Antiracist activists are being punished for their antisemitism under hate-speech rules they supported

Antiracist activists are being punished for their antisemitism under hate-speech rules they supported
Pro-Hamas demonstration at George Mason University

“Antiracist” activists have pushed for hate-speech restrictions in much of the world, but their own speech is sometimes deemed to violate those rules against hate speech, such as their support for violent antisemitic groups like Hamas, which is hostile to Jews as such, not merely to the country of Israel. As the New York Times and others have noted, student groups that backed campus censorship of non-progressive speech are now facing discipline for their own speech (viewed as disruptive, threatening, and antisemitic): “It has not gone unnoticed — on campuses but also by members of Congress and by the public writ large — that many of those who are now demanding the right to protest have previously sought to curtail the speech of those whom they declared hateful.”

University of Virginia Professor Kevin Cope points out that “self-proclaimed antiracist activists have fought hard for the sort of hate-speech regulations” in Europe that are currently used to punish those very activists for speech deemed hateful and antisemitic:

U.S. legal tolerance for [pro-Palestinian] protests is a global outlier, even among liberal democracies. Since October, U.S. public officials and college administrators have condoned most anti-Israel protests, including (for a while) long-term encampments that violate university rules. Many have provided police protection, even while some protestors voiced support for Hamas’s October 7 massacre, lobbed arguably anti-Semitic insults, or called for further violence against Israeli Jews.

In Europe, officials are responding quite differently…..the French Interior Minister instituted a ban on all pro-Palestinian protests. In Germany…public expressions of pro-Palestinian messages as benign as “stop the war” were prohibited. Berlin police announced that chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was a criminal offense. In Berlin schools, Palestinian flag colors and the kaffiyeh—a traditional Middle Eastern scarf now associated with Palestinian nationalism—were banned, while other ethnic apparel was permitted. The first pro-Palestinian demonstration was finally permitted in Hamburg in late October 2023, but with a limit on Palestinian flags and a prohibition on questioning Israel’s right to exist. And similar to Germany, the British Home Secretary directed police that “From the river to the sea … ” may “amount to a racially aggravated … public order offence,” in some contexts, punishable by imprisonment….How governments are responding to Israel-Gaza protests illustrates these radically diverging constitutional commitments to viewpoint neutrality. European national officials defended some of these pro-Palestinian restrictions primarily on public-order grounds more than stifling hate. But even so, the double standard implies that they view much of anti-Israeli speech as inherently anti-Semitic, and therefore, beyond the pale. This leads to a paradox, in which criticizing Muslims or Arabs as a group can constitute unlawful hate speech, but many expressions of support for Islamic-Arab groups are also prohibited, because of the threat that the government thinks those groups pose.

And yet, self-proclaimed antiracist activists have fought hard for the sort of hate-speech regulations that enable these restrictions—activists who link Palestinian marginalization to broader struggles for decolonization and against structural racism. For instance, one key political goal of the minor left-wing Dutch party, BIJ1, is Dutch recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state. At the same time, one of BIJ1’s core objectives is expanding criminal hate-speech laws—even as existing such laws are being used by various national governments to muzzle support for a Palestinian state. Thus far, this irony seems to have been lost on most…

These examples offer a cautionary tale: When empowering the government to decide which beliefs are illegitimate, future policymakers may not use that power in ways you like or anticipate. They may even decide that your own viewpoints are the illegitimate ones—as with the song of South African anti-apartheid activists, “Shoot the Boer (i.e., white farmer)”… and more recently, Palestinian advocates’ calls for a ceasefire and a “free Palestine.”

Scholars and activists celebrating new and stronger hate-speech laws might therefore consider Justice Hugo Black’s 1952 reaction to a (now largely discredited) decision upholding a conviction for disparaging Black Americans: “If there be minority groups who hail this [development] as their victory,” he wrote, they should contemplate Pyrrhus of Epirus’s observation: “Another such victory and I am undone.

Some definitions of “hate speech” pushed by leftists are so overly broad that they do not require hate — requiring neither hateful intent or motivation, nor the inciting of hatred or abuse. Even things like expert medical opinions about transsexualism and gender identity have been labeled as “hateful” speech.

Some organizations now define hate speech broadly, and counterintuitively, to include “offensive words, about or directed towards historically victimized groups,” even if the words were not uttered out of hate. Among leftists, the concept of hate speech has expanded to include commonplace views about racial or sexual subjects. That includes criticizing feminism, affirmative action, homosexuality, or gay marriage, or opinions about how to address sexual harassment or allegations of racism in the criminal justice system.

These broad definitions of hate speech aren’t based on the First Amendment. In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that there is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, which protects speech that offends minority groups. But foreign countries are banning hate speech on social media, and many legal scholars and civil-rights activists are now calling for America to follow their example and ban hate speech by limiting the First Amendment.

That’s a bad idea, because both normal people, and even experts, run the risk of running afoul of broad bans on “hate speech.” For example, in 2019, Twitter applied its “rules against hateful conduct” to briefly ban an expert on sexuality for stating in passing that transsexualism is a mental disorder. Twitter did that even though the “bible of psychiatry,” the DSM-5, indicated at the time that transsexualism is a disorder, and the expert chaired the group that worked on that section of the DSM-5. Sharing his expertise was deemed hate speech.

LU Staff

LU Staff

Promoting and defending liberty, as defined by the nation’s founders, requires both facts and philosophical thought, transcending all elements of our culture, from partisan politics to social issues, the workings of government, and entertainment and off-duty interests. Liberty Unyielding is committed to bringing together voices that will fuel the flame of liberty, with a dialogue that is lively and informative.


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