Free Speech on Campus and Off…

May 5, 2016 (San Diego) David Horowitz released the names of students attached to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) whose intent is in his mind and others is the destruction of the States of Israel. Students have also formed a student group, that supports the rights of Palestinians. This is not unlike other eras when students formed groups that supported causes not that popular outside campus. For example, when I was going to San Diego State, the popular student cause of the time was El Salvador and Nicaragua. Outside campus that was seen as support for communists and dictators.

There are some differences though between BDS and those long gone cold car brush wars. The BDS movement is a global movement, who’s goals are quite simple, isolate and delegitimize the existence of the State of Israel in the international community. It is contrary to a two state solution and has led to academic boycotts, as well as a wide spread movement in Europe to avoid buying Israeli products. It is also modeled after the Anti Apartheid movement of the 1980s. That one truly started as an appeal not to buy south african products in 1955.

There are also other major major differences. The South African boycott did not seek to destroy South Africa, nor did it have antisemitic undertones. This is where speech gets complicated. Anti-Semitism is hate speech, but not all forms of anti zionism are hate speech.

The UC Regents released a statement on February of this year precisely addressing this issue:

Anti-Semitism, anti-semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California. Most members of the University community agree with this conclusion and would agree further that the University should strive to create an equal learning environment for all students. This said, members of the community express widely divergent views about how the University should respond to incidents of overt, and more particularly, covert anti-Semitism and other forms of prohibited discrimination and intolerance. In light of the evolving nature of anti-Semitism, some commenters recommended that the Regents endorse or adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that has been attributed to the U.S. Department of State. They express the view that adopting a definition of anti-Semitism would help members of the University recognize and respond to anti-Semitism.2 Some commenters urged the Regents to sanction members of the University community who express views thought to be antiSemitic, while others asserted that the State Department definition would sweep in speech protected by principles of academic freedom and the First Amendment. Sanctioning people based on their speech, they say, would violate the First Amendment. Others expressed concerns about defining and focusing on antiSemitism alone when other forms of bias and prejudice also occur on UC campuses, but have not been specifically defined or addressed in Regents policy.3 Finally, some commenters asserted that expressions based on stereotypes, prejudice and intolerance impact the learning environment for some members of the University community, and that prohibiting such expressions altogether should be deemed a legitimate approach to enforcing the University’s nondiscrimination policies.

The UC Regents had to respond to the increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks on UCcampuses. They have occurred across campuses in the United States, and not just the West Coast. San Diego State had swastikas in one of it’s facilities, for example.

There are people who blame the BDS movement for the increase in antisemitic speech. While there is a grain of truth in that. BDS is not precisely blameless in this. They are part of a much larger milieu that has led to the increasing acceptance of hate speech in general. It is no longer confined to the corners of the internet, such as Stormfront, where it was still socially accepted.

Nor is antisemitism the only hate speech on the rise. Since 911 we have also seen a steady rise of islamophobia, and since President Barack Obama took office we have seen more overt Anti Black and Anti Latino speech. This leads to some obvious questions for the country. We have a first amendment. Unlike countries like Germany, where anti-semitism can lead to jail time, the US has the view that we have a pretty open market place of ideas, and generally speaking we cherish this, at least in the abstract. Sometimes that market place is used for good. For example the civil rights movement. Sometimes it is used for evil. I do not think any of us would have a problem agreeing that the Klu Klux Klan, or the Neo Nazi Party of the United States are pretty bigoted organizations, that at times have led to physical attacks and the death of people they hate.

