Jewish activist: ‘Hate speech must not be accepted as civil discourse’

Astrid Riecken FOR THE WASHINGTON POST Controversial posters on the Israel Palestinian conflict are placed at U Street Metro stop … Continued

Astrid Riecken


Controversial posters on the Israel Palestinian conflict are placed at U Street Metro stop and three other Metro stations after a court battle. The same posters were also placed in the NYC subway system where they were vandalized. Some consider them ‘hate speech’ since they imply the Palestinians are “savages.”

This week’s U.S. District Court ruling forced the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to place ads in the D.C. subway system reading: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” These ostensibly pro-Israel billboards that deem iihadists, and by implication Muslims, as “savages” do not serve the interests of anyone involved, and in fact inflict great harm.

Both Jews and Muslims lose when rhetoric like this is put out into the world. It is a dangerous conflation of two things that are not equivalent: that supporting Israel means hating Muslims, and that Israeli versus Arab equates with Jew versus Muslim.

These ads are an unfortunate case of enforcing the first article of the Bill of Rights to protect what is essentially hate speech. They are an abuse of rights we hold dear as Americans: freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It’s both offensive and ineffective. I, for one, will not tolerate such bigotry put out into the world in the name of my religion.

I am a committed Zionist with a deep love of Israel and a proud Jew, but it is clear to me that the messages conveyed by these billboards only serve to further factionalize an already deep divide and bolster dangerous stereotypes. As heirs to the Abrahamic tradition of welcoming strangers into their tents, American Jews and Muslims must serve as examples for civilized dialogue and coexistence between the two faiths. Together, both communities have a great potential to inspire hope and a responsibility to serve as role models of mutual respect. After all, if we as Americans can’t learn to be respectful of each other, what chance do our brothers and sisters have in the Middle East? We have an important opportunity to model democracy in action to the people who share our faiths throughout the world.

While we cherish free speech, we must also be vigilant about its potential harm. We are all Americans and our shared love of freedom should not be abused. In the case of these billboards, neither Jews nor Muslims should suffer from assumptions about their beliefs and loyalties. As a Jew, I can’t imagine that my desire for mutual respect and dialogue instead of inflammatory rhetoric is any different than a Muslim’s.

Having my faith associated with hate speech placed on billboards on subways, I feel as alienated and stereotyped as I imagine Muslims do by being branded as terrorists. Hate speech must not be accepted as civil discourse. We can make a more powerful statement against terrorism by showing the world how people of different faiths and political views can disagree peacefully and respectfully. Surely that is a better message to spread than one that perpetuates hate, disdain and distrust. That should be self-evident, but sadly it isn’t, and it is often further obscured by the political diatribes that are put forth in the name of religion.

Speaking out is a moral imperative for all of us, and fostering dialogue that is constructive is essential. I am inspired by the work being done at the Bronfman Center at New York University as a place where dialogue that encourages respect and understanding is being fostered between young Muslims and Jews. Currently, a rabbi and an imam co-teach a course entitled “Multifaith Leadership in the Twenty-first Century.” A group called Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Dialogue leads community service trips to disaster zones, working together to provide humanitarian relief to people who are suffering. The interfaith cooperation extends into the student dorms, where an entire floor in the residence hall was spearheaded by Jewish and Muslim students to live and study together, along with a rabbi and an imam.

I am inspired by these young Muslims and Jews coming together to learn more about each other, not just as representatives of their faiths, but as human beings. We would do well to follow their example and become models of mutual respect, engaging in the hard work of constructive dialogue and not resorting to hate speech.

Former chief executive officer of the Seagram Company Ltd., Edgar M. Bronfman is president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, which seeks to inspire a renaissance of Jewish life. He is the author the forthcoming, “The Bronfman Haggadah,” created in conjunction with his wife, artist Jan Aronson, which will be published by Rizzoli Press, Spring 2013.

Related content from On Faith:

Honda: Anti-jihad ads reminiscent of McCarthyism, 1950s fear mongering

Judge: Metro must allow anti-jihad ads

Don’t deface anti-Muslim Metro ads

Muslims: Keep calm and carry on

Anti-Muslim subway ads throughout New York City: Fighting for faith?

