Freedom of speech, with respect

It’s been a bad week for civil discourse locally. In recent days, multiple incidents took place, each a testament to the dismal power of hate.

As our story on page 8 explains, on Feb. 27 at U.C. Davis, two Israeli speakers — one an Israeli Druze woman — faced relentless heckling during their presentation, with tensions so high, campus police had to be called.

The Israelis got through their presentation, but it was a task made nearly impossible by those who arrogate free speech to themselves while denying it to others.

While j. has applauded efforts to promote civil discourse in the Bay Area, those initiatives usually involve Jews talking to other Jews about Israel.

When that debate extends beyond the Jewish community, all bets are off.

Free speech lies at the heart of this dispute.

The behavior of groups that demonize Israel mimics the Khartoum Resolution of 1967, in which the Arab League issued the infamous “Three No’s:” No peace with Israel, no recognition with Israel, no negotiations with Israel.

Modern-day rejectionists might add one more: No free speech for Israel or its supporters.

We have no sympathy for university administrators who prevent campus security from intervening when anti-Israel heckling occurs. We would say to them and the hecklers: Your First Amendment rights end when you infringe on mine.

There are lessons here for those on the pro-Israel side. At a Feb. 25 pro-Palestinian rally in Berkeley, two apparent pro-Israel protesters pepper sprayed three people. We don’t know what prompted the incident, but once protesters graduate from shouted slogans to pepper spray, a dangerous line has been crossed.

And then there is the strange case of Israeli-born Gilad Atzmon, now a virulent anti-Israel activist. He spoke to a sparsely attended gathering in Oakland the same day as the Berkeley street rally. In his remarks, he spewed venom about Israel, Israelis, Jews and Judaism, with nary a pro-Israel heckler to be heard.

A transcript of the remarks recorded by StandWithUs quotes Atzmon as saying, “When the Jew criticizes Israel he becomes an anti-Semite, a self-hater. I decided to be a proud self-hater. My book is my attempt to fight every ounce of Jew in me.”

Disgusting hate speech? Unquestionably. But Atzmon had every right to express it. No Israel supporter inside or outside the hall shouted him down.

This is not Damascus. This is not Tahrir Square. This is the United States, and here true free speech reigns. We would all do well to remember that.