Politics

“Destroy Israel” Protected, But “Jew” Triggers Bias Investigation

Free Speech Protected At Temple, But Not At GWU   

WASHINGTON, D.C.  (Dec. 13, 2018) – When a professor at Temple University made a very public speech which advocated violence, and which was labeled as anti-Semitic, and as calling to destroy Israel, his university upheld his right to speak out as he did, and there was no discipline.

Destroy Israel
Clker-Free-Vector-Images / Pixabay

In stark contrast, when a student at the George Washington University [GWU] Law School used the word “Jew” in a strictly private conversation, the Law School filed a formal complaint with University’s bias reporting process, thereby triggering a formal, official, secret, and possibly disciplinary investigation.

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This was followed by a maneuver leading law students, who say they are afraid to speak out publicly, to charge that the institution "swept the incident under the rug" "to avoid bad publicity," and that it is now trying to "bury the issue."

The Temple incident began when Professor Marc Lamont Hill, speaking before the United Nations, said that he supported "a free Palestine from the river to the sea." That particular phrase is commonly used by Palestinian supporters and is viewed by many as a call to destroy Israel.

His right to publicly voice such an unpopular view, even one calling for violence and the destruction of an entire country founded by and serving to protect the Jewish people, was upheld in an open letter signed by 500 prominent scholars, and by Temple's faculty union.

Apparently as a result, Temple's board has ruled that Hill had the right to express his views. "In giving this speech outside of his role as a teacher and researcher at Temple, Professor Hill was not speaking on behalf of or representing the university," its statement said.

The problem at GWU began when the president of the Student Bar Association [SBA], in a private conversation about a possible violation of GWU's alcohol policy by a Jewish fraternity, allegedly used the word "Jew"; referring to the group as someone's "Jew friends" (one version) or "the Jews" (a slightly different version).

Rather than letting law students and their various organizations deal with the matter, the Law School itself - in apparent violation of its written guarantees to students of free speech and academic freedom - made a formal complaint and request for an official investigation by GWU's bias response investigators, a practice which earlier had been abolished by GWU after being condemned by its own Faculty Senate as a violation of academic freedom, reports GWU public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

More than 200 colleges and universities reportedly have similar bias programs, often called bias response teams (and sometime even called the "speech police") which investigate allegations of allegedly biased words; an investigation which can result in a student being disciplined or required to attend diversity training (sometime termed "indoctrination"), and in any event having the effect of chilling free speech, including strictly private speech which is even more fully protected, claims Banzhaf.

However, according to the official GWU newspaper, law student members of the organizations involved are now fearful of "retribution from law school administrators," but have nevertheless charged the administration with trying to "bury the issue" by hiring an outside mediator to conduct mediation sessions at some unstated time in the spring.

Senator members of the SBA said they oppose the imposition of mediation sessions, and would rather resolve the matter themselves as a student organization.  The Law School says that it is also planning to hold a town hall meeting about this event; a move likely to further embarrass the student who, in a strictly private conversation, used a word which even many Jewish people do not believe is derogatory.

For example, a Jewish author argued exactly that in an article in the Washington Post entitled "'Jew.' Why Does the Word for a Person of My Religion Sound like a Slur?"

A similar thought was expressed by another Jewish writer in a New York Times piece entitled "Reclaiming 'Jew'" in which he said: "So it's time for us to own 'Jew.' We can do so by using the word more ourselves, and by giving everyone else permission to call Jews Jews."

Moreover, Banzhaf notes that even if the speaker had used a word clearly derogatory of people of the Jewish faith, and had used it publicly rather than in a strictly private conversation, it would still be fully protected by academic freedom, and by the University's guarantees of free speech and expression contained in its Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities.  There is no exception for what some might wish to term "hate speech," says Banzhaf.

Clearly, conducting a formal but secret investigation of a student's use of a single word in a strictly private conversation has a chilling effect on the free speech rights of all.  Who will now dare to voice an unpopular thought even in private, much less in public, asks Banzhaf.

JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.

Professor of Public Interest Law

George Washington University Law School,

FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,

Fellow, World Technology Network,

Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH),

2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA (202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418

http://banzhaf.net/ jbanzhaf3ATgmail.com  @profbanzhaf