Yes, Those College Presidents Were Wrong

We never thought that we would find ourselves agreeing on anything with Elise Stefanik, the obnoxious Congresswoman from New York. But, as the saying goes, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day,” and we concur with the call by Stefanik (who appeared to be auditioning for the role of running mate with Donald Trump) for the presidents of Penn (who has resigned), Harvard, and MIT to step down after their widely-publicized testimony last week in Washington.

Stefanik tossed each of them what should have been a softball question:

“Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate your school’s rules or code of conduct, yes or no?”

The obvious answer was an unequivocal “Yes!” for the simple reason that calling for the genocide of any group should constitute a violation of their schools’ rules of conduct against intimidation or harassment of their students.

But all three presidents prevaricated, answering with a variation of, “It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman.”

We wish to make two points:

First, there is no stronger advocate of free speech than this newspaper. However, that does not mean that if we received a letter to the editor from say, the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, or a similar group, that we would print it on the pages of our newspaper. If someone wants to stand on a soapbox in their town square and give a hate speech, they are free to do so — good luck with that. Hate speech is protected from government interference per the First Amendment (unless it incites violence), but it does not require private individuals or media organizations to allow the use of their platforms by someone who espouses hate. Similarly, universities have a right — and an obligation — to ensure that hate speech does not find an outlet on their campuses.

Secondly, universities such as Penn, Harvard, and MIT typically enforce rules against hate speech when it comes to statements against other groups. For example, every one of those schools would never give permission for students to organize a KKK group or allow the KKK to hold a rally on their campus. But there seems to be a double-standard when it comes to Israel and the Jews. If a student group wants to protest Israel’s bombing of civilians in Gaza, that’s a perfectly-appropriate discussion. On the other hand, demonstrations “caling for the genocide of Jews” (or any other group) never should be allowed under any circumstances.

In the “context” of the current situation in the Middle East, two things can be true at the same time: It is appropriate to acknowledge that Israel has a right to eliminate the threat posed by the Iran-backed Hamas terrorists and also fair to criticize the Israeli government for its seeming indifference to the ongoing humanitarian disaster facing the people of Gaza.

But when opposition to the policies of the Israeli government veers into obvious anti-Semitism, good people on all sides of the issue must take a stand on behalf of basic moral principles. Those college presidents, who relied on the notes from their attorneys to parse what was a simple and straightforward question, flunked their oral exam. Their subsequent “apologies” have been feckless and meaningless — and they should step down from their position as the heads of universities where moral leadership is as important as academic credentials.

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