Saturday Night Live tried to make a joke out of a recent congressional hearing about antisemitism on campus but it is not a joke. The sketch fell flat as most SNL sketches do these days but it missed what is actually tragic about this incident.
Top university presidents from Harvard, UPenn and MIT testified about disciplinary practices on college campuses due to the threat to Jewish students in the wake of the war in Israel. Clips went viral in which the women refused to say that threats to Jewish students were punishable by their schools’ codes of conduct.
Now New York Governor Kathy Hochul says that the state of New York is going to get involved and take “aggressive enforcement action and refer possible Title VI violations to the federal government” if universities do not denounce antisemitism or calls for genocide.
This is a fraught issue, making it poor fodder for sketch comedy. Calls for harm are already code violations but political opinions are not. This will dragnet legitimate anti-government protests and could cut both ways. Couldn’t a Palestinian student use the same law to say that a protest against a ceasefire was a call for genocide too? Hate and hostility are protected emotions. Violence is not.
A bigger problem, as pointed out by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, is that universities have been practicing politics for decades and coddling some groups and not others. In this environment, it’s only natural that Jewish students would wonder why they don’t get protection like, oh, say, transgender students. But universities should be a place for uncomfortable ideas and they haven’t been in a long time. I agree with Zakaria that they should “retrain their gaze on their core strengths and rebuild their reputations as centers of research and learning.”