labeled terrorists by people opposed to BDS who used online templates supplied by conservative provocateur David Horowitz to print inflammatory posters. Their targeting is awful. They had ample cause to stage a protest last week.”
These are two lies: we did not call any students terrorists, and we did not target Muslims. There are several non-Muslim individuals listed on the posters. We targeted – explicitly and only – BDS supporters and SJP activists. SJP is a secular organization that has non-Muslim activists in its leadership. The same may be said for the BDS movement. These falsehoods were a calculated attempt by the San Diego Union Tribune editorial board to slander me as a bigot and give its support to those who are demonstrably the enemies of free speech on the SDSU campus.
These journalistic sins are compounded by the fact that an honest reporter for the Union, Gary Warth, accurately described the posters as claiming that the individuals named “have allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate” hatred against Jewish students on campus. That the Union editorial board would go so far as to ignore its own report in order to turn a dissenter into a pariah, and in the process lend support to the very groups that want to silence dissent, is a very sad commentary on the state of free speech in our country today.