As a firm believer in America and the Constitution which describes the nation’s values, I hold free speech to be one of the bedrocks of our republic. Improvements in education and the advent of the internet have given rise to the ability for nearly all Americans to have a platform for their ideas to be heard. The beauty of truly free speech is its ability to createnear-instantaneous ideological genesis. For example, if someone spews racist — and by default, fallacious — rhetoric on a social networking platform, a more intelligent individual can immediately deconstruct the bigoted assertion. However, the absolutely vital caveat of free speech is that it must remain an equal playing field. Once a topic or opinion is deemed “off-limits,” then the balance is off, and speech is no longer egalitarian.
American colleges, especially the California public school system, have shown an appalling, consistent disregard for the First Amendment, including not only its enshrined right to free speech, but also the rights to freedom of assembly and the press. I discussed this issue previously when I condemned California State University, Los Angeles President William Covino for banning Ben Shapiro from speaking to an independent club on campus. Additionally, students themselves increasingly show intolerance for diversity of ideas and philosophies, going as far as to debate at the University of Oregon to silence the quotation of a famous line from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech because it does not incorporate other forms of diversity. This is a new world order: if you oppose an idea, shut it down! How mature.
So it should come as no surprise when the UC Board of Regents added anti-Zionism to their ever-growing list of discrimination which the University of California deems “unacceptable” on campus. While my inner libertarian laments the increasing size of American speech codes, a more pragmatic side lauds the Regents for evening out the playing field, especially for a minority still so unfairly discriminated against and maligned. In an era in which basic news reporting of the Cologne New Years’ attacks was deemed racist and the Daily Mail was strong-armed into blocking Swedish readers from reading a news story about a crime committed by a migrant to avoid the dreaded Islamophobic label, it only makes sense that Jewish activists and advocates would begin to seek the same protection.
Furthermore, it is important to note that anti-Semitism has plagued American college campuses, and without official action condemning this bigotry, this latent, oft-ignored disease will continue to grow. Many critics of the Regents, including the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, condemn the conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. If rhetoric regarding the political status of Israel remained civil and objective, perhaps this criticism would be justified; however, this is just not reality. The discussion of Catalonian sovereignty cannot be equated with Zionism, simply because Catalonians are not trying to liberate themselves from a legacy of genocide and racism. Most importantly, actual racism against Jews is terrifyingly alive and well, with numerous accounts of swastikas and anti-Semitic rhetoric across college campuses.
According to the AMCHA Initiative’s report titled “Antisemitic Activity in 2015 at U.S. Colleges and Universities With the Largest Jewish Undergraduate Populations,” “the primary agents of anti-Semitic activity are anti-Zionist students and faculty boycotters.” Before you assume that this study is a product of propaganda, I encourage you to read it in its entirety. The horrifying incidence and correlation of Jew-hatred and Israel-hatred speaks for itself.
The First Amendment is subject to certain restrictions. The UC speech code, as well as all speech codes in public institutions which censor Constitutionally protected speech, however, are unlawful and create an environment in which all marginalized peoples must seek special protections. In this new order, shutting the opposition down is as much an offensive weapon as it has become a defensive one. Thus, while we still have speech codes, we might as well use them to protect a historically, systematically persecuted minority. Perhaps one day we will realize that truly free speech is the only level playing field for debate and ideological progression, but until then, we have to artificially level the playing field to defend the right of Jewish sovereignty, let alone their right to existence.
Tiana Lowe is a sophomore majoring in math and economics. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.