Walking The Fine Line: Free Speech and The New Anti-Semitism

Many years ago on a relatively fun and exciting trip to Israel, I found myself  somewhat lost in a beautiful residential neighborhood of Tel Aviv, schlepping my suitcase behind me while looking for an obscure but eclectic hotel to spend the night before flying out from Ben Gurion the next morning. The hotel had been recommended to me by a friend who, as I, did not appreciate expensive 5 star tourist traps, but, rather, small, well kept establishments with charm and grace.

A small bed, a single flower in a vase, and a can of bug spray on a wicker table. Old world charm, as it was described to me some 40 years ago.

There was no sign of this hotel along this gorgeous tree lined avenue, but there were apartment blocks, flowers, and even a small Bulgarian restaurant that served the most delicious French Onion soup where I paused for lunch and perhaps directions. In the small room, there were seated four elderly women all happily gossiping and drinking tea. I decided to ask directions from this amusing microcosm of a ‘shtetl’ and be on my way. I asked in English. No takers. I tried my very limited Hebrew. Also with no effect, as they looked at me, and each other, in puzzlement. Desperately trying to find a common language, I finally tried French….’Vous parley Francaise?’ I queried.  ‘Ah…oui…oui…oui’ said one of the women.  Our conversation lasted only a moment until voracious laugher bellowed forth from all four ladies at the table. The restaurant owner finally intervened and explained to me that I had asked directions to a ‘frying pan’ rather than a hotel. I’m not one to be easily embarrassed, so, taking it all in good humor, I thanked them all and proceeded to my destination about three blocks away.

There was a valuable lesson to be learned from this, before the age of universal translator apps on smart phones. The upshot is, it’s all in how you say it!  It’s all about getting a point across, and doing it accurately!

There is much debate going on today between those that extol racism, and proponents of free speech. Between those that pander to political correctness, and those that turn criticism to hate speech. Much like the gaggle of ladies in Tel Aviv so long ago, no one is quite sure what language to use. But today the results can be tragic rather than humorous. It happens every day, in the streets of Baltimore, on the battle fields of Iraq, and, sadly, even on the campuses of American universities. There is no distinction now between right and wrong. There is no ‘universal translator’ to separate legitimate criticism from hate. In spite of the call for dialogue and reason, one cannot be struck by the lack of both in political discourse. The most telling example, now as always, is anti-semitism.

Legitimately critical statements about US policy do not lead to calls for the demise of America, the exception being Iran, of course. Legitimate criticism of the US is free speech, we do it all the time. Hillary Clinton may even have an email to that effect! But notice that no one calls Hillary Clinton a baby killer, or calls the USA a cancer on humanity. The same cannot be said of Israel.

Israel’s enemies are not Arab armies or even Hezbollah’s collection of missiles. The IDF can deal effectively with this kind of threat and always has. What is more insidious than all of that is what occurs in the streets of Europe’s cities, the hallowed halls of Cornell University, and the floor of the UN General Assembly. The blurred lines of critical thought morphed into the world’s oldest hate—Anti-semitism.  There is a distinct difference between calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and calling for an end to Israel. Screaming ‘BDS!…Free Palestine’ and ‘Death to the Jews’? There seems to be no blurred line anymore. No distinction between dialogue and hate. No difference between ‘frying pan’ and ‘hotel’. And no waiter to mediate the miscommunication.

This issue was brought into focus just this last week when German foreign minister   Frank-Walter Steinmeir held a joint news conference with Bibi Netenyahu in Jersualem. The subject anti semetism came up and Mr. Netanyahu relpied:

“It doesn’t matter what we do, but rather what we represent,” Netanyahu said. “What hasn’t been said about the Jewish people?” he asked. “They said we were the source of all evil in the world, that we poisoned their wells, that we drink the blood of small children. They are saying the same thing about us today. It was not true then, and it is not true now. There is no truth in it. “

The Jewish people should not have to hear this in a politically correct world, but we do. From the classrooms at UCLA to Hollywood’s music industry that cow-tow to the BDS nonsense. Yes. It IS about anti-semetism, not legitimate dislike of Israeli policy.  This is an existential threat more powerful than Grad 5 rockets or Syrian tanks in the hands of ISIS barbarians. It challenges the very nature of moral thought and human behavior.

BDS, painting swastikas on Paris synagogues, and even expulsion attempts at the world FIFA soccer federation must be met head on where-ever and when-ever it occurs, and fought vigorously, and aggressively as if it were an armored division on our border. This threat is not about the Palestinians, not about settlements, and not about land or oil. It’s about being Jewish….pure and simple.

I leave you with this thought…..If Israel declared itself to be a ‘Catholic’ country, would there be discussion……or just hate? Like, frying pans and hotels, it’s all in how you say it.


About the Author
Mitch is currently retired and an adjunct instructor at Western Iowa Technical Community College Sioux City Iowa USA.