GS Don Morris, Ph.D.
Israel prides itself as being the only true Democracy in the Middle East and actually uses this as a public relations tool. It also is quick to demonstrate how other countries in the region professing to also be democratic are not even close to representative governments. Along side Israel with this mantra is the USA and other western governments. This has justified specific interventions in the region, as preservation of the only Democracy in the ME is paramount to security in the West. Yet there has been a significant violation of a major democratic principle in Israel-freedom of speech.
Of course right at this moment there are those reading this who are challenging my previous statement and they would be correct were I not to follow up with an explanation. There is law, written statements of behavior identified as consistent with the philosophical intent of the body creating it. Then there is the application, implementation and interpretation of these same-set of laws; herein comes the “rub”. In Israel it is a recognized legal principle not a mere “public interest”, but an integral part of the Israeli legal system.
J.S. Mill wrote of the need for protection not only against 'the tyranny of the magistrate' but also against 'the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling'. These can indeed be powerful, especially when backed by social coercion, threats and intimidation, the treatment of the dissident as a pariah so that on all sides he or she faces rejection, derision, contempt.1, 2 What has gone on in Israel for years and seems to have been “ramped up” significantly since the Netanyahu administration has come to power is the tyranny of the Left wing media, political groups, NGO’s, and other influential groups left of center. Discussion and debate are simply words belonging to polite social groups and are not part of the lexicon in Israel today. The ability to control public conversation and public information/data undermines the very principles grounded in freedom of speech.
The current Ya’alon firestorm surrounding his recent comments addresses some critical issues today for the future of Israel. Allow me to identify a few of his comments and share how they were taken out of context and used as examples of poor behavior. Oh yes, he does have “the right to say them” however, this statement is always followed with a BUT … We know in this type of sentence that all the words left of the BUT are dismissed and not accepted by the words that follow the BUT.
He said, ““The media is biased... Unfortunately, there are those, one could call them elites, who influence the Israeli public discourse in a warped, dishonest, manipulative and misleading manner,” he warned. The reporting media lead into his statement with “Yaalon warned that public opinion in Israel has been taken over by a small group of elites.”3 He did not say that this group was small; this is the editor making the supposition. A minor point yes and if words have meaning than one should report and not offer analysis.
He also said, ““We're in a situation where there are centers of power with authority, but no responsibility. This is not democracy... The wealthy form one such center of power, the media is another, as is the Supreme Court.”3 Now what really rankled the Left was the following statement regarding a foreign funded Left group known as “Peace Now”-it is an elite group and a virus.” Here it is, he challenged directly a peace group or what some of us in Israel call a so-called peace group. So what were the responses to General Yaalon voicing his protected freedom of speech?
Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer accused Yaalon of making Peace Now “a target” for hate from the nationalist camp. Defense Minister Ehud Barak came to the group's defense, calling Peace Now “an important part of the peace camp.”3 Having stated what is considered politically incorrect comments he was back lashed by members of his own party. Likud politicians gave anonymous interviews accusing Yaalon of “running to the extreme right” in an attempt to garner support. Of course it was not mentioned that they did this to curry political favor with Mr. Netanyahu in order to further their own political careers. No, this was reported to try to demonstrate what a political isolate Mr. Yaalon was becoming. Yes, this is pure politics-understood!
The vitriol immediately appeared in the Left Wing press. Name-calling ensued, one of the tactics used to undermine a person’s opinion that is different from your own.
Time to call spade a spade: Minister Ya'alon simply not a very smart man was the banner line in Sima Kadom’s piece today on YNET.
These were the kind words. This is expected from the Left as they have learned several tactics to apply to those daring to oppose them. Some, but by no means all, of these tactics include name-calling, demonization of a person, attacking his/her human values, linking a person to either a fictitious other group or known group antithetical in view point, misrepresentation of the facts and character assassination. I could offer multiple more examples but this would change the focus of my argument. Those of us who live here understand this is the daily response to opposing points of view. Do the reporters have the same right of “freedom of speech”-of course they do. Every one has a right to an opinion but we do not have the right to misrepresent facts. When this occurs, we challenge the speaker or writer. However, if one does not have access or control over the media the message does not reside in the universe of public knowledge and our freedom to deliver is abated.
Have you ever offered an idea at a staff meeting only to have the leader rebuke you in front of your peers? How many times did this happen before you stopped offering your ideas? Although you have the “freedom to speak”, you learned you do not have control or power to deliver-the result is to refrain from speaking. Repeat this often enough, over time, one learns to not exercise this precious freedom. Politicians understand this human behavior principle-for example; Mr. Netanyahu “called Yaalon to his office” to scold him for making such remarks. Mr. Yaalon responded by saying he was misunderstood. You say to this naïve writer that don’t you know, this is only politics? Of course I know, and do you know it is damaging Israel? The danger is that most do not see the dangers and this is the pity of all of this.
Israel is transfixed with America. It is therefore no wonder that the same tactics are used there. Currently Whole Foods, a large food chain in America is under siege.
“Meanwhile, a la Saul Alinsky, the Left isolates, demonizes and destroys their "enemies," that is anyone who disagrees with them.
Case in point: The current boycott of Whole Foods because John Mackey, the CEO, has his own opinions about health care and expressed these in the Wall Street Journal.”4 If you disagree using your freedom of speech the Left responds in kind.
“The result: a nation wide, well publicized campaign of nasty phone calls and e mails to local stores. Ironically, if you've ever been in a Whole Foods, you know that 99.9% of the employees are mega Obama fans. And when Obama was campaigning in Iowa, didn't he wax rhapsodic about the arugula there?4
I mention this one case from America because it personifies the essence of the tactics used here in Israel. Some would submit that we learned from the Americans and are currently funded by international sources. We have been “coached” by Left wing individuals who have “visited” Israel as “consultants”. Collectively the Left controls the information and the public talking and the result is the lack of implementation of freedom of speech as it was intended.
1. John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). On Liberty. 1869
2. Gal Wettstein, Graduate Student, Tel Aviv
3. Israel National News
4. YNET News, August 21,2009