The ‘Safety’ Dodge

“I don’t feel safe” are magic words on college campuses these days. 

At least if you are a Left-wing activist. If you are a normal person who is getting physically threatened by a Left-wing activist, nobody in the college administration gives a whit about your actual safety. 

College students can hold Riley Gaines hostage, drive Jewish students to cower behind locked doors as a mob brays at them on the other side, and as we learned from the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn calling for the genocide of Jews is a matter of free speech. 

But inviting Ben Shapiro or, in this case, an Israeli soldier to speak on a college campus is a threat to the mental and physical well-being of Hamas supporters on campus. 

I am shamelessly borrowing the brilliant work of the invaluable Aaron Sibarium from the Washington Free Beacon here

The idea that anybody who participates in Students for Justice in Palestine, an explicitly pro-Hamas group, is interested in “safety” of college students or anybody but themselves is laughable. They routinely call for the elimination of the State of Israel, support Hamas’ attack on Israel as an effort to “decolonize” the Middle East, and routinely threaten the physical and psychological health of Jewish students. 

Yale Law School’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the group that celebrated the murder of 1,200 Israelis on Oct. 7 and praised the architects of the attack as “martyrs,” is calling on the school to cancel an event with a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, arguing that his presence on campus will make students unsafe.

“We implore the administration to take seriously the implications of this militarization of campus,” Yale Law Students for Justice in Palestine wrote in a Feb. 1 Instagram post. “The platforming of an IDF combatant recently returned from Israel’s atrocities in Gaza makes many of us—especially Palestinian Arab, Muslim, Black, and brown students—feel physically and psychologically unsafe and unwelcome in our own school.”

Now I believe that these bigots have the right to be bigots, as long as they don’t intimidate people and prevent others from having their say, but it is rich beyond belief that they claim special status as fragile flowers given how far they go to cross the speech line themselves. 

Free speech is one thing; shouting down and physically intimidating others is quite another, and should never be tolerated. Further, actual incitement to violence–and SJP certainly tiptoes up to and crosses that line–should be reason enough to kick the students off campus. 

Their speech, though? It should be tolerated, as should that of any other person. And there is no conceivable argument to be made that students at Yale should be prevented from hearing from an IDF soldier. 

Yesterday I criticized the Kennedy School of Government for inviting a scholar who made clear that she identified with Hamas as an ally. Her quote was “We will never forgive the Israeli right wing extreme government for making us take their children and elderly as hostages.”

I thought Harvard could find a better scholar to represent the Palestinian side, but I certainly wouldn’t argue she should be kicked off the campus and prevented from sharing her point of view. 

Even though it might make Jewish students not feel “safe.” SJP, though, needs to be “safe” from being in proximity to somebody whom they dislike. 

“We consider the law school allowing an event with an IDF combatant, particularly in the aftermath of the ICJ ruling, and with no oversight of the contents of his speech, to be an inconsistent application of the law school’s norms of free expression with actually dangerous implications for campus safety,” the group wrote.

If there are “dangerous implications for campus safety,” you can feel certain that it is the members of SJP who will be the instigators of violence. Expect them to show up to intimidate anybody who goes to the talk. 

Feeling “safe” from opposing points of view is antithetical to the purpose of universities, as long as the issue is speech conveyed in a conversation and not used specifically to threaten or intimidate. The proper remedy for sharing bad opinions is countering them with better ones. 

All this, though, is beside the point. Universities aren’t actually interested in making anybody feel safe, psychologically or otherwise. They simply use the “safety” argument to sort out speech they like from that they don’t. That anybody claims that Ben Shapiro makes them feel unsafe is absurd, yet he has been attacked relentlessly as making people feel “unsafe.” My sister could punch harder than he, and Beege could knock me out. Now Chris Rufo could probably do some damage, but last I checked he has yet to punch a protester. 

Students for Justice in Palestine is latching onto the “safety” argument in the way that all censors on college campuses have in recent years. It is complete crap, and everybody knows it. “Safety” is one of those words that has been redefined by critical theorists, and it means exactly and only what they want it to mean. 

Still, administrators have latched onto claims like this to disinvite speakers before. I suspect that Yale will decline to do so in this case because, well, everybody is watching closely at the moment for more signs of antisemitism on campus. 

But that is simply about preserving the university’s access to donor dollars, not principle. Soon enough a speaker will be canceled for making students “unsafe,” or those students will march bravely to intimidate any speaker they disapprove of. 

So it goes in academia. So it goes.  

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