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Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

J.E. Dyer: Ceramic Pig Watch – Offensive Speech in Britain

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Ever since the case of the offensive ceramic pigs in 1998, the British have been assiduously refining their methods for dealing with offenses to Islam.  Earlier this year, Bruce Bawer at Frontpage recounted the tale of David Jones, who was going through security at Gatwick Airport when he made a stray comment that brought down the full force of the Speech Police on his head (emphasis added):

[A]ccording to the Telegraph, “he spotted a Muslim woman in hijab pass through the area without showing her face” and, in a “light-hearted aside to a security official who had been assisting him,” said: “If I was wearing this scarf over my face, I wonder what would happen.”

Kapow! Poor Mr. Jones spent the next hour or so being lectured about what he was and was not allowed to say by an airline official, a police officer, and several security guards, one of whom identified herself as a Muslim and told him she was “deeply distressed” by his comment. Of course it was Jones who was being unjustly harassed and who had every right to feel “deeply distressed,” but, as he later pointed out, “Something like George Orwell’s 1984 now seems to have arrived in Gatwick airport,” so that it is now considered reasonable for individuals in positions of power to claim that they are being caused “distress” by the very people whom they, in an outrageous abuse of power, are in the very process of tormenting. The cop on the scene even instructed Jones “that we now live in a different time and some things are not to be said.”

It now turns out that not only are things not to be said, but no one else is to be allowed to know what was said when someone is jailed for saying them.

A Mr. Darren Conway of Gainsborough, Leicestershire, was sentenced in March to 12 months in prison for the crime of posting “offensive” posters about Mohammed and Islam on the window of his apartment.   According to the Gainsborough Standard, Conway said he printed the posters from images at Facebook, which suggests he found them online through his connection with the British National Party (BNP).  Presumably the images are no longer available, or there is no way to verify which ones he printed out.  At any rate, the British authorities and the media offered no details about the posters after the police removed them.

A number of British citizens were naturally interested in what was on the posters, since they got a man convicted and sent to prison.  It does seem reasonable for the people to know what will get them locked up.  “Offensive to Islam” could mean a lot of things, and no one should have to guess what’s considered actionably offensive.  One report (cited at the Frontpage link, previous paragraph) indicated that one of the posters depicted a rally of the English Defence League, but it offered no particulars about any of the other posters and how they were offensive to Islam.

So Edgar Davidson, a British blogger, made a Freedom of Information request to the crown prosecutor for details about the offensive posters displayed by Conway.  The prosecutor declined his request last week, offering this explanation:

There is a substantial public interest in many circumstances in protecting from disclosure information gathered for the purposes of a criminal case. The defendant in this case was prosecuted as he publically displayed the offensive posters referred to in your request. As displaying this material was proven to be a criminal offence in a criminal court, and the graphic and violent images depicted in these posters caused offence in the neighbourhood in which they were displayed, there is a very strong public interest in these articles not being distributed any further.

Davidson invokes the adjective “Kafkaesque” in describing this interaction.  Bruce Bawer cites a public statement by Ms. Judith Walker of the crown prosecutor’s organization, and parses it as follows:

We all owe Walker a debt of gratitude, for in this statement she takes us right to the heart of the matter, giving us a crystal-clear picture of how these people think. To place in the window of your home slogans and pictures that add up to a criticism of Islamic ideology is not to exercise your freedom of speech; it is to commit an act of “harassment” that has no place “in a tolerant society” and that must therefore be punished.

Finland’s War on Free Speech

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Finland’s Supreme Court has found a prominent politician guilty of defaming Islam for “Islamophobic” comments he made on his personal blog.

The ruling represents a major setback for free speech in a Europe that is becoming increasingly stifled by politically correct restrictions on free speech, particularly on issues related to Islam and Muslim immigration.

The Helsinki-based Supreme Court ruled on June 8 that Finns Party MP Jussi Kristian Halla-aho was guilty of “inciting hatred against an ethnic group” for blog posts he made in 2008 which compared Islam to paedophilia, and for sarcastic comments which insinuated that immigrants from Somalia are predisposed to stealing and living off welfare.

In its ruling, the court said that hate speech does not fall under the protections afforded by the freedom of speech, even though Halla-aho said his comments were a protest against public policy and not against Islam and Mohammed per se.

