Freedom of expression as a basic right in society

people, crowd, rally

This week we witnessed the horrendous abuse directed towards Anna Soubry MP during the course of a live TV interview. Shouts of Nazi drowned out her interview and she was subsequently harassed and her path blocked as she attempted to walk into Parliament in full gaze of the Police who chose not to intervene. There was public outcry over the prevalence of such incidents towards MPS and journalists. This was not an isolated incident quite the opposite the harassment and intimidation has become de rigeur for many MPs as they walk to and from Parliament   as the Brexit issue continues to dominate the public discourse. 

It is recognised by all that protest and campaigning are the bedrock of any democracy, standing outside parliament making your point known as MPs enter and leave Parliament is a fundamental right but as Anna Soubry pointed out “the line is very clear between when it is a peaceful, lawful protest and when it is clearly intimidating and it’s designed to intimidate and shut down democracy, shut up MPs, shut up broadcasters.”

Only last year Jo Cox Labour MP was murdered by a member of the far right for her pro remain views. Rather than being a wakeup call for the rhetoric to be toned down and for both MPs and members of the public to engage in a more respectful debate, if anything the discourse has become more aggressive in its nature and content by all concerned.

We take pride in the fact in Britain we are able to freely express our opinions and disagree with others in all spheres of society and life. It resonates with us particularly as Jews after all from time immemorial rather than stifle debate and disagreement Judaism has encouraged and celebrated the difference of opinions as reflected by the debates of our Oral Torah from the likes of Hillel and Shamai. Yet always the disagreement and debate that takes place is with the proviso that it is carried out with mutual respect for the other party and in a constructive fashion always in search of the ultimate truth.

One of the greatest places for societal and political debate has traditionally been on college campus yet as many students will attest the ability to publicly hold different perspectives and opinions in particular about Israel has become more and more challenging. We must hope that in the same fashion that it has been taken on board that MPs’ and journalists should not be intimidated or harassed deserving security and protection so it is hoped that Jewish students and Jsocs up and down the country should be able to hold events and express their views freely without living in fear and intimidation

Published by Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch

Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch is currently the Senior Rabbi in Woodside Park Synagogue – a modern orthodox thriving community of some 1,400 members. His innate love for people and his empowering brand of leadership make him a well-loved figure in Woodside Park & London.

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