Support for Israel is not controversial in red America

In some parts of the country, standing up for Israel is controversial, even dangerous.

On the campuses of places like Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, anyone who dares to wave an Israeli flag — or, increasingly, wear a kippah in public — is at risk of being assaulted by angry mobs of people with their faces covered.

In Los Angeles, a pro-Israel protester was allegedly killed by a pro-Palestinian computer-science professor.

(Judge Ryan Wright slashed the prof’s bail from the original $1 million to just $50,000.)

Many parents of Jewish students are concerned, and rightly so, about their kids’ safety at these institutions.

Even off campus, the streets of New York and many other big blue metropolises seem kind of dangerous for Jews these days.

Things are a bit different in my neck of the woods.

I live in Knoxville, Tenn., home of the University of Tennessee, where we’ve seen almost none of this sort of violence.

Last week I attended a pro-Israel rally in downtown Knoxville that was peaceful, ecumenical and quite moving.

At the center of Knoxville’s booming downtown is Market Square, where the city’s Jewish Alliance set up a table with 239 place settings to commemorate the hostages Hamas terrorists took from Israel.

Each chair bore a poster with the name, bio and photo of a hostage.

They ranged from babies to older adults.

Several hundred people attended.

There were speeches by local political figures, all pro-Israel, including Knoxville’s Rep. Tim Burchett.

All expressed sympathy for Israel, horror at Hamas’ brutality and support for the hostages.

There were backing letters from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, and Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty.

There were prayers by both Jewish and Christian religious leaders.

Many attendees bore Israeli and American flags.

There were no counterprotesters, and although there was a police presence, it was subdued and not needed.

Passersby seemed generally friendly and supportive.

When the event ended, people fanned out to have dinner at downtown restaurants, buy ice cream and generally make an evening of it.

Of course, not everyone is on the same page, even in a place like Knoxville.

As I write this, a group called Palestinian Action and Liberation is planning to pack the next City Council meeting, dressed in black, and demand a statement in support of Gaza and a boycott of doing business with Israel.

But the numbers of this group are much smaller, and while they may cause headaches for Knoxville’s Democratic mayor, Indya Kincannon, who they’re criticizing for having recently visited Israel, I doubt she’s losing much sleep.

Most important, public order has been maintained.

Since the Black Lives Matter riots of the last decade, the Knoxville police and Knox County sheriff have kept order.

Protests and rallies are protected; people who try to get away with violence or property destruction are arrested and prosecuted.

Likewise, on the University of Tennessee campus, the administration has been strongly supportive of free speech but unwilling to tolerate disruptive, destructive or violent behavior.

This shouldn’t even be worth mentioning, but it is.

Ever since Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake gave rioters “space” to “destroy” in 2015, many municipal leaders have taken a hands-off attitude toward destructive mobs (at least those mobs aligned with the left, which to be fair is pretty much all of them).

This has been bolstered by the criminal-justice “reform” approach of not charging or prosecuting for most crimes even people who are arrested.

University administrators have shown a similar unwillingness to enforce basic principles of social order and provide a basic level of security and protection for students and faculty targeted by angry mobs.

So it’s actually kind of newsworthy to note not everywhere operates that way.

It’s possible for people to engage in free speech without official toleration of violence — in fact, it’s official intolerance of violence that makes free speech for everyone possible.

(As Adlai Stevenson once said, a free society is one in which it is safe to be unpopular.)

The irony is so many of those people who are supposed to be the curators of our civilization have forgotten this truth — or chosen to disregard it.

Also ironic: More people who remember these things are to be found running things in the allegedly intolerant red states than in those jurisdictions that go on and on about their tolerance.

Things seem to be turning around a bit, as universities and cities come to the end of their patience for lawless and violent behavior, even from those operating on behalf of approved causes.

It’s about time.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the InstaPundit.com blog.

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