Halla-aho, who has become well known in Finland and elsewhere for his well-argued essays criticizing multiculturalism and runaway immigration, was ordered to pay a hefty fine and delete the comments from his blog.

Halla-aho maintains a blog called Scripta, which deals with issues such as “immigration, multiculturalism, tolerance, racism, freedom of speech and political correctness.” His blog attracts thousands of readers every day, and the Tampere-based newspaper Aamulehti has described him the best-known political blogger in Finland. Halla-aho’s notoriety has placed the guardians of Finnish multiculturalism on maximum alert.

In a blog post in June 2008, Halla-aho wrote that the Islamic prophet Mohammed was a paedophile, and that Islam is a religion of paedophilia because Mohammed had sexual intercourse with his wife, Aisha, when she was only nine years old.

According to Halla-aho: “This sentence is related to a discussion where I criticize the idea of the subjective offensiveness of some sentence as being sufficient criteria for its judicial offensiveness. In other words, if some group is offended by sentence X, sentence X is illegal irrespective of whether it is true or not. In my opinion, stating of facts cannot and must not be criminal, even if they offend someone. This is also a problem of equality. For example, a Muslim is offended by criticism of his religion far more easily than an average Christian. If subjective offensiveness suffices as the elements of a crime, the law protects a Muslim with greater force than it protects a Christian.”

He continued: “My sentences about Mohammed and Islam were not opinions, but inescapably logical conclusions based on known facts. I did not use the word ‘paedophile’ as psychopathological concept, but in its popular meaning of a person having sex with children. The traditional Muslim knowledge, the Hadith literature, tells us that Mohammed had sex with his wife Aisha when she was nine years old. A nine-year-old is seen as a child today, and physically she was a child in 7th century, no matter what her judicial status was. Therefore, if Mohammed had sex with Aisha and Aisha was a child, Mohammed had sex with a child. That Mohammed is a holy figure to Muslims cannot make him immune to criticism in West, especially if criticism is based on undisputed facts.”

In another post, Halla-aho responded to a Finnish columnist who wrote that drinking excessively and fighting when drunk were cultural and possibly genetic characteristics of Finns. In order to show the double standards of such arguments, Halla-aho asked sarcastically if it could be stated that robbing passersby and living at the expense of taxpayers are cultural and possibly genetic characteristics of Somalis.

According to Halla-aho, “I turned the newspaper Kaleva‘s sentence into parody where ‘Finns’ were replaced by ‘Somalis.’ My hypothesis was that Somalis are under the special protection of the media and government officials, and my argument is that what is permissible to present about Finns becomes impermissible when it is about Somalis. My own version was as follows: ‘Robbing passers-by and living as parasites on tax money is the national, maybe even genetic characteristic of Somalis.’”

He also wrote: “In order to poke fun at The Council for Mass Media in Finland, I mentioned in the text that I present this argument as supposition, not as a fact. In addition, I proved that by using crime statistics, the argument about Somalis can be proved just as effectively as Kaleva’s argument about Finns.”

German Cartoon Riots: Clubs, Bottles, and Stones

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

In an explosion of violence that reflects the growing assertiveness of Salafists in Germany, on May 5th more than 500 radical Muslims attacked German police with bottles clubs, stones and other weapons in the city of Bonn, to protest cartoons they said were “offensive.”

Rather than cracking down on the Muslim extremists, however, German authorities have sought to silence the peaceful critics of multicultural policies that allow the Salafists — who say they are committed to imposing Islamic Sharia law throughout Europe — openly to preach violence and hate.

The clashes erupted when around 30 supporters of a conservative political party, PRO NRW, which is opposed to the further spread of Islam in Germany, participated in a campaign rally ahead of regional elections in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Some of those participating in the rally, which was held near the Saudi-run King Fahd Academy in the Mehlem district of Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, had been waving banners depicting the Islamic Prophet Mohammad (see photo here), to protest the Islamization of Germany.

The rally swiftly disintegrated into violence (photos here and here) when hundreds of angry Salafists, who are opposed to any depiction of their prophet, began attacking the police, whose job it was to keep the two groups apart.

