Short-Sighted Argument


I am writing to point out the short-sighted nature of Martin Oliner’s Opinion column, “Why Israel Was Right In Denying Entry To Omar, Tlaib,” Aug. 30.

As Mr. Oliner mentions, Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote that nobody has the right to “shout fire in a crowded theater” (Schenck v. United States, 1919). But that very same year Holmes (and Louis Brandeis who concurred with him) dissented in Abrams v. United States, another freedom of speech case. In the latter case, Holmes wrote that the government cannot forbid speech unless it is connected to an “immediate evil or an interest to bring it about.” 

The BDS movement, as offensive as it is, simply does not meet the “clear and present danger” of an “immediate evil or interest to bring it about.” Boycotts, sanctions and divestments are not bombs, guns or fires. They are calls to non-violent actions. As much as we disagree with them and must counter them, bad ideas like BDS must be defeated by winning the argument in the free market of ideas. They cannot and will not be defeated by heavy-handed, emotional responses. Israel looks weak and undemocratic by keeping two duly elected U.S. congresswomen out of the country. 

In yet another freedom of speech case (Schaefer v. United States, 1920), Holmes and Brandeis again dissented. In that case Brandeis wrote “calmness is, in times of deep feeling and on subjects which excite passion, as essential as fearlessness and honesty.” Israel deserves better than Netanyahu’s (and Trump’s) lack of all three.