Community Reacts to Free Speech Hullabaloo

Shirley Dean is the mayor of Berkeley. Respond at [email protected]

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I am deeply troubled by what happened in this community on Nov. 28 when protestors prevented former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking ("Netanyahu Calls Off Speech," Nov. 29). Equally disturbing were the subsequent comments from community leaders that controversial speakers are not welcome here. I deplore both the actions by protestors, and the subsequent comments because they reflect badly on Berkeley's tradition of free speech, and undermine all of our civil liberties.

Illustration/Deana Sobel

Berkeley is passionate about free speech. It is not just about speaking, it is also about the right to protest, to show you disagree. Netanyahu had the right to speak, and those that wanted to hear him, had the right to do that inside the theater. Protestors had the right to stage a protest outside the theater, but they had no right to block the speaker or others from entering the theater to hear him, just as no one had the right to deny the protest from being held.

I personally do not agree with Netanyahu, but he is a world figure who may become the leader of a country facing an extremely complex future. What he had to say is important, if for no other reason than to affirm our disagreement. We must never, ever forget that Free Speech is for everyone, not just the politically correct.


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