Anti-Semitism / University

“…it is important that members of the campus community, including its leadership, speak up when there are hate crimes…”

…it is important that members of the campus community, including its leadership, speak up when there are hate crimes (such as the rare but occasional swastika daubing). They should speak out if they sense a threat to academic freedom, such as if intimidation and harassment occur. And more schools should conduct surveys of their students to see if intergroup tensions and bigotry are experienced, and if they are, then institute educational, training and other programs as appropriate. But administrators should not act as quality-control officers on campus debate. Further, if a university adopts an official definition of anti-Semitism, how long would it be until other groups demand an official definition of Islamophobia, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian animus, homophobia and so forth, with the built-in expectation that speech transgressing such definitions requires an administrative response, too? Consider what speech might run afoul of an official definition of “anti-Palestinian.” Perhaps when a student says that he does not believe Palestinians have a right to a country of their own, and that the West Bank instead should be part of a Greater Israel?

Would the labeling of one side of this debate as hateful do anything other than increase this paradigm? And then what happens? Jews are increasingly portrayed as not able to defend Israel, thus they have to try to suppress speech they don’t like — here speech supposedly advocating for stateless Palestinians. Historically, anti-Semitism thrives in environments in which Jews are painted as dangers to sacred values. One can argue that anti-Semites will describe Jews this way regardless, and twist history like a pretzel in the process, but that does not change the fact that the adoption of such a definition would be a self-inflicted wound. On a campus, proposals that are seen as diminishing academic freedom become rallying points, even for people who are not invested in the issue at hand. Solutions that incorporate and extol academic freedom are more likely to succeed

Kenneth S. Stern, “Protect Free Speech”, Jewish Journal (26 June – 2 July 2015), 33.