The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


Two Posts Relevant to Current Campus Conflicts Over Israel and Hamas

My October 2023 posts on the roots of far-left support for Hamas and the reasons why some "cancellations" are justified remain sadly relevant.


Anti-Israel protest encampment at Columbia University. (AP)


Recent conflicts over anti-Israel protests at college campuses highlight the ongoing relevance of issues I addressed in two posts written back in October, in the immediate aftermath of the horrific October 7 Hamas terrorist attack:

"Some Cancellations are Justified," Oct. 15, 2023

"Far-Left Support for Hamas is not an Aberration" Oct. 30, 2023

The first explained why some "cancellations" of people with abhorrent views are justified, depending on the nature of the views, the type of job they are barred from, and whether stigmatization is likely to be an effective tactic in dealing with these ideologies.. I had in mind people who supported the Hamas terrorist attack and others with comparably awful views. which surely includes those current protest organizers who promote anti-Semitism and terrorism. But my reasoning also applies—perhaps with greater force—to people who go beyond expressing awful views by engaging in violence, disruption, and harassment, as some (though by no means all or even most) anti-Israel protestors have since October 7.

The post on the far left and Hamas explains why far-left support for Hamas terrorism is not an aberration, but rather is part of a long history of support for repression and mass murder by the likes of Lenin, Mao, and Castro. Many of these atrocities were on a far larger scale than anything Hamas has so far been able to pull off.

Obviously, not all anti-Israel protestors are far leftists. Some are radical Islamists or Arab nationalists.  Others just think Israel is using excessive force, or the like. Many more may be just hangers-on without much in the way of clear ideological commitments—"more Woodstock than Weathermen," as my co-blogger David Bernstein puts it. Nonetheless, far-leftists (as I defined them in my post), are prominent among the leaders of disruptive protests that feature support for terrorism and anti-Semitism. Their influence on college campuses is far greater than in most other parts of society. We should not be surprised that adherents of an ideology that justifies terrorism, Gulags, and mass murder would not blanch at the kind of (fortunately) much lesser forms of violence and disruption that we see at some campus protests.

I should emphasize that both posts include a variety of caveats and distinctions. For example, it is not my claim that people with awful views should  be "cancelled" from employment of every kind. Much depends on the nature of the job in question. I also don't claim that all left-wingers or anyone to the left of me qualifies as "far left" in the sense used in my post on that topic. In addition, there is a crucial distinction between private refusal to hire or otherwise associate with people, and government suppression of speech. Sadly, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's response to some of the campus protests in his state falls into the latter category, and thereby violates the First Amendment.

I will also take this opportunity to reiterate a point made in the post about the far-left, to the effect that various right-wing political movements also have awful histories of justifying atrocities, and of anti-Semitism. Having recently coauthored "The Case Against Nationalism," and argued for the prosecution and disqualification of Donald Trump, I cannot easily be accused of being soft on reprehensible right-wing movements.

The posts include other qualifications and nuances, as well. This is is a set of issues where it is more than usually necessary to "read the whole thing," and not just rely on headlines and social media rants.

But, caveats aside, the issues raised in both posts remain relevant. And that relevance is likely to continue, even after the current wave of unrest subsides. It probably won't be the last time far-left awfulness manifests itself, or the last time we have to consider when and if cancellation is justified.