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Dissent: In Defense of Free Speech and In Opposition to BDS

By Jacob M. Miller, Crimson Opinion Writer
Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

After the Wellesley News Editorial Board declared their support for the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement, Wellesley College President and Harvard alumna Paula A. Johnson ’80 rejected that editorial’s apparent support for the Mapping Project — a website that documents the locations of hundreds of Massachusetts organizations it wants to “dismantle” for allegedly supporting Israel. The incident triggered memories of when The Crimson Editorial Board’s prior decision to endorse the BDS movement sparked widespread outrage.

Six months later, reflecting on our own experience, this Board has come to the conclusion that President Johnson’s criticism of the Wellesley News’s BDS editorial fell short of prioritizing student safety, worrying that her statement somehow undermined the freedom of the press.

To be fair, some individuals on this Board became victims of a vicious doxxing campaign and received death threats from trolls online after our BDS editorial was published, so their concern about a free press is understandable. While doxxing and intimidation are inexcusable, President Johnson should not be held responsible for the actions of Internet trolls, and it is unfair to demand that she suppress her speech in anticipation of online extremists beyond her control.

The Board is wrong that administrators should curtail their own speech for the sake of editorial independence: Freedom of the press does not mean freedom from criticism. University presidents should be allowed to express their disagreement with student newspapers’ editorial stances, as long as they don’t actively censor what student newspapers write. President Johnson’s email, which, based on the publicized portions of the statement, does not threaten action against the paper or its writers, is mere criticism, not censorship. Robust dialogue — both in the press and in speech — is what allows our society to weigh different ideas and consider the nuances of complicated problems, so we should welcome President Johnson’s statement instead of denouncing it.

If our Board is willing to question a university president for merely disagreeing with students in an unthreatening manner, I am deeply concerned about the lack of debate on campus.

Our Board clarifies that they are not arguing for university presidents to always keep quiet on anything published by their students’ newspapers. Yet they then insist that when administrators do make such comments, they must include a statement reaffirming freedom of the press. This argument misses the point: By seriously engaging with our perspectives and presenting counter arguments, civil disagreements inherently imply a respect for freedom of the press. Are we so thin-skinned as to require a redundant clarification about press freedom before university administrators share their views?

Our Board writes that they support the Wellesley News’ right to make mistakes. While mistakes are inevitable, we should welcome their correction, rather than split hairs over how calls for those corrections are phrased. When we or the Wellesley News opine on a complicated conflict thousands of miles away — with important complexities and ramifications that we are duty-bound to reflect in our writing — we must allow ourselves to be held accountable and accept the blowback from those with whom we disagree.

Either we stand by our BDS editorial and welcome the criticism we receive. Or we retract it and admit that we made an error.

Which brings me to my second objection to today’s staff editorial: It is time to admit we were wrong about BDS.

Where in our April editorial did we mention the fact that Israelis live under constant fear of rocket fire from terrorist organizations that live on its borders? Where did we mention the numerous peace deals extended to the Palestinians that were rejected by their leadership? Where did we explain that Israeli-Arab citizens enjoy full legal rights in Israel and even sit in the Knesset and on the nation’s highest court? And where did we support the Jewish right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland in a country home to millions of Jews?

More importantly, beyond these material omissions, our BDS editorial was disgraceful for the double standard it applied to the Jewish state: Israel is the only country this Board has singled out to boycott in decades. At a time when countless nations around the world engage in heinous human rights abuses, this double standard is shameful.

I know my peers on the Editorial Board well enough to think it highly unlikely any of them personally harbor hatred of the Jewish people. However, that did not stop them from playing into the antisemitic tendency to isolate Israel from every other country in the world as worthy of a boycott.

This reprehensible double standard caused public figures to denounce our editorial from last April. It was likely this same double standard, now in the Wellesley News editorial, that prompted President Johnson’s response. Just as we exercised our first amendment right when we published our views on Israel, university administrators are perfectly justified when expressing their disapproval of our views.

Rather than hiding behind an imagined assault on freedom of the press, student Editorial Boards should welcome the critiques of well-intentioned individuals who express their disagreement with their positions. Perhaps if we are so concerned about press freedom and believe boycotts are a justified form of protesting human rights abuses, we should use our platform to call for boycotts against North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, and China — the world’s six worst countries for press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders.

While I wish we had never published our BDS editorial last semester, I will forever defend my peers’ right to publish their views. I just wish they would extend the same courtesy to their critics.

Jacob M. Miller ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Lowell House.

Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

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