It is becoming more and more obvious, whether it’s here in the US, in Europe, or in Israel that the heated emotions that surround the question of the occupation are leading too many into contemptible acts of suppression. If we are ever to get to a resolution, to a better future for Israelis and Palestinians, we need to stop being so very afraid of words.
Yesterday, our staunch Muzzlewatcher, Cecilie Surasky, reported on the cancellation of a talk by controversial professors Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer. In Israel, we can look at another, rather different example today, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called for the dismissal of a Bar Ilan University Professor of Hebrew Literature, Hillel Weiss. Barak called for Weiss’ dismissal over remarks Weiss made to an IDF soldier evacuating some settlers from the market area in Hebron.
Without a doubt, Weiss words to the soldier were thoroughly contemptible. The Jerusalem Post reports: “Weiss, who was seen by reporters talking to Fuchs privately during the evacuation, was asked by a Ynet reporter what he had told the IDF commander. ‘I said I hope his mother is bereaved, his wife is widowed and his children are made orphans,’ said Weiss before the news camera. ‘And I told him that I hope my grandchildren will take revenge against him and against all Jewish scum like him.’”
These are truly revolting comments, and Weiss’ specification of “Jewish scum” might well reflect the self-hatred so common on the right that they like to accuse those working for justice and peace of. Bar Ilan University may decide for itself whether it wants someone on its faculty who is making public statements so full of hatred and venom. One would hope, however, that Bar Ilan would use the same standards it should be using with any other academic–their scholarship in their field, not their political views.
It is not, however, the business of government to dictate such things. In fact, the suppression of Prof. Weiss’ speech only fuels and strengthens the settlers, reinforcing their sense that they are persecuted victims. But the practical issue there is not the point; fundamentally, Weiss has a right to his view. He was not attempting to incite any violence against the soldier in question or anyone else. His view may be hateful but it is his view, and he has a right to express it, no less than those who believe that every settlement in the West Bank should be removed. That Weiss is facing a police investigation over this is simply revolting.
This entire incident is part of a larger matrix, where even the tiniest move by Israel to rein in the wildly expanding settlements and their zealous supporters and inhabitants is met with fanatical opposition. How all of this is working to defeat any hope for a resolution to the occupation and the Israel-Palestine conflict will be a topic I will be writing more on later this weekend on my own blog, The Third Way.
But any way you cut it, it is open dialogue, where all views are presented in an atmosphere where speech is free and unfettered that is the most necessary pre-condition for finding some agreement that a wide swath of people can agree to. Silencing views harms us all, whether it is done by individuals pressuring institutions with their donations, or by institutions themselves limiting the bounds of debate. But nothing can be more harmful than governmental interference in speech, however hateful. Israel has always been far better about open debate than the United States. If it maintains that advantage today, it is only because of how far the US has fallen in this regard, not because Israel has remained as open to debate, as Ehud Barak has demonstrated.