Shooting the foot
If there is one issue which is at the top of everybody’s agenda this week, it is that much-touted, hard-won and often hard to defend belief: freedom of speech. We have learned, at some cost, that freedom of speech is the hallmark of a free and democratic society, however difficult and unpleasant it can be at times to hear the words expressed in such freedom. And if there is any group who ought to understand the importance of freedom of speech, it is surely the Jewish community. We are, after all, frequently on the receiving end of the antithesis of free speech. The Board of Deputies and the Fair Play Campaign have got it exactly right with their response to the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign’s plans to stage a targeted boycott of two supermarkets, Waitrose and Morrisons. Don’t boycott, urged the Board; “buycott” instead, by buying as many Israeli goods as possible. So it is all the more difficult to understand the attitude of the Manchester Zionist Central Council to a planned series of lectures by a representative of the Israel branch of Physicians for Human Rights. Rather than go to the lectures and challenge the content, which was the sensible thing to do, the ZCC deluged health professionals at three major hospitals with emails and sought the withdrawal of the lecture invitations. Result, cancelled lectures, bewildered nurses and doctors, and an outraged Israeli lecturer. The sound of shot feet resonates throughout north-west England. As we said, freedom of speech is a valuable commodity.