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Taube: The strange relationship between Jews and free speech

Linda Sarsour (Flickr photo)

The topic of Jews and freedom of speech has been occasionally viewed as a taboo subject in some quarters. Little wonder, considering that a significant component of this religious community doesn’t seem to truly respect this important concept.

Let’s go back a few steps.

Merriam-Webster defines free speech as “the legal right to express one’s opinions freely.” That’s a valid assessment, but this concept is actually far more intricate. It’s the defence of ideas that are either objective or objectionable, as well as supporting views that appear right to us – and tolerating views that appear wrong to us. 

Individuals don’t have to agree with opposing viewpoints, of course, but we must defend a person’s right to support a position in a non-violent manner. If not, the essence of free speech would be closer to a foul stench than, say, an elegant perfume.

Some western democracies, like the U.S., greatly respect the importance of free speech and have enshrined it in their constitutions. Canada doesn’t recognize it in absolute terms, alas, and many Canadians believes this “fundamental freedom” (as noted in Section 2 in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) has limitations from a political, legal and moral standpoint.    

Jews, in particular, are often guilty of this.

For instance, when word spread that Linda Sarsour was going to be a speaker at the Carry the Light convention on Oct. 6-7, several Jewish groups wanted to ban her. Why? The controversial left-wing U.S. political activist has been linked to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments. She’s also been seen in the company of equally controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.


Right-leaning Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy has been repeatedly condemned by some prominent left-leaning Jewish activists who would like nothing more than to silence her campaign. Why? Goldy appeared on a podcast associated with the Daily Stormer, which has been linked to white nationalism, white supremacism and Neo-Nazism. She also publicly mentioned the Fourteen Words, an infamous statement made by David Lane, a white supremacist who co-founded the terrorist organization The Order, not long after he was arrested for the 1984 murder of Jewish radio host Alan Berg.       

Similar reactions have also occurred when the late right-leaning Austrian politician Jörg Haider and left-leaning UK politician George Galloway visited Canada. Or figures like Ernst Zundel, Paul Fromm and Jim Keegstra made questionable remarks. Or anti-Israel activists barked incessantly from the political left and right. Or people making unkind comments about Jews in general.

While it may make some Jewish activists feel good for a short period of time, what does this really accomplish in the long term?

Banning controversial individuals, ideas and theories doesn’t make them go away. It could easily lead to more interest, intrigue and exposure that could potentially be worse for the Jewish community as a whole. 

It also doesn’t change the way people feel about Jews and Israel. You simply can’t bury preconceived notions about a particular subject by limiting or eliminating debate. If anything, the original feeling of resentment could lead to hate if a topic is banned – and hate could then gradually turn into violence.  

Jews, of all groups of people walking the face of this earth, should know this better than anyone. They should be the ones strongly promoting free speech in every part of our great nation, and encouraging their Christian, Muslim and Hindu brethren to join them on this critical journey. 

This would help ensure that all topics are on the table, all ideas are out in the open, and all  individuals can participate in intellectual discourse to decide which ones seem logical – and which ones appears illogical.   

Why is this so hard for so many Jews to understand? You’d have to ask them…if they’re willing to speak freely about it, that is.

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