Sunday, May 31, 2009
A Litmus Test For Opponents of the ~SNakba Law~T
By Steven Plaut
The Israeli media and the Israeli Left, which largely overlap, have been hysterical in recent days over a proposed bill that would make it illegal to hold anti-Israel "mourning" events on Israel's Independence Day, events that would declare Israel's very existence a "Nakba" (or catastrophe in Arabic)l. "Nakba" commemorations are in essence events in which Jewish leftist and Arab fascist haters of Israel call for Israel to be annihilated. The "Anti-Nakba" bill, which is unlikely to pass the Knesset in any case, proposes to ban these, and has triggered hysterical opposition.
There are two types of people posturing their outrage at the proposed "Anti-Nakba" law. One consists of free speech absolutists. The other consists of anti-democratic haters of Israel, many of them people with a neo-fascist disdain for freedom of speech. The first group truly believes in freedom of speech, even for radicals, traitors, and extremists. The second group consists of people who are fighting against the "anti-Nakba law" because they agree with the "Nakba nuts" that Israel's very existence is a catastrophe, something that should be corrected by means of exterminating Israel.
There is a very easy litmus test that distinguishes between these two groups. If the opponent of the "anti-Nakba law" is someone who spoke out clearly in the 1990s against the anti-democratic campaign against "incitement" in Israel, then that person is part of the first group, the free speech absolutists. If the person endorsed the 1990s Israeli campaign against "incitement" or simply kept quiet and failed to speak up against it, then that person belongs to the second group, the people who agree that Israel's very existence is a catastrophe.
Let me explain.
When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by Yigal Amir in November 1995, his body was not yet cold when the Israeli political establishment, led by the Israeli Labor Party, launched a broadside assault against freedom of speech in Israel. It repeated endlessly that Rabin had in fact been killed by the exercise of freedom of speech by anti-Oslo dissidents. It insisted that those who had disagreed with Rabin's Oslo initiative were collectively guilty of murdering Rabin. Hundreds of people were investigated and interrogated for suspicion of "incitement." The "judicial activists" in Israel's legal system failed to protect the victims of the anti-democratic McCarthyism.
In any real democracy, "incitement" is not a crime at all unless it is an added-on charge for someone actually engaged in violence or real crime. But in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination Israeli dissidents were hounded and prosecuted for expressing their opinions, including some rabbis.
In the anti-democratic hysteria after the assassination, Israelis
were carted off by the bus load for interrogation for "incitement." In some cases the circumstances were comically absurd. A man was arrested for cracking a joke in a bank; when the clerk asked "Who's next in line?" he had remarked "Peres." A Zionist Federation employee named Moshe Cohen was arrested for "incitement" when drinking at a caf?, because an eavesdropper claimed he was "inciting." (See http://www.jewishpost.com/archives/letter-to-the-editor/letter-to-the-editor-from-steven-plaut-3.html ) Moshe Feiglin was convicted of "sedition" because he dared to hold anti-Oslo protests that blocked a traffic artery.
The "theory" that Rabin was killed by freedom of speech was repeated
endlessly by the political elite, and assumed the status of sacred revealed gospel. The government approved a decision to make a growing list of organizations on the Israeli far-Right illegal. Kahanists were criminalized and denied freedom of speech under Israel's silly and arbitrary "anti-racism laws," which have never been used to prosecute leftist or Arab anti-Semites. A series of aggressive measures designed to prosecute those engaging in "incitement and agitation" was instituted. Right-wing protesters of various stripes, especially those from the "Women in Green," were arrested and prosecuted for various charges. Minor teenage protester girls were held in prison even before being tried.
In this atmosphere of hysteria countless examples of legitimate exercises of freedom of speech were persecuted and suppressed. A faculty member wearing a pro-settlement button at Weizmann Institute was threatened with expulsion. A Haifa teacher-rabbi was fired from his school teacher job for expressing the opinion that Rabin's political ideology should not be taught as theology in schools. Youths peacefully holding up protest signs against the eviction of Jewish settlers from Gaza were jailed. Rabbis writing scholarly articles about Rabbinic law were arrested for "racism" and "incitement." Police were ordered to tear down posters on public billboards placed by anti-Oslo protesters. People wearing tee shirts with politically incorrect slogans and people with rightist bumper stickers on their cars were harassed and interrogated by the authorities. (For more examples, see this http://www.primechoice.com/philosophy/shelp/speechisrael.htm )
The assertions that Rabin was killed by the exercise of freedom of speech were even more frightening and dangerous than the assassination itself. They were absurd and false. Rabin was not killed by free speech, but by a murderer with a gun. There is no reason to think that Yigal Amir would have behaved any differently if opponents of Rabin's policies had all spoken in gentile calm quiet tones rather than shouting angrily. And if "vile speech" causes assassination, then Israel should have had an endless carnage of its political leaders ever since Independence (if not beforehand).
Israeli political discourse is and has always been characterized by rhetorical overkill, ad hominem slander, and unrestrained high-decibel shrieking. Vile speech is not a monopoly of hotheads of the Israeli right, as the anti-Begin demonstrators in 1982-83 proved during Israel's "Peace in Galilee" Campaign in Lebanon. Their slogan was "Begin and Sharon are Murderers and War Criminals." No one was assassinated as a result of this and no one was prosecuted.
The criminalization of dissent continued even when the Labor Party was not in power. Despite being initially the main target of the anti-speech McCarthyist demonization of "incitement" in the 1990s, the Likud was just as capable of jumping on the anti-democratic bandwagon, no doubt as an attempt to "clear" suspicions about itself. The Likud closed down the rightist radio station "Arutz 7." The Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his cabinet on February 13, 2005, "Anyone who speaks or writes against the Disengagement Plan is guilty of incitement."
Many of the very same people now outraged at the idea of an
"Anti-Nakba Law" were the very same people cheering on the anti-democratic campaign of McCarthyism in the 1990s to suppress freedom of speech in Israel following the Rabin assassination. The very same far-leftist Israeli daily Haaretz that is now leading the campaign to defeat the proposed "Anti-Nakba Law" was also the leading force PROMOTING laws that suppress "incitement" and the exercise of freedom of speech by those opposed to the political agenda of the Left (see http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=130801&contrassID=2&subContrassID=3&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y&itemNo=130801 as one example).
So here is their test: You do not like the proposed "anti-Nakba Law"? Then prove to us that you are opposed to other infringements of freedom of speech in Israel! Show us what you have said or written against the 1990s McCarthyist campaign against "incitement" and dissident freedom of expression. Prove to us that you have opposed attempts to suppress freedom of speech at Tel Aviv University and elsewhere in Israeli academia. Demonstrate for us your track record of opposition to the criminalization of the freedom of speech of the Kahanists. Let us know what you have done to fight other measures designed to suppress freedom of speech, including the infamous anti-democratic SLAPP suit filed by Neo-Fascist Neve Gordon.
The alternative is to fail the litmus test.
2. Fast question. You know all those people who got upset at the
attempt by France to prevent Moslem women from wearing head scarves to
school and consider that o be anti-democratic? Well, how many of them
have spoken out against the prohibition of weaing a yarmulka to school
issued by the principal of the Herzliya Gymnasium in Tel Aviv, a story we
reported a few days ago?