On a recent episode of KCRW’s Press Play, there was a discussion of Jewish emigration from France. The interviewee, Greg Viscusi of Bloomberg,  divided French Jewry between those who have lived in France for generations who tend to be well educated, middle class and integrated. (Dominic Strauss-Kahn, who might now be PM if not for this big mess, is one of these), and poorer more recent arrivals whose communities overlap those of more recent, and also poor, Muslim immigrants. Makes for some tension.

Note: The Strauss-Kahn episode is food for another entry.

nicked from Stella MarrsThe discussion moved on to cover an antisemitic comedian named Dieudonné (Gift of god? Really?).  Dieudonné, whose first comedic partner was Jewish, has more recently included a great deal of anti-Zionist material in his acts and worked with  Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson. He’s also had his productions banned.

Why mention all this? The question remains: If one believes truly in a right to free speech, (how) does one limit it?

My feeling is that no god and no religion is above ridicule, but when does ridicule become fodder for violence? In the last couple weeks, a Jewish school in Amsterdam closed briefly for fear of terrorism, and threats against Jewish homes and institutions is increasing according to an article that appeared on 16 January in the Dagblad papers (“Weer meer acties tegen Joden” by Silvan Schoonhoven appeared in the Ijmuider Courant and the Leidse Dagblad which are at least tangentially related papers.) The motives identified in the article include the response to the Hebdo (and associated) massacres and last summer’s incursions into Gaza.

Many Jews speak out that the actions of Israel are not those of even the Israeli public, much less of world Jewry, much as Bibi Netanyahu would have us believe otherwise.

My friend Vanessa lived in Europe for many years, primarily in Prague and Brussels and has recently moved back to Los Angeles, her hometown (and mine for that matter). When we met in Prague twelve years ago, she argued that it was the duty of Jews in the diaspora to bring Judaism back to Europe – essentially to reverse the Holocaust. As a very very secular Jew, I didn’t share her enthusiasm, though I hope I appreciated it, at the very least. On the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, she posted that the antisemitism she experienced in Brussels forced her return “to the only place [she’s] lived where Jews don’t feel like a minority.” Her boss at a large NGO stated that the Holocaust was a long time ago and that Jews should get over it and that “Israel had no right to exist”. This was not an isolated incident in her life in Belgium, and she was advised “to pick a battle you can win” – that Belgium is not the US.

My questions are reinforced: How can we maintain the traditions of liberal democracy including freedom of speech and religion? How can we defend everyone’s right to speak and pray as they choose? How can we tolerate intolerance? Can we truly educate the ignorant on these matters? (Historically no, to the last one – didactic liberals are less popular than most, and possibly for good reason. Food for yet another post.)

I wish I knew, because these things don’t seem compatible anymore, if they ever did.