The US Supreme Court decided in March in Snyder v. Phelps that members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who protest near funerals of US soldiers and shout the vilest slurs, could not be sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress, despite the foulness of their campaign. The Supreme Court ruling was not close; justices voted 8-1 in favor of the Westboro rabble-rousers.
If the First Amendment protects such hateful speech, it very obviously protects acerbic speech about Israel, and even about Jews or other minority groups. British fashionisto John Galliano was convicted in a French court this month and fined over $8,000 for anti-Semitic slurs he mumbled while swaying atop a Parisian bar stool, but such punishment of speech in the US is unthinkable.
In 2005, The Daily Tar Heel, the campus newspaper of The University of North Carolina, published a racist opinion column by student Jillian Bandes, who said she wanted “all Arabs to be stripped naked and cavity-searched if they get within 100 yards of an airport.” The university did not, indeed could not, take action against Ms. Bandes. She was subsequently fired for the column by the student editor, but only because she deliberately strung together quotes from an Arabic professor and student to affect their meaning.
American universities have high thresholds for the tolerance of nasty speech, as they should. One of the grandest functions of college and university presidents in the United States is not to curb unpopular speech, but rather to protect it.