Unidentified protestors spray painted “LAND BACK,” “FUK USA” and “DEATH 2 [ISRAEL]” in front of Convocation Hall on April 27 (Clement Lee/Managing Editor).

I, and many other Jewish students, have been disgusted by the events of this week. Protestors shouting “There is only one solution, intifada revolution,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Zionists have got to go” occupied the Emory University Quadrangle on April 25 in a demonstration of blatant disregard for the perspectives of Jewish Emory students. As I wrote in a recent op-ed, students chanted these phrases with a complete misunderstanding, or in this case, perhaps contempt, for what rhetoric crosses the line from anti-Israeli government to antisemitic. Concurrently, Emory’s Respect for Open Expression Policy protects antisemitic speech in the same way it protects other forms of bigoted expression. I want nothing less than for Emory’s campus to turn into the Jew-hating climate that other universities are currently harboring. Many Jewish students are in the difficult position of despising the content of the speech yet supporting the protestors’ rights to express themselves. Such students, including myself, are concerned about both issues simultaneously.

At Emory and nationwide, there seem to be diverging viewpoints regarding how the protests fit into the larger conversation around open expression on college campuses. While many non-Jewish students support the messages of the anti-Zionist protests wholeheartedly, many Jews are feeling alienated, unheard and marginalized. We face two dilemmas: We are disappointed in the overly harsh response from the police but horrified at the apparent majority of non-Jewish students ignoring our qualms with the messages of the protest.

Many op-eds have drawn analogies between the recent protests to anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement protests, but Jewish students see these issues very differently. While past student movements have often ended up on the right side of history, we cannot automatically assume that the content of the current protests has equal merit. Yes, antisemitic speech is protected by Emory’s policy, but is that really what protestors want to fall back on? I find it hard to believe that Emory students would back someone who promotes troubling values just to uphold the principle of free speech. However, this is essentially the same argument. No need to imagine, though, as there is recent precedent for this defense. 

In 2020, Heather Mac Donald, a conservative speaker, came to Emory, expressing controversial takes on race and privilege. The Student Government Association and College Council both passed resolutions calling on Emory administration to change the name of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, because Donna and Marvin Schwartz were the donors who had paid Mac Donald’s speaker’s fee. The administration declined to do so, citing the open expression policy. Four short years later, many have switched sides on the open expression debate. Students are now calling on the administration to prioritize free speech. In this week’s case, the administration has interpreted the policy narrowly, strictly interpreting its language to avoid the disruptions seen at other schools. It’s easy to support free speech when you agree with the speech, and this contrast makes both sides look hypocritical. 

If you are disturbed by student censorship yet neutral on Israel, I ask you to think before chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Zionists have got to go.” It is heavily contested if protestors have the ability to use these statements without overtly alienating Jews. When we hear “From the river to the sea,” we ask where Israeli civilians would go if Israel was not a Jewish state tomorrow. 

Even if there is a gap between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, I find it hard to believe that one can be completely anti-Zionist and still be fully supportive of Jewish people’s right to self-determination. These are unsolved and highly debated topics with no simple answer.

I hope more protests that I disagree with will take place. I hope there is serious discourse and that students learn by having conversations with disagreeing sides, finding holes in their beliefs by speaking with those whom they respectfully disagree with. I also hope that if pro-Israel speakers step foot on the Quad, that the Emory student population will continue to voice its support for a robust and respectful policy for free speech. I just don’t know if they will.

Ben Brodsky (25B) is from Scottsdale, Ariz.

Emory Wheel | + posts

Ben Brodsky (he/him) (25B) is from Scottsdale, Arizona. He has explored hip-hop history since 2019, first on his blog SHEESH hip hop, and now with “Hip Hop Heroes,” a series of essays on narrative in hip-hop. When not writing about Jay-Z, you can find him writing “Brodsky in Between,” an Opinion column on political nuance, graphic designing and playing basketball.