Every teenager knows hypocrisy is the worst sin imaginable. After having lived a little more, most people grow out of this. There are far worse sins: murder, rape, and torture come to mind at the moment.

University administrators’ horrific responses to pro-Hamas anti-Semitism on campus have been widely panned for their astounding hypocrisy. Universities are being hypocritical. But the emphasis on hypocrisy is a mistake. It obscures the much more significant problem of institutional anti-Semitism.

Immediately after the 10/7 massacre in southern Israel, before Israel had engaged in any military response, universities that had publicly denounced or celebrated nearly every major public event that’s occurred in the last decade remained silent. Principled free speech warriors responded with a grave error in judgement – seeing in this horrible response an opportunity to build consensus for broad free speech principles and a commitment to institutional neutrality. As Robbie George put it, “now (universities) see the wisdom of (the) Kalven Report principles” advocating institutional neutrality.

These are worthy principles. This isn’t an error because the principles are wrong, but because seizing this moment to promote them unwittingly reinforces the growing normativity of anti-Semitism. It unintentionally affirms a perspective in which the massacre of Jews is an appropriate catalyst for institutional silence.

When the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT testified before congress last week and refused to state that calling for the genocide of the Jews violated school policies on bullying and harassment, FIRE – a venerable and fair-minded organization devoted to defending free speech on campus – published an article by Nico Perrino pushing institutional neutrality as a response to the crisis. Perrino acknowledged that this means ignoring these schools’ hypocrisy: “one can understand the frustration of critics who rightly observe how quickly college administrators …will reach for speech codes when certain disfavored views are expressed, yet don the cloak of free speech when they are more sympathetic to the speech at issue.”

But this focus on hypocrisy completely misses the point. Sure, the presidents are hypocritical, but that’s a trivial problem compared to the question of why they’ve suddenly become free-speech absolutists. Why is it a call for the genocide of the Jews that finally extracts the inner libertarian from the authoritarian souls of college administrators?

The hypocrisy is a symptom of anti-Semitism. If the wish to harm Jews is so hard to condemn that it inspires autocrats to suddenly discover the wisdom of free speech, the correct response isn’t to applaud them while acknowledging their hypocrisy. The correct response is to see their anti-Semitism for what it is.

In Jewish law there’s a principle invoked in certain types of legal proceedings called “shetika k’hoda’ah”: silence equals assent. If a university makes institutional statements every other week but refuses to do so when faced with the worst atrocity committed against Jews since the holocaust, that silence is unequivocal speech. When a university suspends students for unintended microaggressions but is unsure whether calling for the extermination of the Jews is a problem, that too is anti-Semitic.

Much has been written about how we got to the point where these sorts of anti-Semitic attitudes have been normalized in university culture. There’s no doubt that the DEI bureaucracy and identarian politics have played a significant role.

But what is the answer? It’s tempting to think that the solution is to embrace the new free-speechers and hold them to their new standards, however hypocritical they may now be. That would work if hypocrisy were the only problem here. It’s not. Those who champion broad free speech norms—me among them—need to find a way to hold administrators to account for the anti-Semitic climate they’ve created, without letting them escape to libertarianism.

The first obvious solution is to start identifying the problem publicly as anti-Semitism, and to demand that university administration and faculty engage in education and training—just as they already do for every other bias and prejudice—to be able to identify anti-Semitism and to effectively combat it. (This is not because such training actually changes minds, but because it establishes institutional norms of acceptable behavior.)

Second, schools must enforce existing rules to protect Jews, just as they do for every other group of students. For too long anti-Semitism has been excused and minimized, especially when it comes from other minorities. Let’s see the universities apply their standards equally for Jews as for others.

Third, demand aggressive policing of violence and intimidation masking itself as speech. David Frum has noted the degree to which recent “pro-Palestinian” (or more accurately, pro-Hamas) activism (on campus and elsewhere) has involved actual violence and harassment, not just speech. If administrators want to defend students’ free speech rights they can start by distinguishing between speech and violence and cracking down on violence.

If universities manage to do these three things over a sustained period of time, then by all means, let’s start the free speech conversation. We can begin to dismantle the DEI bureaucracy, phase out mandatory microaggression trainings, stop policing students’ interactions, and generally try to restore something like the pure pursuit of knowledge as the central purpose of the university.

If, however, at that point, it turns out that universities aren’t actually interested in free speech, then this really wasn’t ever about free speech, was it? It was about sticking it to the Jews—and every freedom loving libertarian who supported this was inadvertently legitimizing anti-Semitism.

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