By Abraham H. Miller
On Nov. 19, 2012, a group of pro-Gaza demonstrators prevented Jewish students from entering a classroom building at the University of California-Davis. Several Jewish students were forced up against a building window, shouted at and physically intimidated by demonstrators pounding their fists into their hands while standing next to the Jewish students.
Caught on video are a mob-style chant for the Jews to “leave our space,” and the event leader arguing against free speech rights for pro-Israel (Zionist) voices.
The event was well documented by the Amcha Initiative, a California-based, Jewish public policy group, and the information was sent to the Davis chancellor. No action was taken against the demonstrators or the administrators who declined to protect the Jewish students. Not one of the administrators even bothered to call the campus police. The scene was all-too-reminiscent of German universities in the 1930s.
In the age of diversity, colleges and universities have promulgated everything from speech codes to mandatory sensitivity training in an effort to protect the sensibilities of minority students. Such codes and thought-control trample protected liberties. Courts have repeatedly struck down these assaults on liberty. At the campus gate, however, the Constitution is prohibited. To campus administrators, making everyone feel welcome is more important than civil liberties.
Well, not exactly all.
If you are a Jewish student, every ideology that attacks you no matter how offensive will be wrapped in the First Amendment. And even the threat of violence will be redefined in terms of protected speech.
Especially on California campuses there is a blatant a selective enforcement of the Constitution. While the sensibilities of some trump free speech, advocating killing Jews is a First Amendment right. Some are palpably made welcome, and others are told they should be killed.
Imam Amir Abdel Malik Ali is a popular speaker on California campuses. He argues that Jews caused 9/11, and that the Jews control America. He speaks openly about waging Jihad in America. To him, Jews are somehow responsible for the Danish cartoons that made fun of the Prophet Mohammed. Israel does not have a right to exist, and Jews should know their days are numbered are part of his verbal boilerplate.
The heckler’s veto has been struck down continually by the courts. Yet for all their willingness to remind us that the hate speech of the likes of Malik Ali is constitutionally protected, California campuses have permitted anti-Semitic students to use the heckler’s veto to shut down pro-Israel events. In February 2010, for example, campus police at UC, Davis shut down a pro-Israel event rather than protect the First Amendment rights of pro-Israel speakers. Instead of arresting the disrupters, the police terminated the event. Against Jews, the campus police were willing to enforce the unconstitutional heckler’s veto.
Hate speech represents a constitutional conundrum because while the content is protected, it is only protected to the point where speech does not directly rise to immediate danger. In terms of campus anti-Semitism, that line was crossed in 2002, at San Francisco State University, the most anti-Semitic campus in California.
The General Union of Palestinian Students is a pro-Palestinian group whose propaganda is riddled with anti-Semitism. It receives a fair amount of both faculty support and encouragement, and it is a political powerhouse at SFSU. In May 2002, Jewish students were holding a pro-Israel rally on the campus. GUPS students surrounded the rally screaming at the Jewish students, “Get out or we will kill you,” and “Hitler did not finish the job.”
Professor Laurie Zoloth asked the campus police to create a 100-foot barrier between the two groups, as had previously been agreed. The police refused. The police did, however, surround the Jewish students whom the GUPS thugs pushed into a corner of the plaza as they called for killing them. There was no way for the Jewish students to exit the plaza except through the gauntlet of frenzied GUPS students. The GUPS had effectively terminated the pro-Israel rally and placed the Jewish students in harm’s way. The police eventually marched the Jewish students back to Hillel House. So much for San Francisco tolerance.
Is this simply hate speech or does it rise to the point of thuggery and physical intimidation? At what point does the repeated incendiary comments of those campus speakers who call for killing the Jews create the poisonous climate where Jewish students are backed into a corner facing a real pogrom?
Yes, hate speech is protected speech. But fighting words are not. If you physically push people into a corner from which there is no escape and say you are going to kill them, you have moved decidedly from hate speech to fighting words and immediate danger.
Jewish students deserve the same legal protections, not the hypocritical and selective interpretation of the Constitution. California taxpayers aren’t just funding intimidation. They are paying for denying Jewish students their First Amendment rights.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati. He taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana and the University of California, Davis.