Even harsh critics of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik were stunned when she trumped “legal scholar” and University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill over university policies that can translate into routine criminal laws.
Stefanik herself missed a more compelling element that amounts to a serious criminal offense – “terroristic threats.” That crime has been committed during countless anti-Israel events over the years. Stefanik is not an attorney, so she can be excused for limiting her concerns to harassment and bullying.
Not Magill, who resigned Saturday night before she could be fired by the board of trustees. She will be retained as a tenured law professor – you read that right, a tenured law professor – with a background that includes her service as dean of Stanford’s law school, the current site of severe Israel/Arab conflicts.
Long before the October 7 massacre in southern Israel, pro-Arab activists have proclaimed to any fool who would listen to “kill Jews” and “destroy Israel,” if not in plain English than in psychotic-ese, their usual language of choice. These are words and terms like “intifada,” “apartheid,” “resistance,” “occupying power,” “right to self-defense,” “breaking the siege,” “Zionist,” “genocide,” “decolonization,” “death to Jews,” “F—K the Jews,” “All Jews should die,” “Hamas should kill more of you,” ”Israel terrorism” and especially “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
What else can most of these sentiments be except “terrorist threats”?
Pennsylvania’s criminal code defines “terroristic threats” as: “A person commits the crime of terroristic threats if the person communicates, either directly or indirectly, a threat to: commit any crime of violence with intent to terrorize another; cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly or facility of public transportation; or cause terror or serious public inconvenience with reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience.”
Terroristic threats can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on circumstances, according to the code.
I am not a lawyer, but I have reported on criminal courts in Pennsylvania. Do any of us need that background? This passage in the criminal code is written in English.
Just to convey these threats during a rally constitutes a crime. That is my interpretation. A terroristic threat by itself is a crime wherever it occurs in Pennsylvania, including the grounds of the state’s most prestigious university. Magill and two other presidents who testified before a House committee on Tuesday last week may not comprehend that. Magill was joined by Claudine Gay of Harvard University and Sally Kornbluth, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The pivotal exchanges are recited in The New York Times:
“’Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules on bullying and harassment?’ she (Stefanik) demanded of Gay.
“’It can be, depending on the context,’ Gay responded.
“’What’s the context?’ Ms. Stefanik shot back.
“’Targeted at an individual,’ Gay said.
“’It’s targeted at Jewish students, Jewish individuals,’ Stephanik said.
“Stefanik (a Republican) had asked the same question, phrased the same way, of all three university leaders and received similar equivocating responses.
“’If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment,’ Magill said.
“’Conduct meaning committing the act of genocide?’ Stephanik said, her voice rising with incredulity. ‘The speech is not harassment? This is unacceptable.’”
Outraged observers have beaten the “context” concept until it has been buried in the gravesite. The “context” is a “terrorist threat” that is a crime in itself. If “the speech turns into conduct?” It is conduct the instant that the words are uttered. To call for the genocide of Jews? That is a terroristic threat right there.
Defenders of Hamas can probably offer many arguments why “terroristic threats” cannot be applied. They can claim that many slogans mean nothing like that. “Breaking the siege” says nothing about killing Jews, even though 1,400 Jews and others were murdered on October 7. “Free Palestine” does not call for destroying Israel, though that is spelled out in Hamas’ charter.
Few of these terms are literal, which means that us Jews are inventing our own interpretations. Nowhere close to what these peace-seeking freedom fighters are talking about. We Jews have runaway imaginations, don’t we?
Most of us accepted that these phrases are code words for harming Jews and eliminating Israel. We cannot claim certainty as to our translation. After all, no language department has ever hosted a course in psychotic-ese as they would for French or Spanish. Only these activists for Hamas know the language.
This criminal offense, at least in Pennsylvania, should be sufficient for the university to investigate and take strong disciplinary action, and possibly for local or state police to prosecute. Pro-Arab activists have not only been threatening Jews and Israel for the last two months but for the last two decades. With few exceptions, they have flouted the law and organizational policies all this time.
In 2002, a senior manager at a city agency where I worked posted two drawings on her message board that likened Israel to southern white hooligans, and she got off with a warning. Repeat. In 2002.
They repeatedly broke mostly low-level laws such as abruptly marching on major thoroughfares during rush hour, interrupting speeches, blocking access to other students with imaginary checkpoints (at Penn) and besieging Jewish students inside a Hillel office (in Canada). They behaved crudely, if not illegally, by burning Israeli flags and once protested at the Holocaust memorial in Miami Beach.
Why did they do these things and let it spiral after October 7? Because they assumed they would get away with it. Little action by their schools, minimal discipline at the workplace, rare arrests by police, acts largely ignored by the media and limited reaction from the public, including the Jewish community.
Stephanik of New York, a right-wing Republican with an overwrought demeanor, performed a vital service on December 5. She laid bare how the so-called Palestinian cause is portrayed and caught the attention of the world. She has her own serious flaws, but we can explore them later.
A crackdown on their modus operandi need not suppress free speech. The Palestinians have legitimate concerns, but their advocates in America have harmed rather than helped them through their idea of free speech.
If I depended on the narrative of activists here, I would have no understanding of the Palestinian cause. All I have gotten out of their free speech is that the Palestinians want to kill me.