When free speech is hard to swallow

By Roger Bill
November 17, 2023 Edition

Last Sunday a crowd gathered at the Colonial Building in St. John’s for what was billed as a Candlelight Vigil for Palestine. Someone waved a large Palestinian flag. Others carried signs calling for a free Palestine “From the River to the Sea.” 

The vigil’s organizers, the St. John’s Palestine Action Committee, invited attendees to “bring flowers and/or teddy bears” to commemorate the children who have died during what it called, “the recent escalation of Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine.” 

What some attendees did not want to acknowledge, however, were the Israeli children who were abducted on October 7th by the military wing of Hamas. The October 7th attack on Israeli civilians reportedly claimed the lives of 1,200 people. Nearly 200 more were abducted and the fire it ignited now rages in the Middle East.

One of the Israeli children who was kidnapped is a four-year-old boy named Ariel. His picture is on a poster created by a group called “KidnappedFromIsrael.”

(Insert Ariel Poster)

Several copies of a poster calling for his release were taped on the main gate and light poles at the Colonial Building last Sunday before the vigil. After the crowd gathered, but before the speeches began, one young man who called it “Zionist propaganda” tore a poster down. He then spoke with a couple of young people wearing safety vests, perhaps part of the Action Committee team, who proceeded to tear down the rest of the posters, one by one.

The young person in this photo said she was tearing the poster down because it contained statements “that had not been fact checked.” Like, maybe Ariel isn’t 4-years-old and has been kidnapped by the military wing of Hamas?


When some people hear the chant “From the River to the Sea” they hear what one Palestinian-American politician calls an “aspirational call for freedom.” Others hear a call for the elimination of the state of Israel. They hear hate speech. For example, the American Jewish Committee says the chant is antisemitic and, “calls for the establishment of a State of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, erasing the State of Israel.”

Rosie DiManno, a columnist for the Toronto Star, recently wrote, “I’ll defend your right to say it.  But I just threw up in my mouth.” 

The people at the vigil want compassion for Palestinians. They want the bombing to stop. They want the right-wing government of Israel to stop Israeli settlers from encroaching further in the West Bank. They want an end to what Amnesty International in 2022 said was an Israeli system of apartheid that treated Palestinians, “as an inferior racial group… systematically deprived of their rights … across all territories under its control.”

That is the view of many Europeans, Americans, and Canadians. Too bad there wasn’t room last Sunday to also acknowledge that a 4-year-old Israeli kid named Ariel has been kidnapped and is being held by Hamas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *