Israel event protests show best of America and Israel

The Israeli Embassy hosted an event at the National Building Museum in Washington celebrating Israel’s 76th anniversary on Thursday. Attendees such as House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) offered a somber tone reflective of world events. Still, the event served as a useful reminder of pluralistic democracy and the democratic values Israel uniquely embodies in the Middle East.

A throng of approximately 50 protesters was spread out at various positions on the perimeter of the National Building Museum. This meant a large number of attendees had to walk past these protesters to get to the event’s entry line. And while a large number of police officers and Department of Homeland Security personnel were present, the noise and intimidation tactics employed by the protesters were robust. The protesters played screeching sounds emulating dying children. They shouted, “Shame on you!” at guests and accused them of being complicit in murder. They attempted to stare down every guest who walked by, often raising up red-stained hands in front of them. Some guests clearly felt intimidated, avoiding eye contact as they walked by.

That said, the protesters apparently did not take kindly to guests stopping and staring them down in return. Similarly, while the protesters took photos and video recordings of guests who walked by, as in the first photo below, they did not appear to enjoy having the same courtesy extended back to them.

Still, the tenor and proximity of these protesters to those in attendance speaks to American exceptionalism. These protesters would have been forced far further from the event’s entry point in most of Western Europe, for example. There, as in much of the democratic world, the legal balance between intimidation and free speech falls to the former. But the American way of putting free speech first, especially on matters of public import, is a far better one. The health of a vibrant democracy requires the right to make an argument passionately. This is important both for the individual’s imbued confidence in his own freedom but also for the societal interest in a robust, unrestrained exchange of ideas.

Yes, this free speech paradigm must go both ways. Pro-Israel protesters must be provided the same rights of proximate protest at a pro-Palestinian event, for example. And where people engage in violence or unlawful incitement to violence (which, under U.S. law, rightly requires intent for imminent violence and a likelihood of such violence), they should be arrested and charged to the fullest extent of the law. But whether on Israel, gender matters, or any other concern, free speech must be prioritized over feelings of upset at said speech.

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Of course, in that same consideration, this event also showed the best of Israel. In contrast with the protesters’ offering of emulated death and vitriolic fury, this anniversary event celebrated a vibrant democracy and the better sustainment of the Jewish people. For Jews to walk past screaming fanatics must be painful and infuriating. And the protesters’ hypocrisy must also be noted here. After all, were roles reversed and were this a pro-Palestinian event in Gaza or the West Bank and the protesters outside it instead supporting Israel, one would imagine those protesters would not get the same free speech protections as they received here or would, if to a slightly lesser degree, receive in Israel.

But in the end, that’s what makes America and Israel far better than their enemies. And why those enemies must never be allowed to triumph.

(Tom Rogan)
(Tom Rogan)

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