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September 16, 2011

Facing Down Anti-Semitism on Campus

At long last an attempt is bring made to curtail blatant anti-Semitic commentary on American campuses. The Israel Law Center warns that colleges and universities "may be liable for massive damage" if they fail to prevent anti-Semitism. The center sent hundreds of letters to university presidents drawing a line in the sand. This Israel civil rights center is carrying out this campaign in response to an alarming number of incidents against Jewish and Israeli students at U.S. universities.

A center's lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said, "Anti-Israel rallies and events frequently exceed legitimate criticism of Israel and cross the line into blatant anti-Semitism, resulting in hateful attacks against Jews." A student at Rutgers, to cite one example, said he was called "a racist Zionist pig" in a Facebook posting. That comment was made when the student questioned a Student Assembly decision to donate money to the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization with ties to the Holy Land Foundation, a foundation that has funded Hamas.

University officials noted that free-speech provisions militate against disciplinary action; clearly a case can and should be made for the free and open exchange of ideas on campus. In fact, every provision should be made to foster free speech. However, intimidation is another matter. Using methods to stifle free speech is the overarching issue. As Santayana noted, “The first duty of the tolerant person is to be intolerant to intolerance.” Ms. Leitner contends that “perpetrators of hate” are exploiting academic freedom and First Amendment protections to create an environment of intimidation, one that prevents Jews from exercising their free speech. 

Presumably the warning distributed by the center will prompt U.S. colleges and universities to take appropriate action against the growing problem of campus hate. A former Brandeis student, Hershel Hartz, maintains that universities have a double standard--anti-Semitism is shielded as free speech while other designated ethnicities are scrupulously protected from discriminatory acts.

The center letter also points to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project which held it illegal to provide support to a terrorist organization, even for supposed humanitarian purposes. (a clear reference to the Rutgers program). The center’s notice sets the stage for a responsible reaction to the rash of anti-Semitic actions on American campuses. As I see it, it is about time.

Comments (2)

Carl:

I'm afraid I have to disagree. I'm opposed to anti-Semitism and find insults such as the facebook comment above appalling. Nevertheless, holding universities liable for expressions of opinion (even repugnant opinion)by students or faculty will only encourage the present tendency toward speech codes and enforced conformity. Where intimidation is a definite threat ("shut up or I'll hit you with this stick"), campus or local law enforcement should definitely become involved. But trying to control speech to prevent a vague "environment of intimidation" is, to my mind, clearly contradictory to the principle of free speech.

Hieronymus Braintree:

"University officials noted that free-speech provisions militate against disciplinary action; clearly a case can and should be made for the free and open exchange of ideas on campus. In fact, every provision should be made to foster free speech. However, intimidation is another matter. Using methods to stifle free speech is the overarching issue. As Santayana noted, 'The first duty of the tolerant person is to be intolerant to intolerance.' Ms. Leitner contends that 'perpetrators of hate' are exploiting academic freedom and First Amendment protections to create an environment of intimidation, one that prevents Jews from exercising their free speech."

This is, of course, precisely the same argument used by PC types to justifying silencing speech they don't like. Calling someone "a racist Zionist pig," is hate speech but it in no way prevents Jewish students from exercising their right to free speech unless Jewish students decide it does. Much better is to teach students who are the objects of insults how to maintain their nerve and respond to this sort of talk. With some coaching it isn't really all that hard. Insults are not violent attacks nor do they have to result in suppression. And attempts to umpire speech have a long sorry history of going overboard and stifling free speech that ought to be protected.

As Nat Hentoff has noted on many occasions: The antidote to bad free speech is more and better speech--and he's a Zionist. And with a jerk who actually thinks that calling someone "a racist Zionist pig" is a clever rhetorical gambit it seems clear that the object of his hate has been given a huge head start.

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