Opinion guest column

MIT must protect campus communities against hate speech and hostility

Departments should be held responsible for their invited speakers’ ideas

When academic departments give a platform and MIT funding to any speaker, the aegis of free speech does not relieve the department from the consequences of that speech. If a sponsoring department invites and funds a speaker who espouses hate, then, while it may not be their intent, the funder has de facto endorsed that hatred. Clearly, hate speech should not be given by any MIT department’s imprimatur.

On Oct. 22, MIT Women’s and Gender Studies, Anthropology, the Center for International Studies, and the MIT Libraries sponsored a visit to campus by Mohammed El-Kurd, a speaker who has tweeted glorifications of and promoted violence against Israelis and anyone who supports the State of Israel.

During El-Kurd’s talk, he asked MIT students in the audience to create a database of former Israeli soldiers who are the founders of companies in order to, in effect, doxx them. Given that every Israeli is required by law to complete mandatory army service, this request puts a target on nearly every Israeli citizen, including members of our own MIT community.

Free speech is a fundamental value of our American society and a necessary right for growth and the exploration of ideas, and robust dialogue about all difficult issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should be encouraged. The only way to engage in the issues that matter is through honest discussion, especially at a place like MIT, where some of the world’s brightest and most thoughtful people try to solve global problems.

At the same time, the responsibility inherent in robust free speech is that all people must listen carefully to what is being said and take seriously the threat of legally protected speech that is morally and ethically wrong.

At a time when antisemitic attacks are on the rise on campuses across the country, we must call out speakers who utilize discriminatory speech. Hateful language, language that provokes violence, and language that targets individuals or groups because of who they are must be noticed and not overlooked. For our society to continue to thrive, and for the MIT community to continue to be a safe place for minority students to live and learn, hate speech must be named and condemned.

Every department who sponsored the Oct. 22 lecture had an ethical responsibility to vet the speaker they helped bring to campus and to hold themselves accountable for the ideas they helped fund. If the MIT community were to act on the recommendations El-Kurd made while speaking here, students on our campus would be endangered because of their national or religious identities.

It would be a stain on our institute if our administration continues to fall back on the false assumption that a commitment to free speech is a commitment to unchecked speech. Refusing to acknowledge this distinction threatens our community’s safety and well-being. I invite all members of the MIT community entrusted with leadership positions and the allocation of funds to take steps to protect our campus from hostility directed toward any minority community. Together, we can ensure that MIT remains a place where students of all backgrounds and perspectives can flourish without fear.

Rabbi Michelle Fisher SM ’97 is the Executive Director of MIT Hillel.