‘It Feels Like the New McCarthyism’

It’s interesting to see those that called out the heavy handed censorship of those who challenged the covid narrative now demanding this exact from of censorship for those who criticize Israeli policy and/or call for ceasefire-


Artforum’s top editor David Velasco was fired by his publisher, Penske Media, after posting an open letter on the site calling for a cease-fire and suggesting Israel is responsible for the beginning of a genocide; Michael Eisen was removed as editor-in-chief of the science journal eLife after retweeting a satirical article critical of Israel; and Maha Dakhil, a top executive at the Hollywood talent firm Creative Artists Agency, stepped back from leadership roles after reposting an Instagram story that implied Israel was committing genocide. That’s in addition to multiple law students who had job offers revoked after publicly criticizing Israeli actions. The statements range from expressions of sympathy for Palestinians to strident anti-Israel criticisms that seem to minimize Israeli loss of life.

The situation is making Genevieve Lakier, a professor of law at the University of Chicago whose work is focused on the changing meaning of freedom of speech in the United States, very nervous.

“It feels like the new McCarthyism,” said Lakier, who’s one of the leading legal scholars on matters of free speech.

So far, most of the firings appear to have been for expressing pro-Palestinian views — the U.S.-based advocacy organization Palestine Legal reports that they’ve responded to over 260 cases of people’s “livelihoods or careers” being targeted. But the fact that these firings have been due in large part to social media posts and the widespread broadcasting of personal political beliefs means that the trend may not stay on one issue or one side of a dispute for long; Lakier says that we are watching the relationship between free expression and employment shift in real time.

The First Amendment has always had exceptions, but those exceptions can expand under pressure,” Lakier told me. Since the Israel-Hamas war began, “people are interpreting the category of hate speech or the incitement of violent speech very, very broadly to include speech that in my view is totally legitimate, often pro-peace speech.

Calder McHugh: As someone who’s studied freedom of speech, and in particular freedom of speech on social media platforms, has this recent spate of firings for expressing pro-Palestinian beliefs surprised you?

Genevieve Lakier: It has surprised me. The scale has surprised me and the intensity of it. It has seemed to me that the triggering conditions for firing or for sanction have been relatively modest.

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