The Free Speech Nickel

Discussions surrounding free speech have many components, including the 5W’s (+how): what, when, where, how, who and why.

  • What? Should hate speech or fake news be allowed to spread on open, non-vetted platforms? Calls for violence are prohibited, but what about everything else?
  • Where? Facebook had declared itself as a platform, not a media company that vets articles or checks facts. The US Congress and many citizens have challenged the FB claim due to the company’s vast reach and influence.
  • Who? Should anonymous people be allowed to post opinions? What about non-US citizens? The accusation that Russians interfered with the US elections has prompted people to pressure for changes.
  • When? Should people be allowed to express their opinions when people have paid for an experience that does not include outside interference? Why should football fans watch players protest the national anthem after the fans spent a small fortune to come to the game? Should anti-Israel protesters take a free trip to Israel on a Birthright trip to hijack the discussion and experience from others?
  • How? Are marches through a residential neighborhood, anti-war protests at cemeteries, the burning of a flag, the drawing of a prophet, the burning of an effigy of a person, all captured under the same notion of free speech and expression?
  • Why? Does the reason behind the speech matter? If the goal is to upend an election, to get a woman to change her mind about an abortion, or to topple the government, should there be limits on free speech?

If a country that cherishes free speech begins to place restrictions around it, what are the tools that will be used to enforce those limits? If a person refuses to call a transgender person by their preferred pronoun, can an organization take actions such as expelling or fining him?

When

Several wealthy individuals have been paying for young people to attend a multi-day tour of Israel, in a program known as Birthright Israel. Recently, a group of anti-Zionists joined the trip in an attempt to tell their own version of history and facts that were not advanced by the organized tour. The agitators disrupted the special week for all of the other participants as discussed in a letter they wrote to the Jerusalem Post.

One of the co-founders of Birthright, Charles Bronfman, was particularly disturbed by the protesters’ actions and said

If people want to call Israel names and say bad things about the country, they certainly have the right to free speech. But they don’t have the right to do it on our nickel.

The essence of the complaint by both the organizers who sponsor the Birthright trip and the participants enjoying the trip was that the issue was not one of free speech, but one of a broken agreement. The founders paid for the trip which had a well-established and known itinerary. All of the participants on the trip accepted those terms but then a handful undermined it for everyone else on the tour.


Members of a Birthright trip to Israel enjoying a stop at the Kotel

The issue was not where the protesters opted to exercise free speech. Israel permits free speech and the Birthright protesters could have gone off to Palestinian Arab villages at the end of the tour. But they opted to ruin the experience for others with loud chants in the middle of their free trip.

The furor around players of the National Football League kneeling during the national anthem has a similar dynamic. If the players want to stand on Hollywood Boulevard and yell about their anger at perceived abuse by police, they are free to do so. However, they are doing it inside a forum where fans have paid to watch a football game. That is not the experience which people paid for.

Bronfman had it right when he objected to people undermining an experience “on his nickel.” The US president featured on the nickel, Thomas Jefferson once said

 “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is both sinful and tyrannical.”

The Birthright Israel trip has a clear and specific agenda and those people who oppose it are free to not go on the tour. But it is disgraceful (“sinful and tyrannical”) to invert the purpose of the sponsors’ funds in a manner in which they completely disbelieve and abhor.


Related First.One.Through articles:

We Should Not Pay for Your First Amendment Rights

Denying Entry and Citizenship

Uncomfortable vs. Dangerous Free Speech

New York Times Confusion on Free Speech

Selective Speech

When Power Talks the Truth

Students for Justice in Palestine’s Dick Pics

Blasphemy OR Terrorism

Stopping the Purveyors of Hateful Propaganda

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Uncomfortable vs. Dangerous Free Speech

The month of September brings the most perfect weather to much of the world. Not too hot during the day and not too cold in the evening, people can be comfortable without the need for artificial air conditioning or heat.

