There is no place for violence in the First Amendment, but… • Iowa Capital Dispatch

The events of the last six months in Israel and Gaza make me wish it were possible to have just one more lunch with a friend who died four years ago.

My friend was Jewish. In today’s vocabulary, we would describe him as an ardent Zionist. He had little patience with people who denigrated Israel.

But he was also a supporter of dialogue and diplomacy. He never hesitated to call me for lunch after the Des Moines Register’s opinion pages published something he didn’t like. Our lunchtime conversations and debates were models of civility, even though our discussions often challenged each of us to defend and reconsider our views.

That’s why I wish we could have one more lunch to talk about the massacre of 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals by Hamas terrorists on October 7. I look forward to discussing Israel’s ongoing military campaign in Gaza, home to the terrorists responsible for the October attacks. bloody attacks.

The Israeli army killed approximately 34,700 Palestinians and injured 78,000 others, many of them women and children whose only crimes were living in an area they could not leave, where Hamas, not ordinary Palestinians, commanded.

And I wish we could discuss the protests that have rocked American college campuses in response to the war between Israel and Hamas. The protesters are divided. Some believe that Israel is guilty of genocide for its attacks on innocent Palestinians. Others are angered by the rape, torture and murder of innocent Jews by Hamas terrorists.

However, too many Americans are unable to see the shades of gray that surround events like these. Too many of us tend to view issues as either entirely black or entirely white. Our political leaders do us no favors when they take the same absolutist approach to polarizing events and issues and neglect the vast common ground where solutions could be negotiated.

This either/or approach fails to recognize that people can both support Israel’s right to retaliate against Hamas and can also oppose the horrific devastation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unleashed on Innocent Palestinians who have no way out of Gaza.

This either/or approach also fails to recognize that protesters on American college campuses may be against both the killings in Gaza and the massacre of innocent Israelis last October. Opposing the killing of thousands of Palestinians does not make someone “pro-Hamas,” as some politicians would have us believe.

Free speech rights are fundamental

At a time when public opinion is so deeply divided in the United States, we should recognize what our First Amendment rights are.

The University of Chicago, a private school, has taken a commendable approach to free speech and student activism over the years. Since 2016, the university has sent new first-year students a “welcome” letter that goes beyond orientation and registration.

The first such letter, in 2016, said: “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel guest speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not tolerate the creation of an intellectual mind. “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives that conflict with their own.

The letter continues: “Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital for all of us, and freedom of speech does not mean freedom to harass or threaten others. …Members of our community should have the freedom to embrace and explore a wide range of ideas.

The American Civil Liberties Union recently wrote to college presidents: “…It can be extremely difficult to cope with the pressures you face from politicians, donors, faculty, and students. You also have legal obligations to combat discrimination and a responsibility to maintain order. But as you shape responses to the activism of your students (and your faculty and staff), it is essential that you not sacrifice the principles of academic freedom and free speech that are at the heart of the educational mission of your respected institution.

These “guardrails” are important

The ACLU has proposed five “guardrails” to ensure free speech and academic freedom, while protecting against discriminatory harassment and disruptive behavior:

— Schools should not favor particular views for censorship, discipline or disproportionate punishment. Neutrality of point of view is essential. Harassment directed at individuals based on their race, ethnicity or religion is not allowed, although many people find these messages deeply offensive.

— Although offensive, even racist, speech is protected by the Constitution, shouting an epithet at a particular student or pinning an offensive sign on that person’s dorm door may constitute impermissible harassment and not free speech. Physically intimidating students by blocking their movements or aggressively pursuing them does not constitute protected conduct or speech. But speech that simply expresses passionate opinions about Israel or Palestine does not constitute discrimination and should be protected.

— Schools may announce and impose reasonable restrictions on the time, location, and manner of events to ensure the continuation of essential college functions. But these restrictions must be content neutral, that is, they do not depend on the substance of what is communicated, but rather on where, when and how it is communicated.

— Schools must recognize that armed police on campus can put students in danger and are a measure of last resort. The arrest of peaceful protesters is likely to intensify, not ease, tensions on campus.

— Schools must resist pressure from politicians who seek to exploit campus tensions to advance partisan agendas. “We urge you to resist the temptation to silence students or faculty members because powerful voices deem their views offensive. » The ACLU wrote. “Instead, we urge you to uphold the university’s core mission of encouraging debate, fostering dissent, and preparing the future leaders of our pluralistic society to tolerate even profound differences of opinion.

University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos recently wrote about tent camps on campus: “The general principle we will adhere to is to give the greatest possible latitude to free expression, even views that some find deeply offensive. We will only intervene when what could have been an exercise in free expression blocks the learning or expression of others or significantly disrupts the operation or security of the university.

We all need to take a calm approach during difficult times.