In the final tally of the melee, 29 police officers were injured, two with serious stab wounds, and more than 100 Salafists were arrested, although most were later released. A 25-year-old German protester of Turkish origin, suspected of having stabbed the two police officers, remained in custody on suspicion of attempted homicide.

According to Bonn’s police chief, Ursula Brohl-Sowa, “This was an explosion of violence such as we have not witnessed in a long time.”

Germany’s intelligence and security agencies say they are closely monitoring the Salafists, who are increasingly viewed as posing a threat to German security.

Salafism, a branch of radical Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, seeks to establish an Islamic empire (Caliphate) across the Middle East, North Africa, Europe — and eventually the entire world. The Caliphate would be governed exclusively by Islamic Sharia law, which would apply both to Muslims and to non-Muslims. Salafists also believe, among other disconcerting doctrines, that democracies — governments made by men as opposed to theirs, which was made by the almighty — legitimately deserve to be destroyed.

According to German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, “Salafism is currently the most dynamic Islamist movement in Germany as well as internationally. Its fanatic followers represent a particular danger for Germany’s security. The Salafists provide the ideological foundation for those who then turn violent.”

The interior minister of the German state of Lower Saxony, Uwe Schünemann, said, “The violence of the Salafists in Bonn has once again shown what is behind the mask of supposed religiosity: nothing but brute force.” He also said that the violence was “a direct challenge to liberal democracy as a whole.”

The interior minister of Bavaria, Joachim Hermann, said that: “We cannot tolerate violent retribution and revenge. We apply the rule of law, not Islamic vigilante justice.” He added that Salafists should be “brought to justice and severely punished,” and that “We have to monitor the Salafist scene even more. And we have to be more diligent in cracking down on hate and violence. We cannot allow that terrorists and violent criminals are free to operate under our noses. We need to take action against Salafism and its intolerant, fanatical ideology with all legal means.”

Despite these and many other pronouncements, Salafists still have free reign in Germany: Salafist preachers are known regularly to preach hatred against the West in the mosques and prayer centers that are proliferating across the country.

In recent weeks, Salafists have been engaged in an unprecedented nationwide campaign to distribute 25 million copies of the Koran, translated into the German language, with the goal of placing one Koran in every home in Germany, free of charge.

The mass proselytization campaign — called Project “READ!” — is being organized by dozens of Islamic Salafist groups located in cities and towns throughout Germany, as well as in Austria and Switzerland.

According to the German newspaper Die Welt, the Salafists have launched a “frontal assault” against people of other faiths and “unbelievers.” Die Welt has reported that German authorities view the Koran project, which fundamentalists are using a recruiting tool, as a “most worrisome” campaign for radical Islam. Security analysts say the campaign is also a public-relations gimmick intended to persuade Germans that the Salafists are transparent and “citizen friendly.”

A spokesperson for the Berlin branch of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) told Die Welt that “the objective of this campaign is to help bring those who are interested into contact with the Salafist scene to influence them in the context of extremist political ideologies.”

The Death Of Academic Discourse

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Of the many intellectual perversions currently taking root on college campuses, perhaps none is more contradictory to what should be one of higher education’s core values than the suppression of free speech.

With alarming regularity, speakers are shouted down, booed, jeered, and barraged with vitriol, all at the hands of groups who give lip service the notion of academic free speech – and who demand it when their speech is at issue but have no interest in listening to, or letting others listen to, ideas that contradict their own world view.

Earlier this year, two Israeli officials, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon and Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren had the unpleasant experience of confronting virulent anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian Muslim students whose ideology on academic debate seems to be “free speech for me, but not for thee.”

Ayalon, who spoke at Oxford University, had his speech interrupted by several audience members, including one who yelled incessantly and called Ayalon a “racist” and “a war criminal” while waving a Palestinian flag, another student who loudly read passages of the incendiary Goldstone report, and a third student who remained standing for the entire balance of the lecture while she hurled anti-Israel invective.

The genteel, soft-spoken Ambassador Oren did not fare much better during his visit to the University of California at Irvine, a notorious hotbed of radical anti-Israel sentiment. During the aborted speech to some 500 people about U.S.-Israel relations, which was loudly interrupted ten times, boorish hecklers screamed over Oren’s talk such profound observations as “Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech,” “I accuse you of murder,” “How many Palestinians have you killed?” and “Israel is a murderer.”

