The value of freedom cannot be overstated. It's the foundation that gives all of us who live in western democracies -- people of faith and no faith alike -- the ability to live as we choose.
Especially during times like these, it is critical to remember that for many people in the world freedom is not a given. It is a gift, and those of us who enjoy it must protect it with all we have.
Ask the Christians in Iraq or Syria whose relatives have been literally crucified by the fanatical terrorist group, the Islamic State. Ask Coptic Christians in Egypt who have been denied their freedom and forced to live as second-class citizens.
The Jewish people also know the value of freedom. Many of the seven million Jews currently living in Israel are refugees from Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, Iran, and other nations, who were threatened and sent away or forced to flee simply because of their faith.
Freedom of religion is the backbone of Western society and the foundation of our Judeo-Christian values. These freedoms are not afforded to most people living in the Middle East, and death is often the punishment for exercising those freedoms. What are the freedoms that we often take for granted?
- The freedom to follow any religion we choose.
- The freedom for women to vote, drive, and work.
- The freedom to choose who we marry.
- The freedom for each individual to decide what they want to wear, read, and think.
- The freedom to protest decisions we think are unjust.
Last week more than 20 Palestinians were murdered in Gaza for protesting Hamas's rocket attacks on Israel. This is what happens to a people who have had freedom taken from them. Yet it is not just at protests in Gaza that I see our freedoms being trampled and abused.
Throughout the world, there have been "pro-Palestinian" rallies where people are not protesting for a just cause, but against a people -- the Israeli people. My people. The Jewish nation that had 6 million of our brothers and sisters burned in ovens less than 70 years ago.
The signs that have been seen around the world at these rallies and the slogans that have been screamed loudly are brutal and shocking: "Hitler was right." "Death to all Jews." "Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone." I've seen "Heil Hitler" signs, and heard passionate calls for Jews to go "back to the ovens."
It is clear to me that many pro-Palestinian protests are being used to express vile anti-Semitism in a way not seen since before World War II. Protesters are able to air these hateful views because the societies they live in give them the freedom to do so. But the freedom to peaceful protest was intended to give people a voice and implement change, not to call for the destruction of an entire nation and people.
Freedom is a luxury not afforded to many in the Middle East. One nation is an exception: Israel.
There are over 1.5 million Arab citizens in Israel. We have hundreds of Arab Knesset members, police, mayors, doctors, and lawyers in Israel. Women enjoy full rights. No Jews live in Gaza. Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, millions of Christians around the world have reached out to me in friendship and support. "If we don't have freedom of religion, we have religion imposed on us. That's why strengthening the foundation of Judeo-Christian values is critical at this point in history," they often say, and indeed I fully agree.
The foundation of both Judaism and Christianity is to "love your neighbor as yourself." I believe that loving someone -- despite our differences -- means showing them respect, and giving them a voice and platform to reveal their thoughts and passions.
The freedom to protest is important. It is critical that all people have a way for their opinions to be heard. But with the right to protest comes real responsibilities. To protest for the destruction of a nation and call for an entire people's annihilation -- which is being done at this very moment throughout the world -- is a desecration of freedom, of the very values that gives us the right to protest.
Now is the time to speak out, before it is too late. Now is the time for lovers of freedom to unite.