Opinion |

What Happened When I Defended Katie Hopkins' Right in Israel to Free Speech on Muslims

As Jerusalem's deputy mayor, I helped Hopkins because I believe in debate. People with more extreme views and even more unsavory friends than her sit in the Knesset. That's freedom of speech

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum
Katie Hopkins in Israel, pictures from her twitter account
Katie Hopkins in Israel, pictures from her twitter account
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum

This time last week, if someone would have asked me if I knew who Katie Hopkins is, I would have said, "Isn’t she the UK version of Anne Coulter?"- a right-wing to alt-right activist who regularly offends minorities.

A week later, I am somehow caught up in Twitter storm with two UK Jewish activists over the fact that I helped find a place for her to show her movie "Homelands" in Jerusalem. Ms. Hopkins’s documentary chronicles anti-Semitism and growing Islamic fundamentalism in Europe and examines how Israel offers protection and shelter to European Jews.

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One might assume that showing this kind of film would not be an issue, but given the current conflicted reality of British Jews, strong reactions are understandable. I've been accused of "enabling and supporting figures on the far-right - who dress up as opponents of anti-Semitism and lovers of Israel to boost their hatred of migrants and minorities."

The truth is I have a lot of sympathy for the conundrum faced by the Jewish community in the UK. I am British. I lived in London for 9 years and my husband is a good North West London Jewish boy.

On the one hand, the community is fighting the terrible plague of anti-Semitism coming from both Islamic fundamentalism and from the liberal left, in the form of Jeremy Corbyn and his band of Jew-hating communists.

On the other hand, they need to keep good working relationships with the moderate Muslim community who could potentially be allies in this struggle.

To those people, Katie Hopkins is toxic, because she is an in-your-face tabloid journalist with unsavory friends and an ax to grind with immigrants.

I get it. We have similar dilemmas here in Jerusalem. On the one hand, we need to embrace the moderate Arab voices that believe in co-existence and living in a shared society. On the other hand, we need to fight Islamic anti-Semitism that unfortunately is still taught in East Jerusalem schools, even the ones funded by the State of Israel.

We also have provocative voices in this country, like Katie's, who are perceived by some as bigoted and by others as telling cold, hard truths.

But the reality here in Israel is that we don’t silence people we don’t agree with - we confront them. We don’t stifle opposing opinions, we debate them. We don’t ignore disturbing truths, we evaluate them.

Katie Hopkins came to Israel to show her movie to an Israeli audience. The Israel that I live in is a country with robust freedom of speech laws. It is these same laws that allow extremists like Haneen Zoabi and Betzalel Smotrich not just a platform to speak, but a place in the corridors of power; they both have more extreme views and even more unsavory friends than Katie Hopkins.

If we had to apply the standard of sensitivity that I allegedly breached this week, we are not only compromising the basic right to freedom of speech, we would also be in a situation where half the Knesset would need to resign.

Katie seems like a nice woman, although her politics are not my politics. Anyone who knows me knows I have spent my career finding ways to unite Jerusalemites, to create more opportunity for Haredim and Arabs, fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ and immigrant communities in my city and for the pluralism of the Jewish community itself. My record speaks for itself.

I did not facilitate the venue because I agree with her. I did so because in this country, we find safe spaces in which to agree or disagree.

Without an uncompromising attitude to freedom of speech, especially here in the Middle East, we jeopardize our own pro-Israel voices abroad, who are shamefully accused of fascism and genocide. This sacred right protects us, and we cannot be selective in our application of it.

Maybe it is my 18 years in Israel, one intifada, four wars, two exhausting election cycles and four births that have hardened me, made me less sensitive. There’s very little I haven’t heard or haven’t been accused of by this point.

However, what's most bothered me is that those same sensitive souls who diligently contacted venues to prevent the movie from airing are not fighting to ban Linda Sarsour from London - a known anti-Israel advocate, best friends with the Louis Farrakhan who calls us termites. They are not fighting the harmful anti-Semitic curriculum in Palestinian schools. They are not fighting Nakba Week, which delegitimizes our right to be here.

They are selectively fighting against one woman because they have decided in their PC lexicon that there is no bigger evil, regardless of the subject.

My message to them is this: Cultural sensitivity and politically correctness cut both ways, and so does freedom of speech. You cannot use freedom of speech only when you agree with it, and call it hate speech when you don’t. Your sword cannot also be your shield.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum grew up in Gibraltar and studied law at Kings College, London and qualified barrister as a before immigrating to Israel in 2001. She became a Jerusalem city councillor in 2016 and was appointed Deputy Mayor for foreign relations in 2018. Twitter: @FleurHassanN

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