Militant anti-Israel ideology is a hallmark of the illiberal Left that has been taking college campuses by storm in recent years, creating a flashpoint at elite private colleges and large public universities alike. Over at Tablet, K.C. Johnson analyzes a new report sponsored by the City University of New York on the extent of anti-Semitic activity on its campuses, and what the University can reasonably do about it. Some excerpts:
The report made two principal findings. First, it clarified (there had been some debate about the incidents) the anti-Semitic conduct by some CUNY students. A November 2015 rally at Hunter College co-sponsored by the faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), drew support from a variety of identity-politics student groups, including the Students for Justice in Palestine. Encountering a small group of pro-Israel students, protesters shouted “Jews Out of CUNY” and “Death to Jews”; one CUNY student told Jones and her staffers that “as he was leaving the rally, a person behind him said, ‘We should drag the Zionist down the street.’ ” He had to ask CUNY security officers for protection. Jones and Schectman made clear that if CUNY could identify any of the protesting students, they should be punished for issuing verbal threats. […]
But, Jones and Shechtman correctly noted, “die-ins, mock checkpoints, and the SJP banner may offend some, but the First Amendment does not permit a public university to take action against them.” CUNY, the authors continued, “cannot punish such speech unless it is part of a course of conduct so pervasive or severe that it denies a person’s ability to pursue an education or participate in University life. It cannot mandate civility or sanction isolated derogatory comments.”
The campus Left suggests that hard-core “anti-Zionist” activism is undertaken entirely in good faith. Meanwhile, many of Israel’s lonely defenders in the Ivory Tower have resorted to asking universities to censor constitutionally protected anti-Israel speech. As Johnson notes, neither approach is productive. The distinction between “anti-Zionism” and “anti-Semitism” has been all but collapsed on many campuses, and administrators can and should condemn bigoted speech and impose sanctions in those instances where it crosses the line into true threats or harassment.
However, it’s important that the pro-Israel forces on campuses don’t adopt the tactics of the campus Left and attempt to use the power of the administration to punish speech merely because it is offensive. Not only would that be unethical, Johson notes, but it allows anti-Israel activists to “shift the discussion away from their extreme beliefs, from which most people outside academia appropriately recoil, to a different debate about protecting student civil liberties for all.” In other words, according to Johnson, defenders of Israel should see the First Amendment as an ally, not an adversary, in their fight against the forces of intolerance in the academy. Read the whole thing.