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2017-11-17 digital edition

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

November 17, 2017  RSS feed
Culture

Text: T T T

Letters to the Editor

Jews should support First Amendment

Dear Editor:

The article by Jamie Shapiro on Richard Spencer’s appearance at UF is disheartening for several reasons. Why is it “very alarming” that someone is giving a speech on campus? Why is she delighted that protestors “shut down” the speech by drowning it out with chants?

Spencer is labeled a “white supremacist” spreading “hate.” What has he said or written that makes her feel so threatened? She doesn’t tell us. Has Spencer called for the annihilation of 45 percent of world Jewry? Others have.

During recent “Anti-Israeli Apartheid” weeks on campuses across the country, the following slogans have been chanted or displayed on signs: “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas,” “Nuke Israel,” “Jews = Nazis,” “All of Israel is Occupied Territory,” “Palestine Will be Free, From the River to the Sea.” The demonstrations have been accompanied by graffiti: “Gas Jews Die,” “Kill all Kikes,” and “Holocaust 2.0.”

Should we ban events sponsored by organizations that appear to endorse or encourage genocidal anti- Semitism?

Instead of trying to figure out exactly what constitutes “hate speech,” perhaps we can restore the First Amendment.

Let’s recall it has two parts. Jews have been zealous defenders of the first half: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This erected a “wall” between Church and State.

Once upon a time, Jews also welcomed the second half. This prohibits “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” and guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Most Jews in the late 19th century lived in Czarist Russia and they did not have these rights. When one of Chaim Weizmann’s teachers brought a Hebrew language chemistry textbook to class, the students had to read it aloud in a Talmudic chant, to deceive passers by. If authorities in the shtetl learned that Western science was being taught, the teacher would have been fired.

Later, when Weizmann was a college student, he spent his summers giving talks on Zionism in small towns across the Pale. These talks had to be held in synagogues, with the audience pretending to pray. If the Czarist police discovered that he was promoting Zionism in public, Weizmann risked jail or deportation.

Jews influenced by the intellectual currents sweeping across Eastern Europe – the sciences, Zionism, socialism – feared both communal authorities and the government, and looked wistfully at countries with long traditions of tolerance. Weizmann chose to pursue an academic career in Britain, not in Russia or Germany.

How broad is the First Amendment’s protection of free speech?

In 1919, the Supreme Court decided that only speech posing “a clear and present danger” could be prohibited. Fifty years later, the Court raised the bar. Now only speech inciting “imminent lawless action” was to be illegal. It’s no coincidence that this decision was drafted by the only Jewish member of the Court, Justice Abe Fortas.

Today, more than ever, Jews should be especially interested in defending the rights the Amendment guarantees. On campuses across the U.S., events sponsored by Jewish organizations have been disrupted and Jewish students intimidated. Pro-Israel speakers like Ben Shapiro have been prevented from addressing audiences. And it’s not the “alt-right” that’s been responsible.

Jeff Lipkes
Wesley Chapel

Defend free speech no matter how odious

Dear Editor:

I read the account of a Jewish student at the University of Florida and the months leading up to a speech by the white supremacist, Richard Spencer. She painted a picture of impending doom. The university president fed the hysteria by sending messages to students warning and advising them to “stay away” after multiple attempts to cancel the event had failed. The author suggests the First Amendment was a burden and somehow was used “as ammunition against us.” Gov. Rick Scott started a dubious precedent by declaring a state of emergency. Is it any wonder why people are in a state of panic with this sort of leadership? Add to this our 24/7 media, which thrives on controversy. Not once were the contents of the speech mentioned or refuted in the story. I watched the speech video and it was highly underwhelming and poorly attended.

I’ve noticed how college students complain of “triggers,” “microaggressions,” or demand “safe spaces.” But college should be a place where argument and civility are welcomed. It’s a place where you can debate, protest, explore, and establish your own identity. UF is my alma mater, and home to the largest Jewish student population in America. We shouldn’t fear bizarre beliefs held by some white supremacist. We should use this as an opportunity to expose bad ideology and proudly assert our views. Are we afraid to be challenged? Are we conditioning our children to be victims instead of confident and proud American Jews?

Ironically, this pattern of silencing “hate speech” is already turned against us. Numerous Jewish or pro-Israeli speakers were excluded or shouted down at public universities (two recent examples are Dennis Prager and Ben Shapiro). But it doesn’t end with speeches. Content on Facebook and YouTube is increasingly more regulated, especially on matters related to Israel (interestingly, YouTube does not censor speeches by the white supremacist). We need to remind ourselves of the danger in limiting free speech, otherwise we’ll lose it. We must stop behaving like victims and defend the right of the speaker, despite the content of their speech.

Noah Jacobson
Tampa

Editor’s Note: The student writer, Jamie Shapiro, was asked to write about the mood on campus in light of the appearance of white supremacist Richard Spencer. Her assignment did not include covering his speech.

The Jewish Press welcomes Letters to the Editor. Letters are published on a space available basis with the Jewish Press reserving the right to edit or reject letters for clarity, brevity, legalities or taste. Letters must be signed and bear the writer’s address and telephone number (which will not be published). The writer’s name will be withheld on request.


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