The Sharpening Crisis of the Palestinian Protests

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The following statement was made by Professor Hadley Arkes, JWI Founder and Co-Director, as a follow-up to an essay he wrote in Public Discourse regarding a comprehensive assessment of the “free speech” understanding that has influenced and conditioned the derisive actions we see occurring on campuses today.

The ongoing eruptions over Palestine and Israel, spreading from the campuses to the streets and airports and highways, finally broke through new barriers this week with the disorders and violence at Columbia and Yale. What was finally pierced was that thin membrane of civility, barely surviving on the campuses. It had held on long enough to preserve the fantasy that we were seeing simply spirited students, inflamed by a moral grievance that the unexcited public were just too witless or uninformed to understand. But what has finally broken through is the sense of a rabble, with hardly a glimmer of historical knowledge, with no coherent sense of the ends that were firing their passion. They have been led on by choreographers, fueled by the drug of excitement, and are quite content to mouth the cliches that make no contact with the world the rest of us inhabit. And now, for some reason, past the din, the masks have slipped away, and what comes through, even to people of the most beamish and forgiving nature, is the face of pure evil.

It should have been clear to all with eyes to see, that the protestors have not been inveighing against a “tyranny” of being ruled by Israelis without “the consent of the governed” in free elections. Arabs living in Israel vote, and some of them have managed to make it into the government. At the same time, Palestinians have been ruled without free elections in Gaza and without the Palestinian Authority. Yet nothing in that state of affairs fires the masses with the anger that leads them to violence now. There is no “colonial occupation” to be claimed here. The only problem of “occupation” is that the land is being occupied by Jews and the object now is to get rid of that Jewish population, to make Palestine Judenfrei. And the fulfillment of that purpose would amply justify even the kind of savage killing that was carried out on October 7th. All of the talk about “divesting from Israel” simply reduces to the claim that Israel has no right to receive investments, because Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. Stripped of its theatrical pretensions, these “demonstrations” are nothing but the moral demand for mass murder. This sense of things was caught aptly enough by one of the thugs at Columbia, taunting Jewish students saying, “Never forget the 7th of October,” and “That will happen 10,000 more times.”

Stripped of its theatrical pretensions, these “demonstrations” are nothing but the moral demand for mass murder.

The administrations of the universities have been paralyzed by the theories of “free speech” which have become the conventional wisdom, even among conservative lawyers and judges; and are quite cut off from the classic doctrines, grounded in common sense, that once gave us a moral framework for the regulation of public speech. Under those classic doctrines, the recent passion plays for the killing of Jews have no more plausible claim to forbearance from the university, or protection under the First Amendment, than a campaign on the campus for the lynching of blacks and the burning of crosses.

Read the full article: A Third Voice: Protecting a Regime of Robust Speech on the Campus without Falling into Relativism

Hadley Arkes is the Founder and Director of the James Wilson Institute as well as the Edward Ney Professor Emeritus of Jurisprudence at Amherst College.
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