A dust-up at Princeton University is revealing precisely what it takes to turn campus censors and paragons of "antiracism" into champions of free speech.
The root of the controversy is the English department's decision to host, for its Edward Said Memorial Lecture, the anti-Semite Mohammed El-Kurd. No, there is no reason you would know him. As "Palestine correspondent" for The Nation, he has distinguished himself chiefly for his slanders of the Jewish people and the Jewish state, including the claim that Israelis "harvest organs" of martyred Palestinians to "feed their warriors."
On stage at Princeton—after university professor Zahid Chaudhary heralded him as a "truth teller," according to audio of the remarks reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon—El-Kurd told the crowd that Palestinians have no choice but to resort to violence against Israelis. "What else would you do if there is an occupying power in your backyard beating the shit out of your family? Of course you're gonna throw stones," he said to raucous applause. "I can just see that as a headline: 'Of course you're gonna throw stones.'"
El-Kurd is allowed to be a bigot and a moron, and Princeton to celebrate and honor his work.
But his presence on campus, and his reception by some of the school's professors and administrators, are hard to square with their devotion to "antiracism." In a statement signed by acting department chairman Jeff Dolven, the English department has pledged "to investigate racist beliefs and practices with rigor and compassion." Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber sounded a similar note when he told Princetonians, in the wake of George Floyd's murder in 2020, "We all have a responsibility to stand up against racism, wherever and whenever we encounter it."
Pressed on the decision to welcome El-Kurd, Dolven now takes a more catholic approach: The English department has "always granted great autonomy to faculty in making invitations," he said, adding, "This openness also means that the department as a whole does not issue statements. It is an important principle for us that neither I nor anyone else among us attempts to speak for a diverse collective."
Well, riddle us that.
In an email exchange with Princeton senior Adam Hoffman, Dolven would not condemn violence against Israelis and declined to share his views on the terror group Hamas. He referred our request for his comment on this catalog of El-Kurd's anti-Semitic slanders to a Princeton spokesman, who declined to comment on his behalf. Eisgruber, too, declined to comment.
The powers that be at Princeton may be choosing to keep their mouths shut, but their message is clear. Some forms of racism are to be confronted and denounced. Others are to be met with silence and mealy-mouthed commitments to free expression. And your anti-Semitism, however vile, egregious, and strident, won't just be invited on campus—in many corners, it will be celebrated.