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Students for Justice in Palestine becomes flashpoint in college antisemitism, free speech debate on November 16, 2023 at 11:00 am

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College group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is at the center of a hurricane over its responses to the Israel-Hamas conflict, banned and chastised at universities across the country after its statements and protests have drawn accusations of antisemitism.

SJP wasted no time after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel to spring into action, organizing a “Day of Resistance.” Chapters of the group said the world had witnessed “a historic win for the Palestinian resistance: across land, air, and sea, our people have broken down the artificial barriers of the Zionist entity.” 

The blowback has been swift, sparking First Amendment debates and arguments over what constitutes antisemitism.

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Columbia University has banned an SJP chapter, as well as Jewish Voice for Peace, through the end of the semester. 

“This decision was made after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation,” said school Vice President Gerald Rosberg.

George Washington University suspended its SJP chapter this week after three of its members projected messages on a school building that included “Glory to our Martyrs.”

And Brandeis University has also banned SJP after saying the group “openly supports Hamas,” but the school indicated that the decision was tough because it is dedicated to upholding the principles of free speech.

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Florida, meanwhile, has ordered its state universities to ban SJP chapters, claiming without evidence that the organization was giving material support to terrorist groups. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a GOP presidential candidate, said it is “not a First Amendment issue” because “these groups, Students for Justice [in] Palestine, they have said that they are in cahoots with Hamas.”

Alex Morey, director of campus rights advocacy for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a free speech group, said her organization is “not surprised” over backlash to SJP because “their speech right now is the unpopular speech,” noting that schools are under immense pressure to combat perceived antisemitism. 

While Morey acknowledges the language of SJP is very distressing because its members are “endorsing what a lot of people think is terrorism,” she said that type of speech is “all protected.”

“There is zero evidence that any of these SJP groups have gone, to my knowledge anyway, have gone beyond the line of protected speech,” Morey said.

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FIRE is not going after Columbia for banning SJP because it believes the school banned them for violating policy, not in direct response to their message. But Morey said her organization has sent a warning letter to a dozen schools telling them not to punish students who express pro-Palestinian sentiment. 

“They’re just saying very controversial things about their sort of generalized support for Hamas or for Palestinian uprising. And while that’s very upsetting to people, it’s not unlawful, and the vast majority of all public institutions have to give students their First Amendment right to say those types of things,” she said. “Most private schools make similar promises and should also honor students’ expressive rights — to express views that are controversial right now.”

Republicans, on the other hand, are threatening to defund schools that don’t take stronger action against students and groups who voice support for Hamas, a designated terrorist group.

Antisemitism on college campuses has skyrocketed since the Oct. 7 attack, with the House holding two hearings on the problem in the following weeks. 

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In a House hearing Tuesday, a Yale student said there should be some consequences for SJP groups, especially ones that commemorate the terrorists who died attacking Israel. 

In response, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said, “Specifically, colleges don’t have to sanction or subsidize or condone these groups that are obviously hate groups, antisemitic groups.” 

SJP, which did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment, has called efforts to censor its chapters “racist” and pushed back on claims that its views have crossed a line. 

“There have been these inflammatory allegations made to say that SJP supports terrorism, but, again, that’s not true,” said Lina Assi, advocacy manager for Palestine Legal, adding there is an attempt to “criminalize” and “justify repression” of SJP chapters “despite their speech being protected under the First Amendment.”  

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Palestine Legal has received 600 requests for legal assistance since Oct. 7, according to Assi, and the group has written a letter to the Department of Education detailing incidents of Muslim and pro-Palestine students getting attacked on campuses. The department released a letter reminding schools of the duty to protect Palestinian students. 

“I think, outside of the context of Oct. 7, and the statements following that, there’s this broader and longer timeline of pro-Israel groups attacking SJP chapters for the things that they say outside of [the] crisis moments,” Assi said. “They take issue with the fact that they’re advocating for the freedom of Palestinians from an apartheid regime.”

Jewish groups dispute such claims, saying SJP contributes to antisemitism on campus. 

SJP is responsible for leading many of the violent rallies we’ve been seeing on college campuses since the onset of the war. The organization is a major distributor of misinformation about Israel and the Jewish people, sparking these acts of aggression towards college students,” said Liora Rez, executive director of Stop Antisemitism, adding SJP is not a good representative for Palestinians. 

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“We’ve seen time and time again that wherever SJP exists, acts of antisemitism occur. Their violent rhetoric and misinformed beliefs about Jewish people and the state of Israel provide a foundation for antisemitism to spread,” Rez added.

She said Stop Antisemitism supports all SJP groups around the country getting suspended, blocking any anti-Israel rallies and expelling students who support antisemitism as potential ways to combat the issues on campuses.

“If you’re an organization whose members violate the safety of Jewish people, you should be removed from campus,” Rez said. 

Assi, however, believes blaming Palestinian groups is ignoring the real cause of antisemitism that is hurting campuses. 

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“The issue of antisemitism has been an issue that, again, like anti-Palestinian racism, precedes Oct. 7. And it’s a real issue that needs to be addressed, especially in the context of the rise of right-wing white supremacist sentiment in this country,” Assi added. 

