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ACLU is AWOL on Free Speech

April 7, 2008

Good news: Jews are finally abandoning the human rights industry that has turned against their interests.

Last week, Sherry Alpert of Canton sent me a copy of her letter to the American Civil Liberties Union explaining why she won't renew her membership of 30 years. She cites the ACLU's failure to support groups and individuals against lawsuits by Muslims meant to silence critics - like those brought against the Boston media outlets and the David Project by the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB), and against Rachel Ehrenfeld by Sheikh Khalid Salim bin Hahfouz. But her complaints stretch back to the ACLU's support of the Nazi march through Skokie, Ill., in 1978.

The ACLU's "10 best and worst developments in civil liberties for 2007" reveals their agenda: warrantless surveillance by the NSA, habeas corpus rights for prisoners in Guantanamo and full legal treatment for illegal aliens are their top issues. Their chief focus is alleged abuses by the U.S. government.

Doesn't the ACLU defend everyone's free speech? No. Nazis marching through Skokie was deliberately provocative and offensive - especially to the many Holocaust survivors who lived in that city - but the ACLU defended it on strict First Amendment, free speech grounds.

But, Alpers asks, how does this square with their refusal to speak out about the Muslim lawsuits, which seemed aimed at stifling free speech?

Here's another example: When a pro-Israel student at Columbia University was intimidated by a professor who silenced her rebuttal in class of his claim that the Israelis committed a massacre in Jenin, the ACLU refused to help defend her free speech.

Free speech is for all or for none. It should be defended - even if the cause happens to be Jewish. All attempts to destroy free speech have to be exposed for what they are: illegal and antidemocratic. In the ISB case, people who raised questions about a foreign funded group with possible connections to terror were sued to keep them quiet. In the Mahfouz case, a Saudi billionaire sued to shut down an author who investigated funding of terrorists. Where was the ACLU? They were AWOL.

Like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the ACLU is happy to take money from Jews while ignoring their concerns. So far, most Jews who want to feel good about their liberalism and activism, and want to be accepted as the "good Jews" by their progressive friends, have been content with this arrangement.

Resigning from the ACLU after decades of loyal support is no small thing. It required the willingness to see the problem for what it is and to stop dithering or rationalizing. Alpert was tired of the ACLU supporting the wrong side, and of abandoning their own stated principles. It's time more Jews woke up and followed suit. Kudos to Sherry Alpert who quit the ACLU to support civil liberties of victims of "shut-up" lawsuits, students who are told to leave a class if they disagree with the professor, and authors who are sued to prevent them from publishing their books.

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Copyright ©2008 Charles Jacobs