Sunday September 21, 2014
Israel Hayom
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21.09.2014
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Dror Eydar

Freedom of speech is sacred

I swear I heard MK Dr. Shimon Ohayon use the rationale of "solidarity with the Jewish communities" to advocate on behalf of the bill that would ban the use of all versions of the word Nazi, other similar-sounding words and Nazi symbols. What an original argument.

Freedom of speech serves as the basis for the functioning of diverse societies and it also covers, unfortunately, even the most vile of expressions. There would need to be a very convincing reason to restrict such a fundamental principle as free speech. Harming sensitivities or solidarity are deserving of consideration, but they are in fact not enough to justify undermining a most basic democratic right. If passed, the bill would lead to the degradation of the Holocaust, as some people would find verbal alternatives that are no less menacing and others would absurdly "rat out" artists and lecturers to the State Attorney's Office.

This reminds me of the order Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch gave to investigate those who expressed joy over the death of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, saying such people had contributed to divisiveness and extremism. Pardon me, Minister Aharonovitch, but are you in charge of the Thought Police and are you responsible for the unity of the people? Despicable expressions are included within the boundaries of free speech. The only exceptions are libel and calls to violence.

Until recently, the Israeli media gave a voice to only a small political group, yet claimed it was pluralistic. We all remember how those who demonstrated against the bloody Oslo Accords were persecuted, without barely a peep of opposition. We also remember the closure of the Channel 7 radio station. And we remember the silencing of critics of the Gaza disengagement, who were tarnished as dangers to democracy.

It is not the Left that must oppose this bad proposed bill, but Israel's conservative political camp, which has consistently protected freedom of expression (compare Mapai rule to that of the Likud).

I identify with the feelings of anger and disgust at the sight and sound of the false use of Holocaust symbols. I also receive "greetings" and slurs that use such language comparing me, and others like me, to those guys from the Third Reich.

Several years ago, I taught poetry at the Bezalel Academy. During my first year there, at a teachers' meeting, one got up and spoke out against the department head, who had expressed support for hearing different opinions (the department head had been referring to me, as I was the only heretic in the room who did not worship the tenets of the Left). This same fool said he considered Israel as a "planet of occupation in the sense of Primo Levi." He then went further and talked about Israel as the "planet of Auschwitz," asking, "On that planet, would we invite an SS officer give lessons on poetry?" What was absolutely ridiculous was that no one present put him in his place.

And still, even with all the raging emotions, this is the price of freedom. Many countries were established in the past century -- and may of them did not choose democracy. Democracy is not a given. As a Jewish society, we justly make the Holocaust an exception in public and historical discourse. It is, in fact, due to this that the Holocaust has a powerful presence in many of our diplomatic, political, cultural, artistic and historical discussions.

We cannot escape from the Holocaust, certainly not less than a century later. We should not castrate its presence, even at the price of abominable expressions. People should not be afraid to bring the Holocaust, its lessons and its symbols, into the heart of public discourse. Law is not supposed to replace education and discussion. Let the public judge.

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