Anti-Semitic hate speech should no longer be protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution following the Pittsburgh massacre.
Until recently, the Tree of Life Synagogue was a happy and joyful historic place of worship that was founded in 1864, the beautiful synagogue where three of my husband’s first cousins married that is located very close to my father’s childhood home. For me and many others connected to the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill, our world has been shattered. Now, the Tree of Life Synagogue has been transformed into a scene of death and destruction, a symbol of the culmination of anti-Semitic speech that has risen in recent years within the United States.
Its worshipers fell victim to a massacre, where 11 people were slaughtered by an ideologically-driven fanatic who sought to murder all of the Jews praying inside the synagogue that Shabbat morning merely because they were born into the wrong faith and were perceived to be assisting refugees. They were the victims of a hate monger who incited against Jewish people for quite some time.
However, the Tree of Life massacre has tragically become a partisan issue in the United States. Some Democrats are proclaiming that if only it were not so easy for individuals to buy a gun, then shootings like this would not take place. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump declared that the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre is a sign that armed guards should have been placed in front of the synagogue, as if that would have avoided the deadly carnage. In reality, neither political party fully grasps what stands behind this deadly mass shooting.
If weapons were not easily available on the market, then the haters would have resorted to vehicular or stabbing attacks, as has been the case in Israel. Furthermore, armed guards at the synagogue would have done damage control but would not have averted the bloodshed entirely. A determined mass murderer never is fully deterred by the presence of armed guards. Thus, if one truly wants to stop the next anti-Semitic massacre, one must address the root of the problem and not side issues. The rise of anti-Semitic ideology and hate speech in America is what stands behind the Pennsylvania massacre. And sadly, the anti-Semitic ideology behind this horrific hate crime has been building up for years unabated.
During the Mid-term elections which recently ended, an increasing number of anti-Semitic candidates ran for public office. Some of them were elected. Never before were there so many anti-Semitic candidates running for public office in the United States. Although some argue that the Democrats are trying to run away from their fringe anti-Semites and the Republican anti-Semitic candidates did not get elected, the very fact that they ran creates a public discourse that affects how the general population relates to the Jewish people. According to the ADL, in 2017, anti-Semitic incidents surged 60% higher than they were the previous year and the level of anti-Semitic hate speech rose even further during the mid-term elections.
But as if this toxic atmosphere was not bad enough, all of the warning signs that shooter Robert Bowens could be a danger were on the table for anyone following him on social media but no one dared to interrogate him. People in the United States do not grasp the strong connection between anti-Semitic hate speech and acts of violence against Jews. A man without a criminal record does not wake up one day and suddenly decides to massacre Jews. He is inundated in a hateful ideology and usually is engaging in anti-Semitic speech for some time before the violence kicks in. Therefore, if the American authorities want to prevent the next synagogue massacre, they should start out by first fighting against anti-Semitic hate speech.
World-renowned anti-Semitism scholar Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld blames the Pittsburg massacre on the fact that hate speech is protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution: “The Americans have never understood that total freedom of speech is a negative concept. Only in this context is it possible for a man like Farakhan to call Jews termites and not go to jail. The Europeans act against hate speech while the Americans have limited tools due to the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech even if it is hate speech. The US Constitution helps hate. It is anyhow difficult to fight against anti-Semitic ideology. However, the US Constitution makes it even more difficult.”
In the wake of the Pittsburg massacre, Neo-Nazis should no longer be granted the right to march through a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago. Anti-Semitic hate speech should no longer be considered constitutionally-protected under the First Amendment. The next Robert Bowens should be investigated and interrogated long before he shoots at innocent people. The lives of many people depend upon it.