Antisemitism is not free speech


Since the horrific Hamas massacre of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, antisemitism has skyrocketed in the United States and around the world. Calls for genocide against the Jewish people have been made repeatedly at riots and rallies across the country. College campuses have become hotbeds for hate and anti-Jewish sentiment. Too many seem inclined to turn a blind eye and defend the perpetrators with claims of free speech.
Let me be clear: Antisemitism is not free speech, calls for genocide are not free speech, and anyone who defends these demands for violence is complicit.
When discussing free speech and its narrow limitations in the United States, the limitation that comes to mind is shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. It was an analogy made by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. when discussing limits on free speech, and is widely understood to mean that not all rhetoric is considered free speech if it comes at the cost of another person’s life or safety.
The recent rise of antisemitism is proof that the words of pro-Hamas activists are a threat to the lives and safety of those in our Jewish community. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were over 2,000 antisemitic incidents recorded in the two months following the attacks in Israel, including physical assaults, vandalism, and expressions of support for terrorism. That was an unprecedented 337 percent increase from the same period last year.
Oct. 7 was the deadliest day for Jewish people since the Holocaust. And yet it is being celebrated — not just in Hamas strongholds overseas, but also here in America. At rallies in New York City, of all places, pro-Palestinian protesters waved swastikas, shouted, “Honor our martyrs!” referring to the terrorists who committed the attacks, and “Long live the intifada!”

What are the real-world consequences of this rhetoric?
An Israeli student was assaulted with a stick in front of the library at Columbia University by a Hamas sympathizer.
A 69-year-old Jewish professor was killed in an altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester in California.
A Jewish father of five was beaten in front of his Brooklyn home earlier this month as his attacker yelled antisemitic profanities at him.
A group of Jewish students at Cooper Union College in Manhattan had to barricade themselves in the school library while pro-Palestinian protesters tried to break down the door. They were reportedly told they could “hide in the attic,” as many Jews were forced to do during the Holocaust.
These are just some of the acts of violence inspired by antisemitism in recent months. Words have meaning, and when these are the outcomes of those words, they are no longer protected under free speech. They are the equivalent of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
New York is home to the largest Jewish population in the country, over 1.7 million people. They are an integral part of our community, and they deserve to feel safe, heard, and protected. There must be no safe haven for this scourge in our society.
That’s why Congress has repeatedly taken bipartisan action to condemn antisemitism, including by recently passing a House resolution strongly condemning the rise of antisemitism on university campuses around the country. That’s why I had to take a stand against my own alma mater, George Washington University.
When calls for genocide were projected on a GW campus building, a gross act of antisemitism, I immediately contacted the president of the university to urge her to take action. Half measures will not be tolerated. We must call out these incidents loudly, and demand repercussions for those who participate in them.
The battle against the poison of antisemitism stands apart from politics, and we must keep it that way. I will always stand by my Jewish friends and neighbors, and I urge every level of government — local, state and federal — to do the same. We will not become numb to the words or the actions antisemitism inspires. We will not see history repeat itself without interference. And we will not let supporters of terrorism and genocide bastardize constitutionally protected speech for their vile agenda.

Andrew R. Garbarino represents New York’s 2nd Congressional District.