Monday’s letters: The right to criticize Israel is a free-speech issue

Monday’s letters to the editor
Published May 24

Florida group nears 100 for Israel | May 23

It should be okay to criticize Israel

I first learned about Palestine and Israel as a girl, listening to my grandmother in a rancorous pool-side debate with her neighbor Pearl in Lake Worth. They were arguing about what an ethnically “Jewish” state in Israel means for the rights of Palestinians. They were both Jewish, both angry and uncomfortable. But they were learning, as were all the grandkids and other swimmers listening to their raised voices.

The Florida Legislature has effectively censored these debates in the place where they are most important: public schools. A new bill, which will be signed by the governor during his trip to Israel, imposes a definition of anti-Semitism on the state’s public schools that classifies criticism of Israeli policy or advocacy for Palestinian human rights as discrimination against Jews.

The bill (HB 741) violates the U.S. Constitution. But the new definition is also just plain wrong: Advocacy for Palestinian rights is part of a universal call for freedom, justice and equality for all people.

The fact that Gov. Ron DeSantis is signing this bill during the Florida Cabinet’s trip to Israel indicates that this is more about demonstrating that Florida is “pro-Israel” than it is about protecting my civil rights as a Jewish-American. (Holding a Cabinet meeting in Israel also appears to violate Florida’s Sunshine law, as we warned the governor.)

To classify Palestinian human rights advocacy as anti-Jewish is dangerous for all of us who care about protecting vulnerable communities — because it takes our eyes off the actual threat: a revived white supremacy that targets Jewish, Muslim, black and Latino communities alike.

Liz Jackson, Berkeley, Calif.

The writer is a senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal.

Memorial Day

This is for which we stand

I attended my granddaughter’s fifth-grade graduation. During the opening of events we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and sang The Star Spangled Banner. While facing the flag I felt sadness. This cloth depicts the unity of our great nation, the red stripes representing the spilled blood preserving our heritage. It is the grand hope of our country.

I have become disheartened by the division of the powers that be. What can we pass on to these young Americans? Their teachers expressed expectations of finding pride in what you do. Be honest, work hard, enjoy in teamwork.

Where do our governing bodies stand today in this vision? What can this future generation learn from our elected leaders? To all graduating classes this year, be better than what we are now! Build a better future!

Walt Ryschkow, St. Petersburg

Accidents happen, but guns raise risks | May 19

Be responsible gun owners

If you have an accident in a car somebody has to accept responsibility. Why not with guns? Are these people above the law? People are being shot and in some cases killed. Nobody gets charged. Why? People need to be held accountable for their actions. They should automatically lose their permits on the spot. I say this because they are apparently not capable of holding this privilege. Permits to carry concealed weapons are like a driver’s license. That is, they are a privilege, not a right.

Rick Johnson, St. Petersburg

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