Israeli ambassador: ‘Right to free speech is not the right to hate speech’

The right to free speech is not the right to hate speech, Israel’s ambassador to Bulgaria Yoram Elron told the “Together against Hate Speech” event in Sofia on February 19.

The event, a response to the annual Lukov March to be held in Bulgaria’s capital city on February 22, was co-organised by the Goethe Institute, Israeli embassy, German embassy, GLAS Foundation, Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and Wikipedia Bulgaria volunteers.

The Lukov March, held in Sofia every February since 2003, honours a pro-Nazi general who led the fascist Union of Bulgarian National Legions during the early 1940s. Participants in the torchlit evening procession include neo-Nazis from other parts of Europe.

Elron said that hate speech was a global challenge that affects everyone.

The Lukov March was propaganda of an aggressive nature, with xenophobic ideas and hate speech, honouring a person who promoted xenophobia, he said.

Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev understood this, Elron said, saying that he appreciated Geshev’s endeavours in investigating the organisers of the Lukov March.

The darkest chapter of human history, the Holocaust, did not happen overnight, the Israeli ambassador said. It had been preceded by a process involving the demonisation of Jews through hate speech.

The only way to address hate speech was to draw red lines and challenge those uttering hate speech.

The media had a share of responsibility to combat hate speech, as did internet companies, he said.

German ambassador Christoph Eichhorn said that a broad alliance was needed against hate speech, which affects all of us. He welcomed the attendance at the event as evidence of such a broad alliance.

Hate speech was not solely a problem for minorities, nor solely a matter involving social media. He too pointed to it being evidenced on the streets, by events such as the Lukov March, “in the dark in the city centre, people marching with torches”.

The upcoming German presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance intended to put a special focus on the issue of hate speech, Eichhorn said.

Everyone, including politicians, business people, sports clubs, the media and others had a responsibility to fight hate speech. Politicians had create the legal framework to penalise it, and the media had a responsibility to report about hate speech and ensure that it was not a platform for it, he said.

The Sofia Globe staff

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