Universities and colleges across the country have become embroiled in a debate over free speech in the aftermath of the massacre of Israelis by Hamas terrorists this week. Various student groups have expressed support for Hamas or their cause while condemning Israel. Black Lives Matter (BLM) chapters have even shown the image below of one of the terrorists who paraglided into Israel where hundreds of civilians were murdered, including babies. Harvard has been a particular flashpoint over strident statements of condemnation of Israel immediately after the attack. The support has led to at least one firm rescinding an offer to a pro-Palestinian NYU law student as well as calls for universities to cut off support for student groups condemning Israel.
A coalition of 31 Harvard organizations, including Amnesty International, placed the blame on Israel for the attack. The groups issued a letter to the public as a “Joint Statement by Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups on the Situation in Palestine” on Sunday.
The “situation” in Palestine also included the reported beheading of Jewish babies, raping of women, and massacring of people at a concert dedicated to efforts to find peace.
“We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence. . . The apartheid regime is the only one to blame.”
Anger over these views has led to calls for censorship on campus and the firing of students who have publicly stated support for Hamas. Winston & Strawn LLP rescinded an offer to Ryna Workman, president of the NYU Student Bar Association, due to her role in a statement that Israel bore “full responsibility” for the attacks by Hamas.
As a private business, the law firm is not bound under the First Amendment.
However, some have gone further to discuss these views as unprotected free speech and suggested that law students holding such views should be prevented from joining the bar. Clearly, these students are engaging in free speech and, with regard to state action, they would be entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment.
The use of ideological grounds to bar law students from becoming lawyers is a dangerous practice that, in my view, would violate free speech protections. Like most people, I am disgusted by the actions of Hamas and atrocities committed in this attack. However, this country remains committed to many freedoms that Hamas and other terrorist groups have opposed. It is never easy to support core rights for those who support their denial in others, including the very right of existence for others. However, that is precisely the point. We are not them.
In my view, cutting off support for these student groups at state schools would violate the First Amendment. Doing so at private universities would violate core free speech guarantees. In the meantime, many of us will continue to support Israel and the many faculty and students who have lost friends or family. This tragedy has touched many. We have been in touch with family and friends in Israel who are safe. However, some expect to be called into service in the coming days. I have spoken to many of our students who are facing a nightmare of not knowing whether family members were killed or captured.
The BLM and other statements obviously cause greater trauma for many in our community who are grieving those killed or captured in Israel. However, we should direct our efforts at assisting those who have lost loved ones in Israel rather than censoring others.