There’s a controversy on college campuses here in America recently. I know, what a shock! They’re usually so calm and peaceful. Anyway, the latest buzz has to do with with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS). Just in case you don’t know what that is, here’s a primer…
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) is a global campaign attempting to increase economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with the stated goals of the movement: the end of Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian land and the Golan Heights, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
The campaign is organised and coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee. The campaign was started on 9 July 2005 by 171 Palestinian non-governmental organizations in support of the Palestinian cause for boycott, divestment and international sanctions against Israel. Citing a body of UN resolutions and specifically echoing the anti-apartheid campaigns against white minority rule in apartheid era South Africa, the BDS campaign called for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law”.
This cause has been going on for a long while, but it’s been picking up even more steam recently. Well, maybe it’s just the pushback against it that’s picking up more steam. The Illinois legislature actually passed a law last year that forbids the state from doing business with any company found to have adopted BDS principles.
“Today’s actions were truly historic and will lead the way for the dozens of other states following Illinois’ lead,” a senior official in the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican who championed the bipartisan legislation, told JTA on Friday.
More than 20 states are considering bills or have passed laws targeting companies that comply with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. Most of these penalize only companies that boycott Israel, although nine states, like Illinois, have passed or are considering passing laws that extend the penalties to entities that boycott Israeli businesses operating in the West Bank.
I have no problem with this sort of activism behind BDS, although by that same token, it’s kind of hard to fault responses taken by states like Illinois in response to said activism. But what I do have a problem with, is placing limits on campus free speech. That’s the problem currently facing California students…
On March 13, a working group commissioned by the UC Regents, a 26 member governing body of California’s public university system, released a draft statement on Principles Against Intolerance. The draft statement, which will be voted on next week during a UC Regents meeting, immediately garnered strong criticism from media, civil rights organizations, and attorneys for bowing to outside political pressure to silence the First Amendment rights of students and scholars. This, coupled with the growing outrage over how the university system is handling institutionalized issues of sexual harassment, has drawn considerable attention to the UC Regents ahead of next week’s meetings.
There has been concern brewing for some time from UC students and faculty supporters of Palestinian rights, as well as general free-speech advocates, that the UC Regents will respond to outside pressure from pro-Israel groups and formally adopt the State Department definition of anti-Semitism. This problematic definition, taken from the “European Union Monitoring Centre,” was abandoned by the EU in 2013 because it is so vaguely worded in certain portions that any critique of Israeli policy could arguably be construed as anti-Semitic.
I am in favor of almost completely unfettered free speech on not just college campuses, but indeed across the entire nation. There are some exceptions to that, of course. Explicit calls for violence or things of that nature isn’t something I support. If a student was going around saying “Kill all Jews,” I don’t think that sort of statement should be protected. But, if they want to protest Israel or take a shit on Islam, for that matter, I feel like they should be free to do so without the threat of punishment by school authorities.
This editorial from the Daily Trojan (University of Southern California) seems to agree with that point of view, but then it goes off into inconstancy land in a major way…
The First Amendment is subject to certain restrictions. The UC speech code, as well as all speech codes in public institutions which censor Constitutionally protected speech, however, are unlawful and create an environment in which all marginalized peoples must seek special protections. In this new order, shutting the opposition down is as much an offensive weapon as it has become a defensive one. Thus, while we still have speech codes, we might as well use them to protect a historically, systematically persecuted minority. Perhaps one day we will realize that truly free speech is the only level playing field for debate and ideological progression, but until then, we have to artificially level the playing field to defend the right of Jewish sovereignty, let alone their right to existence.
So, speech codes are unlawful and we shouldn’t have them, but as long as we do, we might as well use them to protect Jews because some people have treated them poorly in the past? That’s the kind of inconsistent thinking that I hate. At least stay intellectually coherent with your positions. Even if I disagree with your thinking, at least I can respect it. This just seems like someone who is trying to get some praise from all sides.
The editorial had it right at the beginning of the conclusion. Any speech code like the one being discussed for California students should be rejected. Individual acts of criminality should be policed on a one-by-one basis, as they always have been. Making entire student bodies beholden to rules like the ones proposed is bad for intellectual growth and maturity.
Just stop with that bullshit.