When Conservatives Support Cancel Culture

When Conservatives Support Cancel Culture

On Monday, the Stanford College Republicans (SCR) posted about my friend Emily, a former Stanford student, on their Facebook page. Emily is a Jewish American and strong critic of Israel, a position I do not share and have debated with her in the past. Emily has worked with student groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, spoken out and protested against Israeli settlements, and called for boycotts against so-called “Birthright” tours.

After learning about Emily’s recent employment as a journalist, SCR published her Twitter account, email address, and new employment information on Facebook. They then promoted claims that she is a Jihadist and a “hate-filled terrorist” on Twitter and promoted other outlets “reporting” the “story.” These actions are obscene.

I am not Jewish, but I consider myself a strong supporter of Israel. If it weren’t for the coronavirus, I would be studying in Jerusalem at this very moment.

I have always been skeptical of pro-Palestinian activism. For one, some of the rhetoric used blends in quite well with anti-Semitism, though not in all cases, and that’s a critical point! Calls for violence against Israelis or Jews (or both), like a CNN freelancer reporter’s recent suggestion that “the world today needs a Hitler,” are disgusting and unacceptable. But Emily is not a hateful or violent person.

If Emily, a Jewish-American who has been to Orthodox school, has been a part of Jewish tradition her entire life, and has spent an incredible amount of time studying the issues, isn’t allowed to criticize Israel, I have to wonder: is there anyone who can?

I’ve formulated my positions on Israel by thinking critically, studying history, and weighing my own personal values. And despite my fervent disagreements with activists, including Emily, with all of whom I am eager to debate, criticizing Israel on historical, political, and legal grounds is not sufficient basis for a witch hunt.

Like the anti-Zionists they often criticize, SCR exhibits an almost stunning level of historical ignorance about Israel. In one recent post, they wrote that “there is no legitimate Muslim claim to any part of Jerusalem whatsoever.Jerusalem has been a multifaith city for millennia, sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. This type of absolutist rhetoric, in addition to being wrong factually, is precisely the type of rhetoric that makes life in the Holy City difficult for people of all faiths.

SCR also used quotation marks to refer to Palestinians as “Palestinians,” which is a bizarre thing to do. Is it intended to erase the very idea of Palestinians? You’d have to ask them. Arguments about borders and states aside, Palestinians exist -- I promise, I know them -- and it’s sad to see conservatives write about them this way. It is still possible to speak with compassion about the Palestinians as a people, like President Reagan did, even when we side with Israel in the conflict.

Now, I know that SCR’s online postings are mostly directed to their Boomer Facebook Followers (BFFs), and don’t represent the type of critical thinking I know SCR members are capable of. But it remains disappointing that part of their “evidence” against Emily is that she once called Ben Shapiro “a little turd.” Are we conservatives really this fragile?

On their webpage, SCR states the vision of their organization on campus:

Our vision is to create a cultural environment at Stanford University where the leftist echo chamber of the University is abolished, and where students are free to debate and exchange ideas without the fear of coercion or reprisal, and where every student has the opportunity to hear conservative ideas.”

Free exchange of ideas without reprisal? I call BS. SCR’s words in their “vision statement” say one thing, but their actions when they encounter another student with strong disagreements say another.

Ultimately, I believe that the Israel critics will lose in the court of public opinion, and more critically, in elections. For decades, Americans of all stripes -- Jews and non-Jews -- have supported a strong relationship with Israel, and they continue to do so by wide margins. Even in the Democratic party, with more pro-Palestinian voices like US Reps. Tlaib and Omar on the rise, support for the Jewish State remains strong, and that’s a good thing.

Among American Jews, anti-Zionists are a minority. But in America, they have speech rights, too, and we do not use political disagreement as a pretext to ruin their reputation or their careers. This type of behavior is utterly unbecoming of anyone who claims to support liberty or American traditions of civic debate.  

The rise of cancel culture -- targeting people’s employment and livelihoods because of  political disagreement -- is something  conservatives should repudiate, not imitate. But based on SCR’s actions, one realizes that for some conservatives, it’s not so much that they’re upset about cancel culture; they’re just upset that they aren’t the ones doing the cancelling.

In the end, Emily’s activism and writing -- with which I disagree almost entirely -- is far more interesting and coherent than any of the attacks SCR has unleashed against her. She has also displayed considerable personal courage for continuing to speak her mind after being subjected to repeated online attacks and even being put on a blacklist. For its part, SCR remains huddled namelessly behind the opaque wall of a Facebook page.

It’s not often that the Review criticizes other conservatives at Stanford, and in some ways, SCR and the Review have similar goals. But on this I must draw a line and say no. At the beginning of Volume LXIV, I wrote that the Review, as a conservative publication, would “defend the rights of everyone -- even the most unpopular, [and our] own opponents -- to participate” in campus debate.

I believe in that idea as much today as when I wrote it, so I’m compelled to speak out against SCR’s actions this week. They should cease their cancel campaign against Emily immediately and reflect on how they can actually promote a healthy intellectual culture.

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