Opinion | Susan Knopf: Chanukah fright

This week is Chanukah. And yes you can spell that Hannukah, or Hanukah. Britannica says there are more than 20 variations in spelling. That’s because it’s transliterated from Hebrew, and Aramaic before that.

This week the Jan. 6 committee met for the last time, and referred the former president and others to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution for inciting insurrection against the United States, among other serious crimes.

Oddly, these two events have much in common. Chanukah is not like Christmas. It has more in common with the Fourth of July. The Maccabees mounted an insurrection against King Antiochus in the second century B.C. Antiochus despoiled the temple by erecting a temple honoring Zeus within its walls. He outlawed the practice of Judaism.

In one of the earliest recorded cases of guerrilla warfare, the small band of Maccabees and friends defeated Antiochus and his mighty Greek-Syrian army.

The word Chanukah comes from the word dedication. Following the battle, the Jews wanted to rededicate the temple: clean the holy space and relight the seven-branch menorah. Only a small bottle of refined olive oil was found. The oil miraculously lasted eight days, enough time to make more oil.

History is often told by the victor. Thus this insurrection was regarded as good thing by the Jews. The supporters of the former president thought they were doing a good thing on Jan. 6. They were trying to take back their government following what they were told was a stolen election.

The election was not stolen. Fifty secretaries of state and more than 60 judges, including conservative judges appointed by the former president, agree. According to Newsweek, about 40% of our voting citizens are not persuaded. Their adherence to the big lie is attributable to persistent distribution of false information by authority figures.

It might be time for a reinterpretation of the First Amendment. I suggest that the dissemination of false and hateful speech will no longer be protected by the First Amendment. I know I’m officially on very shaky ground, particularly for a university-trained former journalist.

I think Jan. 6 proves erroneous and hateful speech is seditious and dangerous. False, inflammatory information endangers the lives our people. We know hateful speech emboldens perpetrators of violent crimes against gays, minorities and Jews.

Sandy Hook Elementary and the Las Vegas mass shootings are exceptions to my statement, but they don’t undermine my reasoning. Too many shootings to count are attributable as hate crimes.

For the record, Jews are the victims of more hate crimes than any other religious group. According to the FBI, more Jews are victims of religiously motivated hate crime than all other religious communities combined. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League believes those numbers are grossly underreported due to a variety of reasons.

In 2019, a violent intruder assaulted people at a Chanukah party in a rabbi’s home. The league recorded more than 2,000 antisemitic incidents in 2020, the last year they officially analyzed.

The Anti-Defamation League, through the Secure Community Network, sponsors training to save lives. Locally, Synagogue of the Summit and other area churches have taken this training, as well as Vail and Boulder synagogues. A Texas rabbi saved lives because he had the training.

Violent intruder training teaches three objectives: run, hide and fight. Run to safety. If you can’t run, hide in a locked room behind a large object that can protect you from gun fire. If you can’t run or hide, fight aggressively using improvised objects.

Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t need training because people weren’t being cultivated and agitated online?

Speech intended to precipitate violence is not protected speech, according to the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio, a 1969 case. In 1969, we did not have the constant drum beat of the internet and social media.

Hate and disinformation should not be protected. Germany outlaws hate speech and Holocaust denial. Germany has tight restrictions on social media sites, according to Frontline and other sources.

Maybe if hate speech and political lies were illegal we wouldn’t be so polarized. Perhaps we could get our democracy back, and work on issues that really matter like housing, health care, education and preserving our environment.

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