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Elise Stefanik Calculated Demagoguery Antisemitism Free Speech

Congresswoman Stefanik exploited Jewish pain for political gain, trying to blur the lines between offensive speech and harassment.

During a hearing with university presidents, a congresswoman seized on Jewish pain to advance her political agenda and attempted to blur the lines between offensive speech and harassment. This event reflects a growing trend of people losing their moral compasses when it comes to antisemitism on college campuses. The president of the University of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Magill, may face the consequences of this trap set by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) at a congressional hearing.

Stefanik's questioning of Magill was designed to elicit a "yes" or "no" answer to whether calling for the genocide of Jews violates Penn's code of conduct. Magill, however, responded with thoughtful nuance, acknowledging that the context of the speech matters. Stefanik's insistence on a clear-cut answer ignores the complexities of hate speech and harassment.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that the Penn policy addresses bullying, harassment, and intimidation, not speech itself. Therefore, determining whether a speech act violates the policy depends on its context. For example, a torch-bearing mob chanting antisemitic slogans on a university campus constitutes harassment and intimidation. In contrast, a political statement made in a classroom or lecture may not qualify as an act of bullying or intimidation. Context is crucial in these cases.

Stefanik's exploitation of this nuanced issue is indicative of a demagogue's approach. Her attempt to rally donors and alumni against Magill's position reflects a disturbing trend of cancel culture on the political right. While Stefanik has decried cancel culture when it affects her, she is now practicing it herself by calling for Magill's ouster.

This entire spectacle is particularly egregious as it exploits the trauma and pain experienced by the Jewish community. It also disregards the trauma and pain of Palestinians. The rise in antisemitism in America and Europe is deeply troubling, and pandering to these fears by exploiting the trauma of the Jewish community is harmful.

Universities should be places where freedom of thought and expression are paramount. While accountability for harassment is essential, the spectacle of a demagogue urging a mob to punish an intellectual for distinguishing between political speech and bullying is deeply concerning. As a journalist, lawyer, and rabbi, I find this exploitation of trauma and pain for political gain to be chilling.

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