Should Students Be Allowed to Yell  “Kill the Jews” ?

by Rafael Medoff

Should college students have a right to shout “Kill the Jews” on campus? The director of a prominent Center for the Study of Hate thinks so.

Kenneth Stern, director of Bard College’s hate studies center, explained his controversial position during a January 31 webinar sponsored by the University of London’s Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism.

If a student merely expresses something, like ‘I think all Jews should be killed,’ it should be condemned, but to say ‘you can’t say it,’ is a problem on many levels,” Stern asserted. In his view, universities should have rules only “about harassment, intimidation, and bullying, not political statements about Israel.” He also argued that “There’s a difference between saying it with a bunch of folks with baseball bats next to you, or just expressing it.”

There are three serious problems with Stern’s position.

The first is that he implicitly puts slogans about killing Jews or “Zionists” in the category of “political statements about Israel.” But in the real world, chanting in support “more Intifadas” means calling for more suicide bombings, shootings, and stabbings of Jews. Chanting in support of “liberating all of Palestine” means urging the destruction of the State of Israel and the mass murder of Israeli Jews.  October 7 has demonstrated that beyond any doubt. Such rhetoric is not “political.” It’s anti-Jewish hate.

The second problem is that Stern seems to think a hater needs to be flanked by comrades who are armed with deadly weapons in order for his hateful expressions to constitute a threat. That underestimates the danger posed by lone wolf haters.

The third problem with Stern’s formulation is that he is speaking in the abstract, instead of recognizing the reality at many universities today. He depicts those who are mouthing anti-Jewish hatred on campuses as isolated individuals, when in fact they often are part of mobs that are marching, threatening, and besieging Jewish students.

From a legal standpoint, Stern portrays this as a free speech issue, but it’s not. Every university has a code of conduct to which students must adhere. All such codes require students to refrain from taking actions that make other students feel threatened. Thus a university administration does not even have to regard “Kill the Jews” (or “More Intifadas!” Or “From the River to the Sea!”) as antisemitic in order to penalize students for yelling it—it’s sufficient that the slogan makes Jewish students feel threatened.

The broader problem with Stern’s perspective on “Kill the Jews” rhetoric is that he does not believe Jewish college students in America today are facing any serious or imminent danger.

He said in the webinar that incidents of Jewish college students being physically assaulted are “not ubiquitous, although one is too many.” They may or may not be ubiquitous, depending on how many attacks it takes to qualify for that designation. But Stern’s choice of words, and his overall tone, created the impression that the number of such incidents is not significant. In reality, there have been many reported attacks, and undoubtedly others that have not been reported.

Pro-Hamas students at Ohio State University spat upon Jewish students  (Oct.18), threw pennies at Jewish students (Oct.20), assaulted two Jewish students while calling them “kike Zionists” (Nov. 10), and hurled bottles at a Jewish fraternity house while shouting antisemitic slogans (Dec. 3). Hamas supporters surrounded and pushed a Jewish student outside the Harvard Business School (Oct. 18) and beat up three Jewish students near the Tulane University campus (Oct. 26). They wrecked a hostages information table at the City College of New York, seizing its pamphlets and destroying its posters (Nov.2). 

At the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on November 3, a Jewish student was setting up a symbolic Shabbat table at a vigil to call attention to the Israeli hostages. A pro-Hamas student in a nearby building began shouting vulgarities at him. “Then he charged out of the building and punched me in the head several times,” the Jewish student recounted.“I put my hands up to protect my face and he grabbed the flag and kicked me in the chest several times and shoved me.” The attacker then took out a foot-long knife, and “kept stabbing the Israeli flag until it was completely destroyed.” 

In Manhattan, pro-Hamas students physically trapped Jewish students in a room at the Cooper Union library, and surrounded and taunted a Jewish student at the New School. They blocked a library entrance at the City College of New York  and shoved a cell phone into the face of a Jewish student passing by, to record her against her protests. At Rutgers, Hamas supporters disrupted classes, study sessions, and meals, and at the University of California at Berkeley, they grabbed a Jewish student by the neck and tried to steal his Israeli flag. At a George Mason University fraternity house, they assaulted a Jewish student, ripping his Star of David necklace from his neck.

The list goes on and on—and all of these incidents go far beyond “expressions.” They are physical manifestations of the “Kill the Jews” sentiment that Stern believes all colleges universities should permit.

Numerous universities are now under investigation by the Biden administration because of the spread of antisemitism on their campuses. Regardless of their findings, it is clear that yelling “Kill the Jews,” or slogans which in practice mean the same thing, such as “More Intifadas!” and “From the River to the Sea!,” violate campus codes of conduct. The real-world impact of hate speech matters.

(February 2024)