Those are the Goldilocks days, which are, unfortunately, just a few weeks long.

However, as the autumn moves on to October and the nights get colder, people turn on their heating systems that had been dormant for months. Several states have laws that demand that beginning October 1, landlords must begin to provide heat. Yet there is no equivalent requirement for landlords to provide air conditioning in the hot summer months.

The rationale for forcing landlords to provide heat is about safety. People could become extremely sick or freeze to death if the temperature drops too low. Such a situation would likely force the individuals to turn on their stoves and ovens or light candles for heat, all of which could produce a massive fire killing many people and destroying property. The dangerous situation would stem from primary (the freezing cold itself) and secondary (the actions that people would take in reaction to the cold temperature) events.

The dynamic in the summer months is not so dire. People could dress lightly and use fans to cool off. The probability of someone dying from heat would only happen in extreme circumstances. As such, governments do not force landlords to supply air conditioning to their tenants.

The government intervention in matters of heat and air-conditioning revolves around safety, not comfort. Just as it does for free speech.

Free Speech

The First Amendment to the US Constitution gives people the right to free speech. Some people have argued that such right is absolute and that the government cannot provide any exceptions which ban people’s expressions. However, the government has placed laws which curtail some forms of speech.

Consider Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s 1919 opinon in Schenck v. United States, which limited free speech in certain situations. Holmes wrote that “The most stringent protection of free speech, would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic…. The question in every case, is whether the words are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

The courts clarified this opinion in 1969’s Brandenburg v. Ohio when it wrote”the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

The courts ruling on free speech are similar to the rules on providing heat: the line between what is allowed and disallowed surrounds safety. It has nothing to do with the comments themselves nor around discomfort.

While this may appear basic, it has been upended and questioned in recent times.

Politicians and media sources recently argued that only right-wing racist calls to violence should be illegal. However the courts make clear that ALL calls for violence are illegal, including from far left extremists.

Free speech has NOTHING to do with political views and everything to do with safety.

There is a lot of speech that is hateful and offensive. Consider Pamela Geller’s Draw Mohammed Contest in 2015 which offended Muslims, or students at University of California Berkeley that wore shirts “White Man Bow Down” in 2017 which deliberately targeted and offended white men. The Draw Mohammed contest did ultimately result in violence while the racist behavior of the black Cal Berkeley students did not. But both initial expressions were considered lawful as there was no incitement to violence in the present.

The vast majority of speech is benign and enjoyable, like the Goldilocks days of September. Yet as more people take to the streets and social media to express themselves in more confrontational ways, we should be mindful of whether the temperature of the language is simply hot and uncomfortable, or dangerously cold that must be stopped. University students can escape to “safe spaces,” much like running to an air-conditioned mall on a hot summer day. But we must be mindful that the lines of safety not be crossed from either side of the political spectrum.

The right to free speech extends to the right and the left. It does not cover calls for violence from either the right or the left.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Active and Reactive Provocations: Charlie Hebdo and the Temple Mount

The UN is Watering the Seeds of Anti-Jewish Hate Speech for Future Massacres

The Fault in Our Tent: The Limit of Acceptable Speech

Selective Speech

We Should Not Pay for Your First Amendment Rights

The Monumental Gap between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump

Students for Justice in Palestine’s Dick Pics

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There are Standards for Unity

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles) is one that emphasizes unity more than any other Jewish holiday.

In addition to the commandment to stay in huts (sukkahs) over the holiday, Jews are commanded to gather four species and hold them together in commemorating the holiday. The four species are the lulav, the aravot, the hadasim and the etrog. The four different natural items are said to represent four different types of people. Just as the four species have different characteristics – smell & taste / no smell & taste / smell and no taste / no smell & no taste – similarly these items represent people with a different mix of good deeds and Torah learning. Just as it is necessary to hold all four of these species together to execute the biblical command, so it is with welcoming all kinds of people into our communal tent.

As such, the holiday of Sukkot is a demonstration of unity.

