Speaker Edelstein during Independence Day speech: ”Extensive freedom of expression characterized at times by hurtful discourse; there is no room among us for boycotts”

Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein gave the main speech at the official Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl Wednesday night. In light of the recent terror wave that has gripped the country, Edelstein decided to invite to the ceremony, as his personal guests, the family of Dafna Meir, who was stabbed to death in a terror attack in Otniel, and Tzvika Cohen, who was injured in a terror attack.

Addressing the wave of terror, the Knesset Speaker said, ”We shed tears at the sight of a mother who lost her beloved, and the pain of children who witnessed the slaughter of their families seared our hearts. Our enemies endlessly preached incitement and sowed hatred and killing.”

”In the wild incitement against us, social networks played a central role. The very same frameworks intended to connect and unite people, nations and states – sought to harm us, to divide us from others, to break us. But if this was a time when the determination of Israel as a nation was measured – we prevailed,” said Edelstein, who was released from a Soviet prison on the eve of Israel`s Independence Day in 1987.

”The heroism of the citizens of Israel, and the bravery of our security forces, was shown in their courage and in the example of self-sacrifice, and time after time, our hearts overflow. It was the same spirit of heroism that has served the people of Israel for many generations, in our struggle for freedom and independence.”

In his speech, Edelstein also addressed the public shaming phenomenon on social media, saying ”The tensions that characterize our society can be healthy, but more than once have overstepped the boundaries of good taste. Broad-ranging freedom of expression – the oxygen of democracy – may spill over into hurtful discourse.”

”The words used are becoming more extreme, pitting sector against sector, opinion against opinion, perception against perception,” he continued. ”Many have chosen to hide behind a virtual mask, and in the name of freedom of speech have attacked others – sometimes without restraint and without shame. And nobody is immune: Neither the President, nor the Prime Minister. Neither Members of Knesset nor Ministers. Neither police officers nor soldiers. Neither judges nor reporters. To our great sorrow, even innocent girls and boys can be severely hurt by the arrows of scorn and humiliation shot at them without mercy.”

Turning to all of Israel`s citizens, the Speaker of the Knesset said: ”All of us, elected representatives and the public, must watch our language. Let us avoid like fire the use of insulting epithets for those who do not think like us: words like `traitor` and `mole` and `fascist` and `fanatic”.

”In the words of King Solomon: `The tongue holds the power of life and death`, and today so do the keyboard and the screen. There is room for every view to be heard, and there is no room among us for boycotts – by any side. We must not allow the gentle embers we have preserved so carefully to be fanned into giant flames that will destroy everything we have built. It is possible and even desirable to argue. It is possible and even obligatory to criticize.

But from there to shooting poisoned arrows – the distance must be long indeed,” said Edelstein, who lit a torch in honor of ”the soldiers of the Israel Defense Force and all Israel’s security forces, who guard our country by land, air and sea.”

The Knesset Speaker added: ”We have restored our sovereignty, in spite of unceasing efforts to destroy us. On ordinary days, we are used to expressing criticisms; it is always right to aspire to and expect more. But on this day, we must recognize all the good things that have come to us – things of which countless generations of Jews everywhere could only dream.

The eyes of the world are upon us: on our developments, our discoveries, our achievements and our abilities. It is your optimism and constant creativity, citizens of Israel – every one of you, Jews and Arabs, Druze and Circassians, members of every religious and national community – these are our main assets, our response, and the source of our strength.

This is our guarantee for the future of our children and grandchildren in this corner of God’s earth.”

Edelstein also spoke of the 14 people who were selected to light the torches during the Independence Day ceremony, saying they ”embody civic heroism in its broadest meaning.”

”There are those who saved the lives of others with ingenuity and bravery; there are those who devote their energies to helping various groups in the community. They all contribute in their own way to the strength of Israeli society,” he said of the torch lighters. ”The giant flame they will create together symbolizes the best and most beautiful aspects of our country, and as we gaze at them, we can only bless them and wish them well.”