Is criminalizing speech the answer?
From physical attacks, to vandalism, to verbal attacks on those walking while Jewish, Europe has seen a rise in anti-Semitism in recent years. So much so, that a resolution condemning the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe passed the Senate by unanimous vote on Thursday.
The resolution, authored by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by 60 other senators encouraged “greater cooperation with the European governments, in the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in preventing and responding to antisemitism.”
“In light of the rise of antisemitism in Europe, this resolution calls on European governments to not only stand against antisemitism, but to work to end it,” said Sen. Menendez, applauding the unanimous passage of the bill.
In the UK, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been appointed to head the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation:
Tony Blair is to take on a new role tackling antisemitism by assuming the chairmanship of a pan-European body that campaigns for stronger laws against extremism across the continent.
The British former prime minister has been appointed as chairman of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation a week after he announced that he would stand down as the envoy of the quartet on the Middle East.
In an article for the Times, in which he sets out his plans for his new role, Blair says that he will campaign against the abuse of religions which has become a “mask behind which those bent on death and destruction all too often hide”.
Blair says he will be campaigning to implement the recommendations of a report by the council which outlined legislative proposals to give greater power to judiciaries to prosecute hate speech, to lower barriers to what constitutes incitement to violence, and to make Holocaust denial illegal. [emphasis added]
The council’s report to which Blair refers can be found here.
I do find some of the council’s recommendations and goals somewhat troubling from a First Amendment perspective. As vile, for instance, as Holocaust denial is, I’m not sure that making it illegal is a viable solution here in America, where anti-Semitism is also on the rise.
The trend toward banning, even criminalizing, hate speech—and expanding that definition to include anything with which one might disagree—is troubling, even if it is for the right reasons. Perhaps especially when it is for the right reasons.
In his comments on his new position, Blair said:
“Incidents of extremism, rising anti-Semitism and surging Nationalist forces who seek to cultivate a spirit of resentment by playing on people’s fears, threaten our European ideals of freedom, equality and a desire for peace.
“But such intolerance has been rejected before in our history and must be rejected again today. The ECTR stands against such close-minded views – and I am delighted to have this opportunity to work with them to promote our shared vision for the future: societies based on an open-minded, inclusive and tolerant worldview.”
With the marked rise in anti-Semitism across Europe, it’s clear that something needs to be done. From the recent UK elections in which the anti-Semitic Galloway and his merry band of Israel haters were voted out to this council’s stand against anti-Semitism, the UK and Europe are taking steps to address the problem.
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