Opinion: We Must Disregard Attacks on Free Speech

In an op-ed, Satya Benson ’26 critiques responses to recently published opinion pieces in the Record.

In last week’s issue of the Record, there was yet another set of articles written about the Israel-Palestine conflict, focusing on the divisive response we have seen to it here at Williams. One student wrote that he viewed the posting of bloody newspapers throughout Paresky Center — in part to condemn an opinion piece by Jonah Garnick ’23 from the previous week — as an intimidation tactic. Others decried the Record for publishing Garnick’s opinion piece, accusing the Record of putting out-of-date journalistic ethics like free speech and even-handedness over its responsibility to combat asymmetries of power.

As someone who believes that Israel is grossly violating the human rights of Palestinians and has been for many decades, who opposes the United States’s funding of the Israeli military, and who supports pro-Palestine movements like Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, I am very concerned by the intolerant arguments which I have seen from the anonymous group Students Against Genocide (SAG) in its recent letter to the Record.

On the national scale, the censorship which pro-Palestine groups are facing in the press and on social media is very unsettling. The Biden administration is asking the Qatari government to censor Al Jazeera’s coverage of the war in Gaza, just a week after Israel approved emergency regulations giving itself the power to block Al Jazeera broadcasts in Israel. Groups like Canary Mission try to intimidate pro-Palestine voices on college campuses by publishing the names and faces of those who criticize Israel. The Record — and the nation as a whole — must remember that freedom of expression is something which intrinsically benefits victims of oppression, those who do not stand with the powerful majority on a given issue. No one should legitimize censorship and intolerance by engaging in it against those who defend Israel.

SAG wants the Record to do exactly that. The group tries to justify its call for censorship by alleging that Garnick’s opinion caused harm to Palestinians and to vulnerable communities on campus. An anonymous student responsible for the newspaper postings told the Record, “the Record has blood on their hands — the blood of Palestinians — in printing that article.” But I find it ludicrous to think that more Palestinians will suffer as a result of the opinion Garnick wrote. In my opinion, the arguments in that article were so poorly reasoned that they exposed the hypocrisy and shortsightedness of some of those who defend Israel. For example, Garnick claimed that Israel is seen as evil simply because it is stronger and did not address the nation’s continual violations of international law, and he seemed to imply that the immoral actions of other countries make Israel’s human rights abuses acceptable. For this reason, publishing the article could just as well be said to help the Palestinian cause as to hurt it.

The tension between content moderation and freedom of speech is one that can never be fully resolved; it will always be necessary for platforms like this one to make difficult judgment calls about what should and should not be published. But this case should be clear cut. There is good reason to publish: Garnick’s position is very relevant to the conversation in a country where 40 percent of U.S. voters sympathize mainly with Israelis, compared to only eight percent who sympathize mainly with Palestinians, according to a Morning Consult survey published on Oct. 25. Here on campus, the community is genuinely torn and divided by this issue. In this context, the Record has an important role to play in facilitating slow, long-form dialogue and allowing students to make their voices heard.

I do not think that SAG demonstrated how someone could have been harmed by Garnick’s piece. Instead, the group presupposed their claim to be true and focused on criticism of the Record itself. SAG said the Record uses ideals of objectivity and freedom of speech as a “guise” under which the student newspaper “directly devalues and dehumanizes Palestinian and historically marginalized lives.” The group told the Record that it must not “commit to not picking sides or presenting ‘both’ sides when the idea of the two sides existing on a level playing field is a farce.” SAG emphasized that it believes it is the Record’s responsibility to refuse to publish opinions like Garnick’s, which the group said make “the most vulnerable members of this community feel more unsafe, unwelcome, and unheard.”

This is, to use a polite term, hogwash. The claim that the Record’s choice to publish Garnick’s opinion makes vulnerable members of the Williams community feel unheard misses the fact that, actually, no one can be made unheard by the publishing of an opinion piece. It is Garnick who will be unheard if he is censored. When claiming that the opinion makes people feel unsafe and unwelcome, SAG is tragedizing its members’ personal anger at someone else’s opinion. It is important to point out that Garnick did not say or imply that anyone is unwelcome, or that he wanted members of the Williams community to be harmed.

I am very alarmed by SAG’s call for our newspaper to silence community members’ voices, and I hope that we can continue to share our genuine thoughts and feelings freely in the pages of the Record.