On May 10, 2017, a group called Students Supporting Israel hosted five Israel Defense Forces reservists at the University of California, Irvine. Midway throughout the discussion, forty members of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group vehemently opposed to the Jewish state, broke into loud and derisive chants, disrupting the event. Panelists and Jewish audience members alike were escorted out of the building by campus security, their safety at risk.
This, sadly, is hardly news these days; assaults like these happen regularly on college campuses across the nation whenever anyone challenging the steely dogmas of the regressive left shows up and urges a free and unfettered debate. What is new is the refreshing response of the university’s administration: This week, the university announced that it will sanction SJP with disciplinary probation for two years, during which the group must meet regularly with the Dean of Students to discuss the importance of free speech as well as consult with the administration before hosting any campus event of its own. “Any further violations of university policy,” read the university’s statement, “may result in suspension or a revocation of the organization’s status.”
UCI, read the statement, “welcomes all opinions and encourages a free exchange of ideas–in fact, we defend free speech as one of our bedrock principles as a public university. Yet, we must protect everyone’s right to express themselves without disruption. This concept is clearly articulated in our policies and campus messaging. We will hold firm in enforcing it.”
Amen to that. And if elected officials of all stripes want to help public universities enforce the most sacred of all academic cornerstones, the ability to speak and listen without malice and without being silenced, let them begin by demanding that a commitment to protecting free speech be made a pre-condition for any and all federal funding. The alternative is much too costly for our struggling democracy to afford.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.