Oren is hardly what even his staunchest critics could consider an Islamophobe eager to trample Palestinian aspirations. A Columbia and Princeton graduate, he is the author of two seminal books on the Middle East – Six Days of War and Power, Faith and Fantasy. He is at least as qualified to speak about the Israeli/Palestinian situation as the raucous, boorish students who had decided, in advance of his UC-I appearance, that he was morally unfit to even appear on their campus.

Even after he took a 20-minute recess to let the crowd cool off and regain its collective composure, his return to the podium was greeted with more volleys of invective, shouting, and speech-stopping bombast from the Muslim students, eleven of whom – eight from UC-Irvine (including the Muslim Student Union president) and three from UC Riverside – were eventually escorted out of the hall and arrested.

The fact that UC-I’s habitually craven administrators, led by Chancellor Michael Drake, were even motivated enough by the students’ errant behavior to have them ejected from the event is a promising sign.

While the university has always claimed to be dedicated to encouraging debate and scholarly inquiry by letting the Muslim Student Union mount annual hate-fests to demonize and vilify Israel and Jews, the MSU has effectively hijacked all discussion of the Middle East on campus, and its events are not platforms at which opposing views are aired and discussed.

As is frequently the case when speaking about the Israel/Arab conflict, the discussion often glosses over the real problems of Palestinian culture, politics, and society (including its cult of death), and focuses all criticism on the perceived defects of Israel, Zionism, and Jewish power.

This notion that pro-Israel speakers and scholars do not deserve, on a moral or intellectual basis, an opportunity to participate in scholarly debate is a dangerous one, even if it comes from tendentious students. It starts with the assumption that Israel, because of its perceived moral defects and its oppression of the hapless Palestinians and the theft of their lands, does not even have the right to participate in intellectual debate, that academic free speech in Israel’s case can be modified and is not absolute.

And while Muslim students and other campus radicals have, at UC-I and other college campuses, seen to it that speech they do not approve of, spoken by people with whom they disagree, is shut down with the “heckler’s veto,” they have never missed an opportunity to invite their own stable of slimy, anti-Israel, anti-U.S. speakers.

Abe Foxman Doesn’t Speak For Me

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

On his radio program last week, Rush Limbaugh touted Norman Podhoretz’s excellent new book Why Jews are Liberals. As the title suggests, Podhoretz attempts to answer a question that is often asked of Jewish conservatives. Limbaugh distills his analysis down to its essentials: Liberal Jews are liberals first, last and always, and their political liberalism trumps all their other “isms,” including Judaism.

I would add that liberal Jews, being in the main irreligious, have filled the void left by lack of religious belief with a secular catechism: the belief in man’s ability, through the force of government, to solve the ills of mankind. Many of these Jews are uneducated in normative Judaism and have been taught that “social justice” is the primary avenue for fulfilling the Jewish ideal of tikkun olam – repairing the world.

No one doubts the motives of such Jews, but the result has been, in my view, a self-destructive allegiance to liberalism (and the Democratic Party) that has become synonymous with Judaism since the days of FDR’s New Deal.

At any rate, Limbaugh wondered whether Jews – often self-labeled as “independents” – had been a factor in Scott Brown’s decisive win over Martha Coakley for the “Ted Kennedy” Senate seat in Massachusetts. Independents broke for Brown almost three to one, and Rush opined that if Jewish independents had voted in the same proportion as independents as a whole, that would be an astonishing political sea change.

Limbaugh suggested that Jews – who are well represented in the worlds of finance and banking – might have been antagonized into voting for Brown by Obama’s new War on Wall Street.

Apparently this was a bridge too far for Abe Foxman, the longtime national director of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the nation’s oldest Jewish activist groups. Foxman issued a press release accusing Rush of anti-Semitism, or something close to it. Foxman seems to think Limbaugh was playing to an audience of bigots and Jew-haters who buy into the ancient and persistent stereotypes that Jewish bankers control not just the money but even much of the U.S. and global government.

Foxman demanded an apology from Limbaugh.