Many progressive rabbis emphasize the nature of unity during the holiday but overlook a critical component of the laws surrounding the lulav: minimum standards.

Each of the four species cannot be contaminated in any way. For example, the tip of the etrog must be intact; the hadasim cannot be dried out. If any one of the four species is damaged, the mitzvah cannot be performed.

So too there are limits to unity.

In theory, all types of people should be allowed in the communal tent. However, there are thresholds at which actions or statements render people unfit and unwelcome into the collective.

Hillary Clinton made a point of describing racists and misogynists as “deplorable,” during her presidential campaign. While she was right in stating that there are some people that are deplorable, she chose that label for 25% of the US population. That is and was an absurd libel.

Liberals have held on to Clinton’s claim post the election of Donald Trump. They continue to state that one in four Americans is a pariah. A disgrace. Unfit to wield a vote.

As such, liberals concluded that the 2016 election was flawed. Like a lulav with dried out hadasim, the process itself was compromised. They held placards that “He’s not my president,” and blamed the loss on a variety of issues like Russian meddling and late breaking revelations about her emails.

But at the core, it was really about their perception of the American deplorables.

Protesters hold signs during a protest against the election of President-elect Donald Trump, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Similarly, for many pro-Israel Americans, there is a divide over acceptable approaches to Israel. Some left-wing extremist groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, the New Israel Fund and J Street are viewed as beyond the pale for many in the pro-Israel community due to the groups’ approaches of punishing Israel economically and politically. They are the Jewish “deplorables.”

Does one in four pro-Israel Americans really support such left-wing extremist groups? Unlikely. Just as the number of racists in America is much lower than 25%.

America and the pro-Israel community are strong enough to manage a handful of “deplorables.” But it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that our society does not reach a tipping point where one in four people have such hateful views.

The fabric of decency and unity has limits.


Related First.One.Through articles:

A Disservice to Jewish Community

The Fault in Our Tent: The Limit of Acceptable Speech

Selective Speech

Students for Justice in Palestine’s Dick Pics

A Deplorable Definition

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We Should Not Pay for Your First Amendment Rights

This past Sunday witnessed various protests during National Football League games with players refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem. This article does not address whether the protests have merit or do not. The players actions miss a basic point: people shouldn’t have to pay for your first amendment rights.

Americans have various rights under the first amendment, including to free speech. That right enables individuals who want to stand on a street corner and yell about how much they hate America the freedom to do so.

But the football stadium is not a public street.

People pay hundreds of dollars to enter the stadium to watch a football game, not to watch players express their political opinions. Fans at home also spend lots of money for cable and satellite TV to watch their favorite teams. More specifically – to watch their teams play football.

The only way that a player should have a right to express his feelings about politics is with the approval of the team’s owner and the NFL. Should those governing bodies deem it appropriate to sanction certain behavior, then it becomes part of the game like a black bandage on a jersey in memory of a player.


NFL players take a knee during the national anthem
(photo: Michael Dwyer/AP)

If the NFL and team owners approve the actions of the players expressing their political opinions during the game, then the audience can decide whether they want to spend their time and money watching such activity. But until the league and owners approve the players’ actions, it should be banned or fined.

Thomas Jefferson once said:

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is both sinful and tyrannical.”

Even if you agree with the sentiments of the protesters, it is “both sinful and tyrannical” to be forced to pay to propagate such expressions.


Related First.One.Through articles:

New York Times Confusion on Free Speech

Selective Speech

The Fault in Our Tent: The Limit of Acceptable Speech

Elie Wiesel on Words

Active and Reactive Provocations: Charlie Hebdo and the Temple Mount

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The Fault in Our Tent: The Limit of Acceptable Speech

 Some passionate and eloquent liberals have bemoaned the state of inclusiveness among Jews today. Leon Wieseltier, editor of the New Republic, penned an angry piece “J Street’s Rejection Is a Scandal” about the exclusion in 2014 of J Street from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Angry voices are again being heard about J Street due to their position in favor of the Iranian nuclear deal promoted by the Obama administration. Is Wieseltier correct in that we only seek to hear our own voices and that “the orthodoxies and the bubbles and the closed loops and the echo chambers are everywhere?” Is there a “red line” that J Street and others have crossed and therefore deserve to be excluded from the broad tent of acceptable conversation?