In defense of the right to offend

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  • WapoYapo

    Hate speech…I see that being bandied about a lot regarding this issue. But, the truth is, hate speech is covered just as much as any other speech under the First Amendment. And, dear sir, do you know why? Let me provided an example.

    “In any war between the best team in basebal and drunken, fried chicken eating losers, support the best team in baseball. Defeat the Redsox. Support the Nationals”

    Is that hate speech? And, if so, should it therefore be censored? Do we now see what a slippery slope this is and why the only rational course of action is to ensure that freedom of speech, something so important that it was the very first amendment to the Constitution, is protected? Let’s try again.

    “In any war between the Gap and the overprice Old Navy, support the Gap. Don’t buy Old Navy Support the Gap”


    I literally cannot imagine the United States without the level of freedom of speech that we enjoy today. And I hope I never have to experience it.

  • Kingofkings1

    The author of this article should be encouraged; however,the author seems naive regarding solving the problem that eluded the world through the entire 20th century, and which seems only to be getting first int he 21st century, i.e. the israeli-palestinian conflict. It may be that the next phase of communication in solving the israeli-palestinian conflict will have to be through billboard communication

  • WashingtonDame

    Bronfman’s heart is in the right place, but the inherent difficulties of agreeing on what is “hate speech” means that his approach would never pass constitutional muster. One person’s “hate speech” is another person’s sincerely and deeply felt political or religious beliefs. The beauty of the First Amendment is that it protects even offensive speech, in order to ensure that we all can speak freely, without censorship or prior restraint from our government.

  • Doug Meade

    It should never be the government that defines “hate.” Hence all speech devoid of physical threat should be free and allowed without prejudice! The first ammendment is fine. Leave it alone. Pick apart and attempt to define what motivation (one man’s hatred is another’s love) backs a word or phrase and we all lose! Freedom has its many costs! One of the big ones is allowing what we find offensive to be shouted without penalty from the mountain-tops!

  • Kingofkings1

    seems only to be getting first int he 21st century

    seems only to be getting worse in the 21st century


    If hate speech were to be considered a crime, most of the Republican Teab*gger Christian Conservatives would be looking at hard jail time.

    Hate speech has to be considered free speech because one man’s clear and cogent criticism can be considered hate speech by another and that speech suppressed.

  • Vote Yes Scotland 2014

    One cannot be a little free .

  • thegreywolfe

    No matter what you say or write, if your forum is large enough, someone is going to be offended. Is there any way a person can submit their comments for approval before they make them?

    I look at this ad and see no hate speech, but simple facts.

    Can anyone find the word “Muslim” or “Islam” in this ad?

    Is the indiscriminate murder of women and children for political beliefs and the idea of world domination a characteristic of savages?

    Is beheading a hostage in front of a video camera and releasing it on the Internet the sign of a savage?

    If your answers to these questions are No, Yes and Yes, then there’s no hate speech involved.

  • arik67

    Bronfman evidently believes that spending enough money on Jewish causes gives him right to spew garbage. Let me see again: “These ostensibly pro-Israel billboards that deem Jihadists, and by implication Muslims, as “savages””??? By what implication? That all Muslims are Jihadists? That all Muslims are engaged in a violent struggle to win the whole world for Islam and destroy Israel and freedom in the process? What the hell is he talking about? If Bronfman wishes to say that not every Arab fighting against Israel does so out of religious motives – let him say so and be clear about it. Right now, it is he who comes across as uninformed racist coward – “yes, all Muslims are Jihadists who hate Israel, but let’s not call them “savages”, it’s insulting”.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    In any war between the helpless native and the ruthless imperialist,
    Support the native man.
    Support Palestine.
    Defeat Zionism.

    Just wanted to provide a real analogy for those that seem to be incapable of imagining the other side of this issue. Condemning jihadists while supporting Israel and its policies is an exercise in hypocrisy.

  • xexon

    If you’re a zionist, you’re no longer a Jew.

    If you belong to this atheistic, nationalistic, militaristic movement with roots in Europe, you’ve ultimately got things on your mind other than the God of Israel.

    Judaism is a religion, NOT a people. And certainly not a race. There were no Jews before the religion was created. And Israel? Founded by the athesitic followers of Theo Herzl as a ZIONIST state. Israel has never represented Jews and never will. They call themselves a Jewish state because most people in the west can’t tell the difference between a zionist and a real Jew.

