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What Freedom Of Speech?


           The latest headliner in the campaign to silence critics of Israel’s radical Left is Prof. Zvi Hacohen, the new rector at Ben Gurion University. A professor in chemistry and “desert research,” Hacohen was cited at length in Haaretz (Sept. 15) denouncing people, especially students of the Zionist Im Tirtzu movement, who dare criticize leftist sedition.
 
            Hacohen calls all such critics of anti-Israel extremism “McCarthyists.” Leftists denouncing Israel as a Nazi country, a fascist apartheid entity in need of obliteration, are simply exercising their legitimate academic freedom, but anyone who denounces those leftists for what they say and do is guilty of “McCarthyism” and so must be suppressed.
 
            Radical leftist academics who call for a world boycott of Israel are engaging in legitimate use of academic freedom, they insist, but others who call for boycotts of such boycotters of Israel are fascists and guilty of “incitement.”
 
            Hacohen denounces students at his own university and others (I assume he means the www.Isracampus.org.il  watchdog group, Israel’s equivalent to Campus Watch in the U.S.) for recording the public lectures of radical anti-Israel faculty members and then making them public. He also is upset when they cite verbatim the seditious public pronouncements of those faculty members. Hacohen insists it’s McCarthyism to protest the anti-Israel indoctrination that is the main (if not the sole) activity of the Department of Politics at Ben Gurion University, and he denounces students from Im Tirtzu for calling on donors to place their contributions to the university into escrow until the university makes needed reforms.
 
             Hacohen is just one of Israel’s many increasingly hysterical radical leftists inside (and outside) academia who demand that freedom of speech for non-leftists be suppressed.
 
             Leftists in Israel are free to endorse violence, to call for Israel to be destroyed, and to endorse anti-Semites and terrorists. They are free to promote lawbreaking and violence. They are free to call on the world to boycott Israel and to impose upon Israel by force an outside “resolution” of the conflict along lines the vast majority of Israelis oppose.
 
             Yes, it may be upsetting to people, say the leftist poseurs, but offensive speech needs to be protected in the name of democracy.
 
Or does it? A young Jewish woman named Tanya Susskind drew a protest poster of the Prophet Muhammad as a pig. Her drawing was distasteful, but no worse than those Danish cartoons that were judged to be protected speech. She was sentenced to more than two years in prison. Israeli soldiers who recently had their photographs taken alongside handcuffed or blindfolded suspected terrorists have been prosecuted for insensitivity. Why was their behavior not considered protected freedom of expression?
 
In a similar manner, Israel has criminalized and banned the various Kahanist factions of followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. They are denied freedom of speech under Israel’s silly “anti-racism law,” a law that has never been used to prosecute a single anti-Semite. Their crime? They express political opinions Israeli leftists find repulsive.
 
            A professor at the University of Haifa was ordered by the Attorney General’s Office to report to the police for interrogation concerning things he was accused of saying about Arabs in class – statements he denies having made. But even if he had said negative things about Arabs, why was that not protected speech? Is protected speech in Israel limited to the rights of anti-Semites and traitors to smear Jews?
 
Just what happened to the idea that freedom of speech protects unpopular and even offensive opinions? Leftists expressing anti-Semitic or anti-Israel radical ideas are never prosecuted in Israel. The most the government ever did was deny entry into Israel to a few foreign leftist professors who had been maintaining intimate association with terrorist organizations like Hizbullah.
 
Let us go back to Prof. Hacohen, the rector. We know what upsets him, but what does not upset him? He is not disturbed that entire departments at his own university operate as open anti-Israel indoctrination camps. He is not disturbed that faculty members at Ben Gurion University are leaders in the international campaign to boycott Israel, to “divest” from Israel, to place sanctions against Israel. He is not disturbed about BGU faculty members who associate with Holocaust deniers.
 
Prof. Hacohen is not concerned about reports of leftist faculty members at BGU harassing and penalizing students there who dare dissent from the anti-Israel ideology poured out in classroom indoctrinations. He is not concerned that anti-Israel radicals are being hired and promoted on the basis of “academic records” consisting of nothing more than anti-Israel hate propaganda. He is not concerned about BGU faculty members who endorse terrorist violence. He is not concerned about Arab and Jewish leftist students marching about his campus giving Heil Hitler salutes.
 
The only thing he seems worried about is that some Zionist students at BGU wish to express their opinions and criticize treasonous behavior. He demands that they be silenced. He insults the students at his own university, calling them “McCarthyists.” He demands that criticism of treason be silenced in the name of protecting academic freedom.
 

The academic freedom of which he dreams is the sort to be found in North Korea.

 

 

 

Steven Plaut is a professor at Haifa University. 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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