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A Double Standard For Campus Free Speech

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In what is yet more evidence that universities have become, as Abigail Thernstrom has described them, “islands of repression in a sea of freedom,” Toronto’s York University witnessed a near riot of some 100 pro-Palestinian Israel-haters, as police had to be called to usher Jewish students to safety after they had been barricaded inside the Hillel offices and were “isolated and threatened” by the physically and verbally aggressive demonstrators.

York, one of Canada’s largest universities, has a sizable Jewish student population, but that has not served to diffuse what has become an increasingly volatile, and distressing, problem on its campus, one that raises issues about what is acceptable behavior and discourse at universities worldwide.

Universities, of course, have well-articulated regulations that supposedly define student behavior and place limits on speech and actions that might shatter what administrators like to refer to as the “civility” of the campus community. York’s own student code of conduct, for example, specifically prohibits “threats of harm, or actual harm, to a person’s physical or mental wellbeing,” including “verbal and non-verbal aggression…verbal abuse; intimidation; [and] harassment” – all of which were clearly violated by the demonstrators’ physically intimidating protests.

More troubling is the invidious language used at this event, mirroring a surge of unbridled Jew-hatred manifested on campuses, as well as on city streets, worldwide since Israel’s defensive incursion into Gaza.

Parroting the morally incoherent and factually defective exhortations of Israel-haters elsewhere of “Zionism equals racism!” and “Racists off campus!” the York mob, members of both the York Federation of Students and Students Against Israeli Apartheid, demonstrated once again that what is positioned as “intellectual debate” on campuses about the Israeli/Palestinian issue has devolved into something that is not really a conversation at all. Rather, it is something more akin to an ideologically-driven shoutfest in which a new version of pro-Palestinian brownshirts, employing a revisionist history in which the dark-skinned, third-world Arabs are the long-standing victims of white, European, colonial Zionists, have escalated the debate far beyond discussion of borders, refugee status, and the rights of both Jews and Arabs to self-determination, statehood, and peaceful coexistence.

So supporters of the cult of Palestinianism apparently no longer feel even a bit uncomfortable voicing what is actually on their minds when the subject of Israel comes up: when the York Hillel students were trapped inside locked offices, surrounded by an increasingly violent and aggressive mob, the intellectual “debate” that day included such invidious and raw slurs as “Die Jew – get the hell off campus.”

The most vicious anti-Semites have of late been able to conveniently inoculate themselves from what had become socially unacceptable in the modern age – hating Jews – by artfully masking any anti-Semitism on their part by stating, “Oh, no, it’s not Jews I despise, only the oppressive, genocidal, and racist policies of Zionism and Israel.”

But even that concern for appearing to be politically correct has now, too, vanished. When students are calling for the death of fellow students based on their religion or political inclinations, something more serious and troubling is going on here that cannot be easily dismissed as part of the back and forth in the “marketplace of ideas” that universities are so fond of facilitating.

But craven college administrators, who in their zeal to achieve “diversity” and “multiculturalism” have relieved campus victim groups of any responsibility for their noxious or morally reprehensible views, regularly fail to condemn the behavior of favored groups on campus while publicly denouncing, punishing, or distancing themselves from the opposing voices coming, for instance, from conservatives, Christians, Republicans, or pro-Israel groups or faculty members.

Imagine for a moment that during the latest incident instead of Hillel, another of the University’s student organizations, the Trans Bisexual Lesbian Gay Allies at York, had held a press conference in the student union to give their views on, say, gay marriage, a topic over which there can be, and are, many viewpoints. Imagine further that counter-protestors, inflamed by what they felt was an assault on their Christian faith, angrily barricaded the TBLG Allies in their offices, pounded violently on the walls and screamed out “Death to Sodomites.”

Assuming that such a counter-protest would even have been allowed to occur on campus, does anyone doubt the extent of denunciation and condemnation that would have issued forth from an apoplectic administration and faculty if this hateful speech and behavior took place? Is there any doubt the counter-protestors would be de-funded, sanctioned, or punished into silence or prevented from further demonstrations or the ability to express their opinions on campus again?

Therein lies the hypocrisy in academic free speech on campus today: while coddling selected victim groups and granting them unlimited expression as a purported way to further diversity of thought, college administrators have regularly denied those same rights and privileges to groups deemed not to deserve or need them – namely, conservatives, Christians, Republicans, or those who seek a strong defense against radical Islam and terrorism aimed Western democracies, principally the U.S. and Israel.

If pro-Israel and Jewish students have to be escorted by police to protect them from physical assault and nothing is said about the egregious nature of the offense, and pro-Israel, anti-terror speakers such as Daniel Pipes are shouted down and heckled relentlessly when they come to York, the university is failing in its stated objective to foster true debate and free speech where reasoned conclusions can evolve through animated and lively discussion of alternate views.

“The ‘Israel debate,’” say Gary A. Tobin, Aryeh K. Weinberg and Jenna Firer in The Uncivil University, “is not a true intellectual debate at all, but rather a failure of the university community at all levels to properly protect its highest ideals. No institution of higher learning should allow Jewish students to be intimidated or attacked, or pro-Israel speakers to be so physically threatened that they cannot safely visit a campus.”

Why? Because “such an environment is antithetical to the mission” of the university, they say, and if the academy abandons that goal for the sake of selected groups and favored causes today, it clearly makes victims of other groups whose views and voice deserve the same hearing in our marketplace of ideas.

About the Author: Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., is president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and author of “Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel & Jews.”

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