columnU.S. News

Sanctioning Jew-hatred doesn’t conflict with the First Amendment

Rep. Rashida Tlaib and those cheering for Hamas have the right to say what they want. But institutions should treat them the same way they would neo-Nazis or Klan members.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) at a protest in Clint, Texas, in 2019. Credit: Grossinger/Shutterstock.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) at a protest in Clint, Texas, in 2019. Credit: Grossinger/Shutterstock.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Members of the congressional “Squad” are always at their best when playing the victim. In that light, Nov. 7 was a banner day for Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) as she tearfully assumed the mantle of martyrdom when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to censure her for statements “promoting false narratives regarding the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel and for calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.”

The ramifications of the censure vote extend far beyond the halls of Congress. A growing chorus of antisemitic invective is being heard on America’s streets and on college campuses. Similar efforts to call out those who call for Israel’s destruction and in favor of terrorist atrocities against Jews are being resisted by those who claim that doing so is an unconstitutional and unethical effort to silence free speech or to enforce a pro-Israel version of cancel culture. Some assert that the anti-Israel protests—even those that clearly cross over into antisemitism—must not only be tolerated but that any effort to punish or subject to public opprobrium those who engage in such vicious behavior is evidence of intolerance of legitimate political opinions. That includes those individuals who feel more than comfortable tearing down posters with the images of men, women and children being held captive in the Gaza Strip by Hamas.

Would they tolerate support for lynching?

Nobody is repealing anyone’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression, no matter how hateful. But the right to say whatever you want—as long as it’s not a direct incitement to violence—doesn’t mean that the rest of society is obliged to treat those engaging in open antisemitism as respectable members of society. We have every right to censure or call them out for doing so. And in the wake of Oct. 7, as expressions of hatred for Jews and Jewish safety are becoming so widespread, it is more important than ever that those who are behaving in this fashion are treated in the same way society disdains neo-Nazis or avowed racists like members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Had a member of Congress expressed open racism against African-Americans, Hispanics or Asians, as well as supported violence against these groups, there would be no hesitation within either party about not just censuring but expelling them.

Elsewhere, the fact that some people openly sympathize with the cause of those advocating for the mass murder of Jews is an unfortunate fact. There is no doubt that universities would expel students or fire professors who supported the lynching of African-Americans or some other act of mass murder. And no law firm, corporation or mainstream publication would hire someone with that on their record. Nor would there be any movement within college administrations to help such people make their way in life, let alone be guaranteed the success that a degree from an elite school can bring.

But when it comes to those engaging in antisemitism, it appears any thought of public ostracism is controversial. This testifies to the mainstreaming of hatred for Jews not so much in the fever swamps of the far right or far left, but in the very institutions of academia, journalism and business that are the loudest in opposing racism against anyone else. 

Indeed, mainstream institutions are slow even to acknowledge how this atmosphere has led directly to violence against Jews, including the apparent killing of a 69-year-old Jewish man in California by a pro-Hamas demonstrator. That publications like The New York Times were reluctant to label this as murder or a hate crime, even after they rushed to assert that the killing of a Muslim boy was the result of Islamophobia, is more evidence of the double standard at play here.  

And that is the true scandal about post-Oct. 7 America.

Tlaib crosses a line

Tlaib’s attacks on Israel and President Joe Biden for his support for the Jewish state, in which she embraced the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”—a call for the elimination of Israel and those who reside in it—led to the censure. Her smears of Israel as an “apartheid state” and false charges that it is committing “genocide” against Palestinians (which, in context, was clearly intended as a defense of Hamas “resistance” efforts) motivated Republicans to move ahead with the measure. 

While Tlaib has disingenuously claimed that the “river to the sea” slogan is “aspirational” and merely an appeal for freedom, she is a supporter of the antisemitic BDS movement and has repeatedly called for Israel’s elimination.

The vote in favor of censure was 234-188 with 22 Democrats breaking party discipline and crossing the aisle to vote to condemn Tlaib while four Republicans bucked their party to oppose it. Three other Democrats and one Republican merely voted “present.”

Given the failure of past attempts to shame Tlaib in this manner, it’s a significant step for the House. Censure has become a largely partisan tool in which both Republicans and Democrats condemn each other’s outliers more to stoke partisan fundraising than any actual outrage. This vote matters because it labels her behavior as being so abhorrent that it forced at least some in her own party to treat it as beyond the pale.

Still, most Democrats didn’t vote for censure. And only 67 signed on to a letter condemning the use of the “from the river to the sea” slogan as an obvious call for genocide of Israel’s Jews, though without naming Tlaib.

The reason for this was partly partisan since in the current political environment, party labels mean far more to most politicians than principles. But according to Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who is a popular figure among liberal Jewish Democrats, the real issue was “freedom of speech.”

That’s a similar theme being sounded by those who disagree with efforts to punish students and professors who express support for Hamas and echo Tlaib’s antisemitic libels while also intimidating Jewish students. Similar arguments are heard in defense of those who march in the streets in support of Hamas’s genocidal agenda or who tear down posters with the images of Israelis who have been kidnapped and dragged across the border to the Gaza Strip, where they are being held by Hamas.

Anti-Zionism is antisemitism

As New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, another avowed anti-Zionist, wrote this past weekend, as far as many on the political left are concerned, the question is: “When it comes to Israel, who gets to decide what you can or can’t say?” 

But the misnomer here is the false claim that Tlaib or students chanting for an “intifada” are engaging in “criticism” of Israel’s government. If it were merely criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his policies, there would be no issue. But the anti-Zionists don’t want a different Israeli government or a Jewish state with alternative policies or borders. They want to “decolonize” Israel, which is to say, destroy it, evict or kill its Jews and replace it with a Palestinian state. And that state would—inevitably, like every other majority Muslim nation in the region—be one where adherents of other religions would, at best, be a discriminated-against minority whose safety would be subject to the whims of Islamists. 

The reason why anti-Zionists are antisemites, regardless of whether some can claim Jewish ancestry, is that they advocate for treating Jews differently than any other people on the planet. They say that only Jews have no right to life and sovereignty in their ancient homeland, and as such, should be denied the right to self-defense against those seeking to slaughter them. That is what those demanding a ceasefire in Gaza so as to allow Hamas to survive and win the current war are doing, and it’s nothing but discrimination. And let’s be clear: Discrimination against Jews is antisemitism.

This is why the Jewish community has every right to demand that those who call for Israel’s extinction be correctly labeled as antisemites. It is equally hateful to claim that antisemites should be tolerated or treated better than those who advocate for discrimination or violence against other minorities.

The awful atrocities of Oct. 7 were deeply traumatic for all Jews. But that injury has been compounded not just by the indifference of much of the world, including those who publicly comment about any tragedy, but by the way the mass slaughter of Jews has actually encouraged the spread of antisemitism throughout the world.

The problem for Jews is that a percentage of Americans support an ideology—left-wing intersectionality—that is squarely behind such discrimination and ready to rationalize, if not openly back, violence against Jews. We can see how this has already led to violence and the creation of an atmosphere in cities and colleges where Jews have good reason to fear for their safety.

That means that it is incumbent on institutions—whether they are universities, corporations or Congress—to demonstrate that while people who hold such views have every right to speak, march or publish, they do not have a right to be tolerated or treated as a respectable member of society. As long as they are being told by the arbiters of public opinion, like The New York Times, that their advocacy for violence against Jews is something that everyone should accept as legitimate and even acceptable discourse, Jews aren’t safe in America … or anywhere else.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.

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