The exalted halls of academia and the grit of the football gridiron have never been more distant from one another than in recent weeks. The presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT, who testified before Congress, demonstrated a startling disconnect from everyday Americans, while a previously unknown Italian-American, the New York Giants’ third-string quarterback, who’s from a blue-collar family with working-class New Jersey neighborhood values, has engendered massive support not just from football fans, but from Americans who want to feel good about themselves and their country.
The university presidents’ inability to answer the basic question of whether promoting antisemitism or advocating genocide against Jews would violate university regulations against harassment was indefensible. And it wasn’t just their contorted First Amendment rationale that was so offensive to many Americans — it was their cavalier, entirely unemotional, almost robotic attitudes and delivery.
I disagreed with their legal position. I do not believe that the First Amendment prevents a university from setting standards of conduct and enforcing them. The amendment protects individuals from governmental action taken against them for expression of views, no matter how offensive or vile, not universities setting rules of conduct.
I can understand honest disagreement with my position. What I could not understand was the indifference these educators displayed. It were almost as if they were discussing an abstract hypothetical issue in a faculty lounge. There was no mention of the atrocities carried out by Hamas against innocent Israeli men, women and children on Oct. 7. The murders, rapes and mutilations. Average Americans, whether or not they are Jewish, were horrified by this barbarity. Nor was there any mention of the Holocaust. Or of mankind’s commitment to “Never again.”
It was almost as if combating antisemitism was no longer a fashionable academic cause. This would be in contrast to what these academics would have said and done if racist statements had been made or Ku Klux Klan pamphlets distributed on their campuses in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police.
Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Comments? pking@ liherald.com.