Jewish man holding sign on street

Free Speech and Antisemitism

How do we find the balance between fighting hate and protecting speech?

by Aaron Abramson | May 20 2024

Earlier this month, in an attempt to combat the rise of antisemitism and to tamp down the pro-Palestinian encampments across college campuses, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill known as H.R. 6090 or the Antisemitism Awareness Act. It moves for all educational institutions to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws while using the definition of antisemitism put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The bill has split many who wish to stand for peace yet are concerned that it will impinge on free speech as protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU wrote, “Federal law already prohibits antisemitic discrimination and harassment by federally funded entities. H.R. 6090 … would likely chill free speech … by incorrectly equating criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism.”1

However, Abe Foxman and other Holocaust survivors in the #itstartedwithwords campaign have attested to the power that words played in the extermination of six million Jews. “The crematoria, gas chambers in Auschwitz and elsewhere did not begin with bricks,” Foxman exclaims. “It began with words … evil words, hateful words, antisemitic words, words of prejudice. And they were permitted to proceed to violence because of the absence of words.”2

As antisemitic speech has led to violent acts in the past, how can we find a balance that allows for the freedom of speech for all while protecting the freedom of religion for all?

The Source of Hate Speech

With the House passing the recent bill, some were concerned that saying things like “the Jews are responsible for the crucifixion” will now be considered hate speech. Unfortunately, blaming Jewish people and their descendants for killing Jesus is an old accusation that has been used to oppress and kill Jewish people for centuries.

God is the one who handed Jesus over to be crucified.

That some Jewish people in the first century arrested Jesus and handed him over to the Romans to be crucified is a fact of biblical history. However, it is obvious that the Jews alone were not responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27–28)

Whatever evil act these Gentile and Jewish people committed in the first century, they also fulfilled a purpose predestined by God for the redemption of all mankind. Jesus’ crucifixion happened in accordance with God and His plan of salvation. The Messiah of Israel had to die as a sacrifice in order to save the world. According to the prophet Isaiah, God is truly the one who handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
(Isaiah 53:10)

Jesus’ death was not some form of vainglorious deicide. It was a loving sacrifice of mercy and grace. In John 10:17–18, Jesus said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”

As much as we want and need laws to protect us, further regulations against antisemitism will not stop people from hating Jewish people. The problem is hate! Whether in Gaza, Israel, New York, or London, hate always finds a way to rear its ugly head. And hate can’t be legislated away. It comes from the heart.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart,” commands God in Leviticus 19:17. Jesus not only equates anger and hatred with murder in Matthew 5:22, but he challenges us to take another step towards mercy and forgiveness. He teaches us in Matthew 5:44 to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Imagine how the world would be changed if those ideas could be legislated.

A Delicate Balance

But legislation is a delicate balance. One of the things that has made America amazing for Jewish people has been the freedoms that come with living here: the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the right to protest peacefully. As Jewish people, we can say, believe, and practice our religion in whatever way we want. This has enabled us to flourish. There are approximately 15.7 million Jewish people in the world today. Roughly 40 percent of them—6.3 million—live in the United States, which has the second largest population of Jews in any country after Israel.3

Others who disagree with us must be given the same freedoms we enjoy.

For those of us who appreciate our freedoms while living as a minority in the United States, we also must wrestle with the fact that others who disagree with us must be given the same freedoms we enjoy. Just as we may fight for peace in the Middle East while expressing Israel’s right to exist, we must allow the voices of those who believe, say, and do things that promote the opposite viewpoint even if we disagree or are made to feel frightened or uneasy by their position.

Obviously, balance is needed, but lately it seems like the balance has swung toward one of division and, ultimately, of hate. But that hate can also be found in Jewish people and even between ourselves. It wasn’t a Palestinian terrorist or sympathizer who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally in 1995. Nor was it a Christian condemning him as a “Christ killer.” But it was a Jewish man named Yigal Amir who stood against and wanted to silence the peace process.

While we need more robust laws to protect us, we need to find ways to curtail the hatred deep down in our hearts today. King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” Working to curb our own hatred while striving to love and respect our neighbors is something each one of us can do something about.


1.ACLU Urges House of Representatives to Oppose Anti-semitism Awareness Act,” ACLU, April 26, 2024.

2.It Started with Words,” Claims Conference, April 8, 2021.

3. Toi Staff, “Global Jewish population hits 15.7 million ahead of new year, 46% of them in Israel,” Times of Israel, September 15, 2023.