Of the many intellectual perversions currently taking root on college campuses, perhaps none is more contradictory to what should be one of higher education’s core values than the suppression of free speech.
With alarming regularity, speakers are shouted down, booed, jeered, and barraged with vitriol, all at the hands of groups who give lip service to the notion of academic free speech, and who demand it when their speech is at issue, but have no interest in listening to, or letting others listen to, ideas that contradict their own world view.
This is the tragic and inevitable result of decades of grievance-based victimism by self-designated groups who frame their rights and demands on identity politics. Those who see themselves as perennial victims also feel very comfortable, when they express their feelings of being oppressed, in projecting that same victimization outward on their oppressors.
Of course, the issue that most regularly energizes the moral narcissism of campus ideologues is the Israeli/Palestinian debate, and recent events have confirmed that, if anything, activists have been emboldened by the fact that their misbehavior is rarely addressed by administrations in the same way, for instance, that university officials are so quick to do when minority students feel “unsafe” on the University of Minnesota campus in a drive-by racist rant by an anonymous sociopath.
On November 3, for example, the University of Minnesota Law School sponsored a lecture by Hebrew University professor Moshe Halbertal, an expert on Israel’s military code of ethics, entitled “Protecting Civilians: Moral Challenges of Asymmetric Warfare.” The lecture was delayed for 30 minutes by the unruly heckling and chants of some 100 protestors from the Minnesota Anti-War Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), who indignantly rose from the audience, interrupted, and accused Halbertal of war crimes and complicity in last summer’s Gaza incursion.
Chants directed to Halbertal included the customary libels, “These are massacres, not mistakes! These are war crimes! Free, free Palestine!” and “Occupation is a crime, free, free Palestine!” – freeing Palestine, of course, meaning: eliminating Israel and replacing it with a new Arab state.
On November 13, the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Israeli Studies hosted an event with Stanford University’s Dr. Gil-Li Vardi, who was to present a study on “The Origin of a Species: The Birth of the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Culture.” At the event, twelve members of a so-called “Palestine Solidarity Committee,” intent on disrupting the speech, created a human wall in the back of the room with the purpose of not allowing the event to begin. When the vocal protestors were asked to remain quiet and listen to the presentation, they made it patently obvious they would never even engage in dialogue with the presenter, saying, “You are a former IDF soldier, we do not listen to you.”
Anti-Israel campus activists, and particularly the virulent Students for Justice in Palestine, use the victim mantle to shield their actions from self-examination, feeling that, as representatives of the dispossessed and perennially oppressed Palestinians, they can adopt any tactic to campaign against Israel, Zionism, occupation, and purported Israeli apartheid. That has meant that at several campuses in the CUNY system last month, for example, SJP used the November 16 Million Student March, a nationwide student demonstration for free public college tuition, to also slander Israel and Jews.
The protest, advertised on Facebook by “NYC Students for Justice in Palestine” and other affiliate groups, ascribed, using the tropes of classic anti-Semitism, the financial situation at CUNY to its “Zionist administration [that] invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology…through Zionist content of education… [aiming] to produce the next generation of professional Zionists.”
So, with not a bit of self-awareness or embarrassment, these moral narcissists at CUNY accuse the administration of being a sinister cabal of Zionist reprobates intent on promulgating racist policies for the good of Israel and to the detriment of good people like themselves (people who deserve, among other benefits, education without cost). And they ghoulishly shriek “Intifada, Intifada, long live Intifada,” an unambiguous call for the murder of Jews at the hands of psychopathic terrorists. Therefore, they should not be indignant, as they generally are, when others – both on and off their respective campuses – use their own freedom of expression to point out how lethal this ideology is and that, despite the fact that its rhetoric is draped in the language of so-called social justice, it exposes a malignant double standard in its rage, lethality, and accusatory rhetoric against Israel.
These sanctimonious activists may well feel that they have access to all the truth and facts, but even if this were true – which it demonstrably and regularly is not – it does not empower them with the right to have the only voice to trumpet their ideology and to disrupt, shout down, or totally eliminate competing opinions in political or academic debates.
True intellectual diversity – the ideal that is often bandied about but rarely achieved –must be dedicated to the protection of unfettered speech, representing opposing viewpoints, where the best ideas become clear through the utterance of weaker ones.