In just 48 hours, thousands of New Zealanders have joined their voices together in calling for a de-escalation of tensions over conflict in Israel and Gaza. We must insist that free speech enable us to peacefully express our strongly held opinions on this matter, says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.
“This issue is deeply complex and we do not pretend to have the answer. But what we do know is that we will all be poorer if democratic principles are not upheld in the midst of anger and disagreement.
“This letter is about civil discourse in New Zealand, not the appropriate response in the Middle East. If we can’t debate and disagree civilly, I fear violence is the inevitable alternative. Tensions are escalating here in New Zealand, and we know there are incredibly strong feelings across the issue. Free speech matters especially for issues like this.
“Last week, Phil Twyford was booed off stage for sharing his opinions on the conflict. He had to be escorted by police who feared for his safety as members of the audience followed him.
“Likewise, yesterday, a nine-year-old boy was left in a serious condition after being struck with a shovel while attending a protest in Aotea Square. Examples like this indicate that constructive discussion is getting harder, and overt violence more likely.
“We are running a public letter urging New Zealanders to use their voices to call out intolerance and hate, and to speak up for peace. One side can’t get the right to have their say without the other receiving the same. The opportunity to listen and provide counter-speech must exist, otherwise this wouldn’t be a democracy.”