Pamela Geller – Two Sides of a Coin: To Speak or Not to Speak?

Rob Eshman, the editor of the largest-circulation English paper for the Jewish community in Greater Los Angeles, recently dedicated his column to Pamela Geller, declaring: “You’re no Charlie Hebdo!”

Eshman writes: “In Texas, she just happened to frost her poisonous ideology with some free-speech icing.”

“Except in my opinion, Eshman got it all wrong,” says Ari.

“Except in my opinion, Eshman got it right,” says Norma.

Ari’s take is that Pamela Geller, rhetoric to the contrary, is not the enemy. She is the guard at the crosswalk, keeping a watchful eye over the children on their way to or from school. She raises her red and white “STOP” sign, warning drivers in stopped or approaching cars of their obligation to yield, be aware and not proceed until it is absolutely safe to do so.

pamela geller
Pamela Geller

Like her or not, call her “Bored Housewife,” “Fat,” “Shorty” (she is none of the above), insults will not deter her. She is entrusted with protecting the children from a careless driver, from cutting their life short. However, smearing her with insults may result in a punishment to the person doing the insulting. Normally there is a police officer in sight, and then suddenly the rude behavior changes 180 degrees.

Someone needs to step in to protect Geller who is doing her job, and doing it well, not for the sake of the meager few dollars an hour she receives as a salary, but for knowing no one got hurt on her watch. Although that may not have been the case if one crack shot Texas policeman had not been on the scene.

One gets the distinct feeling Eshman really does not like Geller. She spoils his kumbaya feeling and belief: “Islam is a peaceful religion. Muslims are good people (with the exception of those who belong to Isis, but they are an aberration). We all get along so nicely together.”

To make the point stronger, Eshman points the finger at Geller. She is the extremist, not those who say “Europe has fallen – America is next!” She is the one who refuses to live in peace. She does things “Davka” (to spite) and clearly is a menace to a peaceful society. In short, she is worse than a troublemaker and must be a very troubled woman.

Geller indeed spoils the game. She exposes the truth and puts it smack in one’s face. The sights are not pleasant, but the dangers are real. She tells it like it is, as she sees the world, and of course she is not alone in her opinions.

The slick propaganda machine of the local Muslims (CAIR, MPAC, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, etc.) is soothing to the ear and smooth as silk. They are the victims, never the perpetrators. All terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam do not belong to Islam but are singular acts by deranged individuals. In fact, the word “Terrorism” and peace-loving Muslims are two concepts quite incompatible with one other.

Thus, continues Eshman’s rationale, Geller is at fault for painting Islam with a skewed brush. She is a witch casting a devious spell on all Muslims, unjustly smearing their name. And thus, Eshman who may disagree with her politically or ideologically paints a dreadful picture warning against the icing Geller applies.

Eshman is a pure reflection of the established American Jewry, the same “old guard” that surrendered to the Muslims and cancelled an appearance by Geller at the Jewish Federation of Greater LA building because some called to complain. She was left in the street, doors locked in her face, lest she offend anyone for telling her truth.

When was the last time the local Muslims, out of consideration to Jews, turned down the hateful rhetoric against Israel (supposedly committing war crimes and being the new Nazis)? When did they “disinvite” or even give a second thought when hosting a hateful speaker, one who not only uses blood libels, but also mobilizes listeners to action? Where is the outrage against Muslim students that prevent speakers and Jewish students from exercising their freedom of speech?

There is a tipping point where Eshman has no choice but to change his outer skin. This was observed recently with the advent of the BDS movement and the thriving anti-Semitism found at local university campuses. Even UCLA Prof. David Myers wrote a mesmerizing account against BDS, which Eshman to his credit prominently featured. Yet, how pitiful that Prof. Myers is among those who contributed so much to the advent of this movement.

Editor-in-Chief Eshman got it wrong. Geller is the warning sign that the light is changing from yellow to red. She is trying to caution us to slow down to a complete stop, look around and be aware of the surroundings, before it is too late.

Geller seeks to wake us from our sleep – for our own sake, and for the benefit of the Jewish community at large. Allow me then to add a lesson history has taught us: Those who helped the Communists attain power were the first to be executed. That is good to remember even when one refuses to apply the lessons of the past to the present.

On another side of the coin – Norma’s – Eshman’s remarks are correct, although laced with insults and demeaning stereotypical comments.

There is a great difference between freedom and good sense. When the Nazis marched in Skokie many were appalled they should have the right to do so, but if Americans allow those who hate Jews to be denied free speech, who will be next? And most importantly who will make that call and decide whose speech is allowed and whose is not?

That is the slippery slope our forefathers in their wisdom wished to avoid when giving us that precious freedom. Do we all use it wisely and with restraint, perhaps not?

If every American agreed with one another’s speech, there would be no need for protection. It is most necessary when we disagree and was designed for that purpose.

Having said that, it is also important to note there are considerations of where and how to exercise that right.

Where the lives of oneself or others enter into the mix, perhaps a bit of wisdom and caution should prevail.

Did Pamela Geller have the right to do what she did? Absolutely and without doubt.

Might she have thought better of constructing a situation that would incite violence? Perhaps that would have been wise. Speaking your truth is fine, but when that truth endangers the lives of others, one should be compelled to use a rational and measured approach.

Personal attacks against Geller distract from the true issue inherent in her actions. They muddy the waters as much as anti-Muslim rhetoric emotionalizing a serious problem that must be addressed by today’s world.

As a Jewish woman I am offended by the “Housewife” remark as trivializing women as unfit to contribute in any remarkable manner. Was Betty Freidan no more than a bored housewife? Did she ignite the Feminist movement because she’d had her fill of “affairs?”

Are we not past the Philip Roth’s Sophie Portnoy era of marginalizing and demeaning Jewish women and stereotyping them as annoying and redundant? If not, I strongly suggest we bury that offensive falsehood once and for all.

It is easy to find many on one side or the other of this issue. But free speech is an uncompromising and undeniable cornerstone of our democracy. When we deny it for any reason, we are giving in to the worst kind of terrorism.

Should we all exercise discretion in these highly charged and extremely volatile times? In my opinion, advises Norma, that would be the optimum way to proceed. No one benefits when gas is poured on an already raging inferno.

Is Ari correct? Yes.

Is Norma correct? Yes.

Would we all get along much better if the personal attacks were left at the door and intelligent and mannered conversation were allowed inside?

On that we hope we can all agree.

First Published in Israel Monitor May 11, 2015 and reproduced in NewsBlaze with permission

Ari Bussel
In the series "Postcards from Israel," Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel's on the ground, Zager's counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related - the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts - and so is this "point - counter-point" presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.