Yes, Freedom of Speech, but Not Freedom to Hate
Adapted from remarks delivered at a community vigil at the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial on Oct 27th, 2018.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, there is an alarming rise in hate in the United States of America. White nationalists wielding torches and marching in Charlottesville repeating and emulating Nazi slogans… A white gunman opening fire during a prayer service at a historic black church in Charleston… The early-morning bombing of a mosque just outside of Minneapolis…
And now, an antisemite entering a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with an assault rifle on a quiet Sabbath morning murdering 11 Jews. The largest assault against Jews in the history of the United States, murdered only for the crime of their religion.
This is what hate looks like in America today.
My friends, there is simply no place for hate — not here, not anywhere. And, furthermore, there are absolutely no good people who stand on the side of hate. Period!
Every time something like this happens, there are these solemn moments where we gather, pray, reflect and cry. But i ask you…what are we really going to do about it?
It is estimated that there are close to 1,000 hate groups currently operating in the United States. Let me repeat — almost 1,000 hate groups!
These are not just groups whose targets are Jews. These are groups whose mission is to spew hate, which inevitably knows no boundaries. The Anti-Defamation League has reported that the number of antisemitic incidents in the US rose almost 60 percent in 2017 — the largest single-year increase on record.
So, after these gatherings, where we grieve and then we continue to go about our daily lives most forget the current tragedy until the next one occurs.
We all want to live in a world where there is no next time. We all want our children to live in a world where there is no next time. We all want our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live in a world where there is no next time.
As we stand here tonight, we are sending a message loud and clear to those who must listen – enough is enough. Here, in the shadow of the Holocaust Memorial, the greatest reminder of just how evil hate can become.
In fact, we are just 10 days from commemorating Kristallnacht, the beginning of the holocaust and a night of unrivaled hate that unleashed the forces of evil in Europe.
As Jews in America, we want to believe that kind of hate can’t happen here. Our ancestors wanted to believe that very same thing during the early 1930s in Poland, in Germany, and in so many other places they once called home. The lesson is that unbridled hate against any group is both contagious and dangerous. It cannot and must not be allowed to continue, not here, not anywhere — not anymore. Never again.
As people who care about our nation and our values how do we respond besides talking and showing up at events like these?
I ask each of you to think about the answer and then vow to do whatever it takes as citizens, as a community and as a country, to stand strong against hate and stand strong against antisemitism, whether it be from the right or from the left.
People are fed up with this plague of hateful violence in our nation. The fact that we live in a moment when even The New York Times publishes a column called “this week in hate,” where it tracked hate crimes and harassment around the country, should be appalling to us all. Yet, it is the new normal. What has happened to our world?
We must hold social media organizations more responsible for disseminating so much hate through their platforms. It is inconceivable that you can read on social media that Jews were responsible for the attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001. If social media groups don’t assume responsibility for disseminating such hate, then we must ask our representatives in Washington to hold them responsible, revoking the protections they have against litigation. Yes, freedom of speech, but not freedom to hate.
We need more leaders like Ambassador Nikki Haley, who when governor of the state of South Carolina made a clear statement for all to see, ordering the removal of the Confederate flag from its state capital building after the horrific shooting at the church in Charleston.
The Pittsburgh shooter yelled, “All Jews must die!” We could have easily heard, “All blacks must die!” Or, “All gays must die!” Or, “all Muslims must die!” Or, “All immigrants must die!” Or, “All Christians must die!” — any group, any one of us, at any moment. Who will be next?
History has demonstrated over and over again that hatred that starts with the Jews doesn’t end with the Jews.
Ladies and gentlemen, elected officials, spiritual leaders and all people of goodwill, I ask you this: Is Pittsburgh the canary in the coalmine? I pray not and so do each of you.
Hate in our country is manifesting itself in the most horrific ways. Here in this sacred place — which memorializes 6 million Jews, who like the Pittsburgh Jews, died only for the crime of being Jewish — let memory serve as a lesson to all of what can happen when hate is allowed to prevail.
President George Washington in a letter he wrote, after a visit to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, dated August 18, 1790, concluded:
“May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
May the memory of the 11 men and women who were senselessly murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue forever inspire us to fight hatred wherever it exists, and may God bless the United States of America.
Norman Braman is a Florida-based philanthropist.