The words of George Washington in a letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island, resonate today as much as they did in August 1790. A small congregation of refugees and the sons of refugees who had escaped inquisitional rule in lands under Spanish and Portuguese rule, Washington assured them in these immortal words that the United States will assure freedom for all as it: “Gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
Just months later, the Bill of Rights, whose first amendment granted freedom of speech, was ratified .
They are, however, very different statements.
Not giving sanction to bigotry means that while bigots have the right to openly spew their views as protected by the first amendment, they should never be given prominence or legitimacy. It is a moral imperative to refrain from giving bigots a podium, since doing so validates their hateful message.
For example, after a long legal battle, the American Nazi Party was permitted to march in Chicago in 1978 under the (questionable) pretext of free speech, but the city should never allow them to lead a memorial day Parade. Doing so would be akin to sanctioning their hateful ideology.
Sadly in American history, there were eras when the hate of the Ku Klux Klan was given significance in disregard of the admonitions of the first president. The damage they inflicted upon rights of others, the terror they sent into the hearts of fellow Americans is infamous in the annals of American history.
Linda Sarsour’s agenda is the abolition of the rights of others. She opposes the very existence of Israel. Among her statements and tweets, she has praised a terrorist who was involved in the murder of two college students, made the baseless claim that Muslim kids are being executed in the United States. Her statement that Zionists can’t be feminists obviously reflects the height of arrogance as she is a latecomer in a movement which had the participation of many Zionists for decades.
The real question: How can any adherent to Sharia law, which demands the submissiveness of women, be a feminist?
And there should never have been a forum for her as the keynote speaker at any graduation ceremony.
What is abhorrent, however, is not just the perception that she is merely exercising her rights of free speech, but the acceptance - and even support - by so many, of her invective.
CUNY President James B Milliken stated that he stood by the school’s decision to have Sarsour as the keynote speaker at the graduation for the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. He offered the familiar argument that it’s a matter of free speech!
Several professors at CUNY who penned a letter defending Sansour wrote that she represented “new activism of young people, women, immigrants, and others speaking out against discrimination and intolerance.”
They are clearly expressing support for the keynote speaker. A letter from Jewish leaders representing leftwing congregations and organizations in defense of Sarsour, stated that they “do not offer our stamp of approval to every tweet or message she has ever posted.” Indeed, they might not completely approve of her views but they are sufficiently acceptable to come to her defense.
It would be a pleasant surprise if those Jewish leaders who defended Sarsour would feel so compelled to defend Israel when its reputation is so often defamed. Also, to all the Jews who rushed to her defense, a word to the wise: People like Sarsour may smile and express appreciation for your gestures, but are simply showing that they know how to play you.
Then there is the silence: The Jewish organizations that have not spoken out against Sarsour, will only encourage more bigotry.
The local politicians of New York with a few exceptions have also failed to address the matter. But it is more than silence, there are politicians in New York who have supported Sarsour.
The events in New York City this spring should put up a warning flag to those who prize the values of freedom and mutual respect. Freedom is not a given. It must be safeguarded by people of good will who can discern between right and wrong without the numbing influence of political correctness.
If manipulation and enmity is given a pass by the silence of the majority, then the freedoms which the American forefathers endeavored to safeguard might someday be in jeopardy.