What the vexed history of campus hate speech codes teaches us about fighting antisemitism

The war between Israel and Hamas has divided university campuses, sparking a wave of anger at higher education leaders who have condemned terrorism and failed to curb anti-Semitism.

Numerous incidents leave Jewish students feeling unsafe, including online Threatens to attack Jewish students at Cornell Universitypro-Palestinian student Knocking on the door of the Cooper Union library There are Jewish students among them. Jewish student injured at Tulane While confronting demonstrators burning Israeli flags, Harvard University Student Organization and teachers yale university, Columbia, cornell And elsewhere it appears to support or condone Hamas’ brutal October 7 terrorist attacks.

Faced with escalating demands for action, college and university presidents have issued statements condemning anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and launched anti-anti-Semitism committees. However, at the moment many critics are demanding that administrators: Sanctions students and fire department personnel A person who uses hateful rhetoric when criticizing Israel or supporters of Israel.

We’ve been down this road before, but it didn’t end well. The First Amendment principles that govern public institutions and are adopted by most private universities protect speech unless: Configure Actual threats, incitement of imminent illegal activity, harassment. In the 1990s more than 300 universities were established. Adopted code It aims to limit hate speech. Recognizing that hate speech cannot be restricted without censoring ideas or punishing people for their political views, courts almost always These laws were deemed unconstitutional.

Because there is no consensus definition of hate speech, and it almost certainly cannot be defined, the university’s regulations were vague, broad, and horrifying expressions that went far beyond racist and bigoted sentiments.Often the code is used for They were the ones to protect.

At the University of Michigan, for example, in the year and a half since hate speech regulations went into effect, 20 items In this incident, a white student accused a black student of racist language. The only student to receive a full disciplinary hearing was a black student who was charged with homophobic and sexist language.Almost inevitably, hate speech regulations were enforced in ways that favored those in power, disempowering them. “Marginalized individuals and groups” Moreover, 40 years of experience proves that: Hate speech regulations are ‘invalid’ At best, at worst, it can actually increase the level of intolerance.

The urge to ban hate speech is understandable.As the American Association of University Professors attracted attention in 1994, “The fear, tension, and conflict created by slurs and insults create an environment that is harmful to learning.” Hate speech is an insult to their dignity and undermines their sense of physical and psychological safety. . But as the AAUP has recognized, these concerns, while important, cannot justify restrictions on freedom of expression, which is “a precondition for the academic enterprise itself.”

The furore generated by the war between Israel and Hamas has led many, even staunch defenders of free speech, to blur the line between prohibited conduct and protected speech. Became.

Government officials are threatened to refund Educational institutions are not taking action against students who blame Israel for Hamas terrorist attacks.some of the people Top law firm warns law school They won’t hire students unless they learn to “exchange ideas freely in ways that affirm the values ​​we all hold dear.” At the University of Pennsylvania, major donors include: demanding The president’s resignation also stemmed in part from her failure to cancel or strongly enough condemn a Palestinian literature festival sponsored by the faculty that included speakers with a history of anti-Semitic Open letter to Harvard UniversityMitt Romney and other prominent alumni called on leaders to ban “hate” as well as threats and violence.

And some universities are responding. For example, Brandeis University recently warned: to cut tie with It protested against student organizations and professional associations that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement because it “aims to dismantle the Jewish state.” Brandeis also disapproved the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. because “SJP openly supports Hamas and supports Hamas’s calls for the violent elimination of Israel and the Jewish people.” Emory University We have assigned teachers. He is on leave pending an investigation into anti-Semitic comments made on his private social media york university started an investigation The story of a student who blamed Israel for the October 7 Hamas attack.

We share the disgust that many feel when they see rallies and statements condoning terrorism, promoting anti-Semitism, and calling for violence against Jews and the destruction of Israel. . However, most of the rhetoric in question not satisfied Very high standards for genuine threats, incitement to imminent violence or harassment.

So what should universities do?

First and foremost, universities must ensure the safety of their students. This includes increasing the police presence on campus and regulating when and where protests are held in a content-neutral manner. Disciplinary procedures, including criminal prosecution, should be proactively taken as necessary for speech that crosses the line of true threats, incitement, and harassment.

College and university leaders should educate students about the harm of hate speech and condemn it when it appears. We should condemn speech that violates community norms and encourage students, faculty and staff to join us in supporting a campus culture where all members of the community are treated with respect.

Universities must ensure that efforts to combat anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of religious intolerance are an integral part of campus diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, starting with orientation .

When hate speech surfaces on campus, college and university leaders should provide support to the individuals most affected, including meeting with students and student organizations, providing counseling, and participating in vigils and other events. should be provided.

The temptation to suppress speech is always strongest in moments of crisis. But that’s when the need to protect speech is greatest: words As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, we must ensure “the freedom of thought we hate, not the freedom of thought of those who agree with us.”

Glenn C. Altshuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. David Whipman is president of Hamilton College.

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