UNC protesters were treated properly

Chapel Hill, NC – As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the interim chancellor at the University of the North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Lee Roberts, ordered the removal on April 30 of an “encampment” on a grassy area of campus called Polk Place. Later that day, protestors returned to Polk Place, took down its American flag, and raised a Palestinian flag in its place. After Roberts, accompanied by police, returned the American flag to its proper place, protestors sought to remove it a second time. Students from Pi Kappa Phi and other campus fraternities intervened to protect the flag.

UNC-Chapel Hill Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts. (Source: Screenshot from US Sen. Ted Budd, R-NC, YouTube page.)

Before opining on these events, I should tell you more about the protestors in question, many of whom have no affiliation with UNC-Chapel Hill. They are not peace activists. They are not advocates for dialogue, or compromise, or a two-state solution.

Two days before the encampment’s removal, its leaders showed a documentary lionizing a Palestinian named Leila Khaled. In 1969, she helped hijack a plane traveling from Rome to Tel Aviv. Photographed holding a rifle in the air, Khaled had her face surgically altered so she could evade detection and commit future terrorist attacks.

That’s exactly what she did a year later, attempting to hijack another plane. When the flight crew refused her demands, Khaled and a male accomplice tried to kill everyone aboard. Fortunately, the grenade he threw failed to detonate. Sky marshals shot him to death and took Khaled prisoner. Her terror masters later exchanged hostages for her.

The organizers of the UNC protest also led several now-familiar chants. One was “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” In case you didn’t know, this chant isn’t about making Palestinians freer. Those who live under Palestinian rule lack basic freedoms of speech, press, worship, and association. They enjoy no right to participate in self-government through regular, free elections. They cannot use their own property as they see fit. Arabs who live within Israel, by contrast, possess all these rights and more.

No, what the protestors are saying is Palestine ought to be free of Jews. In the original Arabic, it is a call for removing them from the entire region, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, by either massacre or mass expulsion.

The protestors also chanted “globalize the intifada!” The Palestinian intifada was a violent uprising. Quite literally, the activists occupying Polk Place were wishing for violence to spread.

Now that you know the true nature and objectives of the protest’s pro-Hamas leaders — it is possible many of the immature students following them are poorly informed, not actively malevolent — it may surprise to you learn that I fully support their right to express their malicious and idiotic views. Unless threatening specific individuals or calling for the commission of specific crimes, they should be able to speak, write, broadcast, or publish their noxious opinions without government obstruction or reprisal.

Moreover, if on private property, they have every right, with the owner’s permission, to assemble, march, camp out, or stage pro-Hamas puppet shows (yep, that happened on Polk Place, too). Even on public property, they can assemble to engage in such expressive conduct as long as they obtain permits from public authorities, refrain from violating the terms of their permits, and otherwise respect other citizens’ equal rights to traverse and use public property.

In other words, you can’t just take over a public street, park, or campus quad without permission and obstruct its normal use, refusing to leave until your demands are met. What the protestors did was unambiguously illegal. Roberts had not only the right but the duty to remove the encampment. UNC faculty members and town officials suggesting otherwise, and complaining about the subsequent arrests (in some cases for assaulting police officers), should be ashamed of themselves.

Of course, because they live in the very constitutional republic symbolized by the flag the protestors desecrated, they are free to act like fools — and we are free to judge them accordingly.


John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy with early American history.