What is Hate Speech?

What is hate speech? When does free speech morph into hate speech?

We need to have this discussion because of the speed with which words travel today, especially with 24/7 news and social media.

In Germany, 1933, hate speech spread via public speeches, radio and print and we all know what happened after that. Hateful propaganda, much of it over radio, incited the genocide in Rwanda. Hateful propaganda is leading to an increase in anti-Semitism here and now.

But, if we broaden the definition of hate speech, as has happened here in Canada with the ruling by the Supreme Court, I fear that we will put such a crimp on speech that hate will go underground via social media. How will we monitor that?

On the other hand, our Jewish students are on the receiving end of nasty demonstrations on university campuses, demonstrations that are condoned by the administrations. There is an organization known as Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA),   on campuses all over North America. They remind me of the Brown Shirts.

Their gatherings are hate fests that turn campuses into unfriendly places for Jewish students.  At York University in Toronto, Canada, my alma mater, SAIA are joined by others carrying Tamil flags. The Tamils are considered a terrorist group in Canada.  But apparently that’s okay. It isn’t politically incorrect or hate speech when one is attacking Israel. Rhetoric  reached such point that a student lodged a complaint against the school with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

What is so sad is that there was a time when York University was filled with Jewish kids. The Business School is funded by the Schulich family.

As nasty as this hateful speech against Jews and Israel has become,  if we make it difficult for these hateful people to speak in the public square, they will find alternate routes to spread the hate. We can’t fight fantasy history, racist, bigoted comments if we are not made aware of them.

I was monitoring the discussion about the Rachel Corrie play. That Israel is making it possible for this play to go on speaks to the healthy democracy thriving in the midst of theocracies, autocracies and despots. A light unto the nations. Yet, it is another opportunity to spread lies, distorted facts that feed the hateful. Can we take hope in the possibility that talking about the play, exposing the falsehoods might change the minds of some?

Is changing the mind of one person like saving the world?

I have written about anti-Semitism on my blog on Huffington Post. Anti-Semitism has been a cultural meme for more than two thousand years. And it is a shape-shifter. It transforms to fit the ideology of the time.  Considering the comments posted on my blogs, I can’t imagine the ones that were blocked by the editors but I would have liked to have seen them and have everyone else see them as well so that we can all be aware of the breadth and width of the hate.

I have chosen to share comments from one person to illustrate my point. His comments aren’t unique, especially in the Quebec media. I have copied his comments. English isn’t his first language.  First, his “justification” for the hate for Jews:

For the hate of the jews in the past ,present and futur,only the jews know the reasons why.No one ,ot new born baby,child, comes to lifes with anti-semitism within its soul…people become anti-semites when facing the facts, the evil actions of Israel,the ultra-orthodox who do not care of follow the laws .

Then his comments on the Holocaust:

 I know that the ” holocost ” has existed ,but also know that there were a lot of exagerations and that many many jews became rich with fabricated stories and identites..like Benjamin Wilkomirski (Googlle it !!) Elie Weisel nobel peace price (a farce) denounced by Nikolaus Grûner…Frank..even Spielberg has cashed in a lot of dough…or Norman Finkelstein is a liar ?

Let’s face it, much of today’s hate speech world-wide, and unfortunately that can appear in the form of main-stream media bias, is aimed at the Jews and Israel. Hateful speech must be seen and heard for it to be discussed, analyzed, deconstructed and exposed to fact, otherwise it will slither its way into public discourse uncontested.

I’d like to believe that hate speech is only a problem when the majority stays silent whether out of ignorance, apathy or fear. Perhaps we need to refocus our position on hate speech and instead of expending energy fighting the definition of hate speech versus free speech and acceptable speech from politically incorrect speech, we focus our attention on teaching the silent majority the need and the skills to speak up.

First they came for the Jews…


About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "
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