Fists are clenched and tensions are high as hundreds of students stand outside chanting, screaming. The crown begins to move, and the collage of sound that resonates from it soon melts together into one unified chant. “Down, Down, Israel!” they shout, as the students parade on to their destination. Suddenly, something deters the angry mob, and after a second one can see it is a male student with an Israeli flag draped on his back. Shouting verbal threats as their chant continues, they tear away his flag and collectively stomp on it as if in a ritualistic dance. Police soon appear but their efforts are to little or no avail. The mob has reached its final destination, Concordia University’s Hall Building, the site where Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak in just a few hours. A chair crashes through a window and as the glass comes cascading down, the Montreal police resort to the use of teargas to suppress the increasingly dangerous mob. The damage, however, is done. Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled his appearance, and the Jewish students of Concordia University have now experienced first-hand the power of hate on their very own campus.
It is incidents like the 2002 riot at Concordia University that have many in the Jewish community worried. Fearful of the continuous escalation of anti-Israeli sentiment on college campuses, organizations like Stand With Us, a pro-Israel advocacy organization, are ready to fight back — not quite in the way some would expect however. You’ll see no chairs in their hands, nor will you find them spitting or stomping on any flags or people. No, violent protests are not in the cards for Stand With Us. The organization chooses instead to battle this long-standing hatred with words and images, like those described above, in their new video documentary Tolerating Intolerance: Hate Speech on Campus.
With shocking images and sound bites depicting anti-Israeli speakers and the effects that they have on the students they address, Tolerating Intolerance tackles the question, “Is anti-Israeli hate speech on college campuses really a problem?” It appears, after a screening in New York City on September 19, that the video succeeded in answering the question for the audience with a resounding “Yes.”
The problem with the video arises, however, when attempting to identify what it is about anti-Israeli hate speech on campus that makes it problematic. For some in the audience the mere existence of the hate speech on college campuses is a problem in itself. This perspective goes along with the “Hate speech is not free speech” mindset, which is expressed in much of the video. For these people, the solution to the problem at hand is to prevent these types of radical speakers from making appearances on college campuses. University officials should prevent people who make claims such as “Zionism is a mixture, a fusion of the concept of white supremacy and the chosen people,” (Amir-Abdel Malik-Ali) or who equate Israelis to a “monkey that’s on the American back” (Imam Muhammad Al Asi) from speaking on campus because, as Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Beach Hillel illustrates, these speakers make it “increasingly uncomfortable to be Jewish on campus.” The alternative to suppressing this type of speech, they say, is to identify it. If universities feel obligated to allow these speakers on campus, they should, at the very least, inform students that these people are lecturing from a radical point of view.
Diane R. Macedo is a freelance writer in New York City.