The defensive use of free speech on campus has carried just as much nuance as it does when invoked by your racist uncle on Thanksgiving. As of late, Libertarians, Republicans, fascists and all those who intermingle the three have brandished the term whenever eugenicists, white nationalistsand reactionary provocateurs come to campus — sometimes invited by the aforementioned students — in the name of academic and intellectual diversity. Of course, none of this has much to do with the rights outlined in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, seeing as NYU is a private university with no legal obligation to house these voices of hate. Nonetheless, the manifestation of free speech politics at NYU highlights the glaring silence and non-action concerning an actual conflict of state censorship of constitution-ally protected speech. The most pressing matter regarding freedom of speech concerns the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement of Israel.
Simply put, the BDS movement is a set of tactics that include a cultural, economic and academic boycott of Israel. In 2005, 170 organizations that constitute Palestinian civil society called upon the international community to participate in the BDS movement to pressure the Israeli government to comply with international law. The boycott is an act of protest, which is protected by our First Amendment rights, and those who decide to partake in it, such as graduate student unions and universities, are fully within their rights as American institutions to do so.
Where the threat of an infringement comes upon these rights is legislative and executive action taken at the state and federal levels. In June 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order demanding all state bodies or entities to withhold public funds from organizations that endorse BDS. On the federal level, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720) had been introduced to Congress in March of this year, possibly concerning the rights of those who are critical of the state of Israel.
The language of the federal bill itself is harsh, calling for individuals who violate the ban to pay a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and to face 20 years prison time. In a report by Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim, they cite that the bill was drafted with the assistance of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. After public outcry and an American Civil Lib- erties Union letter condemning the bill, the piece of legislation lost momentum and support, yet still poses a hovering threat to all American activists fighting for an end to the human rights crisis taking place in Palestine. Worryingly, when confronted with the issues raised by the ACLU’s letter, co-sponsoring legislators had shown signs of confusion and had no idea what was within the bill, simply trusting AIPAC. Therefore, if one is to seek out and fight for free speech justice on campus, look no further than NYU’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. Their fights and not Milo Yiannopoulos are actually under a material threat of censorship.