Dare To Speak: Defend­ing Free Speech for All

June 29, 2019

In an era where one tweet can launch or end your career, where free speech is invoked with great pas­sion but lim­it­ed under­stand­ing, where the First Amend­ment can be mis­tak­en as a smoke­screen for hatred, learn­ing to maneu­ver the rough and tum­ble ter­rain of pub­lic dis­course has nev­er been more urgent.

In Dare to Speak, lead­ing free expres­sion advo­cate Suzanne Nos­sel argues that we can and must uphold the rights of indi­vid­u­als to speak their minds, while also work­ing assid­u­ous­ly to build a more equi­table, inclu­sive pub­lic cul­ture com­mit­ted to dis­man­tling racism and oth­er forms of big­otry. Cen­tered on 20 easy-to-grasp, prac­ti­cal prin­ci­ples, Nos­sel’s man­i­festo equips read­ers with essen­tial tools to nav­i­gate today’s diverse, dig­i­tized, and deeply divid­ed soci­ety with­out curb­ing free expres­sion. Her exam­ples include inci­dents involv­ing anti­se­mit­ic and anti-Israel speech on cam­pus and her pre­sen­ta­tion address­es how Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties can rec­on­cile their com­mit­ment to com­bat hatred and defama­tion with robust pro­tec­tions for free speech – and why they should. Nos­sel advis­es read­ers how to use lan­guage con­sci­en­tious­ly, defend the right to express unpop­u­lar views, and protest speech with­out silenc­ing it, pro­vid­ing con­crete guid­ance on how to rec­on­cile these some­times com­pet­ing imper­a­tives with­in uni­ver­si­ties, on social media, and in dai­ly life. Replete with insight­ful argu­ments, col­or­ful exam­ples, and salient advice, Dare to Speak brings much-need­ed clar­i­ty to the rag­ing debate over how whether free speech can sur­vive intact in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. Suzanne Nos­sel is CEO of PEN Amer­i­ca, the writ­ers’ human rights orga­ni­za­tion devot­ed to defend­ing free expres­sion worldwide.

Discussion Questions

Dis­cus­sion ques­tions cour­tesy of the author

1. If a group of Jew­ish stu­dents wants to host an event at Hil­lel includ­ing a speak­er who sup­ports the Boy­cott, Divest, Sanc­tions move­ment should they be per­mit­ted to do so? What if the pan­el also includes oppo­nents of the move­ment? What about host­ing mem­bers of Break­ing the Silence, for­mer IDF sol­diers who are high­ly crit­i­cal of Israel’s pol­i­cy and gov­ern­ment? What if the event was not on Hil­lel, but rather in a class­room booked by Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Palestine?

2. Should a stu­dent who posts on social media a pho­to of them­self with a swasti­ka drawn on their shoul­der be dis­ci­plined in any way by their col­lege or uni­ver­si­ty? Does it mat­ter if the uni­ver­si­ty is pub­lic or private?

3. Would it be bet­ter if the Unit­ed States fol­lowed the Euro­pean approach and made Holo­caust denial illegal?

4. What, if any­thing, should be done if some­one turns up at a cam­pus Hal­loween par­ty wear­ing a cos­tume of a Hasidic Jew, com­plete with a plas­tic nose? Is such a cos­tume accept­able? Does the uni­ver­si­ty have any respon­si­bil­i­ty to respond? Does it mat­ter if the cos­tume wear­er is Jewish?

5. There is a major push right now to ensure that con­fer­ences and pan­els include ade­quate rep­re­sen­ta­tion from mem­bers of racial minor­i­ty groups as well as of women to ensure that those his­tor­i­cal­ly exclud­ed groups have a seat at the table and a voice. Should con­fer­ence or pan­el orga­niz­ers be think­ing about whether Jews are rep­re­sent­ed ade­quate­ly and, if so, under what cir­cum­stances and in rela­tion to what sorts of issues and topics?

6. If some­one posts a par­o­dy shot of a Trump Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial depict­ed as a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp guard, should Twit­ter take that tweet down? Close the account? Does it mat­ter if it was clear­ly done as par­o­dy? What if it was a tweet shar­ing a pub­lished car­toon with that depiction?

7. Is free speech a Jew­ish val­ue? Why or why not? How does it mesh with oth­er Jew­ish val­ues like chesed, Tikkun olam, and the search for truth?

8. After run­ning a car­toon of Bibi Netanyahu depict­ed as a dachs­hund, which many read­ers and com­men­ta­tors — as well as the paper’s edi­to­r­i­al board — crit­i­cized as dis­play­ing obvi­ous anti-Semit­ic stereo­types, the New York Times decid­ed to stop run­ning polit­i­cal car­toons entire­ly. Was that a good out­come? What else might the paper have done to pro­tect against future such incidents?