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Freedom of speech limited 

Close to Home

The big national issue this week is freedom of speech. We all believe in our own, but we’re not so sure about other people’s. Specifically, some question campus protests against the Israeli war with Palestine.

Notice that the title of this column is “Close to Home.” At the moment, there’s not much protest, violent or peaceful, close to home. I saw one person holding up a pro-Palestine sign at the Tour of the Gila criterium on Saturday, but nobody seemed to notice or care.

Protest is not unknown to Grant County. We are the home of the “Salt of the Earth” strike. Perhaps you’ve seen “Si se puede” on a wall at Gough Park so many times that you don’t know it was originally a protest slogan for Hispanic rights and respect.

My personal protest memory is from the Fourth of July parade in 2006. This was during the Iraq war, not long after American soldiers were accused (and later convicted) of torturing Iraqi prisoners. Protesters marched in orange coveralls impersonating the tortured prisoners. It was an offensive display, designed to upset people about what had been done in their name. And it did upset people of all persuasions.

I had an exchange of letters to the editor with one of my neighbors about this event, although we never spoke of it in person. I argued that the obnoxious protest supported our troops by insisting that they behave honorably. He argued that the Fourth of July celebrates the Declaration of Independence, and that unrelated protests are rude.

Yes, that protest was rude, but nothing compared to the rudeness we’re going to see later this year at campus protests, at the Democratic and Republican party conventions and in campaign messages. It’s not just about freedom of speech, and not just about Palestine versus Israel.

In theory, Americans can peacefully protest anything they want, but the protesters are being accused of racism against Jews. Opposing Israel and its policies isn’t the same as hating Jews, but it gets complicated.

Some of the protesters are prejudiced against all Jews. Some Jews oppose the Israeli occupation of Gaza. Some supporters of Palestine will not be satisfied until all Israelis “go home,” although Jews born in Israel are already home. They’re like us non-native Americans who may feel some conquest guilt, but can’t go “back where we came from.” Besides, Israel has the guns and nukes.

For political reasons, some American politicians are accusing all the protesters of being antisemitic, even the possibly naíve ones who want everyone to live in peace. Foolish university administrators have spread the protests by trying to ban them. If you’re old enough to remember Kent State, you know sending in the National Guard didn’t end protests. 

The brutal invasion of Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7 of last year makes peace difficult, as does the brutal retaliation against Gaza by Israel. And the brutal expansion policy of Israeli settlers in the West Bank makes it worse still. All sides in the conflict have been victims and perpetrators.

Meanwhile, many Americans have only the vaguest idea of where and what Gaza and the West Bank are. The difference between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is unclear, and the parties and communities of Israel are another mystery. Even Americans who have studied the facts don’t feel the emotions. For an example of misunderstanding on all sides, look up the phrase “From the river to the sea” on Wikipedia.

So why are we so involved in dysfunction on the other side of the world? Why is it affecting our elections and politics? Why do the fundamentalists, religious and political, have the loudest voices in the debate? President Biden criticizes the administration and military policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but continues to send weapons. Why do so many young Americans (and some old ones) want the United States to stop being Israel’s best friend?

Does the United States still have leverage over Israel? They used to be our junior partner, but now they act like the senior partner. Is President Joe Biden under the thumb of Netanyahu, as some say Donald Trump is under the thumb of Vladimir Putin?

This election could get ugly. Many young people believe Biden is a war criminal. They may sit this one out rather than weighing which candidate is worse. And what are the chances that either Biden or Trump will live four years anyway? Why have our two bad parties given us this bad choice?

And have I mentioned bloodshed in Ukraine, Myanmar and Sudan, or Chinese threats against Taiwan? It’s going to be a long, hot summer, followed by a cold, dark winter. Let’s hope that new “Civil War” movie isn’t prophetic.

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments to

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Bruce McKinney

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to
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