Harvard University campus
Pro-Hamas students on America’s college campuses should be allowed to speak. Free speech allows the dumb and diabolical among us to identify themselves.
More than 4,000 Israelis and Palestinians have died since Hamas launched an unprecedented attack against Israel last Saturday. Between chai lattes and frisbee on the quad, student groups on America’s college campuses have something to say about it.
Early last week, more than 30 student groups at Harvard University made news when they signed onto a letter stating they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” and “the Apartheid regime is the only one to blame.”
These students, at the most prestigious university in America, skipped right past the left-wing’s standard drawing of moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas to outright victim blaming.
Counter-culture hot takes were not limited to Harvard. Student groups on dozens of other college campuses issued similar, and in some cases, more egregious, statements.
Some students actually found ways to celebrate Hamas’s attack.
A student group at Tufts University applauded the “creativity” of Hamas paragliders who landed at a musical festival in southern Israel. More than 260 civilians were murdered by these men. Women at the festival were raped before being killed. Creative.
The paraglider image found itself onto promotional graphics for pro-Palestinian events at both the California State University Long Beach and the University of Illinois.
In this alternate reality, the Hamas terrorists who rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli civilian targets–who indiscriminately killed men, women, and children–are the real victims.
There are two strands of arguments being made on college campuses–one dumb, the other diabolical.
As to the dumb, apparently many of America’s “brightest” believe that Hamas attacked because of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. This line of thinking implies that if Israel would just be nicer and make concessions, there could be peace. It’s painfully naive.
Hamas attacked Israel because it does not think Israel should exist. There is no Israeli concession that would ever be “enough.” Don’t take my word for it. Read Hamas’s charter:
- “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
- “Resisting the occupation with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and by international norms and laws. At the heart of these lies armed resistance.”
- “There is no alternative to a fully sovereign Palestinian State on the entire national Palestinian soil, with Jerusalem as its capital.”
In poll after poll, Palestinians reject a “two-state” solution. Israel can either defend itself or commit suicide. Those are its options. It has constantly faced and pushed back on these sort of extinction level threats for the last 75 years.
Which brings us to the diabolical. There is a strand of radicalism being pushed on campuses that is not naive, but which fully appreciates and endorses the goal of wiping the nation of Israel off the map.
Even so, both strands of pro-Hamas students should be allowed to speak, as long as they are not directly inciting actual physical violence (none of this “words are violence” nonsense).
Free speech is not only a hallmark of a functioning democracy because it allows for good ideas to rise to the top. Free speech is also vital because it allows the dumb and diabolical among us to identify themselves.
But allowing speech and accepting speech are not the same thing. Universities can both permit outrageous talk and simultaneously make clear that they reject that talk. Unfortunately, America’s college and universities have been slow to do so and impotently measured in their responses.
Facing an onslaught of criticism for not condemning the pro-Hamas rhetoric emerging from her campus, Harvard President Claudine Gay put out a statement on Friday defending free speech:
Our University embraces a commitment to free expression. That commitment extends even to views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous. We do not punish or sanction people for expressing such views. But that is a far cry from endorsing them.
The sentiment, while laudable generically, rings hollow, in large part because of colleges and universities’ abhorrent track record on free speech.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) ranks college campuses commitment to free expression. In 2023, Harvard ranked dead last in the nation for free speech. FIRE points to multiple faculty that have been dismissed from Harvard, students who have had admissions rescinded, and speakers that have been disinvited from campus–all for expressing thoughts deemed too controversial for the university, more often than not from a conservative point of view.
Harvard is, of course, not alone. There is a well-documented track record of conservative speakers being disinvited, with such efforts often led by shrieking faculty.
It is against this backdrop that a newfound commitment to free speech appears selective, and candidly, like a tacit endorsement of the offending speech.
Soft peddling responses to students celebrating acts of terrorism that have now resulted in thousands of deaths while chasing the likes of Ben Shapiro off campus for saying conservative things exposes a form of rank hypocrisy.