First They Came for the Activists...

First They Came for the Activists...

Late last month, Hamzeh Daoud did a stupid thing. After the Knesset passed a law declaring Israel to be the historic homeland of the Jewish people, Hamzeh was furious. He announced, via Facebook post, that he was going to “physically fight” Zionist students in the coming year. 4 hours later he edited the post (he would instead “intellectually fight” them), but the damage was done.

Stanford’s College Republicans quickly conjured up a campaign to remove Hamzeh from his RA position. Just as quickly, a counter-campaign materialized; a Google document circulated, with an email template urging the university to protect Hamzeh from an “alt-right” (lol) effort to remove him from the university.

The former effort won; Hamzeh resigned from his RA position.

I am not a member of the Stanford College Republicans, nor do I really know Hamzeh. I am not Israeli, Jewish, Zionist, Palestinian, or Muslim. I write this brief piece fully aware that I am wading into a debate composed of many voices, each more passionate and informed than my own.

But to me what has happened here is quite simple. A student made a poorly thought out comment. And the mob came for him.

To say that Hamzeh’s comments were a legitimate threat of violence requires a profound lack of familiarity with the discourse at Stanford University. I have met nobody at this school capable of political violence. Activists on both sides of the aisle talk a big game, but we have never seen something like the Berkeley v Milo protests, never seen something like the violence at Middlebury. And I feel quite sure that, at least in the near future, we will not.

To be clear, this is not at all a bad thing. As the editor of a college publication that likes to push boundaries, I for one am grateful for our state of relative tranquility. I’d think twice about writing this piece if I believed that the frothing hordes who invariably comment on Review articles were capable of physically hurting me.

Just go back and read Hamzeh’s original post, with its threat to “abolish your ass” if you claim that Israel is a democracy. Did this actually intimidate anyone? Did the throats of the Zionists reading that post tighten with fear as they contemplated what Hamzeh “abolishing” them might entail?

I think not. Hamzeh’s words were technically a threat of violence. But I don’t believe for a second that anybody felt a modicum of fear reading them.

No, this was about taking an opportunity to score a point for your team. About taking action against one of Stanford’s most prominent activists at any cost. And look, had the tables been turned and it was an SCR member who’d said something inadvisable, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Hamzeh himself on the other side of the fence, howling for a resignation. But that does not make what happened to him right.

I would rather live in a world in which I can say the controversial things in my head. Yes, one should be careful about what one says. Yes, there are limits to freedom of speech. Yes, sincerely threatening violence is unacceptable.

But Hamzeh apologized, and for a self-evidently absurd threat at that. That should’ve been the end of it. The culture of pouncing upon someone for a poorly thought out comment and removing her from her place of work, or attempting to expel her from her school, is pathetic. That is the only word for it. Conservatives have good reason to disdain this culture; they are, more often than not, its victims.

A lawyer named Jerome Marcus, representing an anonymous Jewish student who took umbrage to Hamzeh’s comments, wrote: “If Stanford were to retain a person of Daoud’s temperament in that position after being made aware of his statements, Stanford will have clearly discriminated against Zionist students on campus, in violation of federal law and its own formal policies.”

Mr. Marcus knows worlds more about the law than I do. But if this is in fact the law, then somewhere along the way, we erred gravely. And when I read the op-eds defending Hamzeh in one breath, and in the next calling for the same kind of university sanction against their ideological opponents, I worry that we may never make our way back.

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