Apparently, some conservatives didn’t get the memo about free speech on college campuses. Specifically, “Palestinian feminist” Linda Sarsour’s slated speech at the CUNY School of Public Health is coming under fire from pro-Israel activists and elected officials, most of them right-of-center, because of her comments on Zionism, the Middle East conflict, and sharia law. But in the wake of the Ann Coulter brouhaha, conservatives should zealously defend even speech we hate. Please, let the woman speak.
Certainly, Sarsour deserves no honors. She is one of the most prominent American advocates of the noxious Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement which unfairly singles out Israel for economic punishment. She has claimed, ridiculously, that Zionism is incompatible with feminism – a movement whose founders were pretty much all American Jews. Her boast of helping restore Jewish cemeteries only underscores her disingenuousness.
So far, 2017 has been a banner year for Sarsour, who co-chaired the widely attended Women’s March held the day after President Trump’s inauguration and the follow-up “Day Without a Woman” protest. Her media presence is blossoming, with appearances on shows hosted by Diane Rehm and Rachel Maddow; and even Comedy Central’s new Trump parody “President Show.” TIME named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2017.
And now my fellow Zionists are giving her something even better: the chance to play martyr – Palestinians love martyrdom – because she’s “being silenced.” And for what? She has been invited to address an utterly marginal, largely irrelevant event at CUNY: the commencement ceremonies for the 154 graduates of the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. That school (founded two years ago as the newest of CUNY’s 24 schools) comprises less than one percent of the university’s student body. Most high school valedictorians address larger crowds.
Nobody would even notice Sarsour’s speech (which almost certainly won’t be about the Middle East) if pro-Israel politicians, student activists, and conservative news outlets weren’t hyping it. She must be cackling through her hijab at all the free attention.
Besides, attempts to disinvite Sarsour undermine longstanding conservative attempts to defend our own right to speak at hostile college campuses. In 2014, two prominent commencement speakers were replaced because of liberal protests: Condoleezza Rice (Rutgers) and IMF chief Christine Lagarde (Smith). And just Friday, Republican Sen. John Cornyn learned from the historically black Texas Southern University in Houston he would no longer be welcome as commencement speaker this weekend.
How can we complain of those cancellations – not to mention the trouble Ann Coulter and others have faced in trying to speak during the year – when we do the same to Sarsour? Liberals have already noticed our inconsistency.
Of course, Sarsour’s detractors have given many explanations (some accurate, some exaggerated) why this address is different, why Sarsour’s invitation in particular must be rescinded: She associates with terrorists. Her discussions about Israel cross over from anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism. She defends sharia law. She praises children who throw rocks at Israeli soldiers.
But liberals who cancel conservative speeches have their own justifications. Rice condoned torture in Iraq. Lagarde propped up oppressive governments overseas. And Cornyn, well they haven’t really said yet but he’s a Republican so it must have been bad.
Opponents can always come up with arguments why a speaker has crossed a an un-crossable line. Let’s drop all the lines and let invited speakers speak. Then we can demand that schools stop honoring dishonorable people, and put Sarsour at the top of the list.