People in the western world are proud of their freedom of speech. In the United States, people on both the right and left point out the importance of the First Amendment of the Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petitition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Yet, the government has taken steps to curtail some vile forms of speech, such as calls for violence. For example, several states have enacted more severe penalties if crimes are based on racism, religion or sexual orientation.
Whether there is really an exemption for hate speech (as opposed to motivation for a crime) is a matter of debate. What is not a matter of debate, is how civil society should respond to vile speech.
One of the leaders of the “Women’s March” in Washington D.C. in January 2017 was a Palestinian – American Muslim woman named Linda Sarsour. In addition to hateful comments she made about Israel, she offered the following about a woman who suffered from genital mutilation as a young Muslim woman.
Sarsour’s callousness extended beyond uttering threats against private citizens, to specifically assaulting Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s area of sensitivity and pain: her vagina, which had been attacked because she grew up in Muslim society where such mutilation was condoned. The Sarsour comment went beyond poor taste; it was vile, vulgar and disgusting. It deserved repudiation from every decent human being.
At least one hoped.
New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand praised Sarsour in an article in Time magazine, saying “The images of Jan. 21, 2017, show a diverse, dynamic America—striving for equality for all. The moment and movement mattered so profoundly because it was intersectional and deeply personal. These women are the suffragists of our time.” The Jewish community was appalled that Senator Gillibrand would stand behind Sarsour who constantly vilified Israel. Gillibrand issued no retraction.
Democratic National Committee vice chair Michael Blake came out full force defending Sarsour: “If you keep coming after @lsarsour, we’re going to respond directly, consistently, with all heart and soul. Fall back!“
Put aside Sarsour’s embrace of convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh for a moment, whom she invited to the Woman’s March stage. Even if the Democratic politicians despised Israel, how could they support a woman who is so vulgar and despicable to deliberately mock a woman who suffered genital mutilation?
Linda Sarsour was not the only Palestinian Arab to use disgusting language to maliciously attack those with whom she disagrees.
Acting-President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, does not simply fight against Israel. He vilifies the Jewish State in the most hurtful and outrageous manner: by belittling the Holocaust.
The Jewish people in Europe were one of the few people in the world to suffer a genocide over the past hundred years. The German Nazis sought to ethnically cleanse the Jews for Europe and rounded them up for torture and execution wherever they came to power. It was one of the darkest periods of mankind.
Abbas, who wrote his doctoral thesis on Holocaust denial, chooses to constantly attack the victim. Abbas accused those same Jews that were the victims of a genocide, as committing a “genocide” against Arabs in Israel (even though the growth of the number of Arabs in Israel exceeds the rate of growth of Arabs anywhere in the world.) Abbas accuses the actual victims of ethnic cleansing, of committing “ethnic cleansing” of Arabs, even though everywhere that Israel established its state, it offered citizenship to every Arab that wanted it.
So when Abbas came to visit US President Donald Trump in May 2017, it was hard to hear Trump welcome the hateful Abbas as though he were a national leader. However, it was also heartening to see that Trump deleted his Twitter post that said it was “an honor” to meet Abbas.
The world had become accustomed to bestowing honor on hateful entities for many years. The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, with its vile anti-Semitic charter which calls on Arabs to kill Jews and destroy Israel, was a favorite of the last United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. He encouraged Hamas to join the Palestinian Authority and stated loudly that he stood with them after their war with Israel.
The Muslim Turkish leader Recep Erdogan is also fond of berating the Jewish victims of Nazi atrocities by using those same hurtful terms. Erdogan accused Israel of “Hitler-like Facism” and “genocide.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was nonplussed, and let Turkey host the first ever World Humanitarian Summit, where he thanked “His Excellency the President, the Government and people of Turkey for their hospitality, and for their role at the forefront of humanitarian action.“
Nice praise for the leader that has suppressed freedoms broadly in his country and insulted victims around the world.
On May 8, 2017, Republican Senator John McCain wrote an op-ed in the New York Times “Why We Must Support Human Rights.” He argued that it is not enough to navigate the “realism” of a world of despots and ignore their vile human rights abuses and attacks on victims.
“I consider myself a realist. I have certainly seen my share of the world as it really is and not how I wish it would be. What I’ve learned is that it is foolish to view realism and idealism as incompatible.”
Every person – including politicians that are forced to engage with horrible local and national leaders – must call out the ugliness. Their comments should be repudiated. And most obviously, not given praise as Gillibrand and the heads of the Democratic National Committee have done. As McCain wrote:
“Depriving the oppressed of a beacon of hope could lose us the world we have built and thrived in. It could cost our reputation in history as the nation distinct from all others in our achievements, our identity and our enduring influence on mankind. Our values are central to all three.“
Taylor Swift knows that “haters gonna hate.” Politicians must avoid broad praise of the haters, or at a minimum, denounce their specific digusting comments.
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