by James A. Bacon
On the evening of Aug. 11, 2017, more than 300 torch-bearing white supremacists marched down the Lawn at the University of Virginia chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” The phrase is not self-explanatory, but the marchers were widely thought to be proclaiming that Jews would not displace Christian Whites as the dominant element of society. The white supremacists were not calling for the slaughter of Jews. Rather, embracing the rhetoric of victimhood and grievance that has so saturated 21st-century America, they were expressing a yearning for the good-old-days when Christian Whites ran the show.
Fast forward to Oct. 24, 2023. Hundreds of demonstrators marched down the Lawn waving Palestinian flags and chanted “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.” Their meaning was crystal clear. They weren’t merely vilifying Jews. Just days after the horrific Hamas attacks on Israel, the protesters were demanding the eradication of the Israeli state, and they were endorsing terror against Jewish civilians as a means of achieving it. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, they were advocating genocide.
In 2017 University officials quickly, forcefully, and quite correctly condemned the antisemitism of the Unite the Right rally. In 2023, the response to the Palestinians has been muted.
President Jim Ryan did condemn the Hamas atrocities against Israeli civilians. Making a plea for civil discourse at UVa, however, he adopted a nuanced, academic tone. His intention, he said, was to “leverage the expertise of our faculty and staff to advance our understanding of these events and the history that led to them.” He urged members of the UVa community to “build bridges, listen generously, and act with compassion.”
Attorney General Jason Miyares is looking for a more rousing defense of Jewish Virginia students, many of whom are living in fear of violence. Last week he addressed a letter to Virginia college and university presidents asking them to do more to address antisemitism. He wrote.
Groups like “Students for Justice in Palestine” have repeatedly held demonstrations in Virginia where protestors change “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This statement is a call for the complete destruction of Israel and a denial of its right to exist. Conveniently, these protestors never explain what would happen to the eight million Jews who live between the river and the sea, leading to the inescapable conclusion that the protestors are calling for a second Holocaust against innocent men, women and children.
While many university leaders around the country have condemned Hamas’ actions in Israel, most have avoided commenting on the river-to-the-sea chants heard on their campuses.
The First Amendment, wrote Miyares, does not extend to inciting imminent lawless action. He strongly recommended Virginia higher-ed officials “review your policies to ensure that you are taking those steps necessary to protect your students and others in your campus community from unlawful incitement beyond the bounds of the First Amendment.”
Further, he urged the college presidents to work with law enforcement to hold accountable individuals who commit assaults or acts of vandalism. Invoking a law enacted to fight the terror of the Ku Klux Klan, he noted that potential criminal acts include the wearing of masks or hoods to conceal the wearer’s identity.
Miyares also referred to the higher-ed community’s reaction to the Unite the Right rally. “We weekly confront the equivalent of multiple ‘Unite the Right’ rallies across this nation, including in Virginia. … Your deafening silence in 2023 following your unhesitating condemnation in 2017 has not gone unnoticed.”
Several Virginia university presidents did condemn Hamas. But none to my recollection have criticized those who defend Hamas — those who defend the destruction of Israel and the dispossession and/or slaughter of the Jews living there. There was no hesitation six years ago to denounce white supremacists for expressing hateful opinions about Jews, but academia is curiously reluctant today to denounce those who justify the hateful murder of Jews. Rather, Ryan urges the contending parties to engage in “generous listening.”
Palestinian protesters are as entitled to free speech and free assembly as were the white supremacists six years ago. But, as the common saying goes, they are not free from the consequences of that speech. Their aim — the destruction of Israel by “any means necessary,” including terror — is a moral obscenity no matter how tortured the history between Israel and the Palestinians. Miyares is right to point out that Jewish students feel “threatened and unsupported,” and he is right to push college and university presidents to end their silence.
“Now is not the time for moral equivalency or half measures,” the AG concludes. “Now is the time for moral courage and leadership.”