    I can and I do. Caught hell for it too over the years online. You should see all the whirling kung fu Stars of David I have embedded in my forehead. Thrown mostly, not by Jews, but by zionist Christians.

    The problem with Islam, is also the zionists. And the zionist state they founded. In order to rise in power and provide protection to the Jewish group, they have cultured Islam as an enemy. This serves two purposes.

    Zionism infiltrated true Judaism and gutted it spiritually. Now the focus is on their nation state. And since the zionists are in the protection business, they require job security to stay in power. Enter Islam.

    A perfect scapecoat. They’re local, and surround Israel. They’re still tribal, and their ranks are from 3rd world countries where fundamentalists are plentiful. Which means they’re easily insulted. Not hard to pick a fight with. Zionism has risen in power because it’s been able to convince the western world that they’re biblical Jews and worth protecting from these savages we see on the evening news. That couldn’t be further from the truth as most zionists are WHITE and of European decent. We do not find many people of color among the zionist elite. And that is very telling.

    Hate speech originates when someone challenges the zionist construct. Israel as a Jewish state. Jews as biblical Jews. And Christians protecting both cause it’s what Jesus would want.

    Hate speech against Isl

  • WmarkW

    Does the author object if I hate… throwing acid on girls for going to school, killing ambassadors, flying airliners into skyscrapers, bombing subways, or assassinating filmmakers? The concept of “hate speech” is intended to apply only to hating people for who they are (calling an African-American the N-word), not criticism of actions (like saying “blacks need to stop blaming racism for everything, and lower their non-marital parenthood rate”).

    The ads say nothing about hating Muslims as people or for their spirituality; only for the acts of violence it motivates. Correcting behavior through questioning its philosophical basis is what freedom of expression is for.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    And visa versa.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    I see why you are concerned.

  • WmarkW

    It has often been considered a rule of polite conversation not to discuss religion or politics. That doesn’t apply to ads in a subway.

    Secular author Sam Harris calls Mormonism “Christianity, plus some very stupid ideas,” comparing the belief that the Ancient Israelites settled among pre-Columbia Native Americans to the belief that Elvis is alive — deserving of derisive laughter. Is that hate speech? Are we supposed to treat the history told in the Book of Mormon as anything less than a fantasy story, and respect the beliefs of those who take it seriously any differently than adults who believe in Santa Claus?

    The most supreme intelligence in the universe did not write the Quran. That’s patently obvious from any perspective except pure piety. Does the belief that some people have a divine right to certain real estate based on that text have any more basis than believing witches exist and can cast spells on people?

    If you believe in obvious falsehoods, truth is a justification for calling your beliefs lies.

  • tianxiang69

    “Hate speech must not be accepted as civil discourse.” As an Infidel, when I read the Quran it definitely expresses hatred for me. And the many Imams around the world that spew hatred of the Infidels in their mosques (please see the expose they did in England on some of the mosques there) are guilty of hate speech on a regular basis. So, for me, the Quran is hate speech but I certainly don’t think it should be banned. (Even though, unlike the ads, it actually does instruct the believers to commit acts of violence, i.e. crimes, which is one of the few kinds of speech not protected by the 1st amendment. And, yes, Islamic apologists I have read the Quran and the biography of your prophet and a great deal of the history of Islam.) But, apparently Mr. Bronfman would think it should be banned. Or, is hate speech ok as long as it is done in the name of a religion, or maybe just some particular religion. No? Did I misunderstand Mr. Bronfman? Ok, please tell me which all-wise and all-knowing person or organization’s subjective opinion gets to decide what is and what is not hate speech.

  • OfficerFriendly

    “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
    – Jesus, Matthew 7:3.

    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

    – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • OfficerFriendly

    halozcel2, evidently you missed the point. Rereading the article may help you to pick up what you missed the first time.

  • crljones

    Mr Bronfman, I would like to point out a serious error in logic in your arguement in paragraph 1. How/where can you leap to the conclusion that “deem iihadists, and by implication Muslims, as “savages” – you are not reading that correctly – otherwise it would say Muslims instead of Jihadis. Let us hope that many more Muslims reject the idea of Jihad in America.

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