Individual Hate Speech

Many countries have laws that ban hate speech. Sometimes the exact language is clearly spelled out about what cannot be said publicly and sometimes it is more general in nature.

For example, several European countries, including Germany, have laws that prohibit Holocaust denial. Those countries took such steps not simply because such expressions offend Jews, but because of the continent’s failure to step in and protect Jews which led to their slaughter. Silence became complicity which must never be allowed to happen again.

For its part, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 16/18 whose goal is “Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief.” The resolution was drafted principally at the behest of Islamic countries who were worried about the spread of “Islamophobia.”

The various laws against hate speech all seek to curtail an incitement to violence and harm. The banned speech relates to a specific group of people (ie. Muslims) and not a concept (for example, a religion like Islam).  While a person can legally say disparaging remarks about a concept (“Communism is evil”), one risks breaking the law by attacking a group of people (“All Communists should be beaten up”).

Banned Groups

Hate Speech laws are typically drafted against individuals. However, laws are also drafted against groups that incite violence.  Israel banned two political parties, Kach and Kahane Chai in 1994 as they were defined as terrorist organizations.  The groups’ ideology was based on the teachings of Rabbi Meir Kahane who called for expelling Arabs from Israel, thereby running afoul of the premise of calling for negative actions against people.  Israel has also banned some Arab parties from running in elections which supported terrorism.

BDS, Hamas and Iran

Liberals and J Street supporters feel that BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), Hamas and the Iranian nuclear deal should be rightly within civil discourse.  However, do these topics and groups support violence against people, or are they just broad discussions about policies and ideas?

BDS: Reasonable people can arrive at different conclusions about Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. Some feel that all the settlements are completely legal as called for in international law in 1922, while others feel that Jews living east of the Green Line is against international law as recently stated by the UN Secretary General. Those competing viewpoints would fall within legal and acceptable conversation, both in public society and in an open-minded pro-Israel community.

However, inciting hatred against settlers is inciting violence.  Calling on the economic strangulation of Jews who legally purchased homes and businesses is akin to hate speech.  As such, new laws are being passed which specifically outlaw supporting BDS.

Hamas: Hamas is a rabidly anti-Semitic organization that calls for the complete destruction of Israel. It has fired well over 10,000 rockets into Israel, killed thousands of people in hundreds of attacks. Since completely taking over Gaza in 2007, Hamas has engaged in three wars against Israel.

Supporting Hamas in any way is supporting terror.  It should be banned completely in public society and in the pro-Israel tent.

Iranian nuclear deal: The Iranian nuclear agreement took various turns over the past several years. As Iran openly calls for the destruction of Israel, any group supporting Iran or helping Iran obtain weaponry would be supporting violence against Israel.

While the Iranian deal may arguably slow down Iran’s pathway to nuclear weapons, it certainly gives Iran tremendous financing and weaponry.  As such, 78% of Israelis oppose the Iran deal in its current format.

J Street Views

J Street has taken provocative stances on these three issues.

  • On BDS, the group technically states that it opposes the BDS movement, while it supports efforts that do call for BDS, particularly of communities east of the Green Line.
  • On Hamas, the group’s own website states that “Hamas is a political movement with an important and significant base of support within Palestinian society… and we support efforts by third parties to achieve reconciliation [between Fatah and Hamas which Israel opposes] and a unity government.”  One could similarly say that the Nazi party was a political party.
  • On Iran, the group launched a major campaign to support the deal, in direct opposition to pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC and the government of Israel itself. J Street was even against Iranian sanctions in 2009.

