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Free speech and harassment

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The current controversy over whether the presidents of various universities are sufficiently anti-genocide drips with the worst sort of right wing manipulation and bad faith:

Alumni, students and donors of the University of Pennsylvania called on Wednesday for Elizabeth Magill to resign as president of the school, a day after she testified at a contentious congressional hearing about campus antisemitism and evaded questions about whether students calling for the genocide of Jews violated Penn’s code of conduct.

The people raising questions about her leadership included Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, who said he found her statements “unacceptable.”

“It should not be hard to condemn genocide, genocide against Jews, genocide against anyone else,” Governor Shapiro said Wednesday in a meeting with reporters. “I’ve said many times, leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with moral clarity, and Liz Magill failed to meet that simple test.”

“There should be no nuance to that — she needed to give a one-word answer,” he added.

Asked how the university should respond, the governor said, “I think right now the board and Penn has a serious decision they need to make,” and urged the university’s board of trustees to meet soon. No regular public meeting of the board is scheduled until February.

You’ll be shocked to learn that the real story is quite a bit more complicated:

During the congressional hearing, Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, said there had been marches where students had chanted support for intifada, an Arabic word that means uprising and that many Jews hear as a call for violence against them.

Ms. Stefanik asked Ms. Magill, “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s rules or code of conduct, yes or no?”

Note how chanting support for intifada becomes “calling for the genocide of Jews.”

Magill didn’t want to play this game, since the whole question of when political speech becomes sufficiently threatening and specific towards specific individuals or groups so as to constitute legally — and by extension administratively, in the context of university codes of conduct that protect legal political speech — actionable harassment is, not surprisingly, a massive gray area, as both a matter of formal legal rules and their practical application.

But of course Stefanik wants to curry favor with America’s favorite fascist, and isn’t interested in any of that.

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