Originally published January 9, 2019
This past week, the UK Daily Mail, the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel ran stories about Dr. Lara Kollab, a former medical resident of the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Kollab is of Palestinian heritage, received a degree at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, and has made numerous anti-Semitic statements on Twitter for the better part of a decade.
The Cleveland Clinic and Touro College have condemned Dr. Kollab, who referred to Jews as “dogs” and asked “Allah to end the lives of the Jews,” via Twitter. Dr. Kollab joked about how she would give Jews the wrong medication. In 2012, Dr. Kollab lamented the assigned midterm by her college professor to watch a movie about the Holocaust and write a paper about it. She tweeted that she would be unsympathetic about the Holocaust. She wrote that she does not feel bad about the Holocaust because “the [people] who were in it now kill my [people].”
In today’s digital age, the creators of the social media platforms are trying to tame the Wild West that they created. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others are suspending accounts, demonetizing videos, taking advertising dollars and not running the ads, and modifying their terms of service and acceptable use of their platforms on a regular basis. The political right is no stranger to this. When there were coordinated strikes against the most brash, unpolished, and vulgar voices on the right side of the aisle, like Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones, the more moderate voices on the right saw the writing on the wall. While they disagreed with those voices on rhetoric and policy, they saw that the right to free speech must be protected, especially against those with whom they disagree.
However, these platforms are private companies, who have no obligation to protect freedom of speech. Which then began the debate about the nature of these sites. Are they platforms, like a town square where you can shout whatever you’d like with no consequence greater than the judgment of your peers, or are they a publisher? If the Queens Jewish Link were to write lies about me, I would legally be allowed to sue them, and they cannot hide behind freedom of the press if I prove that their statements are lies. That is because, as a publisher, they choose what does and does not get published. If Twitter, Facebook, and others are deciding what does and does not get posted to their websites, they may be liable as a publisher. These companies, therefore, insist that they are platforms when they testify before Congress and make public statements, but their actions say otherwise.
In attempting to tame their creations, the companies in Silicon Valley are desperately trying to curb “hate speech.” Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, said in an acceptance speech for a “Courage Against Hate” award he was given by the Anti-Defamation League on December 3, “We only have one message for those who seek to push hate, division, and violence: You have no place on our platforms. You have no home here.” This sounds like an excellent sentiment, especially when you are the one who gets to define what are hate, division, and violence.
Now, it is not a far leap to make a claim that Dr. Kollab’s tweets are hateful. You don’t need to be Jewish to see how calling Jews “dogs” and proudly proclaiming how unsympathetic you are to the Holocaust can be a divisive statement. Dr. Kollab joins many others on Twitter who make anti-Semitic statements openly and proudly. In October, Louis Farrakhan tweeted a video of himself giving a speech with the caption “I’m not anti-Semite, I’m anti-Termite.” Ilhan Omar, newly elected US Representative from Minnesota, tweeted in 2012: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” One could argue that it is beneficial to implore social media companies to warn, suspend, or ban these accounts so this hateful rhetoric does not get spread. If that were to occur, however, the Jewish people would have a bigger problem.
The argument that these voices should be banned operates under the assumption that if they are banned, anti-Semitism decreases or goes away. Unfortunately, this is not true. After the Holocaust, Germany banned any public displays of swastikas. Germany, though, still has problem with anti-Semites. A 2017 report, which was commissioned by the German Parliament (the Bundestag), found that 9-10 percent of Germans express classic anti-Semitic feelings, and up to 50 percent harbor mild anti-Semitic prejudices. The banning of the Nazi flag didn’t stop Germans from burning the Israeli flag when President Trump announced moving the United States embassy to Jerusalem.
In America, that terrible symbol is protected under the First Amendment, as even an anti-Semite’s freedom of speech trumps anyone’s freedom from being uncomfortable or even enraged. This is not to say that America does not have anti-Semites. Of course there are anti-Semites in America. The beauty of allowing these anti-Semites to have a platform, either in person or on the Internet, is that we know who they are. This is the counter-argument to having those like Dr. Kollab banned from speaking or tweeting. The tweet that garnered the most attention is when Dr. Kollab stated that should would give Jews the wrong medication. Imagine if she were silenced, and could not tweet that, and then she actually carried this out. There would be no evidence of her latent hatred for Jews, no obvious motive for her attack. Allowing people to speak is allowing them to put their own feet in their mouths. Making them stay silent only allows them to ruminate and stew in their own hatred until it comes bursting out with physical acts.
Jews need to stay informed, educated, and mindful of our history, our enemies, and how to defeat them. Words cannot hurt us, especially when we become masters at wielding them. We can only defeat the hateful speech and rhetoric of others with arguments and rhetoric of our own. Let Dr. Kollab speak, so we can remind her that Touro College, where she was educated, was founded by Jews, and many of the medical technologies she uses were created by Jews. Let her defend her position that she is unsympathetic to the Holocaust, and she’ll quickly see how little support that garners.
The only way to defeat this is to see it coming, and attack it head on. Let them all speak, and the Jewish people will prevail.