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George Washington University calls police on student for drunkenly saying ‘we’re going to bomb Israel’

Violation of Trump’s executive order on campus free speech, law prof says

Opinions on the Israel-Palestine question can get pretty heated. Sometimes people use hyperbole to make their point.

George Washington University apparently didn’t see hyperbole when it called campus police on a student who was secretly recorded criticizing Israel and its inhabitants.

The private university’s own law professor is once again questioning both the legality of the investigation and whether it even violates campus policy. John Banzhaf also speculates GWU’s research funding could be at risk under President Trump’s executive order on campus free speech.

The investigation is based on a Snapchat video the university obtained Sunday, The GW Hatchet reported Wednesday. The video was posted on Facebook Tuesday:

[In the video] an un-filmed individual appears to have asked the student, “What are we going to do to Israel?” The woman responded, “Bro, we’re going to fucking bomb Israel, bro. Fuck out of here, Jewish pieces of shit.” …

University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said students contacted the student life office and the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement about the post Sunday. Nosal said the University notified GW Police Department officers, who conducted interviews and partnered with local law enforcement to identify whether the video posed any safety or security risks.

While Nosal said there was “no apparent credible threat” to campus, student disciplinary officials were still investigating whether the woman’s comments violated the student code.

Similar to recent comments of other university presidents in response to campus messages considered offensive, GWU President Thomas Leblanc issued a statement Wednesday calling the video “disturbing and hateful.” The woman’s comments violate GWU’s “core values” and the school “will not tolerate anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry on our campuses.”

The Hatchet interviewed the woman, a self-identified Latina who said she was discussing her shared “Arab descent” and “pro-Palestine” views with the man who recorded the video. She said she was “intoxicated” that night, doesn’t remember saying her recorded comments and didn’t know he was filming. She said she was “deeply sorry” for the “horrible” comments that upset campus.

She has given a statement about the incident to campus police but doesn’t know what consequences she’ll face. Several campus groups have denounced the comments, and GW for Israel Vice President Noah Shufutinsky called for the expulsion of “the students involved with making the video from campus,” according to Hatchet.

MORE: GWU brings back ‘anonymous snitch program’ after anti-Semitism complaint

Banzhaf, the law professor, sent an email blast Friday warning the administration that GWU’s attempted “major makeover” as a research university could be imperiled by its threatened discipline of the woman.

GWU cannot punish the woman under its own Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, he wrote, which says “students shall be free to examine and to discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately.” Banzhaf cited a federal court ruling against GWU that ordered the administration to follow its own rules in a sexual misconduct investigation.

It’s the second investigation of an off-campus use of the word “Jew,” the professor said: “[M]ere opinions regarding groups, even distasteful ones expressed in crude language, are fully protected as free speech.

Banzhaf cited a federal appeals court that recently reinstated a First Amendment lawsuit against a public university because its bias response team “appears to have punitive authority” to students, even though it does not in reality:

[T]he mere fact that an off-campus statement of expression by a student is being investigated by GWU bodies, which do in fact have disciplinary authority, would strongly suggest that such procedures likewise chill free speech and could have adverse legal consequences if they were to be included in a complaint pursuant to Trump’s free speech executive order.

The executive order requires private institutions to comply with their own “stated institutional policies” on free speech or risk the loss of federal funding.

GWU has not responded to a College Fix query Friday asking why police are involved in an off-campus speech-only incident; what evidence it had before the police investigation that any student faced harassment from the woman in the video; whether it’s concerned about the chilling effects of investigating students for their private comments; and its response to Banzhaf’s analysis.

Read the Hatchet article.

MORE: Appeals court says conservatives face ‘objective chill’ from bias response team

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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