When Free Speech Isn’t

As this week’s news cycle feeds on the children of privilege ‘occupying’ US campuses, I’m noticing something different – the ongoing anxiety and insecurity I feel as a North American Jew about Israel’s situation is being amplified by an obsessive cycle of repetition. Every week, it seems, there’s some new propaganda campaign; but the underlying message is always the same. Lies fed to western media that are repeated without journalistic verification; global street protests that block traffic and bring major cities to a halt; on-going violent attacks on Jews in European and American cities; BDS divestment campaigns (remember those?). On and on, plus ca change…

Surprise attacks by Arabs on Jews are as old as the state itself – 1948, 1973, 2023. In fact, they predate the state: savage massacres – Hebron in 1929 is only the best known of many – were perpetrated by Arabs on Jews long before the creation of Israel, and certainly long before Israel took over the West Bank from Jordanian rule, and Gaza from Egyptian rule.

But as we know, political ideology has nothing to do with facts. For decades, we’ve been barraged by a constant stream of lies about Israel, Zionism, and the Jews. Even journalists believe what they want to believe, and ‘see’ what they want to see. Ideology trumps [pun unintentional, but apt] reason, and even evidence. Credible journalists praised Hitler all through the 1930s, and if Jews were persecuted or killed, ‘well, they must have done something’. Credible journalists, especially on the left, continued to praise Stalin in the face of his atrocities, and true believers — even Jews who should have known better after he started eliminating Jews — continued to be Stalinists well into the 1950s. Many of these believers, in both Hitler and Stalin, were intellectuals, professors, and other highly-educated elites.

If Hamas are exposed as bloodthirsty thugs who commit atrocities, use their own people as hostages and human shields, and are hell-bent on the destruction of Israel and the genocidal annihilation of the Jews, then the entire inverted theory that ‘Zionists are white colonists’, and Palestinian and other Islamist organizations who deny the Holocaust and have the foundational stated aim of obliterating Israel are ‘noble victims’ and ‘brave resistance fighters’, will collapse and people will be obliged to acknowledge that they have been dupes and pawns in a demonic geopolitical process stage-managed by Iran and Russia.

Too hard to admit. Easier to blame the Jews.

We live in very dangerous times; once a lying ideology takes hold it’s almost impossible to dislodge or even refute. What’s truly appalling is that these horrific ideologies that already caused the murders of so many millions of people have, with barely a cosmetic touch-up, retaken so much of the world. And now they have become the latest form of ‘progressive’ virtue signalling that just keeps on coming. Now it’s sly little watermelon icons everywhere. This virtue signalling is everywhere, mindless, and incredibly dangerous. It’s become part of the popular culture, and is immune to rational discourse.

And so we come to the current ‘occupations’ of university campuses by well-meaning but ignorant innocents, aided (and perhaps funded) by Qatar and other behind-the-scenes players. And we have the ‘defenders of free speech’, insisting that genocidal lies have a ‘protected right’. But this speech is not ‘free’. It is robotic and pre-determined by decades of lies and demonizing propaganda. Goebbels understood the principle: repeat a lie often enough and everyone will come to believe it.

What’s needed is not the reactive denunciations currently taking place, but a concerted effort to present the real, very tragic, history of the Palestinians — hated and outcast except as political pawns and human shields throughout the Arab world, refused citizenship by all their Arab ‘brothers’, victimized by Hamas and Hezbollah and their puppet-handlers (Iran and Qatar), infantilized and kept an eternally dependent client population by the UN and especially UNRWA, denied acceptance as refugees by all their so-called ‘friends’ in the EU and North America, kept hostage to a deadly zero-sum ideology for far too many generations.

If Jewish public intellectuals, scholars, and artists were loyal to their own people in the way their Palestinian counterparts are, all this would be flooding the media, and the textbooks and classrooms of Jewish Studies departments. Instead, we have a succession of craven fellow travellers of the old Stalinist canard that ‘Zionism is racism’, repeating lies about ‘apartheid’, ‘genocide’, and ‘colonial settlers’. It’s infuriating. And helps no one, least of all the Palestinians themselves, who are its victims. And it could easily trigger another major war in the Middle East and beyond.

About the Author
Kitty Hoffman's award-winning writing has appeared in literary anthologies and journals including The New Quarterly, Boulevard, The Commons, and Prism. A spiritual director in Montreal, she is in the final year of rabbinical studies and working on a book of literary nonfiction about her medieval ancestor, the father of European kabbalah, and the weight of her Holocaust legacy. More info at
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