On the afternoon of June 19, I read a Facebook message from Schmaltz Deli, saying they’d been the victims of a hate crime. Someone had painted an antisemitic message on the restaurant in front of their store at Ogden and Naper Blvd. I was upset, and shared my love and support for them in the comment thread. I want Naperville to be a diverse community that affirms people of all faiths and no faith.
And then I found out the text of the alleged hate speech: “Free Gaza.”
To be sure, I don’t know everything about the Israel/Palestine conflict. I know enough to be careful in what can be a volatile, emotional conversation, one in which other people have a much larger stake than I do. However, when I read that, I felt like I had been manipulated, like my goodwill and interfaith commitments had been taken for granted. Is a legitimate political statement “hate speech?” Would “Free Ireland” spray-painted on a British pub be “hate speech?”
Then this past weekend, there was a protest at the Pride march in Chicago by activists. They were protesting a number of things, but one thing they did was ask those with Israeli Pride flags to leave. One of the protesters’ concerns is the “pinkwashing” of Israel’s violations against Palestinians. (They don’t want folks to forget Israel’s occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians because Israel happens to be good with LGBTQ rights.) Opponents of these critics quickly called them anti-semitic for dismissing the Israeli Pride flags.
Now, some people I love might strongly disagree with me. But there has to be a difference between political speech, legitimate political disagreement, and hate speech.
Spray-painting a sidewalk in front of a Jewish deli in Naperville is silly. It’s like spray-painting “No DAPL” on a gas station in Finland. A Finish gas station has as much to do with the Dakota Access Pipeline as a Naperville deli has to do with how the state of Israel treats Palestinians. Protesting the Pride march is just as silly. It attacks those most likely to be allies of other oppressed people, when the real people who need to hear the protest are thousands of miles away. But referring to legitimate political expression, albeit out of place or poorly timed, as “hate,” that just raises everyone’s anxiety. It makes genuine dialogue harder, and decreases the chance to build understanding.
Peacebuilding is hard. It’s the work of a lifetime. So let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot by overreacting to some individuals’ silly choices.
Grace and peace,