Where are today’s defenders of our freedom of speech?

Defenders and opponents of Israel’s right to exist march. The streets of New York are abuzz with 1960s-style protests that stop and snarl traffic. Jews and Gentiles are on one and both sides of the public dispute over US support for Israel.

They are mostly silent, although they were the usual shouters of freedom of speech – NAACP, ACLU and National Urban League (NUL) brigade. I asked about this resounding silence from our civil rights leaders at a recent meeting where the speaker was Marc Morialpresident NUL: In the midst of hateful attacks on Jews and clashes between Jews and Gentiles on the streets and campuses of New York, why has there been total silence from the NAACP and the National Urban League and the ACLU?

Morial smirked and then asked my question. After saying that he read virtually every major newspaper daily and therefore knew what was happening in Israel, Gaza and on our streets, Morial had no clear explanation for the raspy voices of these groups or the tumult of protests in our city. He offered no explanation for the invisibility and silence of his or other human rights groups. All Morial had in his vocal arsenal was a cliché, as if parodying Rodney King’s tired tribute to racial strife: Why can’t we just get along?

Morial’s quiet side came out that very day Jews and their allies marched on Washington for a national demonstration to rally Americans for a renewed crusade against anti-Semitism. It was hardly a rainbow coalition of marchers, but their message kept appearing on the national news. Surprisingly, there were no arrests in DC.

NYC is not DC Arrests here face wild supporters of Palestinians in Gaza who broke away from their peaceful brethren to break windows and invade Grand Central Terminal. There were plenty of police on hand, but where were the civil rights leaders? And where were our public officials when we needed them to serve as guides?

Gone are our elected officials and civil rights leaders with a loud voice to take sides against all barbarism and vulgarity. No one is neutral on the moral issues of our time, so why their absence and silence?

The campus is the opposite of quiet. Only young people, students and the vanguard of professors on university campuses. They pushed out leaders from previously well-funded, overly comfortable civil rights and quiet civil liberties groups. Who would have thought that campuses would once again take up civil rights campaigns from the established order?

Campus youth and their professorial allies pushed out groups we thought were defenders of free speech and assembly. These topics are hot, but no less poignant and tenacious than previous decades when civil rights made history.

Now our human rights groups are deaf and dumb to the backlash coming from the leaders of elite colleges and universities in Columbia, as well as Harvard and Hunter College, where leaders are bowing to pressure from funders who promise to cut their funding. unless colleges draw a line and curtail student demonstrations they (the funders) don’t like. And to be pressured to crack down on foreigners coming to campus from Polish countries like Mitt Romney, who has never been a free speech activist.

The lessons of the civil rights struggles had already been forgotten: when civil rights campaigners took rights campaigns south and north into racially riven urban cities, the natives were not allowed to be silenced. There was no one more civil and silver than the Reverend. Martin Luther King Jr., but he too was criticized as an “outsider” and a “troublemaker”.

Resurrecting the speech codes and banishing the “outside agitators” used against King, Dick Gregory and Stokely Carmichael will not silence this generation. They are no longer waiting for civil rights groups to lead or speak for them. Much less silence them.

So while we counted on great voices like Morial, today’s youth are following the example of the greatest, now-deceased libertarians like Nat Hentoff, journalist and lover of free speech and assembly, who quoted student free speech activist William Jergins:

“Real education requires students to be able to hear ideas different from their own. That’s why respecting free speech on campus is so important and why we’re advocating to get rid of the speech codes that limit the ideas we hear, the ideas we think.”

Where are the Nat Hentoffs today? Not here.

Meyers is the president of the New York Civil Rights Coalition and former assistant national director of the NAACP and former vice president of the ACLU.

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