Students at an NYU dorm woke up to a rude surprise on Thursday morning: fake leaflets warned occupants to vacate the premises at midnight April 25 because their suites were "scheduled for demolition in three days."
The flyers admitted that they were not "real eviction notice[s]," but were intended to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians forced by the Israeli government to abandon their homes.
Distributed by NYU's chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the leaflets echoed the standard charade of anti-semitic attacks against Israel -- chief among them that the Israeli government destroys Palestinian houses in an orchestrated process of what the authors termed to be "Judaization."
In case you were wondering, SJP's not-so-subtle reference to aryanization, Adolf Hitler's ethnic cleansing of Europe in the Second World War, was intentional. All too often, Israel's haters equate the country to Nazi-Germany to simultaneously minimize the horrors of the Holocaust and smear the Jewish state.
An NYU student, Laura Adkins, has already written about the flier's outright lies. See her piece for an excellent rebuke of the double standard to which SJP holds Israel and the student group's cozy relationship with Hamas.
Yet, while I fully agree with Adkins' takedown of SJP, I am more troubled when she writes this:
"Academic dialogue and the freedom to share ideas is one thing, but this move by NYU's SJP shows nothing but cowardice and anti-semitic fearmongering....SJP has made it clear that they do not seek dialogue or peace with Israel."
While she does not say it outright, she implies that the flier's authors stepped outside the boundaries of free speech on an academic campus and should suffer some kind of official sanction.
And it seems that administrators at NYU might agree. According to the university's spokesman, officials are investigating whether to take action against the student group.
Defenders of the Jewish state -- of which I am proud to call myself one -- should strongly discourage the school from disciplining SJP or its members. Not only were the offensive fliers protected speech on the merits, but pro-Israel advocates should be especially sensitive to any attempt to limit free expression in universities. Where intolerance prevails in academia, Jewish groups are the first to suffer.
Adkins claims that NYUs SJP singled out a predominantly Jewish dorm for their leaflet campaign. The student group disputes her assertion, but let's assume Adkins is correct (and I wouldn't put it past SJP). Targeting Jewish students with their fliers exposes SJP's underlying anti-semitism, but the leaflets remain little more than a nasty screed. While they might discomfort Jewish students, no student can seriously construe the fliers as a threat to his or her safety.
As I have written before, our society cannot allow universities to ban offensive speech. Universities play a unique role as the marketplace and incubator of ideas. Once we allow politically correct administrators to decide what falls within the boundaries of that marketplace, we stifle these important institutions.
On a practical level for Israel's supporters, disciplining groups like SJP makes them into martyrs. Tackling their falsehoods in the public sphere -- as Laura Adkins did -- exposes them as the frauds they are. More speech is the best counter to hateful speech.
This past academic year has seen a rising tide of intolerance on America's campuses.
Simply consider the students who shouted down former NYC police commissioner Ray Kelly at Brown in October.
Or the UC Santa Barbra Professor who physically assaulted a pro-life demonstrator.
Or Brandeis, which recently reneged on awarding an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Students and faculty alike hide behind words like "tolerance" to justify their intolerance of people and ideas with which they disagree.
I strongly disapprove of SJP -- and I went toe to toe with Yale's chapter when I was a student there. But I defend their right to speak, even as they spew hate. Free expression is simply too important to sacrifice.