Now, anyone who has listened to Limbaugh knows he is a faithful and passionate friend of Israel and the Jewish people. He has often taken on the Left for its growing intolerance of Israel and blind acceptance of the Palestinian anti-Jewish narrative.

As Podhoretz pointed out in a post at Contentions, Commentary magazine’s main blog, Limbaugh was suggesting that Obama, by attacking Wall Street, might be the one playing on the fears of anti-Jewish bigots for whom “banker” is code for “Jewish.”

Foxman, wrote Podhoretz, “has a long history of seeing an anti-Semite under every conservative bed” and has “blinded himself to the fact that anti-Semitism has largely been banished from the Right in the past 40 years, and that it has found a hospitable new home on the Left, especially where Israel is concerned.”

Podhoretz characterized Foxman’s charge of anti-Semitism against so openly loyal a friend of the Jews as Limbaugh as “chutzpah” and declared that it is Foxman who owes Limbaugh an apology.

I must respectfully disagree with Podhoretz. It doesn’t take “chutzpah” for Foxman to ingratiate himself with his supporters and contributors by calling a conservative a Jew-hater. It just takes a willingness to foment scorn and even hatred toward conservatives, something at which the ADL is becoming an old hand.

Late last year the ADL published an outrageous report, titled “Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies,” which essentially cast the Tea Party movement and populist anger at government spending and meddling in the free market as a dangerous lurch into right-wing anti-government extremism and violence akin to the white supremacists of the militia movement.

In the world according to Foxman, blame for the “dangerous” new political environment is to be laid squarely at the feet of talk radio hosts like Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, who broadcast “extreme sentiments, including Nazi imagery, racist imagery, and imagery that implicitly or explicitly promotes violence.”

Foxman’s report reads almost as if it were ghost-written by the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress, which is at the forefront of the campaign to rid the country of the scourge of talk radio under the banner of – wait for it – free speech.

Israel’s Anti-Democratic Anti-Racism Law

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

In 1977 Israel’s criminal code was changed. Section 144A was added, making “racism” a crime. Racism was defined as “persecution, humiliation, demeaning, displaying animosity, hostility, violence or strife towards a population group or parts of such a group, all on the basis of skin color or membership in a racial or ethnic-national grouping.” It is still on the books and is being enforced these days with new vigor.

At first glance, the law seems innocuous enough. After all, who can be in favor of racism or against attempts to eliminate it?

But the main problems in this law quickly become clear. First, the law criminalizes some expressions of speech and so infringes free speech. Second, the definition of “racism” in the law is so vague as to render the entire law arbitrary and useless. Third, in its implementation and enforcement the law has already been used in an arbitrary and anti-democratic manner for partisan purposes.

There is a clear and present danger that the law can be used in other anti-democratic ways by people seeking to suppress free speech for those with whom they disagree, simply by labeling these opinions “racist.” This is not just a theoretical potential danger but is increasingly the reality in Israel. Rather than defeating extremist ideas by exposing them to sunlight and forcing them to compete in the marketplace of ideas, the anti-racism law criminalizes certain arbitrarily chosen forms of expression.

The law has become a bludgeon to suppress free speech selectively, used against some right-wing Israeli Jews. At the same time, there has never been any attempt to prosecute Arabs or left-wing Jewish extremists under the same law.

The immediate motivation for the framers of Israel’s law was the activities of some followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League and later a right-wing parliamentarian and political activist in Israel. The law’s purpose was to suppress the freedom of speech for these and some other fringe groups among Israeli Jews.

But even the campaign against Kahanism under the anti-racism law is highly problematic. First, it is not entirely evident that Kahanist ideology is racist, or at least more racist than that of many other groups whose statements are usually regarded as protected speech. Kahane himself is commonly regarded as a racist for certain unpleasant epitaphs he allegedly applied to Arabs. But does that necessarily make anyone defining himself as a follower of Kahane a racist? Karl Marx also used uncouth epitaphs when speaking about Jews, black people, and others. Should everyone in Israel defining himself as a Marxist be arrested for racism?

It is true that Kahanists have advocated the “population transfer” of Arabs by forcing them to leave Israeli territory or subsidizing them to leave. But, strictly speaking, even advocacy of “transfer” is not the same as racism, and a person can conceivably be in favor of it for reasons having nothing to do with racism or bigotry. Many decent people consider the population transfer that took place in the Punjab in 1948 to be the least of evils and a reasonable solution to the Indian-Pakistan conflict.

