Free speech on Cross Campus

If you were walking through Cross Campus Wednesday, you might have tripped over the most depressing protest Yale has seen in almost a week. In a mind-boggling act of vandalism, the posterboard memorial to 14 Israelis killed in a car bomb explosion displayed during a Yale Friends of Israel vigil Tuesday night was torn and scattered across the lawn early the next morning.

This is not a sign that dissent has devolved to graffiti on campus — that was last week’s defamation of an anti-divestment petition in the Law School. This is not a political objection to the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians gone awry — that was the removal of most of the signs advertising former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s visit two weeks ago.

This is anti-Semitism. Plain and simple.

The act of writing “Zionism is Racism” in thick black marker across a divestment protest sheet, while unenlightened and euphemistic, at least has the veil of being politically motivated. Slicing through obituaries and littering them around campus, on the other hand, is callous, cowardly and entirely personal.

Just as disturbing, it is an attempt to quiet free speech at Yale. And even worse, it is beginning to work.

Student organizers of the YFI vigil said before they went home Tuesday, they removed an Israeli flag from the memorial, presciently afraid someone would deface it later that night. Other activist groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, say they have the same fear of vandalism.

Removing the posters for Barak’s speech is not an articulate objection to what he might say; it is an attempt to prevent members of the community from hearing him say it. Writing over petitions is not a provocative means of encouraging Yale to give up its shares in companies that support Israel; it is an attempt to squelch the discussion. And destroying a memorial to 14 Israelis is not an effective protest; it is an attempt to prevent people from considering the dead.

University administrators around the country, meanwhile, have in recent weeks decried publicly a rise in anti-Semitism on college campuses. Harvard President Lawrence Summers pointed to the divestment debate, in particular, as being anti-Semitic in effect if not necessarily in intent. The News hopes to enter that debate in this space someday soon. But we won’t be able to if we can’t read the signs.

It will be a sad day here when students stop posting petitions, hanging flags or holding vigils because they are afraid someone — maybe even one of their peers — will color over them, tear them up and scatter them in the wind.

Now more than ever, members of the Yale community must continue to talk, undaunted. Silence, in the weeks to come, will do no one any good.

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