Saturday, May 21st | 20 Iyyar 5782

September 9, 2019 5:40 am

The US Must Institute Laws Against Antisemitism

avatar by Simon Butler


Yeshiva University High School in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. Photo: Screenshot.

The recent reports surrounding US neo-Nazi website Vanguard News Network (VNN)’s publication of photos of students and faculty at Yeshiva University (YU) in New York City raise some pertinent questions — including why any website-hosting service, domain-name registrar, or others would help create and maintain such an entity.

But there’s another issue that may be even more important — the dearth of anti-hate speech (including antisemitism) laws in the United States. I believe that we musk ask whether the American principle of freedom of speech should be re-fitted to address today’s social media climate.

I must note that I have a personal interest in this dilemma. The YU campus is near my apartment building, which is located in the neighborhood of Washington Heights. Therefore, this issue hits close to home. Those students and faculty members could be me, and the publication of their photos could have included mine.

As such, I wonder why such bigotry is even allowed in the United States. So far, the US government has not emulated countries such as the United Kingdom and France in the criminalization of hate speech.

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In America, as long as there is no direct incitement to violence, people are generally free to say what they want. Unless an individual directly threatens another person, expresses a desire to harm people, or urges others to do the same, his or her rights to freedom of speech are fully protected.

I think we should revisit this mandate as soon as possible.

America has come a long way since its birth in 1776. Legislators have added many amendments to our Constitution and have adapted to the times. In light of that, Congress and state legislatures must adapt to the scourge of antisemitism and other hate speech on social media.

We should make it a crime to disseminate content featuring the hatred of any race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, sex or gender, age, or level of ability in any published content — both online and off. Why is it necessary to have such prejudice be out in the open where everyone has access to it?

In my view, our Founding Fathers weren’t thinking of neo-Nazi content on someone’s website when they proposed an absolute right to freedom of speech.

Laws enacted to prohibit hate speech are necessary, and perhaps a regulator could be instituted to enforce compliance — much like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was founded to oversee issues pertaining to financial instruments.

Because hate speech is so insidious, it can lead to violence against the individuals it targets — and we’ve already seen this too many times in our country. We need a domestic monitor to research, assess, and lead campaigns against websites and other publishers of offensive text, images, and videos.

Perhaps we won’t fully be able to reflect Britain and France’s attendance to such matters. Maybe oversight could be instituted in a gradual manner. Yet if we don’t do anything at all, we run the risk of more hate speech-fueled violence happening — more Pittsburghs, more Orlandos, and more Christchurches.

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. During his career, he has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek. Currently, he is a columnist for The Jewish Advocate. His views and opinions are his own.

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