At elite universities, the only permitted speech is anti-Israel hate speech
By: Richard L. Cravatts
For at least two decades, university campuses have been roiled by anti-Israel activism, manifested by Israeli Apartheid Weeks, BDS resolutions rammed through student governments and the toxic activism of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
This cognitive war against Israel, which frequently morphs into anti-Semitism, has resulted in a campus climate that oppresses Jewish students, who are often vilified as racist Zionists who support an alleged apartheid regime that oppresses the ever-aggrieved Palestinian Arabs.
Now, a new report from the anti-Semitism watchdog group Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF) has revealed that university student newspapers are part of the problem. The report, entitled, “Institutional Bias: Campus Newspapers and Israel,” reviewed nearly 2,000 articles on Israel published since 2017 in the primary student newspapers of 75 selected campuses.
“Of the 1,450 articles that address Israel,” the researchers found, “over a third—532—present the Jewish state in a negative way.” A mere “17% provided a positive view of the country.” Moreover, “Over half of op-eds addressing Israel on all college campuses—307 out of 585—were negative.”
ACF also pointed out that, tellingly, “These same newspapers are notably silent on anti-Semitism and discrimination against Jews on their own campuses, publishing only 505 news articles about this growing trend in their own community.” That statistic is particularly relevant in light of data from the Anti-Defamation League showing that some one-third of Jewish students had experienced anti-Semitism in 2021.
Examples of anti-Israel media bias exposed by the ACF report are, unfortunately, numerous. One troubling example is the 2016 controversy involving The McGill Daily, which admitted that it refused to publish “pieces which promote a Zionist worldview, or any other ideology which we consider oppressive.”
“While we recognize that, for some, Zionism represents an important freedom project,” the editors wrote, “we also recognize that it functions as a settler-colonial ideology that perpetuates the displacement and the oppression of the Palestinian people.”
At Connecticut College in 2014, Prof. Andrew Pessin found himself vilified after he wrote about Hamas on his Facebook page: “One image which essentializes the current situation in Gaza might be this. You’ve got a rabid pit bull chained in a cage, regularly making mass efforts to escape.”
The editors of the campus paper The College Voice insisted that Pessin’s words were “dehumanizing” to Palestinians and had “caused widespread alarm in the campus community.” The paper’s editor, Ayla Zuraw-Friedland, initiated a campaign of lies against Pessin, contending that the students viciously attacking him for his speech were “victims of racism,” which they were not. In March 2015, the Voice ran three op-eds, including on the paper’s front page, that condemned Pessin and accused him of racism.
In April of 2022, the University of Chicago’s student newspaper The Chicago Maroon violated journalistic and free speech principles by retracting an op-ed written by students Melody Dias and Benjamin ZeBrack entitled, “We Must Condemn the SJP’s Online Anti-Semitism.” The piece questioned the tactics and ideology of members of the university’s SJP chapter. On Jan. 26, it noted, SJP posted the shocking admonition “DON’T TAKE SH***Y ZIONIST CLASSES” on its Instagram page. Students were asked to “support the Palestinian movement for liberation by boycotting classes on Israel or those taught by Israeli fellows.”
Dias and ZeBrack made a number of accusations against SJP in their now-deleted op-ed, including that the SJP post “demonizes [Israeli] nationality by declaring all courses taught by someone affiliated with the nation as propaganda.” SJP demanded the “immediate deletion of the article” for what it called “offenses,” as well as a “public apology issued by the Maroon to SJP UChicago and to Palestinian students for the dissemination of misinformation and the disregard of journalistic integrity and factual reporting.”
Astoundingly, in response to SJP’s absurd demands, two feckless editors, Kelly Hui and Elizabeth Winkler, not only deleted the offending op-ed but wrote a craven editorial in which they dissected the op-ed for its supposed factual inaccuracies. They justified their surrender by claiming that Dias and ZeBrack’s op-ed could be the source of campus enmity. SJP’s call for a boycott of courses about Israel apparently was not.
This double standard was also evident in a 2021 editorial, “In support of Students for Justice in Palestine,” written by the editorial board of The Daily Campus, the University of Connecticut’s student newspaper. The editors were troubled by the fact that during an SJP event, UConn Hillel “held a demonstration nearby in direct opposition to the ideas behind UConn SJP.” In other words, Hillel attempted to engage in a balanced debate by presenting its own views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This, it appears, was unforgiveable.
The Harvard Crimson has also taken an extremist anti-Israel position, particularly in a controversial editorial published in April entitled, “In Support of Boycott, Divest, Sanction and a Free Palestine,” which was replete with slanders against the Jewish state and called on the Harvard community to commit itself to the corrosive BDS campaign.
The editorial was inspired by the April demonstrations and programming of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee (HCPSC), which, as part of Israeli Apartheid Week, “installed a colorful, multi-panel ‘Wall of Resistance’ in favor of Palestinian freedom and sovereignty.” The fawning editorial heaped praise on this childish mock wall and suggested that “art is a potent form of resistance.” The writers added that they were “humbled by our peers’ passion and skill” in creating such an activist masterpiece.
They further contended, “The admittedly controversial panels dare the viewer to contend with well-established, if rarely stated, facts” (emphasis added). What were these “well-established facts”? One panel, for example, announced in capital letters, “Zionism is: Racism—Settler Colonialism—White Supremacy—Apartheid.” It appears that the word “facts,” in this case, was synonymous with crude slander and libel. The editorial’s endorsement of the claim that Israel is a white supremacist state, moreover, constitutes anti-Semitic hate speech according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s widely adopted definition of anti-Semitism.
Although most universities claim that free speech is one of their chief principles, the ACF report shows that it is rarely for everyone. It is reserved for the lucky few who feel they are morally qualified to express themselves. As for their ideological opponents, they must be silenced.
Biases are to be expected in the marketplace of ideas. In newspapers, however, editorial bias and the exclusion of alternate views are intellectually corrupt practices that violate the spirit and purpose of journalism. This is especially the case on university campuses, where vigorous debate and scholarship should be the supreme value, not bias and suppression of others’ ideas.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the forthcoming book The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel-Hatred and Race Obsession are Destroying Academia.