Israel has long been full of people, including politicians, who advocate transferring the entire Jewish population out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. No one has ever been prosecuted for such advocacy under the same law that allows the prosecution of Kahanists for their advocating “population transfer.” True, those other people say they want this in order to achieve peace, but the Kahanists say the same thing.

Most of the problems with the anti-racism law became clear soon after it was passed by the Knesset. One of the first cases prosecuted under the law was the State of Israel against Rabbi Ido Elba (Docket 2831/95). Rabbi Elba had published a 14-page article on rabbinic law concerning murder. His thesis was that in the Torah there are separate rabbinic laws applying to killing of Jews, covered in the part of the Ten Commandments prohibiting “murder,” and the killing of Canaanite non-Jews living among Jews, which was prohibited under a separate law given to all descendants of Noah. That was the essence of Rabbi Elba’s “racism.”

The article was a scholarly exercise in explaining rabbinic laws and especially the commentary by Maimonides on manslaughter. Elba emphasized that killing of Canaanites living among Jews was strictly forbidden, except if they were warring against Jews. Elba never advocated killing non-Jews in the article and never even stated whether he agreed or disagreed personally with the approach of Maimonides or other commentators on the questions he was surveying.

But the article was published shortly after the massacre of Arabs in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein, and the public and the politicians were looking for a target to prosecute for anti-Arab racism. In April 1995 Rabbi Elba was convicted under the anti-racism law. He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment (two of the years being a suspended sentence). The Supreme Court upheld the conviction and the sentence the following year.

The vagueness of the anti-racism law is also problematic. The law’s language was formulated and thought through so poorly that it would make statements like “I do not want to date non-Jews,” or “I do not like red-headed women” to be crimes. Should reading certain passages in the Bible be prohibited because they offend some modern ears? There already have been demands to cancel Israel’s Law of Return (which grants immigration rights to Jews) as a purported violation of the anti-racism law.

As another example of its arbitrariness, the law makes advocating discrimination against a demographic group “racism.” But Israel is full of groups advocating discrimination against Jews as part of “affirmative action preferences” and, of course, discrimination against males. Virtually every Arab NGO and political party in the country is on record in favor of this, as are most groups on the Jewish Left. Such statements clearly comprise “advocacy of racist discrimination” under the anti-racism law. And yet not a single person has ever been prosecuted in Israel for advocating affirmative action discrimination. Why not?

A no less important question is why “racism” should be a crime at all. Racism is, after all, a belief or a feeling, albeit an evil one. Since when is it the business of democratic regimes to ferret out what people feel or believe in the privacy of their hearts? Do we really want a Racism Patrol inspecting bars and poker games, hunting down individuals making racist statements on chat boards or in salons?

Criminalizing public expressions of racism in the media is no less undemocratic. The world is full of statements of poor taste, intolerance, bigotry, and stupidity, but these are regarded as protected speech in democratic regimes. Democracy means we all have the right to say stupid and offensive things. The day offensive speech is prohibited will be the day democracy is replaced by totalitarian tyranny.

The anti-racism law is not merely an assault on free speech and expression in Israel, but is itself arguably the most racist law Israel has on its books. From the start, it was apparent that it would not be used against any form of racism except that allegedly espoused by the Kahanists. The prosecutions turned comic and absurd. A Kahanist was indicted and convicted of racism for selling shirts with the slogan “Where there are no Arabs there is no terrorism.”

In contrast, racism by Arabs or bigotry by Israeli leftists has never been prosecuted. When a prominent writer with communist ties made comments justifying Hamas mass murders of Jews, he was not prosecuted as a racist.

Israel’s Stalinist political parties, supported mainly by Israel’s Arabs, have never been banned or prosecuted under the anti-racism law, even while their leaders call for terrorist violence against Jews and for the destruction of Israel. Israeli professors, artists, and intellectuals endorsing and justifying Arab terrorism against Jews or declaring Jews to be not entitled to any form of self-determination have never been prosecuted. Neither have those making disparaging comments about the Jewish religion or the Bible.

