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EDITORIAL: Free speech cannot be infringed upon

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A New Jersey bill could prohibit certain criticisms of Israel at public schools, such as Rutgers, according to NJ Advance Media.

”The backers of an anti-Semitism bill that would prohibit certain criticisms of Israel at public schools and colleges in New Jersey say the bill would not infringe on free speech, but similar measures in other states have been used to try to shut down events on college campuses,” according to the article.

Many activists and experts have cited that the bill would harm their cause, and that the bill is an overbearing reaction to unrelated hate crimes against the Jewish community. 

There is questionable language used in this bill that could have repercussions for campus activists or groups. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, in an ideal world, would put a stop to this, but the bill has yet to be voted on.

First, nationalities and ethnicities are completely separate matters — something this bill seems to feign ignorance of. Regardless of your personal opinions on Israel, criticizing a government's policies is not the same as criticizing a race, religion nor ethnicity.

Through this bill, legislators have effectively made collectivized verbal critiques against Israel's government a hate crime, which is damaging by any metric. No institution, whether it be a government, an activist group, a religion or a philosophy, has the right to be above criticism. 

The bill’s vague language makes it especially dangerous. While the intention of the bill is to squash anti-Semitism at public universities, a section of the bill defined an aspect of anti-Semitism as “applying a double standard to Israel.” 

What exactly a “double standard” means in this case is unclear. Can we not criticize one side of an issue unless we criticize the other as well? That is not how critique works — it is completely possible to key in on one issue without focusing on every single injustice occurring in the world at once.

With the loose language used in this bill, it is quite transparent that lawmakers plan to use it to limit free speech for student media, activist groups and on-campus talk in general. 

Looking at the bigger picture here, any attempt to legislate speech must be either critically examined or outright fought. It is acceptable to outlaw genuinely endangering speech, but this is firmly not one of those cases. 

Silencing criticism is not acceptable. Attempting to shut down activism and protest is a violation of our fundamental duty outlined in the Bill of Rights.

Whether you support Israeli policies, this bill must concern you. Once the precedent has been set that vague, speech-dictating laws are acceptable, it will only be a matter of time before other, more aggressive legislation is enacted. 

Additionally, it seems to be an aggressive piece of legislation from our elected officials, who seem to have forgotten that they exist not to serve themselves, but those who voted them into their posts. Rutgers is a public school, meaning that the state funds a portion of our budget. This does not make the state entitled to dictate the way our campus operates, as New Jersey already receives benefits from the institution — name recognition, for one — and further retribution from Rutgers for state subsidies is unneeded and certainly should not take the form of censorship.

The bill also begs this question: Who is bankrolling these politicians and monetarily swaying them to support such a questionable piece of legislation? Nobody would support something as vague and ill-intentioned as this bill without some confounding factor, such as campaign donations.

Truly any campus group that believes in free speech as a blood right must recruit support to fight this issue, and all Rutgers students — those who stand on either or neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute — must be willing to join in this fight. We all attend a public school and thus would be heavily impacted by this excuse of a bill. We must send the message to our legislators that although we are public, we do not exist to be hammered under the thumb of our lawmakers.

If the vote passes, it will have significant implications for the future of student activism on public college campuses. 

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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