Friday, October 27, 2023

DeSantis, ADL Call for SJP Ban

A few days ago, Gov. DeSantis ordered Florida universities to "deactivate" campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, on the grounds that SJP provides "material support" to an international terrorist organization (i.e., Hamas). Yesterday, the ADL (along with the Brandeis Center) sent a letter to nearly 200 university presidents effectively urging them to do the same: demanding that the universities investigate their SJP chapters for "potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization."

That the ADL has joined this campaign is, at this point, probably overdetermined, given the confluence of:

  1. The ADL's general rightward turn on matters relating to Israel and Zionism over the past year;
  2. The genuine decay in the campus environment for young American Jews, for which SJP bears more than a share of the responsibility; and
  3. The long-standing intense (mutual) loathing between the ADL and SJP, where either one would sell out the constitutional rights of the other for a quarter and give back two dimes in change.

Nonetheless, this call is an obvious flouting of the First Amendment (for public universities) and academic freedom (for privates). As Howard Wasserman puts it, I resent being "[forced] to side with people who want to see me and my family dead," but thanks to DeSantis and the ADL, I'm now in that position.

To be clear: the "material support for terrorism" claim is -- with respect to the evidence presented -- absolutely spurious (FIRE's letter to Florida universities explains why). While the ADL claims to "recognize and support students’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, even odious speech," it flags nothing in its letter that goes beyond "odious speech" in support of Hamas. The sole example of alleged "material support" provided by SJP is rhetoric in its toolkit stating:

“We must act as part of this movement. All of our efforts continue the work and resistance of the Palestinians on the ground.” The toolkit refers to the Hamas-led terrorist attack in Israel as “the resistance.” 

This in no way supports an inference of "material support" under the statute. "Material support" has to include more than just advocacy in support of the terrorist organization or rhetorical claims of alignment -- it must entail things like transfer of funds or the provision of a tangible, material benefit. As the Supreme Court made clear in Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder, as expansive as the "material support" statute may be, the prohibition on providing material support to terrorism nonetheless cannot encompass "a regulation of independent speech ... even if the Government were to show that such speech benefits foreign terrorist organizations." "Material" requires actual materials, not just speech.

Just a few weeks ago, there was a virtual consensus that campus SJP actors were a disreputable fringe that nobody should take seriously (this was how the left justified their complaints that we were paying too much attention to "letters sent from Harvard" -- they conceded the letters were gross, but argued that they represented a piddling and insignificant political faction toiling in deserved marginality. Intentional or not, I appreciated the concession!). Now, thanks to DeSantis and his buddies, the SJP can adopt the far more comfortable mantle of First Amendment martyrs. Of course, if there is evidence of actual "material support" -- SJP funneling funds to Hamas, for example, the ADL should provide it (and I'd add, the proper investigators of such claims are law enforcement officials, not university bureaucrats). But as it is presented here, the effort to ban SJP is nothing more than an effort to ban a noxious organization on the basis of its noxious viewpoint, and one cannot support that and claim to be comporting with either the First Amendment (for public universities) or academic freedom.

1 comment:

Thom14 said...

Whatmany academics and administrators have done is conflate the right of SJP to spew antisemitic hatred and calling them out for the organization's antisemitism. For example, when you were at Berkeley Lw did you call out Hatem Bazian, a professor at Cal, and founder of the SJP for his antisemitism. Did anyone in the administration? Similarly, can we agree those, like the Chancellor's Chair in History who called the Hamas massacre "creative resistance"is an antisemite? Yet silence by you & Cal Chancellor Christ. Did you challenge The BOARS proposed requirement that all students applying to Cal must have taken a course that "Create[s] and honors anti-colonial & 'liberatory' movements? Hoe could that requirement get through the vetting process? Yet applicants for teaching positions are given lowest score if they state they will treat all students alike, regardless of race, etc. Have you written on DEI & first amendment?