Israeli Arab students, demonstrators and others chanting pro-violence or pro-terror slogans, or calling for Israel to be annihilated, have also been exempt from anti-racism prosecution. Not a single case of indictment against an Arab anti-Semite or an Israeli Jewish leftist anti-Semite has taken place since passage of the law.

Arguably the worst form of bigotry inside Israel is anti-Orthodox bigotry. What makes it so pernicious is the fact that in polite Israeli society it is often not even regarded is barbarous to denounce Orthodox Jews in the most horrendous language. The Israeli newspapers and electronic media are full of people making openly anti-Orthodox disparagements. Not a single anti-Orthodox bigot has been prosecuted.

But the worst part of the anti-racism law is that it is part and parcel of a much broader assault against free speech in Israel. It has been used together with Israeli laws against “incitement” to intimidate political dissidents. Ever since the Rabin assassination, accusations and indictments for “incitement” have become common bludgeons used for partisan purposes against political antagonists in Israel. It would not be an exaggeration to say that “incitement” has been the label of choice attached by many Israeli politicians to any statement or expression with which they happen to disagree.

In most democracies, “incitement” is not a crime at all. At most, “incitement to perform a crime” is added as an incremental charge against people indicted for perpetrating the crime itself, in cases where prosecutors seek a more severe sentence for that same crime. But prosecutions for “incitement” by itself are virtually non-existent. Even statements endorsing crime and murder, such as by protesters calling for political assassination, are protected speech and not crimes, unless they are part of the actual planning and preparation to carry out real crimes.

While the attempt to criminalize dissidents as “inciters” was largely the work of the Israeli Labor Party and its allies after the Rabin assassination, it has been co-opted by the Likud. Over the past year, there has been a dramatic increase in threats by the Sharon government to expand the uses of prosecution for “racism” and “incitement” as a means to suppress the opposition to the Gaza disengagement plan. Those who demanded that a national referendum be carried out as a pre-condition for implementing the plan were denounced by some Likud leaders and the media for “racism and incitement.”

Free speech is alive in Israel, but it is wounded and threatened. It is coming under increasing assault as the internal political divisions in Israel deepen. Besides prosecution of those utilizing free speech and saying things of which the political establishment disapproves, there are growing open threats from the government to use the police, intelligence services, and “preventive detention” without trial to bully opponents of government policy into silence.

The very fact that assaults against free speech for “racists” are so popular in Israel, especially among the chattering classes, illustrates how shallow, conditional, and dubious is the commitment to democracy by so many Israelis.

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

Cockburn’s Cockroaches

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

There was a time when the Left in the United States was able to field its own intellectual heavyweights to try to offset opposing intellectual arguments. It was a Left of Michael Harrington and Irving Howe and others of similar caliber.

That Left is no longer in existence. The Left in recent years has shown itself incapable of distancing itself from its lunatic fringe. Rational leftists long ago abandoned the Left, resulting in a Left now filled with treasonous lunatics and hate-America neurotics whose politics reflect little more than an infantile anger at Mommy and Daddy.

There is today no difference between the academic Left and the Left of Mumia Abu Jamal and Ward Churchill. Churchill’s statement that Americans killed in the attack on the World Trade Center were “little Eichmanns” is by now familiar to all, although that’s just the tip of his iceberg of his anti-Americanism (see www.frontpagemag.com).

Nothing so clearly illustrates the demise of the “intellectual Left” than the self-recruitment of the stable of writers at “Counterpunch” magazine on behalf of Churchill.

In recent weeks, Counterpunch has morphed into almost a single-issue magazine, and that single issue is celebrating and defending Ward Churchill. This is not a “free speech” defense of Churchill by free speech absolutists, but rather an endorsement of the contents of Churchill’s anti-American and pro-terror speeches and articles by people staunchly opposed to free speech for neoconservatives.

Counterpunch is a web magazine owned and edited by Alexander Cockburn, whose anti-Americanism can compete only with his anti-Israel animus (some have called it out-and-out anti-Semitism), and Counterpunch largely promotes these two sentiments on its pages. Cockburn has been denounced for both his anti-U.S. and anti-Israel views by Franklin Foer of The New Republic, by Eric Alterman (on his MSNBC weblog), and by a variety of other journals, organizations and columnists, including the Seattle Times, the Declaration Foundation,, LeftWatch, and Christian Action for Israel. In the past Cockburn openly gave credence to reports that Jews spread anthrax in the U.S. and that Israel was part of a conspiracy to topple the World Trade Center. Cockburn insists Jews conspire to control the media (see http://counterpunch.org/alexgraham.html).

