Tuesday, March 5, 2024 -
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How to lose friends and not influence people


Exercising First Amendment rights, but not embodying its values

It won’t surprise anyone reading this that we are free speech advocates. An American newspaper wouldn’t have it any other way. While the “free” part of free speech is a fundamental value, the speech itself is not always so.

Denver witnessed the ugly side of free speech over this weekend when Jews, Israelis and Zionists met for a JNF conference of comradeship, solidarity and mourning. The events of Oct. 7 meant that this year’s global JNF conference also acted as a kind of three-day shiva.

Imagine sitting shiva, or walking to your shiva house, and hearing people outside telling you to die. People telling you they know where you live and they’re tracking you. People telling you to go back to Auschwitz. People telling you Hitler would have been proud. People attempting to break down the windows to your shiva house.

Six weeks ago, this would have seemed unfathomable in America. Today, this is reality.

The hatred that has pervaded the people who call themselves pro-Palestinian but who, in fact, are anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, anti-government and, quite frankly, anti-American, is a dangerous turn.

What we saw in Denver is also occurring elsewhere. We are shocked at the desecration of civil values. To name a few:

• Anti-Israel activists demonstrate at the funeral of a former First Lady.

• A City Council in Denver is hijacked so that governance can no longer proceed, replaced, instead, by a literal echo chamber.

• A Colorado State Representative interrupts and heckles a Jewish representative speaking on the Colorado State House floor.

• Barricades of fences and police cars are needed to keep the conference attendees in Denver safe from those who try to smash windows and invade a private space.

• The annual lighting of a Christmas tree in New York’s Rockefeller Center is disrupted, overtaken by violent anti-Israel protesters, some of whom openly wave the flag of a terrorist organization.

• Smaller town Christmas events are interrupted and overtaken by anti-Israel activists.

These are not American values. This is not worthy speech!

By contrast, let us share with you what was going on inside the Denver convention center at the JNF conference. Laughter, tears, shock. Profuse gratitude to the many security personnel — private, police, military. Talk of rebuilding and revitalizing in Israel. Mourning for our lost brothers and sisters, murdered by Hamas. Concern for what Israel looks like after this war, including consideration of Israel’s Arab citizens and of Palestinians under Palestinian control.

These are the American values that we cherish — the values of community, diversity and mutual respect.

In our daily lives, so many of our Colorado neighbors, including almost all of our elected officials, show deep concern and care for our Jewish community. A small but vocal minority tries to take this down. That’s what makes this a moment of reckoning not only for America’s Jewish community but for civil society as a whole. Will we allow rabble-rousing anarchists screaming hateful epithets to control us? Will we allow people saying that mass murder of civilians is a legitimate form of “resistance” decide our future?

The silent majority can no longer afford its silence.

Copyright © 2023 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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