A Right to Voice Antisemitism?

By J Robert Smith

  • May 2, 2024
  • 6-min read

The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh (he of “What is a Woman” fame) aired a segment from his show last week at X. Walsh addressed Governor Greg Abbott’s crackdown on anti-Israeli/pro-Hamas protests at Texas colleges. Abbott declared, in effect, that there wasn’t room in the Lone Star State for antisemites. In fact, yes, there is.

As odious as antisemitism is, Americans have rights to be antisemitic – anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, anti-white, anti-black, anti-homosexual, anti-heterosexual. You get the point. We have rights to our prejudices no matter how vile. Moreover, we have a right to public expression of those biases. We’re free to assemble with likeminded people so long as assemblies are peaceful and laws are obeyed. On the other hand, we’re free to condemn bigots and haters. We should. We can gather publicly to do so if we care to.

Eruptions of lawlessness and violence at Columbia, Harvard, and UCLA in the last 48 hours underscore that protesters had no interest in civil demonstrations. Threats and acts of intimidation toward Jewish students are appalling. Arrests have been made and charges filed. Penalties should be stiff, though societal permissiveness and affluent parents’ checkbooks are likely to shield student-violators from tough consequences.

But, mind you, mass arrests haven’t happened because students expressed a noxious mix of antisemitism and pro-Hamas sentiments. They acted criminally.

Here’s Abbott’s statement, posted at X, that Walsh reacted to:

“Arrests being made right now & will continue until the crowd disperses. These protesters belong in jail. Antisemitism will not be tolerated in Texas. Period. Students joining in hate-filled, antisemitic protests at any public college or university in Texas should be expelled.”

Abbott’s declaration swings and misses, unless he meant to grandstand. While condemning students’ antisemitism, he skipped mentioning lawbreaking. Was Abbott playing to the passions of the moment? Was he simply venting his own disgust?

Perhaps Abbott assumed that the public understood? He’d enforce the law and restore order, not deprive anyone of their rights. But when passions run high, clearer language is required.

Protesters don’t belong in jail for repugnant speech. But when speech crosses a line – threatening violence toward persons – protections are forfeited. Real violence – harming persons, property destruction, and/or causing mayhem – are felonies. There are also misdemeanor infractions like trespassing. Columbia University failed to deal swiftly with lawbreakers. The consequence was to embolden lawbreaking on campus.

Under Ron DeSantis’ leadership, the University of Florida laid down clear ground rules for protests. The university issued a statement defining boundaries.

The Citizen Free Press posted the university’s statement at its X account. The statement listed dos and don’ts for protesters. It made clear that lawbreaking and/or failure to comply with the institution’s rules would result in penalties. Under the header, “Consequences for Noncompliance,” the statement read that “[i]ndividuals found responsible for engaging in prohibited activities shall be trespassed from the campus. Students will receive a three year trespass and suspension. Employees will be trespassed and separated from employment.” Florida State troopers and campus police haven’t hesitated cracking down on violators.

The University of Florida’s directive addressed acceptable and prohibited behavior. It didn’t address cause for protest. Not that leaders should remain mum in the face of vitriol directed at Jews or others. There’s a moral imperative to speak up. But upholding the law is a governor’s chief obligation.

Should college students be expelled for joining hate-filled protests on campuses, as Abbott recommends? Should peaceful antisemitic crowds be disperse for hate speech? What is “hate speech?” Who makes the determination?

Hate speech has no agreed upon definition. As Andrew F. Sellars, executive director at the MIT/BU Students Innovations Law Clinic, and a clinical associate professor of law at Boston University, wrote in the introduction to his paper on hate speech for Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society in 2017:

Few pairs of words [hate speech] evoke such a diverse range of feelings, perspectives, and reactions as “hate speech.” Calls are made for it to be embraced,1 tolerated,2 ridiculed,3 targeted for counterspeech,4 blocked on websites,5 actionable in a civil lawsuit,6 made criminally illegal,7 or the basis of war crimes prosecution,8 with no shortage of shading in between. If one can find a single point of agreement, it is perhaps that the topic is ripe for rigorous study.

While academics seek a general definition for hate speech (good luck with that), we have a clearer vantage. Our opinions, unpopular and/or revolting as they may prove, are permissible.

Federal and state hate speech laws are primed for gross abuses. The Biden administration, through executive orders and otherwise, are using departments and agencies of government to impose limits on freedoms, including speech. In a runup to Biden’s election, Democrats acted in concert with social media companies to censor speech. Corporate media coordinated, too. Applications of hate speech laws are capricious as is.

It may seem laudable to charge strident antisemites for hateful speech. House speaker Mike Johnson has pledged to end antisemitism on campuses. “[The House Republican majority] will use all the tools available to us to end it,” he said. Johnson may be well intended, but what does his statement indicate? Are Republicans going to embrace speech codes? If expressions of antisemitism become off-limits on campuses, what’s next? Will left-wing administrations and faculties declare that conservative speech is somehow hateful? In fact, censorship against conservatives takes place now on campuses.

Hate speech laws can target anyone. Let’s take parents. Parents who’ve objected before school boards to critical race theory being taught to their children have been surveilled by the FBI. They were deemed hostile. They were suspected of being possible “domestic terrorists,” a favorite label attached by Biden’s Justice Department when opposition mounts to progressive orthodoxy.

How about Catholics? Despite DoJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz absolving the FBI of surveilling traditional Catholics, a leaked memo from the FBI’s Richmond, Virginia, office was entitled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities[.]”

Again, the FBI’s focus was terrorism. Horowitz did a lot of backpedaling, but had the memo not been leaked, what would have stopped the FBI from running with their “new mitigation opportunities?”

Let’s say that in a Biden second term, Merrick Garland decides that traditional Catholics publicly expressing mere disapproval of same-sex marriage, transgender ideology, and abortion is hateful. Let’s also say that parents who voice vehement opposition to smut in classrooms, LBGTQ+ indoctrination, and boys using girls’ restrooms or vice versa are branded haters. If the gates are opened to criminalizing speech, then the powers-that-be can concoct excuses to quell speech that is actually declarations of belief or merely critical or oppositional. Who decides?

We’re witnessing Democrat prosecutors and judges contort the law in New York and Georgia in attempts to destroy a political nemesis, Donald Trump. DoJ hatchet man Jack Smith has twisted law to persecute Trump in federal court. Trump isn’t charged with hate crimes. But if legal systems are now being exploited by Democrats in efforts to ruin a former president, how great a leap is it to brand a wide range of speech hateful and prosecute?

Of all people, let’s close with socialist Noam Chomsky, who once said: “If we don’t believe in free expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

J. Robert Smith can be found at Gab, @JRobertSmith. He’s returned to X. His handle there is @JRobertSmith1.

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