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E-Pluribus | November 3, 2023
Give me identity politics or give me death! Campus free speech done right, and campus free speech done wrong.
A round-up of the latest and best musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Armin Navabi: Queers for Palestine: Identity Politics at Its Most Absurd
Altruism, naivete or just not the sharpest knives in the drawer? Intersectionality generally makes little sense, and at Quillette, Armin Navabi writes about one of the odder juxtapositions it has produced.
“Queers for Palestine” attempts to meld LGBT advocacy with Palestinian liberation, a juxtaposition that has precipitated a whirlwind of criticism and ridicule, since LGBT rights scarcely exist within the Muslim world; and the Palestinian territories are no exception. The slogan has been widely satirized. Variations like “Chickens for KFC” and “Blacks for the KKK” highlight its proponents’ basic lack of awareness of just how incompatible the values of the Western left are with those of the Islamic right they so readily champion.
The reality of the situation could not be starker. Though there is room for improvement in Israeli attitudes towards these issues, Israel is at the forefront of LGBT rights in the Middle East. In Israel, LGBT people are visible members of society with legal protections and civil rights, and are accepted by a plurality of its citizens.
Palestine is quite a different story. A 2021 report on LGBT acceptance by UCLA’s Williams Institute rated Israel 44th out of the 175 countries/territories they examined. Palestine came in at number 130, behind Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Georgetown University likewise placed Palestine 160th out of 170 countries on their women’s peace and security index, in company with most of the countries in that region. Amnesty International’s 2020 report on human rights highlights the fact that, in Gaza, male same-sex relationships are punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and points out the conspicuous absence of legal protections against anti-LGBT discrimination and harassment. This lack of civil rights has led hundreds of gay and bisexual Palestinians to flee to Israel to escape persecution. One such refugee, Ahmad Abu Marhia, a 25-year-old gay Palestinian man, was living under asylum in Israel when, in 2022, he was kidnapped and beheaded in the West Bank city of Hebron. His murderers uploaded footage of the killing to social media.
Every time these disparities are mentioned, critics are quick to lob accusations of “pinkwashing”—a concept invented to frame any discussion of Israel’s progressive stance on LGBT issues as a distraction from their mistreatment of Palestinians. But the fact remains that these “Queers for Palestine” could march in Pride parades in Israel if they wanted to. In Palestine, they’d be killed.
Read it all here.
David French: The Laws of Campus Culture War
David French addresses free speech on college campuses in his latest New York Times newsletter, due in part to the inflammatory responses to the Israel-Hamas conflict. But these principles have broader societal application as well. If we don’t all follow the same rules, we cannot expect those we disagree with to afford us the opportunity for free expression.
The right to speak includes a right to offensive speech. This is a lesson that colleges have had to learn time and time again. The fact that any person finds my speech infuriating, insulting or even hateful does not grant the government the right to silence my voice. This is among the most basic principles of American free speech jurisprudence. As the Supreme Court held in a 1989 case called Texas v. Johnson, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
[. . .]
The right to speak does not include a right to silence others. Putting up a poster is an act of protected speech. Tearing down that poster is not, even if the person destroying the poster is trying to make his or her own statement. Tearing down a poster is akin to shouting down a public speaker. Your protest cannot trump the speaker’s own right to free speech. The answer to a poster is another poster, not destroying the expression you hate, by tearing it down or defacing it any way.
[. . .]
The right to speak does not include a right to harass. This last concept is perhaps the most difficult to understand and apply consistently. The right to speak, as I said, absolutely includes a right to offend. The government cannot silence your speech simply because it makes people angry or upset.
At the same time, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color or national origin” in programs that receive federal funds. The Biden administration has made it abundantly clear that this prohibition of harassment includes protections against antisemitism, including antisemitic harassment.
[. . .]
I’ve long appreciated the pseudonymous writer Scott Alexander’s description of liberalism: “People talk about ‘liberalism’ as if it’s just another word for capitalism or libertarianism or vague center-left-Democratic Clintonism,” he wrote on his Slate Star Codex blog. “Liberalism is none of these things. Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war.”
He’s exactly correct. And as the Supreme Court has repeatedly observed, our nation’s educational system — and especially its college campuses — is the place where we learn liberalism. It’s the place where we are supposed to practice pluralism. Our system of government was built to accommodate conflict but only as long as that conflict is channeled through a Constitution that protects our liberty from the government and empowers that government to protect its citizens from one another.
Read it all.
Nell Gluckman: To Speak at This University, You Must Agree Not to Boycott Israel
Are you available? Check. Are you knowledgeable about the topic? Check. Are you a competent public speaker? Check. Do you hold the correct political opinions? Che… wait, what? Should a guest speaker’s political positions disqualify him from appearing at a state university? At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Nell Gluckman explains how Arkansas’s law denying state contracts to companies that boycott Israel (BDS) has been applied to potential college speakers, at least in some university settings.
Earlier this year, Shirin Saeidi was at a dinner with three speakers who had been invited to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville center she directs when they told her something that surprised her. As part of the paperwork that would allow them to be reimbursed and paid for the trip, they had been prompted to sign a pledge saying they were not boycotting Israel. They told her it was something they would have liked to have known about beforehand.
Since then, other speakers invited to the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies have raised concerns about the pledge; at least one declined to talk at the university. Then this week, Nathan Thrall, the author of a new nonfiction book called A Day in the Life of Abed Salama, which tells the story of a tragic bus accident outside Jerusalem, posted on social media that he had declined to speak at the university because of the pledge.
[. . .]
The pledge exists because of a state law in Arkansas that says a public entity cannot enter into a contract with a company unless it certifies that it is not boycotting Israel. According to Palestine Legal, an organization that provides legal support to pro-Palestine activists, 38 states have some version of a law targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which aims to pressure Israel to end what its critics characterize as its oppressive policies toward Palestinians. The laws vary. Some outlaw investments in publicly traded companies that are participating in a boycott of Israel, for example, while others apply to contractors.
Many states have adjusted their laws in recent years in response to legal challenges, said Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a Washington-based organization that promotes peace for Israelis and Palestinians. In the new versions of the laws, the contractors must be companies with at least 10 employees and the contracts have to be worth at least $100,000.
“Those amendments were done specifically to make them harder to challenge in court,” Friedman said. The changes also mean that the laws are unlikely to apply to speakers at colleges and universities, according to Brian Hauss, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who has challenged several of the laws in court, including the one in Arkansas.
But Arkansas’s law does not have those stipulations, and a contract can be as little as $1,000 for the law to cover it. Still, Hauss questioned whether the law should apply to a university speaker. He pointed to language in the law saying that a public entity cannot enter into a contract “with a company to acquire or dispose of services, supplies, information technology, or construction” unless that company has certified it is not boycotting.
“I didn’t read it to apply to university speaking engagements,” said Hauss. “I think the University of Arkansas is not correctly applying the statute.”
The university did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Read the whole thing.
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And finally, an idea from Eli Lake with a nod from Christina Hoff Sommers… Who knows? It just might work!