Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ten Years Ago

The following was posted and published exactly ten years ago. So many
have forgotten those dark days.

I think the time is apt for re-posting. The comments are still relevant:

Free Speech For Me But Not For Thee
By: Steven Plaut

Date: Friday, January 17 2003

Consider a country in which the minister of
justice prepares an official ''speech code'' that
delineates the boundaries of permissible
speech, and where violators may be sent to

Consider a country in which people are
arrested for expressing criticism or dissent,
even if it is in a casual conversation in a cafe, a
bank or a barber shop.

Consider a country in which the minister
of education calls upon school pupils and their
parents to report to the police the names of
teachers who make ''incendiary statements'' or
engage in ''incitement.''

Consider a country where people are
afraid to express their political opinions for
fear of being overheard by informants and
where people look over their shoulders before
daring to speak candidly about politics.

Consider a country in which rabbis are
openly vilified by the leaders of the state,
where politicians, journalists and professors
call for the wholesale arrest of rabbis and

dissidents, where scores of rabbis are
interrogated by the police for ''inciting.''

Consider a country where religious Jews
walking down the street are insulted and
called ''murderers'' and other foul names by

Consider a country where a popular radio
host calls for a law that would require that all
dissidents either recant their views and
endorse government policies or go to prison; or
where a newspaper columnist closely identified
with the ruling party declares that Voltaire's
famous statement (where he says that he
would die for the rights to free speech for those
with whom he disagrees) represents the most
absurd and ridiculous idea imaginable.

Imagine a country where teenagers are
imprisoned for making statements and posters
that are in poor taste, or where an old man can
be arrested for losing his temper and shouting
at a policeman, ''What do you think this is
here, a police state?

Imagine a country where people can be
arrested for making jokes that some might
regard as being in poor taste.

Imagine a country in which dissidents
quoting old statements by the prime minister
himself or who quote from the Bible could be
arrested on charges of engaging in incitement
and rebellion.

Now ask yourselves, does all of the above
describe the Habsburg Empire during the
worst Franciscan repressions of the early 19th
century? Or maybe some totalitarian country
before the fall of communism? Or perhaps a
fictitious government in some Orwellian
political novel?

No, I'm afraid the above is an exact
description of Israel as it was in the immediate
aftermath of the assassination of Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Each example refers
to an actual event that occurred in Israel in the
months after that murder.

Seven years after the event, Israel is still
in a state of shock from the Rabin
assassination. One of the most harmful and
dangerous aftershocks to that murder has been
a long series of assaults upon the fundamental
democratic freedoms and rights of Israeli
citizens, led mainly by the Israeli Left.

Rabin's body was not yet cold when an
anti-democratic theory of the assassination was
invented. In the following days, not only was
this theory repeated endlessly, but it assumed
the status of revealed gospel. The theory holds
that the assassination was caused by
irresponsible speech, by calls of ''Rabin is a
Murderer/Traitor,'' by incitement and agitation
on the part of anti-Oslo dissidents.

In response to this theory-as-gospel, there
were repeated calls in Israel for new legislation
to suppress ''oral violence'' and ''incitement.''
In 1995 the minister of justice even prepared a
new law that would have instituted a sort of a
national ''speech code'' delineating the
boundaries of acceptable speech (it was never
implemented). The governments of both Labor
and Likud approved decisions to make a
growing list of organizations on the Israeli ''far
right'' illegal, simply on the basis of their
positions and opinions. A long list of people
were investigated and/or indicted for

Following the assassination, an assault on
dissent and democracy was launched by
Israel's politicians from the Labor Party and
the leftist Meretz. For example, a call to pupils
and parents to inform to the police on teachers
engaging in ''incitement'' came from the
minister of education under the Labor Party's
administration, Professor Amnon Rubinstein of
Meretz. Rubinstein is a well-known expert on
constitutional law, which he taught for many
years at Tel Aviv University. Prosecutions of
people for having expressed anti-Oslo opinions
continued even under Likud administrations.

All of this is no less frightening and
alarming than the assassination itself. It is
particularly troubling because the new
orthodoxy is itself patently false. It is also
dangerous because the criminalizing and
prosecution of extremists on the far right could
in fact lead to an upsurge in violence.

First, despite the shock that we all felt
and feel, it behooves us to recall that Rabin
was not killed by free speech, but by a
murderer with a gun.

Second, is there anyone who seriously
believes that the murderer would not have
carried out this crime if every single
demonstrator at every single anti-Oslo
demonstration had spoken with restraint and
expressed his criticism of the government in
eloquent and civilized words?

Third, 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 always has been
characterized by rhetorical overkill, ad
hominem slander, and unrestrained high-
decibel shrieking.

Anyone with any doubts should go read
the protocols of the Knesset from the 1950's,
when even back then, in the pre-television era,
Knesset debate was constantly peppered with
cries of ''Fascist,'' ''Traitor,'' ''Dictator,''
''Criminal,'' etc., coming from all sides of the
chamber. David Ben-Gurion himself frequently
referred to his chief ideological opponent,
Vladimir Jabotinsky, as ''Vladimir Hitler.''

