newsAntisemitism

UN official: Hate speech on ‘both sides’ of US campus protests

Irene Khan, U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion, lamented what she said was confusion between hate speech, incitement and what is "basically a different view of the situation in Israel"

Anti-Israel protesters on the Foggy Bottom campus of George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2024. Photo by Andrew Bernard.
Anti-Israel protesters on the Foggy Bottom campus of George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2024. Photo by Andrew Bernard.

A U.N. official said on Thursday that “the rise in hate speech on all sides” of the ongoing pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas campus protests in the United States is “troubling.”

“One after the another, the Ivy League heads of colleges and universities, their heads are rolling, they’ve been chopped off,” said Irene Khan, who serves as the U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion.

“Legitimate speech must be protected,” Khan told a U.N. news agency, “but, unfortunately, there is a hysteria that is taking hold in the United States.”

The presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania resigned under pressure following a Dec. 5 congressional hearing on campus antisemitism during which they, along with the president of MIT, were unable to say whether calls for the genocide of Jews violated their institutions’ code of conduct.

This, said Khan, “Clearly polarizes even further the political climate on this issue between ‘them’ and ‘us.’”

It was unclear from the comments who “them” and “us” referred to.

Pro-Hamas and pro-Palestinian protests over the last several weeks have largely comprised unauthorized “encampments” that have taken over university grounds, restricting freedom of movement for those university communities and hampering the institutions’ ability to operate.

While there is ample evidence of blatant antisemitism being expressed at these protests, JNS could find no reported examples, of any Jewish or pro-Israel protesters expressing Islamophobic or genocidal calls either on or off campus. 

A group of Christian nationalists at a counter-rally outside Columbia University on Thursday reportedly heckled those inside with chants of “Go back to Gaza.”

Khan claimed in her interview that in many of the protests, there is a “confusion” between what constitutes hate speech or incitement to violence and what is “basically a different view of the situation in Israel” and the Palestinian-controlled territories.

While asserting that “incitement to violence is prohibited under international law,” she gave no example of where that line has been crossed during this spring’s protests.

JNS requested a clarification from Khan’s office but did not receive a response.

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