There is nothing that so clearly illustrates the collapse of thinking on the American Left as its near-universal embrace of Ward Churchill. Every “Indymedia” website in the country has carried multiple endorsements of Churchill. Cockburn’s Counterpunch has, as I write this, more than a dozen articles endorsing Churchill, and not a single article denouncing him.

Of all the leftist magazines and websites usually regarded as semi-civilized, Cockburn’s web magazine seems to be the most obsessed with glorifying Churchill, who has written, among other filth, that the Jews are worse than latter-day Nazis because “those who deny the Holocaust, after all, focus their distortion upon one target. Those [Jewish scholars] who deny all holocausts other than that of the Jews have the same effect upon many.” Churchill also supports Islamofascist terror (see http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=16917).

Earlier this month Cockburn himself led the flock of Cockburn Cockroaches in Counterpunch with “Ward Churchill and the Mad Dogs” (http://counterpunch.com/cockburn02052005.html), in which he not only backed Churchill unreservedly, but argued that Churchill did not go far enough. When Churchill wrote that the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center were heroes, given America’s evil nature, he should have reinforced his article with references to America’s bombing of Amariya civilian shelter in Baghdad in January 1991, with 400 deaths, Cockburn argued. Never mind that no one seriously thinks the U.S. intentionally targeted civilians in that or any other bombing operation, unlike Churchill’s role models.

Cockburn maintains that the whole outcry over Churchill is some grand right-wing conspiracy to suppress free speech. “Why,” he asks, “should Churchill apologize for anything? Is it a crime to say that chickens can come home to roost and that the way to protect American lives from terrorism is to respect international law?”

This hardly is the first time Cockburn’s web site has come out in favor of bin Laden. Earlier, it ran a piece by Shahid Alam, a tenured professor of economics at Northeastern University in Boston, titled “Poverty From the Wealth of Nations.” Alam argued that the 9/11 attacks were an Islamist insurgency, the attackers believing that they are fighting – as the American revolutionaries did in the 1770′s – or their freedom and dignity against foreign control of their lands.

A companion piece to Cockburn’s was “A Ward Churchill Kind of Day” by Kurt Nimmo, (http://counterpunch.com/nimmo02052005.html), which compared the attacks on Churchill and on some other pro-terror professors to the Nazi purges in German universities. Nimmo wrote, “I must say that I agree with Churchill: the financial and government institutions housed in the WTC, including the CIA, most certainly did employ “technocrats” comparable to Adolf Eichmann.”

He was echoed by Carolyn Baker, who, in “Ward Churchill and the Attack on American Higher Education” (http://counterpunch.org/baker02072005.html) compared at length the criticism of Churchill to Nazi suppression of dissident teachers in Germany. She bemoaned insufficient leftist indoctrination on campuses in the U.S. and concluded by writing: “The neo-conservative, neo-fascist standard for higher education is a mirror-image of German education in the 1930′s…”

In “The Censorship of Ward Churchill and Dancehall Reggae Music,”  (http://counterpunch.org/collins02082005.html), Counterpunch’s Nate Collins characterized any criticism of Churchill as fascist censorship, writing: “What happened to the classic quote on the Nazis about how they go one group at a time until they get you?… I love Churchill for the same reason I love Dancehall Reggae artists, they have the voices of lions, regardless of any flaws jumped on by the p.c. liberal thought police.”

In another Counterpunch piece, “What Ward Churchill Didn’t Say,” by one “Mickey Z.”, (http://counterpunch.org/mickey02092005.html), Churchill is defended against the true terrorists, which include, in Mickey’s “mind,” Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Henry Kissinger, Bill Cosby, and others, most of whom are misquoted by Mickey.

Counterpunch proves better than anything else around that the term “thinking Left” is today an oxymoron in the United States.

Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steven_plaut@yahoo.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/cockburns-cockroaches/2005/02/16/

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