‘The left’s hypocrisy on free speech is mind boggling’

Heather Mac Donald on the anti-Semitism crisis in US universities.


Topics Free Speech Identity Politics USA

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Anti-Semitism has exploded on US campuses since 7 October last year – especially on its most prestigious ones. In Ivy League universities, anti-Zionist fervour has frequently spilled over into the outright intimidation of Jewish students. Anti-Semitic slogans have been chanted on demos and projected on to buildings. Academics and students alike have praised or tried to excuse Hamas’s October pogrom. Strikingly, all of this is happening in spite of the stringent speech codes that now reign on university campuses – and in spite of colleges’ professed commitment to so-called diversity, equity and inclusion. Might these supposedly ‘anti-racist’ policies in fact be part of the problem?

Heather Mac Donald – Thomas W Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of When Race Trumps Merit – returned to the The Brendan O’Neill Show to discuss the hypocrisy of America’s woke educational establishment. What follows is an edited extract from their conversation. Listen to the full thing here.

Brendan O’Neill: What did you make of the congressional hearing on anti-Semitism on Ivy League campuses last year?

Heather Mac Donald: The main problem with that hearing, and with the university position on pro-Palestinian protests more generally, is the extraordinary hypocrisy of these Ivy League university presidents. They had the nerve to claim that they were advocates of free speech. When the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology were asked to say that calling for the genocide of Jews violated conduct policy, they refused. They argued that doing so would go against their ‘strong advocacy’ of free speech.

Of course, the truth is that universities are not strong advocates of free speech. They have been punishing dissenters for decades. They will not tolerate alternative views on racial inequality in the US. Nor will they tolerate alternative views on whether people can change their sex simply by declaring it. The argument that they cannot condemn campus anti-Semitism because they love free speech was simply preposterous.

However, I think that the university dissidents – particularly the donors and academics who are now calling out campus anti-Semitism – have made a serious error in their attempts to combat this hypocrisy. They are now using the same tools as the left to prosecute their cause. They are becoming an absolute mirror of what they claim to oppose.

They rightly point out the mind-boggling hypocrisy of the left’s refusal to condemn the more virulent expressions of support for Hamas’s terrorism. They are absolutely correct to latch on to this contradiction. But you can’t criticise universities for suppressing free speech, and then immediately turn around and ask them to suppress the free speech of pro-Palestine supporters.

At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, donors were pushing the university administration to cancel a pro-Palestinian cultural festival. This was last September, even before the pogrom. Many of the pro-Israel camp also want the universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which is so broad as to be virtually useless. And they want American universities to ban the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which would be an unconscionable attack on freedom of expression.

Dissenting voices are making a big mistake by narrowly confining their critique of campuses to anti-Semitism alone. As a result, the donors – who for the longest time declared their support for freedom of speech – are arguing for sensitivity training and hate-speech policies when it comes to anti-Semitism.

Dissidents are completely oblivious to the fact that they are walking into a trap. They are asking the university to do what it loves doing – running a crusade against hate. Expanding the alleged victims of hate to yet another group would indeed cause extreme conflict within the intersectional left. But we should never use the left’s language and play their game. That is a big mistake.

O’Neill: In what sense do you mean the problem goes beyond anti-Semitism?

Mac Donald: The left tries to diagnose the anti-Semitism we’re seeing on campuses now as the old kind of anti-Semitism. But they are not the same thing. This is best illustrated in a speech given in late October last year by the now-defenestrated Claudine Gay, the former president of Harvard. She stated in her speech that Harvard has always had a problem with anti-Semitism – a problem that it has never overcome. She then argued that we are now dealing with this long-standing anti-Semitism, in an attempt to create a continuity between that and the incidents of anti-Semitism since 7 October. She tried to draw a direct line from the genteel, protestant anti-Semitism of the early 20th century, which excluded Jews as non-Christian outsiders, and the anti-Semitism among Harvard’s pro-Palestine students today.

Around the same time, Milton R Konvitz – a professor at Cornell University – gave a talk on the intersectionality of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism. His theory was that there is an inherent overlap between these three forms of discrimination. This begs the question: what kind of group is going to be capable of this triumvirate of hate? It’s white people. It’s the white MAGA supporter. That’s the only group that ticks the box. And yet this is not the group we’ve seen on campuses and all over the world preaching anti-Semitism. They are not the ones chanting ‘From the river to the sea’.

Gay is making a similar point. She conflates the upper-class WASPs who used to go to non-Jew country clubs with those who are out there now singing ‘Long live our martyrs’. The intersectional left is deliberately conflating these movements to distract attention from the fact that this wave of anti-Semitism is a completely different phenomenon. And that it has more to do with Islamism than with Trumpism.

What we’ve seen since 7 October is not the spawn of traditional anti-Semitism. It is part of a much broader belief that the West is, in its very genetic code, oppressive to peoples of colour the world over. This is a profound hatred of the West we are dealing with.

Heather Mac Donald was talking to Brendan O’Neill on The Brendan O’Neill Show. Listen to the full conversation here:

Picture by: Wikimedia Commons.

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Topics Free Speech Identity Politics USA


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