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Israel’s Derfner Affair


            One of the most bizarre controversies concerning freedom of the press and freedom of speech has been afflicting Israel in recent days.  The basic question is whether there exists some sort of natural right to advocate the mass murder of Jews.

 

The affair began when Larry Derfner, a left-wing columnist for the Jerusalem Post – probably the most pluralistic and balanced newspaper in Israel, giving ample room for opining by writers right, left and center – justified the killing of Israelis by Palestinian terrorists.

Derfner’s comments were actually published on a blog not connected with the newspaper, and it was his response to the mass murder perpetrated by Palestinians and some Egyptian collaborators near Eilat a few weeks back.
 
Derfner’s posting began: “I think a lot of people who realize that the occupation is wrong also realize that the Palestinians have the right to resist it – to use violence against Israelis, even to kill Israelis, especially when Israel is showing zero willingness to end the occupation . But people don’t want to say this, especially right after a terror attack like this last one that killed eight Israelis near Eilat . I think it’s time to overcome this reticence because this unwillingness to say outright that Palestinians have the right to fight the occupation, especially now, inadvertently helps keep the occupation going.
 
He went on: “But if, on the other hand, we were to say very forthrightly what many of us believe and the rest of us suspect – that the Palestinians, like every nation living under hostile rule, have the right to fight back, that their terrorism, especially in the face of a rejectionist Israeli government, is justified  - what effect would that have? A powerful one, I think, because the truth is powerful.  If those who oppose the occupation acknowledged publicly that it justifies Palestinian terrorism, then those who support the occupation would have to explain why it doesn’t.”
 
Of course Derfner failed to volunteer himself and his own family to be murdered by Palestinian terrorists resisting Israeli occupation.
 
Derfner’s comments triggered a firestorm. Hundreds of Jerusalem Post readers cancelled their subscriptions. Within days the editor of the Post announced the paper would no longer employ or publish Derfner.
 
Derfner issued a “clarification” and a sort of apology, but he remained fired. He then took to the pages of the Forward to try to spin his advocacy of murder into something less offensive.
 
While Derfner was being denounced for his advocacy of murder, leftists in Israel and around the world were defending him. Leftist blogs denounced the Post and its editor for engaging in the suppression freedom of speech, using words like “fascists” and “McCarthyists.”
 
Firing Derfner had nothing to do with freedom of speech. No one is stopping Derfner from standing on the street corners of Zion and advocating the murder of Jews. Actually, open advocacy of murder is against the law in Israel and is decidedly not regarded as protected speech, but that law is never applied against Israeli leftists.
 
Nevertheless, the Left is outraged that the Jerusalem Post “suppressed diversity of opinion and pluralism” by sacking Derfner. This is amusing coming from leftists, who are at the forefront of the campaign against freedom of speech and pluralism of ideas. For the radical left there is one single correct set of opinions – and democracy means only people holding those opinions should be entitled to express them in the media.
 
The most interesting defense of Derfner appeared in a blog entry published in the Huffington Post. It was written by Bradley Burston, a senior editor at Haaretz, Israel’s leftist daily newspaper.
 
            In his posting, Burston complained that pluralism and diversity of opinion at the Jerusalem Post were jeopardized by the canning of Derfner.
 
Burston happens to be employed by what is probably the most non-pluralistic newspaper in the Western world. The levels of pluralism and diversity at Haaretzare similar to those found in Pravda during the Brezhnev era.
 
Haaretz is a monolithic engine of propaganda in which virtually no non-leftist opinion is permitted. Its editorial pages are uniformly far left and anti-Zionist. Once a week a token right-winger is allowed to publish an op-ed – obviously so that editors like Burston can roll their eyes whenever anyone says Haaretz has no pluralism or diversity.
 
The propagandizing at Haaretz fills the paper and is not restricted to the editorial page. News stories are distorted to give them leftist ideological themes, twists and messages. Book reviews are invariably leftist and ideological.
 
So here we have the spectacle of an editor for a newspaper that suppresses diversity of opinion – and that imposes its political bias even on the most minor news stories – whining about the Jerusalem Post’s alleged lack pluralism and diversity.
 
Burston writes that the “management of the Jerusalem Post has caved in to what amounts to a political boycott.” No it hasn’t. It simply maintained fundamental standards of decency. Unlike Haaretz.
 
Burston is suddenly all in favor of pluralism and diversity. But never, Stalin forbid, at his own newspaper.
 
Leftists like Burston are  proclaiming Derfner some sort of free-speech martyr. Because freedom of speech for leftists means the right to agree with the left but never the right to denounce it, disagree with it, or mock it.
 
 

Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com.  He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.


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