​ College group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is at the center of a hurricane over its responses to the Israel-Hamas conflict, banned and chastised at universities across the country after its statements and protests have drawn accusations of antisemitism. SJP wasted no time after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel to spring… 

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Humans Need Not Apply: The AI Candidate Promising to Disrupt Democracy

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The rise of AI Steve, the artificial intelligence candidate running for a seat in the UK Parliament, has sparked a heated debate about the role of AI in governance and the potential disruption it could bring to traditional democratic processes.

Steven Endacott, the human force behind AI Steve, envisions his AI co-pilot as a conduit for direct democracy, enabling constituents to engage with the AI, share concerns, and shape its policy platform through a voting system of “validators.” Endacott has pledged to vote in Parliament according to the AI’s constituent-driven platform, even if it conflicts with his personal views.

Proponents argue that AI Steve can revolutionize politics by bringing more voices into the process and ensuring that policies truly reflect the will of the people. They claim that an AI candidate can engage in up to 10,000 conversations simultaneously, allowing for unprecedented levels of public participation and input.

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However, critics raise valid concerns about transparency, accountability, and the potential for AI systems to be manipulated or influenced by their creators, data limitations, or external actors. There are also questions about whether an AI can fully grasp the nuances and human elements involved in complex political issues.

Some argue that AI Steve is merely a clever marketing ploy to garner attention and votes, rather than a genuine effort to “humanize” politics. There are fears that the use of AI in elections could undermine faith in electoral outcomes and democratic processes if voters become aware of potential scams or manipulation.

 

Beyond the specific case of AI Steve, the rise of AI candidates and the increasing use of AI in political campaigns and elections raise broader questions about the integrity of democratic systems and the need for effective regulations and guidelines.

Anti-democratic actors and authoritarian regimes may seek to exploit AI technologies for censorship, surveillance, and suppressing dissent under the guise of enhancing governance. There are also concerns about the potential for an “AI arms race” between political parties to develop and deploy the most sophisticated AI technologies, further eroding public trust.

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As AI tools become more advanced and accessible, upholding electoral integrity will require proactive efforts to establish guardrails, transparency measures, and accountability frameworks around their use in politics. Policymakers, advocates, and citizens must work together to ensure that AI is leveraged as a force for a better and more inclusive democracy, rather than a tool for manipulation or consolidation of power.

The rise of AI candidates like AI Steve serves as a wake-up call for democratic societies to grapple with the implications of artificial intelligence in governance and to strike the right balance between harnessing its potential benefits and mitigating its risks to the democratic process.

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Saudi Arabia Says ‘Thank You, Next’ to the US Dollar

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Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering abandoning the US dollar for oil trade settlements, a move that could shake the foundations of the global financial system. For decades, the petrodollar system has propped up the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency, with Saudi Arabia insisting on dollar payments for its vast oil exports.

However, recent comments from Saudi officials hint at exploring alternatives to the dollar amid growing tensions with the US over various geopolitical issues and the rise of economic powerhouses like China.

Implications of a Petrodollar Shift

If Saudi Arabia abandons the petrodollar, the implications could be significant:

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1. Dollar Dominance Eroded: The dollar’s reserve currency status could weaken, potentially leading to a decline in its value.
2. Global Financial Instability: A sudden shift could trigger volatility in global markets as investors adjust portfolios.
3. Geopolitical Realignment: The move could signal Saudi alignment with China and challenge US economic hegemony.

Challenges and Uncertainties

While the prospect is significant, challenges remain:

1. Finding a suitable alternative currency with the dollar’s liquidity and stability.
2. Potential economic disruption for Saudi Arabia and trading partners.
3. Political backlash and strained relations with the US and allies.

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As the world watches, it remains uncertain whether Saudi Arabia’s comments signal a negotiating tactic or a profound shift in the global financial order.

 

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X Opens the Door to Adult Content With New Policy

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X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, has made a significant policy shift by officially permitting adult content on its platform with some restrictions and guidelines.

In an update to its rules, X stated that users can now share “consensually produced and distributed adult nudity or sexual behavior” as long as it is properly labeled and not prominently displayed in areas like profile pictures or header images.

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“We recognize that many of our users are adults who want to freely express themselves by sharing legal adult content,” said an X spokesperson. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to protect minors and prevent exposure to explicit material without proper labeling.”

Under the new guidelines, users who “regularly post” adult content must adjust their settings to automatically mark images and videos as sensitive content, which blurs or hides the media by default. By default, users under 18 or who haven’t entered their birth date cannot view this sensitive adult content.

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The policy prohibits content “promoting exploitation, nonconsent, objectification, sexualization or harm to minors, and obscene behaviors.” It applies to all adult content, whether photographic, animated, or AI-generated.

X has stated that it will monitor user-generated content and adjust account settings for those who fail to properly mark pornographic posts. Similar rules and enforcement will apply to violent content as well.

The move aligns X with Apple’s app store guidelines, which allow apps with adult content as long as it is hidden by default and behind proper age gates and content warnings.

While adult content was already present on X, this policy update officially permits and regulates it, aiming to balance freedom of expression for consenting adults with protecting minors from exposure to explicit material.

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However, enforcing these rules consistently may prove challenging for X’s reduced content moderation teams following recent layoffs and cost-cutting measures.

The policy shift has drawn mixed reactions, with some praising X for embracing adult expression while others raise concerns about the potential for the platform to become inundated with pornographic content despite the restrictions.

As X navigates this new territory, the effectiveness of its labeling requirements, age verification measures, and content moderation efforts will be closely watched by users, regulators, and advocacy groups alike.

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