Free speech on college campuses is one of the most thorny of constitutional issues. Students should be able to engage freely in the exhilarating intellectual pursuits of the mind. 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 operative word here is “civil.”
Why are there are protections in place for almost every other minority group, but not for our Jewish students? Why can a student be suspended from school for writing the n-word on Facebook, but a Jewish student is afraid to cross the quad with a yarmulke on his head or a Star of David around her neck?
Anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses have reached a fevered pitch. A Google search shows some alarming incidences: Purchase College in upstate Harrison was disgraced by Nazi posters depicting swastikas and Adolf Hitler. At Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, a student found a book for a research project defaced with a swastika; one page had written “Jews have no business at CMU” and in another 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. At Duke University, a swastika defaced a memorial some students had put up in memory of the 11 Jewish worshippers killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting.
Often, 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 for 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 chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
It’s a chant that leaves one wondering, “Where does that leave our people?”
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 campus.
Often ignored are ties between BDS-rallying groups and terrorist organizations. In 2016, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who had worked for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He explained that the largest BDS organizer 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 money to Hamas, a State Department-listed terrorist organization.
Many times, university administrators feign ignorance about what constitutes anti-Semitism. That is precisely why the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is necessary. It simply provides a definition, so that university administrators can recognize anti-Semitism when they see it.
This definition is exactly the same as that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and is used in another branch of our federal government, the U.S. Department of State. It defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism 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 interpreted it as “an assault on free speech.”
The good news is that Goodlatte will retire at the end of this month, and Jerald Nadler (D-NY), who will assume the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee in January, has already signed onto the bill into the House.
Perhaps the same protections that apply to other minorities will soon be extended to our Jewish and pro-Israel students.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth.