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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

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Israeli philosopher Yoram Hazony lectures on free speech, antisemitism while students hold vigil

Israeli philosopher, biblical scholar and political theorist Yoram Hazony delivered a lecture in the Hesburgh Library auditorium Monday on free speech on university campuses in the wake of the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. Outside the library, students held a vigil for Palestinians who have died in the subsequent war.

Hazony lecture

Hazony, who serves as president of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem and chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation, urged universities to be more active in prohibiting speech advocating for violence against Jews.

In his remarks, Hazony offered a scathing critique of elite universities, claiming they have been “captured by Neo-Marxist ideologues” and have been “the driving force behind the return of open anti semitism in America” since October 7th.

Hazony described the reaction to the October 7th attack as a “rude awakening” for Jews who did not think antisemitism was a prevalent problem in the United States. In the wake of the attack, protests against Israel erupted throughout campuses. At the same time, the United States saw a 400% increase in antisemitic incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

University presidents across the country were criticized by many for not forcefully condemning antisemitism on their campuses enough. These criticisms reached their zenith when the presidents of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology refused to definitively say whether calling for the genocide of Jews violated their codes of conduct.

Hazony argued the actions of Hamas on October 7th are not morally equivalent to collateral damage inflicted upon the people of Gaza by the Israeli army.

“If we're not allowed to say, ‘Look, what's happening over there in that part of the world is radically evil and therefore the university shouldn't be defending it,’ then I feel like we've lost our humanity,” he said.

Hazony argued because many students and faculty at prominent universities began their protests immediately after October 7th, before Israel began its invasion of Gaza, they were motivated primarily by antisemitism. Hazony said antisemitic remarks have been excused on the grounds of free expression and fit into a worldview which designates certain groups as “oppressors” and justifies any action to overthrow these groups.

Hazony explained one reaction to this phenomenon has been to call for more free speech, including allowing calls for the extermination of any race or group. Hazony described such proposals as “naive,” arguing that the protestors have “jettisoned the old boundaries of legitimate debate.”

“Free speech can’t help where speech is being used in order to destroy free speech, or to eliminate the possibility of an exchange of honors and mutual respect,” he said.

Hazony accused these groups of “employing threats, aggression, deception and a wide variety of forms of abuse in order to intimidate and silence anyone who descends from their views.”

He added that these groups rely on faculty members who do not discipline their actions.

In order to remedy this problem, Hazony called on universities to punish faculty and students who threaten others or call for violence against any ethnic, religious or political groups and to hire more intellectually diverse faculty.

Hazony drew a distinction between restrictions on speech which explicitly calls for violence and restrictions on speech that can simply be interpreted as “offensive,” which he argued are often used to discriminate against conservatives. 

Hazony praised efforts by politicians such as Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida to use state power to combat or change the structure of universities promoting what he views as radical ideas and questioned the wisdom of giving government funding to such institutions.

“The idea that these institutions, which with every passing decade become more viciously hostile to America's traditions, to its traditional faith, to its constitutional order, to the traditional family, to God and Scripture, to the basics of what America was until not very long ago … need to have tens of billions [of dollars] directed to what's effectively the the peaceful overthrow of the American regime is completely crazy,” he said.

Vigil commemorating Palestinian deaths

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Students hold a vigil commemorating Palestinian deaths outside Hazony’s lecture on Monday.

While Hazony delivered his lecture inside Hesburgh Library, a group of students gathered in front of the library to hold a vigil commemorating the Palestinians who have been killed since the start of the war.

According to the Gaza health administration, which is run by Hamas, 29,692 Palestinians have been killed, with two-thirds of them being women and children. Israel claims to have killed 10,000 Hamas militants, according to The Guardian

The vigil began at 4:30 pm. and lasted until 6:30 p.m. During the event, different people took turns reading names from a list of the children who have been killed in Gaza. Some students held signs urging students to “pray for Palestine” and organizers passed around flowers.

Francesca Freeman, a graduate student who helped organize the vigil, explained the event was “in solidarity against the hatred promoted at the Hazony event.” However, she clarified that the main purpose of the event was to mourn the lives of the Palestinians who died and not to protest.

Freeman said the group wanted “to express messages of solidarity to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, to express our support for a ceasefire.” Freeman described Israel’s military operation in Gaza against Hamas as a “genocide” and referred to those Palestinians who have died as “martyrs.”

Fadwa Kamari, a first-year graduate student who attended the vigil, said it was important to humanize those who have died.

“I attended the vigil because it’s important to remember that the stats we see in the news and on social media are more than just numbers. Every number has a name, and every name meant the world to someone,” she said. “We shouldn’t become desensitized to the loss of life.”

Sarah Seto, a graduate student who also helped organize the vigil, described it as "emotionally devastating." After 45 minutes of reading names, she said, the group had only gotten through the names of all the infants and one-year-olds.

Freeman and Kamari urged the University to divest from companies that provide support to Israel and specifically condemned the University’s association with Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin has sponsored Notre Dame career fairs in the past.

“Calling for a ceasefire isn’t enough,” Kamari said, referring to a recent statement by University President Fr. John Jenkins calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Freeman said the group did not receive permission from the University to hold the vigil. She said members of the Notre Dame Police Department watched the vigil for most of the two hours, but did not intervene. 

Freeman described the vigil as “a place of remembrance, mourning, and solidarity, with no space for hate and violence.”

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