Earlier this week, a group known as the “University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) attempted to use a heckler’s veto to prevent journalist Bari Weiss from speaking as part of the institution’s Program for Public Discourse.
What really rankled with the SJP was not the event itself – inoffensively titled “A discussion of objectivity in journalism” – but the presence on the panel of Weiss, a former opinion writer and editor at the New York Times, one of the authors behind the ‘Twitter Files’, and now the founding editor of The Free Press.
Her ‘crime’ in the SJP’s eyes is that she dares to expose the woke left’s longstanding blind spot: antisemitism.
In 2020, for instance, she tweeted about the New York Times’s inability to mention the extensive antisemitic history of Louis Farrakhan in an op-ed about The Million Man March. Part of the reason for this, she wrote, was that it had developed “a worldview in which Jew hate does not count”.
More recently, she lamented the new antisemitism of the Left, “which has cloaked itself in the language of progress” and “has wound its way into so many of the institutions that are essential for a healthy American culture”.
Speaking at The Federalist Society’s annual conference in honour of influential lawyer and free speech advocate Barbara K. Olson late last year, Weiss remarked that the antisemitism unleashed across the West in the wake of Hamas’s October 7th terrorist attack on Israel had terrified her, and condemned the “social justice crowd” that had attempted to justify the terrorist group’s actions.
Perhaps Weiss had in mind groups like, er, SJP. In the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s attack it held a “Day or Resistance Protest for Palestine” on UNC’s campus, featuring a Hamas paraglider on the event flyer, and a protester bellowing “All of us Hamas”. “Recommended attire: masks and plain clothes, face coverings,” it advised its members.
Either way, in the world according to SJP’s masked-up members, Weiss’s attempts to uphold the basic principles of a pluralist society can summarily be dismissed as “right-wing”.
“Bari Weiss and her lies are NOT welcomed on campus! Fill out the participation form to let us know you will not be attending,” the group announced on X. The attached flyer described her as “a right-wing US political commentator who has spent her career egregiously attempting to conflate anti-Zionism and antisemitism”, and who “frequently reviles intersectionality, solidarity politics, anti-Zionism, pro-Palestinian voices, and any functional critique of Israel.”
Instead of turning up to the event to make these points, and to hear what Weiss might have to say in response, the students attempted to disrupt the event.
Around 25 minutes into the talk, protestors stood up and displayed Palestinian flags while yelling towards the stage. Between the hands of two protestors was a poster of an X post by Palestinian writer Refaat Alareer that says: “If I get killed by Israeli bombs or my family is harmed, I blame Bari Weiss and her likes.”
A UNC administrator then gave his UK counterparts a lesson in what “having regard” for campus free speech looks like, quickly taking to the podium to remind the disruptors that: “The Campus Free Speech Act passed by the General Assembly in July 2017 requires the university to protect the rights of speakers to be heard and attendees to hear and see the event. You are not allowed to disrupt this event. You will need to leave. You will need to leave now.”
When the student activists continued with their protest, UNC police ejected them from the venue.
That might sound harsh, but as the UNC branch of Alumni Free Speech Alliance pointed out on X, “while the First Amendment protects peaceful protests, heckling a speaker to prevent people from listening violated their constitutional rights and is unprotected”.
“It was hard for me to understand what exactly those students were supporting and if they were here, we could talk,” Weiss said after the protesters were ushered out of the auditorium. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with supporting innocent Palestinians,” she added.
“I consider myself pro-Palestinian in the sense that I want people that live in Gaza and the West Bank to live freely and enjoy the rights that I, as a gay and Jewish woman, get to enjoy in this country. I think the world would be far better off if that were the case.”