Perhaps it is Israel's proximity to the
Mediterranean, but political discussion here is
and always has been uncivilized. (Any doubters
should watch the weekly political barroom
brawl on Israeli television, Popolitika.) Yet
until this crime, no political leader was ever
assassinated in Israel. That is because vile or
angry speech does not cause assassination.

The orthodoxy regarding the Rabin
assassination was in part motivated by the fact
that a handful of Israeli fanatics expressed
public approval when they heard of the
assassination. But if that?s against the law,
will it also become a crime to say, ''I believe
the government is betraying Zionism,'' or ''I
believe certain politicians are collaborating
with Arab murderers,'' or ''I believe the Israeli
Labor Party is pandering to those who wish to
destroy Israel,'' or ''Mitzna is betraying the
country's interest''?

Will all these statements become grounds
for prosecution? Where will the criminalization
of dissent stop?

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.

I myself was present in many a
demonstration against the Vietnam War (yes,
we all have skeletons in our closet over which
we wince) in which the president of the United
States was called a murderer and worse, and
where people openly called for the
assassination of both the president and vice
president. The anti-Bush demonstrators before
and during the Gulf War were no less vile, as
are the pro-Saddam campus demonstrators
this year. But no political assassinations

Every year, on the anniversary of the
Rabin assassination, Israel's leftists and their
captive media recite the accusations over and
over again: that Rabin was really murdered by
the exercise of free speech by the Likud and the
opponents of Oslo. This is nothing but leftist
McCarthyism, of course. The Likud had
nothing to do with the crime of Yigal Amir.

Why are the calls for suppressing 'vile
and incendiary speech' limited to restrictions
on the vile statements and behavior of
extremists from the Right? Why the arbitrary
and selective bias? Are vile and fanatic and
tasteless statements a monopoly of the Right?
And is there any shortage of criminals who
sprang up from the fringes of the Left?

It is enough to recall nuclear traitor
Mordecai Vanunu and the espionage/terror
ring led by Udi Adiv, all black sheep from the
far left. What about the countless leftist
statements justifying Palestinian terrorism in
general and especially when targeting settlers?
How do we know that these did not inspire
murders and bombings?

Leftists insist that only rightist speech
stimulates violence, not leftist speech. Their
''proof'' consists of a single example: Yigal
Amir holds rightist views, no doubt listened to
such views expressed by others, and killed
Rabin. Of course, Yigal Amir was also a law
student, but no one has asserted that it was
the studying of law that caused him to murder

And what about the countless calls by
Israeli Arab politicians and leaders for Israel to
be annihilated? What about Arabs who said
''Good'' after the Rabin assassination? What
about Arab college students who chant ''In fire
and blood we will redeem Palestine!'' or who
decorate their subsidized dorm rooms with
photos of suicide bombers and Hizbullah flags?

What about Arab Knesset Members and
other politicians who called on Saddam
Hussein to exterminate the Jews of Israel or
who call for escalating intifada violence? What
about Arab demonstrators whose standard
chant is ''Butcher the Jews!''?

The proponents of the politically correct
theory of free speech and incitement have
always argued that these forms of speech by
Arabs should be tolerated with equanimity. In
post-Rabin Israel, these are all forms of
protected speech. How many Jews have been
murdered by terrorists inspired by these forms
of expression?

Finally, it is conceivable that abridging
the freedom of speech of extremists could
inflame violence rather than suppress it. In
recent years it has been hypothesized that
some extremists in the U.S. were driven into
the violent neo-Nazi militias by the FBI?s
actions in Waco, Texas and in Ruby Ridge,
Idaho. The Oklahoma City bomber claimed he
was inspired by those FBI actions.

In Israel, the Kahanists from Kach have
been driven underground because their
opinions have been criminalized. Kach and its
affiliates have been declared ''terrorist
organizations'' and have been banned as
''racist organizations'' under Israel's
arbitrarily applied ''anti-racist'' laws. Arab
political parties and politicians advocating
genocide of Jews have never been similarly
indicted or criminalized.

Kach was banned from running for
election, and the leaders of Kach arrested
repeatedly for expressing unpopular opinions.
These actions were cheered on by American
Jewish leaders, even though they would clearly
violate the First Amendment if carried out in
America, where Kahanist groups operate
openly and legally.

Is it inconceivable that banning the
expression of views by Kach loyalists may
actually have driven some to violence? Does the
political establishment think that Kahanists
will suddenly repent because of the new
suppression of ''incitement,'' convert their
opinions, embrace moderation and the
discredited Oslo peace process? When people
are denied the right to express their opinions,
they sometimes turn to violence as an

The murder of Rabin was a terrible
tragedy. Israel must prevent it from becoming
an even worse disaster, one in which the
country?s basic democratic freedoms are

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?