Antisemitism and insurrectionism

Antisemitism and insurrectionism

The antisemitism that has roiled American campuses is grotesque and intolerable.

Figuring out the correct response is challenging. When free speech is used to spur hatred of Israel and of the Jewish people, it is difficult to be a First Amendment ideologue. Indeed, there is a visceral desire to quash those who spread the antisemitic hate that has shattered Jewish life in every generation.

I am very stringent on free speech. It is not the result of being a purist. It is more the selfish historical appraisal that recognizes a simple truism. The limitation of free speech anywhere has always redounded to the detriment of the Jews. I recognize that there is a vast and consequential difference between speech that is hateful and speech that promotes violence. The latter must be proscribed, not protected. However, drawing that tensile line that separates those classifications of speech often is quite difficult.

The legal stance, which defies concretized parameters, allows for those who would strongly disapprove of greater freedom of speech to limit its borders. Those, like myself, who wish to provide the broadest license to free speech would be more reluctant to restrict those freedoms. Neither position is without serious-minded, well-intended detractors. It is, like so many quandaries, a more formidable problem than any proposed solution.

There is a distressing component of this analysis that should be of profound concern. Most people, including me, would rightly demand that force be used, if necessary, to deter threats of actual violence. There should be little equivocation on the need for intervention — legal or physical — when the line separating free speech and the advocacy of assault or brutality is crossed. There is, however, an irreconcilable dissonance that is perplexing. Many of those who would support more aggressive intervention by the police or the National Guard or law enforcement are supporters of Donald Trump. It is not the political assessment of an alternative to President Biden that is of concern. It is the fact that Donald Trump has dismissed the severity of a mob threatening — and causing — death and destruction on January 6.

Many of those who are impervious to the threats to “hang Mike Pence,” who shrug at Trump’s labeling of those who were convicted of criminal assault as “hostages,” who continue to endorse a man who has offered pardons to those convicted felons (and who participates in a choir to sing the national anthem for Trump’s entrance to rallies), find themselves demanding force to stop the antisemitism that currently plagues our campuses and our cities.

Those who have applauded the claim, espoused by Mr. Trump and others, that January 6 was nothing more than a “group of rowdy tourists,” or that the participants in the insurrection were “great patriots,” can hardly pound their fists in demand for intervention in our current circumstance. The vile and violent assault on the Capitol and the incendiary antisemitism of today are inextricably linked. The current eruption of hate-filled antisemitic rhetoric is fused with the promotion, endorsement, and support of a past president (and current presidential aspirant) who spews unbridled hatred, threats of violence, and dehumanizing rhetoric.

To create distinctions between the tolerance of despicable statements or the deplorable treatment of women by Donald Trump and the enabling of a hateful minority to publicly celebrate their hatred of Jews is intellectually dishonest. To distinguish between hate-inspired violence to obstruct the transfer of power and the threatened violence of antisemitic rallies requires undignified intellectual contortions.

This cruel and bitter irony that shadows those who fail to take stock of the poisonous impact of support for Donald Trump is not intended primarily as a political statement. Clearly that is a tangential side effect. But antisemitism is the current concern. The abhorrent statements of hate and violence emerging from Donald Trump have tilled the American soil from which this antisemitism has sprouted. The flowering of toxic hate — now expressed in antisemitic tropes — is the inevitable harvest of the continued tolerance of Mr. Trump’s repugnant, hate-filled rants.

The world will show little mercy to those who endorse political hatred and violence but who are repelled by the hatred and violence of antisemitism. The breezy defenses of Donald Trump’s abominable conduct would appear to lose their heft when used by antisemites in defense of their hateful slogans. It is increasingly unpalatable to straddle that divide.

Jack Nelson is a longtime resident of Bergen County. For many years he practiced law in New York; now he is a business executive.

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