Free speech on campus and off campus is very easy when we all agree on the speech in question. It becomes harder when people engage in speech we personally do not agree with. The first instinct by most people is to shut down the speech they do not agree with. The other is to ask for protection from that speech. American universities have seen this in spades in the recent past. There have been demands for safe spaces, and not to discuss matter that might be hurtful. When I was attending college, that usually was self censorship. I still vividly remember the young man who dropped a class that required him to read the Communist Manifesto These days these demands are made of administrators. This was addressed by President Obama in 2015 in an interview wiith ABC:

“The civil rights movement happened because there was civil disobedience, because people were willing to go to jail, because there were events like Bloody Sunday, but it was also because the leadership of the movement consistently stayed open to the possibility of reconciliation and sought to understand the views, even views that were appalling to them, of the other side.”

The president also addressed how young people are getting trained to push away hurtful speech.

And I do worry if young people start getting trained to think that if somebody says something I don’t like, if somebody says something that hurts my feelings, that my only recourse is to shut them up, avoid them, push them away, call on a higher power to protect me from that. You know, and yes, does that put more of a burden on minority students, or gay students, or Jewish students, or others in a majority that may be blind to history and blind to their hurt? It may put a slightly higher burden on them. But you’re not going to make the kinds of deep changes in society that those students want without taking it on in a full and clear and courageous way.

There is also responsible use of free speech. These past few weeks offered a perfect example of this at SDSU. The posters that were put on campus by David Horowitz’s organization listing names, would have been provocative speech, but perfectly alright within a campus environment if they had no names. This was pointed out to him in a question and answer with media. The names made those posters more an exercise in shutting down the other side, than engagement. He justified this as making them accountable. As much as he believes their views are wrong headed, his attempt to silence is just as wrong as what he alleges, that is intimidation by the BDS movement in particular and the left in general to his speech on American campuses.

We agree, the discussion as to the goals of the BDS movement has to happen, A simple search of the web reveals those goals.

The campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad sections of the Palestinian people: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

There are people who consider this to be code for the destruction of Israel. Ergo, the discussion has to be had. Is this a new form of antisemitism, or is this anti colonial speech? Or possibly this is a mixture of the two? Given that the situation of Jewish students on campus does deteriorate due to stereotypes and other language spoken by BDS activists, we need to consider that there is some form of coded antisemitism within the ranks, if not outright stated by the movement.

This is what the Brandeis Center has to say about this.

In the wake these campaigns, the campus situation for Jewish students often deteriorates, and Jewish students are sometimes spit at, threatened, and assaulted. The Louis D. Brandeis Center continually monitors problematic campuses, sometimes with personnel on the ground, for evidence that Jewish students are being harassed. In some cases, anti-Israel extremists create a hostile environment for Jewish students that violates state and federal laws, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In other cases, anti-Jewish attacks involve criminal activities, such as vandalism or assault. Public universities also sometimes violate the constitutional rights of Jewish and pro-Israel students, sometime suppressing their lawful right to free speech. Not all criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic, and not all anti-Semitism is unlawful. Even the vilest of anti-Semites is entitled to the full protections of the First Amendment and the doctrine of academic freedom. Nevertheless, when BDS campaigners cross the line into unlawful harassment of Jewish and Israeli students, the community needs to stand ready to protect them.

There is a right to speech. Even the vilest of anti-Semitic speech is protected in the United States, that is right up until you cross a line calling for violence. So is the vilest of anti-muslim and anti-black speech, or anti-latino language, and the same qualifier applies. We as a nation are struggling with anti-LGBT speech, which is also protected. Speech has to be confronted with more speech, not violence or silencing. Hate speech has to be exposed and out argued.

The Daily Aztec had to take a stand. They had to justify their running of an add sent by the Freedom Center. They did the right thing. They ran it. They did get pushback, like news organizations do from time to time. But they did not fold. This is the kind of behavior we should expect from every media organization.

We also must be clear. As journalists we do have an obligation to the first amendment, however we might personally feel about a situation, or particular speech, in this case both the BDS activist on campus, and Horowitz, have gotten a full hearing on their views and their fears. This is the way it should be in a free democratic society.


David Horowitz at San Diego State

National Action Network Shane Harris Calls for Resignation of SDSU President

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