Anti-Israel & Anti-Semitic In An Inside Space of the Public Sphere


It’s one thing for neo-Nazis to have the right to march through the streets of Skokie, but I’m wondering what my friends further to the left think about the following scenario. A local civic group brings in a speaker to the inside space of a local public institution, let’s say a library, where the speaker will deliver a talk that veers from anti-Israel activism into rank anti-Semitism. The speaker has established a pattern of doing so in the past. Do you protest the event before the event, to exercise your own right to free speech and criticism, if not to try to get the event cancelled? Do you go the event and push back? Or do you protest the event after the fact, as a way to confront not the speaker, whose views are incorrigible, but the poor people who allowed the event to happen at their institution, unaware what they were bringing in. Or do we just say that this is free speech, meaning that unregulated and unpopular speech like anti-Semitism and racism have a protected and rightful place in an inside space in the public sphere?

Without going into particulars, I’m thinking of a speaker who spoke in a public forum warning that American Jews are “traitors,” who spoke at length of Jewish Zionist secret clubs and cabals in America, past and present, who claimed that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was a secret Zionist agent, and that Jews past and present are in control of the US media and the US government. Also claimed was that American Jews pushed the US into the First World War, having made a deal with Great Britain –give us the Balfour Declaration and we’ll give you the US to fight a war. It was claimed that Jews were responsible for killing all those American soldiers. That was just some of what was said about American Jews. About Israeli Jews, they were basically compared to Nazis.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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5 Responses to Anti-Israel & Anti-Semitic In An Inside Space of the Public Sphere

  1. Milx says:

    I don’t know that I’d protest because that takes time and energy and I’m not sure views that marginal deserve it. Otoh it depends on the speaker; if I felt like the speaker had a cache (probably more concernedly on the left) I might be moved to express my free speech rights of protest. Though even that would be more a few posts on fb than any placard waving. I certainly wouldn’t try to get it banned since that would be against the law, and more importantly, erode an amendment and civic virtue that is extremely important in my eyes. I might even mention in my protestations that I fully support their right to speak their views in a public institution, and that the most powerful way to combat that kind of hate speech is to explain why it’s so odious.

  2. Daniel Sieradski says:

    IMO, freedom of speech means the government can’t suppress your speech. It doesn’t mean the government is required to grant you the use of public institutions to express yourself. If antisemites want to espouse their views in public they’re entitled — and people are entitled to counter them by any legal means. But if a purveyor of hate is being *hosted* by a public institution and promoting hate speech and incitement against minorities, then it is equivalent to the government promoting hate speech and incitement and should not be permitted to occur.

  3. 1. Protest, and, as Milx says above, give inadvertent publicity to the anti-semitic speaker.
    2. Greet the remarks with silence, and let them die a well-deserved death.

    –The fact is that similar vitriol exists all over the Web. One does not have to look very far. The Protocols, old anti-semitic cartoons, and Christian Identity crap abounds. Should we respond? I wonder if it’s worth the effort. Not every KKK’er on the Web, for example, is a legion. It may be just one psychopath alone in a tenement in the dark, surrounded by take-out cardboard boxes, with pee stains on his dirty underwear. Leave him alone.

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