Use free speech to quash hate

J. correctly observes that Germany has laws banning hate speech, including Holocaust denial, its archetypal example (“Stop avoiding the truth about terror,” Jan. 16). Other European nations do as well. The legacy of the Holocaust and Europe’s traditional value on the sanctity of individual dignity partly explains why such laws can exist in democracies that largely protect free expression.

 In the U.S., we do not criminalize Holocaust denial or hate speech generally. Our history and culture differ from Europe’s, and though we punish hate crime, we do not outlaw prejudice. Instead, the vast majority of us understand that though the exercise of hate speech is not illegal, we will suffer societal consequences for its expression — witness Mel Gibson, whose career deteriorated once he exposed his bigotry to the world. Europe’s laws may be well intentioned, but they have not succeeded in eradicating hate, much less hate violence. Indeed, many Jews in France and elsewhere in Europe feel under siege.

 Each of us should exercise our own free speech rights to confront anti-Semitic and other hateful rhetoric. It is a vital, though challenging, undertaking to protect our values. And indeed, in suffering even offensive speech, we can then expose the bigotry so our fellow Americans can join in denouncing it.

Nancy J. Appel   |   San Francisco

Associate director, Anti-Defamation League, Central Pacific Region


Tawonga tree story brings family anguish


Silence — it is deafening. And I have been silent long enough.

I am Annais Rittenberg’s aunt. The article in the Jan. 23 edition of J. (“Repurposed trees hold chuppah and Tawonga community together”) is not only offensive — it is shameful. How this publication could print an article with a headline about “celebration” and “trees” and holding the community together at Camp Tawonga a mere 17 months after the tragic death of my beloved niece by a falling tree on the Tawonga property is reprehensible.

But I guess I should not be surprised. It only confirms the facts: The leadership of the camp as well as the San Francisco Jewish community at large has failed. It has failed her parents, her brother, and her family and friends who are forever tortured by her death. And, it has failed all of the children and parents who continue to send their children to a facility where safety is in question.

Further, J., which is supposed to serve the “entire” Bay Area Jewish community, showed the poorest of all judgment in featuring this story as though nothing had happened on July 3, 2013. If this publication has one ounce of integrity, it will apologize for using such poor judgment in printing this article.

Maureen Rittenberg   |   San Francisco

Editor’s response: The article being objected to refers to couples using chuppah poles carved from trees at Camp Tawonga. Simchas will continue to be celebrated even as tragedy takes the lives of loved ones, leaving unbearable pain in its wake.