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Free Speech to Hate Speech; How College Students have Exploited their Rights

By Jillian Shweky, Centerspread Editor

Freedom of Speech has been a fundamental right for Americans since this country was founded. I mean… it's in the first of all the amendments. Its effects have allowed for this country to adapt to the times, has protected and prevented harmful actions from happening, and has exposed corruption. But what happens when free speech turns into hate speech and violence? On college campuses across the country, students have broken out in protest against Israel, and have set up encampments in support of Gaza, and to convince their schools to divest from Israel. The question is, is what these students are doing respectable, or an exploitation of these institutions and freedom of speech? 

These students tend to fall back on the defense that what they are doing is free speech, however many fail to recognize that there are categories of speech that do not protect them. Those include: incitement, defamation, fighting words, and threats. Though many of their actions may be legal, stating “There is only one solution, intifada revolution,” or holding a poster that says “Al Quasam’s (Hamas’ fighting unit) next targets” when standing next to Jews protesting for Israel, falls under a plethora of illegal speech categories. 

A key reason these terrifying protests are occuring is due to a lack of education. As shocking as it is, students from even the top universities are victims of skimming social media for their information, and mob mentality of protesting a cause they lack knowledge about. At some schools Hezbollah flags have even been waved proudly, despite not being informed about that terrorist organization’s agenda. The protest of Queers for Palestine is quite the oxymoron as in Gaza being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is not permitted. Ahmad Abu Marhia a 25 year old Palestinian was beheaded for being gay and there are almost 100 gay Palestinians seeking asylum in Israel according to the Times of Israel. With this lack of understanding by protesters across the country, misinformation is spreading like wildfire. 

As tension has escalated, so has violence. As students refuse to leave their encampments, they have been arrested. Some say that they are just exercising their rights to protest, but others say this situation has gone on too long and if students refuse to abide by university rules they shall be punished. 

This conflict in the Middle East is so complex and easily manipulated that there is so much gray area around the facts. Protesting for aid to the Palestinian civilians who are currently suffering is more than respectable, but a line has been crossed. A line that went from protesting the Israeli government’s actions to blatant antisemitism and lies. As is evident based on the diverse policies across the world, freedom of speech is not always a right, but a privilege, and it is time for people and our youth to start treating it that way. 


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