Free Speech and Israel’s War in Gaza

Statement from the People’s Organization for Progress

Anti-war, anti-racism group defends right to criticize Israel
Anti-war, anti-racism group defends right to criticize Israel. | Photo: POP

By People’s Organization for Progress

“We hold that criticism of government policy is protected free speech no matter which government is being criticized. Thus, be it the US government, the Israeli government, the Chinese government, the Nigerian government, the French government, the Brazilian government, or the Vatican government. We defend the fundamental right of individuals, and press organizations, to exercise this right whether we agree or disagree with the particular criticism. No government can rightly claim a shield from vocal criticism.

“Unfortunately, we are witnessing an active campaign to shield the Israeli government from criticism by labeling criticism of the Israel government “antisemitic”. We firmly oppose antisemitism, and other forms of religious, racial, or ethnic bigotry. However, being critical of the Israeli government is not hostility to the Jewish people, just as criticism leveled at the Chinese government cannot be equated with anti-Asian hate or hostility. Israeli civil society includes a vibrant political culture where opposing views are vigorously exchanged and debated unrelated to any antisemitic motive or goal.

“Similarly, we are witnessing scathing criticism of African-American US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. This criticism is related to his acceptance of substantial financial benefits from wealthy donors who have interests before the Supreme Court. Despite the US history of racism targeting people of African descent, Justice Thomas cannot shield himself from such criticism by alleging his critics are racists.

“We call upon government officials, at all levels (municipal, county, state, and federal), community and faith leaders, and citizens, to uphold and protect the fundamental right to scrutinize and criticize government policy. Governments claim great powers to deprive people of freedom, property, and life. Governmental action (or inaction) can cause great harms through warfare that is destructive to human life, our environment, and our shared future.

“We call for a firm commitment to freedom of speech and conscience. We recognize free speech is not an absolute right, there are limits, and denigration of individuals or groups, or inciting violence against individuals or groups are rightly prohibited. However, this should in no way deter open questioning and scrutiny of government policies. This is particularly important in our educational institutions where educators and students need to freely discuss and consider the ongoing warfare in Gaza and related concerns. Our educators are qualified and equipped to lead this inquiry while protecting students from antisemitism, Islamophobia, or other harmful bigotry.”

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