We stand by free speech
Guest Columnist

We stand by free speech

It’s not breaking news that left-wing extremists have made a habit of shutting down, or attempting to shut down, Israel-related events throughout the country. In January 2016 at a Wider Bridge LGBTQ rights reception in Chicago, protestors forced two speakers from the stage simply because they were Israeli. Many Jews in attendance feared for their safety. In May 2016, Students for Justice in Palestine interrupted a program organized by HIllel at the University of California, Irvine where Jewish students were screening a film about five IDF soldiers titled “Beneath the Helmet.” This May, protestors in Seattle disrupted a gala where pro-Israel nonprofit StandWithUs was presenting an award to Mayor Ed Murray, claiming he was a “fake progressive mayor” who endorses systematic racism in Seattle and Israel.

All of these actions are despicable. At best they’re anti-Israel; at worst they’re overtly and violently anti-Semitic. But it is precisely because we oppose how pro-Israel speakers are occasionally censored — and because we are American Jews who support the First Amendment — that we must also support Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters’ right to perform here in Pittsburgh. We must do so even if his anti-Semitic rhetoric fuels some of the left-wing extremism leading to protests that harm our community.

We refuse to use the same tactics on Waters that radicals like him (on the left and the right) direct toward us. We will not counter hate speech by attempting to suppress it, but rather by utilizing our own constitutionally protected right to free speech to draw attention to its hypocrisy. We would have demonstrated those values in Charlottesville, Va., had we been there last week.

Waters, an outspoken supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, will be performing in Pittsburgh on Sept. 19 during his months-long North American tour. Many pro-BDS activists such as Waters present the movement as a nonviolent means to support Palestinian rights. In reality, it’s a largely ineffective effort to cripple Israel’s economy so severely that it ceases to exist as Jewish state, all the while ignoring the collateral damage BDS inflicts on the Palestinian economy (see: SodaStream). Omar Barghouti, the movement’s founder, is not shy about its intentions.

Waters has encouraged major artists to boycott Israel, most recently publicly pressuring Radiohead to cancel its July show in Tel Aviv. Radiohead declined.

The Anti-Defamation League withheld public judgment on Waters’ anti-Jewish sentiment until then-National Director Abraham Foxman published an open letter to Waters in August 2013.

“Over the past few years, you have incorporated Jewish imagery into your concert performances, painting a Star of David on your famous floating pig alongside other symbols, including a dollar sign and the sickle and hammer,” Foxman wrote. “You repeatedly rejected accusations of a malicious subtext to the use of the Star of David, assuring fans that you were in no way equating Jews with money or communism. We took you at your word and defended your actions as artistic expression void of anti-Semitic intent.

“In recent months, however, your relentless attacks against Israel and calls for a boycott of the Jewish State have caused us to re-examine your attitude towards Jews.”

Foxman continues, pointing out Waters’ failure to mention anything about Hamas’ terror activity, his inability to substantiate his claims of Israeli apartheid or ethnic cleansing with any evidence, and his willful ignorance of actual human rights atrocities from dictatorial regimes throughout the world.

How much evidence do we need?

We don’t want Roger Waters in Pittsburgh. But unlike Waters and so many other BDS activists, we recognize the right of those with whom we disagree to peacefully exist among us and to exercise their First Amendment right. Just like we would of any hate group. PJC

>>For more information on Roger Waters, visit jfedpgh.org/rogerwaters

Josh Sayles is director of the Community Relations Council for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

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