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Yale 62

Israel, Palestine and Free Speech at Yale

By Lee Bolman

If you were head (the title previously known as master) of Grace Hopper (the College previously known as Calhoun), how would you have responded recently when you learned that a firestorm was brewing after a message, “Death to Palestine,” had appeared on a whiteboard outside a suite in the college?  Later the same evening, the message had been enhanced with phrases in Hebrew that translate to “death to Palestine,” “children of whores” and “they are pussies.”   [Messages declare ‘Death to Palestine’ on Hopper whiteboard  – Yale Daily News]

As head, you would be well aware that intense polarization between supporters of Israel and Palestine has engulfed campuses across America, and Yale has not entirely escaped those tensions.  How seriously should you take a message on a wall outside someone’s dorm room?  Should you try to sanction the author(s) of the message?  What, if anything, should you say to the Hopper college community?

Hopper’s current head, Marshall Professor of Sociology Julia Adams, defended academic freedom in an email.  She did not mention the white board incident, but wrote that “the conflicts besetting our world inevitably give rise to tensions at Yale, including in Hopper.”  She added that, “I ask that at minimum we all adhere to accepted standards of mutual tolerance, giving due consideration to others with whom we live but who may not have shared views on the conflicts surrounding and embroiling us.”

A Hopper student wrote to the Yale Daily News expressing frustration with Yale’s response: “While I understand and appreciate Yale’s commitment to ‘academic freedom and the expression of views,’ I think college administration failed to draw a boundary here.  Students have received abusive and vile language from their own peers, without any firm action or support from the college they call home. How are they supposed to feel safe?”   Meanwhile, the student who posted the original message apologized for writing it, saying that it was “never intended to be a threat to any member of the Yale community or an attack on the Palestinian or Muslim people.”   The student added, “My passions were inflamed, given personal impact on my family from terrorism.”  Neither student has been publicly identified for fear of doxxing* or threats of violence.

Did Professor Adams find the right balance, or should she have been more explicit in condemning the “death” message? Questions like these currently haunt academic administrators, and may even impinge on Yale’s presidential search.  Among the questions members of the search committee need to ask is, “How and when should Yale’s next president speak out on deeply conflictful public issues?”


* The term ‘doxxing’ (also spelled ‘doxing’) is derived from the term ‘dropping dox,’ or ‘documents.’ Doxing is a form of cyberbullying that uses sensitive or secret information, statements, or records for the harassment, exposure, financial harm, or other exploitation of targeted individuals.

We welcome your comments below.

6 comments to Israel, Palestine and Free Speech at Yale

  • Philip Stewart

    I would like to register a concern over the near-hysteria created by the press in this country over current antiwar protests, particularly on campuses, resulting from its apparent inability to distinguish between opposition to the ongoing war in Gaza and antisemitism.
    The American press, which loves to preach to universities (none more so than the New York Times), launched into a frenzy of its own, merely because three university presidents proved inept in their testimony before congress. An excellent article on this story by Randall Kennedy of Harvard has appeared in the London Review of Books, 46:2, 25 Jan 2024, pp. 15-17.
    I see no serious evidence of anything like a huge resurgence of antisemitism on American campuses. The antiwar protest, on the other hand, is not so unlike that of the 1960s (which the press of that era also took forever to understand), and can be seen in other ways, particularly as the result of concentrated right-wing propaganda, like the idiotic campaign against wokism, which many of us had never heard of until a Floridian fascist decided to build his political ambitions on it.
    The real story, which the media apparently have totally missed, is the slow attrition over time of enthusiasm about Israel, a direct result of long-time policies I should not need to rehearse here. And if there is substantial disaffection, especially among the younger generations in this country, their elders and the Israelis would do well finally to take note of it.

  • Ken Merkey

    Idiotic wokism? Is a woke military any stronger? Is it OK to have teenage boys sharing locker rooms with teenage girls? Are we better off because our undereducated, overpaid athletes take a knee during the national anthem? BLM will go down in history as one of the greatest scams to be ever foisted upon the American public. The perps are living large in their mansions in Canada. Have here been any fewer carjackings, lootings, or murders within the black community?
    Meanwhile, the revolving doors of justice are putting perps back on the streets while prosecutors seek revenge on Florida fascists (?) who allegedly committed victimless crimes.
    And back at boob central they are all crowing about gun control. How about those billions in guns and other armaments left behind in Afghanistan? Many are now being used against the Israelis and many more are stored in terror cells across the USA that were brought though our open borders.

  • Bill Weber


    You have hit the nail on the head in delineating the inability of the press and, consequently the public, the difference between the actions of the Israeli govt and antisemitism.

    To take this further one must question the wisdom of the US govt to offer unwaivering support for the Israelis after the NHKBA of 1948 and the occupation of the West Bank with the apparent displacement of the native Palestinians.

    The current war has now become an issue in the American political scene between now and Nov, 2024.

    How and where will this humanitarian crisis in Gaza/Israel end?

    Bill Weber

  • Bill Weber


    As usual, you are holding back. Tell us how you really feel.


  • James A Lewis

    I intended to read the admissions article, but came across this thread. I tend to comment on things, so here we go:
    1. Students and others may say things like “death to whatever.” It’s allowed. But there are limiting rules about time, place and manner (don’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater), and whether the statement rises into a personalized threat. Interestingly, the author of “death to whatever” subsequently reflected more thoughtfully on his words–that’s a good sign. We’re not required to be thoughtful, but it sure helps each of us who aspires to be a decent member of a community.
    2. Now my sympathies: (a) the Israelis, with their terrible leadership, now traumatized further by the October 7 attack, and (b) the Gazans, with their terrible leadership, traumatized further by the daily damage and destruction. Can people, including those who supply weapons, do better?
    3. We all have thoughts and feelings about our present world. It’s a sign that we still pay attention. Let’s be thoughtful.