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Op-Ed: Israel-Hamas: The Crackdown on Free Speech

As tensions continue, colleges make the terrible mistake of cracking down on free speech and expression.

Image Source: New York Times


December 1st, 2023

By Nikos Mohammadi

What is free expression? It can be defined by the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Free expression is the ability to pray, speak, write, protest, and petition as you wish. It’s our very first right.

Yet as tensions continue amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, it seems that many students, pundits, and university administrations have forgotten about the essential premise of the First Amendment: free speech. Pro-Palestinian student protestors fear losing job contracts. In his Wall Street Journal article, Berkeley law professor Stephen Davidoff Solom went so far as to urge firms not to hire his “anti-semitic law students,” whom he categorized as such merely because they were sympathizing with the Palestinian cause and shouting chants like “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Meanwhile, university administrations such as those of Cornell and Columbia are being investigated for alleged antisemitism and islamophobia.

These investigations are not without reason. Over the past few weeks, colleges have been all but hellscapes for free speech. Florida, under the ultra-conservative leadership of Ron DeSantis, has ordered all its state universities and colleges to ban Students for Justice in Palestine, as has Brandies. Columbia has suspended the organization and its counterpart Jewish Voice for Peace, which protests the Israeli government’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza. MIT has likewise suspended students who protested about Israel-Hamas. Students were recently arrested for demonstrating at Brown.

Additionally, across colleges all over the country, students themselves have been taking down flyers and banners, especially those highlighting the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas, violating the free expression rights of the groups and/or individuals who posted them. Gregg Lukianhoff, a free speech activist and the founder of FIRE, an organization that promotes free speech and expression on college campuses, wrote in a recent Atlantic article that “Protecting free speech requires defending the rights of both sides of any conflict.” He is right. Regardless of how university and college administrations feel about Israel-Hamas, they should respect the right of their students to speak and express their minds. Likewise, students should respect each other’s First Amendment rights.

In his article, Lukianhoff also shows that the issue affects both those expressing pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian sentiment alike. He writes, “FIRE data show that pro-Palestinian speech has generally been more likely to trigger campaigns to get professors fired, investigated, or sanctioned than pro-Israel speech has. Campaigns targeting pro-Israel speech, however, have been more likely to succeed. Similarly, more attempts have been made to de-platform pro-Palestinian speeches on campus, but attempts against pro-Israel speakers have been more successful.” It seems that it is not a specific ideology that is under attack on college campuses, but the very right to free expression and speech itself.

Director of the Media Relations team at Teens for Press Freedom, Fabiha Khanam, argues that, "It is a violation of our first amendment rights to be denied the right to assemble and express freedom of speech. Colleges are meant to be a platform where students become educated young adults that serve their communities. However, students growth and voices are stunted if they are not able to speak out for what they believe in. The bias in disciplinary actions during the conflict is also unacceptable. Students should be allowed to criticize their universities and speak out about injustices".



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