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National Review
National Review
2 Dec 2023
Jonas Du

NextImg:The Campus Left’s Hate-Speech Hypocrisy Is on Full Display after October 7

{I} often hear from progressives that “free speech” is merely an excuse for conservatives to justify bigoted and hateful expression. In the wake of their responses to the Israel–Hamas War, however, that idea is no longer defensible.

As an editor of a student magazine promoting free speech at Columbia University, I’m no stranger to these arguments. On a campus where liberals outnumber conservatives almost six to one, promoting freedom of expression necessarily requires elevating unpopular, right-leaning voices. The Left frequently responds by asserting that “free speech” is just a veil for racism, sexism, or some other ism of the day because otherwise, backward conservative ideas would have no place in our campus discourse.

In 2016, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine wrote an op-ed condemning the appearance of former Israeli minister of justice Ayelet Shaked at the law school. Shaked had shared a quote on Facebook that called all Palestinians “the enemy” of Israel and expressed hard-line stances on the conflict, leading SJP to call for her disinvitation. “Free speech stops being free when it actively advocates and perpetuates the end or oppression of an entire group of people. That is when it becomes hate speech,” SJP wrote.

The group’s op-ed has not aged well. On October 9, two days after Hamas terrorists murdered more than 1,300 Israelis, including women and children, SJP circulated an open letter signed by over 20 student groups and 1,200 university affiliates standing in “full solidarity with Palestinian resistance.” It characterized the attack as an “unprecedented historic moment.” Later, SJP solicited signatures for a statement asserting that “the weight of responsibility for the war and casualties undeniably lies with the Israeli extremist government and other Western governments.” It took SJP nearly a month to write an addendum on November 5 claiming it only used such reprehensible language because they thought the terrorist attacks were “exclusively a military operation.” Still, it only regrets the tone and language but “would not have altered the content of the statement itself.”

To put it lightly, characterizing a terrorist attack in which women were raped and children were shot in the head and burned as a historic moment to be celebrated feels like hate speech to many. And blaming the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust on the world’s only Jewish state seems like it would constitute advocating the “oppression of an entire group of people.” SJP was never serious about limiting harmful speech. It is, instead, opportunistic: It cites hate speech when censoring ideas it disagrees with and free speech to justify ideas it does agree with.

The hypocrisy is not unique to Columbia students. A September poll found that three-quarters of Democrats believe the government has a responsibility to limit “hateful” social-media posts, compared with half of Republicans. Yet the overwhelming majority of hate speech following the Hamas terrorist attacks seem to come from the Left.

Organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America and Black Lives Matter had chapters across the country that released statements justifying the attacks as a legitimate struggle for decolonization. It’s hard to imagine that such people would not be part of the proportion of Americans who think the government ought to police hate speech. After all, they fervently believe in “social justice” and ideologies such as critical race theory, which argues for hate-speech regulation to protect oppressed races.

Such hypocrisy came full circle when some students and faculty began citing free speech to justify antisemitic protests and oppose doxxing campaigns that have been common at Columbia and Harvard. Columbia SJP wrote in a subsequent op-ed (co-written with Jewish Voice for Peace): “We demand that the administration take immediate action so that no student . . . feels unsafe on campus due to their advocacy for or association with Palestine.” One student claimed simply to be “fighting for our political beliefs” like any other student. Close to 200 faculty members signed an open letter defending students who supported Hamas’s “military action” by signing SJP’s statement. “Efforts to chill otherwise protected speech on campus are unacceptable,” they wrote.

To be clear, I support the right of pro-Palestinian activists to blame Israel for the terrorist attack or even to shout genocidal slogans, as abhorrent as I think such actions are. Our college campuses benefit from political messages of all kinds, even those that are deeply wrong or offensive. We cannot claim the right side of history without hearing out the wrong side. The doxxing of students must also be condemned as a form of harassment. Students at Columbia and Harvard, many of whom are unrelated to pro-Hamas statements, have had highly personal information publicized online, possibly constituting defamation. Cancel culture is still cancel culture even when it’s levied against the Left. But we should stop pretending that those who promulgate the idea that free speech is just a veil for bigotry have any moral standing remaining. Those who believe we must regulate hate speech while they also openly support terrorism should stop pretending that they care about free speech at all. Or just admit their own hate.