20150724_072448
 Full page J Street Advertisement supporting Iran Deal
New York Times July 25, 2015

On these issues which directly harm Israelis and the state of Israel, J Street has sided against the stated desires of the government of Israel.  Each time, they have taken stances which closely align with Israel’s enemies which seek to harm the country and its citizens.

Further, and most alarmingly, J Street has urged the Obama administration to vote against Israel at the United Nations Security Council, which is the sole voice of support in many instances. That action was so reprehensible, that even devout liberal politician Gary Ackerman (D-NY) said I’ve come to the conclusion that J-Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated….America really does need a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel. Unfortunately, J-Street ain’t it.

Erekat
PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat at J Street Conference
March 2015 (photo: J Street)

A Related View from Tisha b’Av

The Talmud relates a story about the reason the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed:

In Gittin 56ab the Talmud tells the story of zealots who wanted to fight the Romans as they got ready to attack Jerusalem. These zealots burned decades worth of food that had been stored in Jerusalem in order to force the residents of the city to confront the Romans.

These zealots undoubtedly considered themselves pro-Jewish. They thought that by destroying all safeguards and alternative options, they could force the rest of the Jewish people to adopt their position in the battle against Rome.

J Street, like the zealots 2000 years ago, view themselves as pro-Israel. While some parts of the Arab and Muslim world (f/k/a Romans) may seek to attack and destroy Israel, J Street views their approach to the conflict as the only logical course of action.  As such, they have engaged in co-opting the US government to take positions against those sought by the government of Israel.  Like the zealots who burned all of Jerusalem’s food supplies (now known as US support), they feel that Israel stripped of all of the territories won in 1967, without a Gaza blockade, and with a nuclear pact in place with Iran will secure Israel’s future. J Street is pursuing global and US pressure to make that happen, rather than seeking to convince the Israeli government.

JStreet-Map
Bookmark designed for J Street Conference
(Photo: Lisa Goldman)

 In the minds of many, the J Street positions have made them the a modern-looking version of Neturei Karta, the anti-Zionist Chasidic sect, similar to the clean-shaven Jewish outreach people who market a more modern version of Chabad outreach.


Debating the merits of different approaches for how Israel deals with hostile neighbors is within constructive debate.  Consistently arguing in favor of Israel’s enemies that seek to destroy the country and kill its people is akin to inciting violence.

Review the statements and positions of J Street here and consider whether such voices deserve to be heard in your community.


Related First One Through articles:

New York Times Confusion on Free Speech

Selective Speech

A Disservice to Jewish Community

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Selective Speech

Summary: Just because we are free to do or say something, doesn’t mean we should. And the selection of what speech to admire or admonish is not hypocrisy, but a choice on philosophy.

 

Many people have taken very hard positions regarding the recent killings at a “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest,” in Texas. In an effort to portray everything in black-and-white, they miss important distinctions.

  1. Murdering someone for being insulted is ALWAYS wrong. As discussed on these pages, “I’m Insulted; You’re Dead,” everyone should whole-heartedly condemn the killing of people because sensibilities were offended. Whether the attacks were at the Parisian offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, or at an event in Texas where people drew the Islamic prophet, no one should condone murder.
  2. Freedom of Speech is a CAUSE worthy of Defense. Freedom of speech and press are cornerstones of western democracies. They are basic and important causes to uphold.
  3. Specific language does NOT need to be defended. Just because someone has the right to say something, doesn’t require everyone to come to the defense of the content of any particular speech. An individual or organization that opts to distance itself from an event does not mean they are against free speech.

Civil Sensitivities

Western societies are a mix of people and ideas. Such combinations create both civil and uncivil conversations. One can choose to be part of a completely civil society where nothing unpleasant is ever said, uncivil society in which people attack people all of the time, or more likely, a blend of the two, where different ideas are shared which may upset certain individuals at certain times.

Civil society’s “safe spaces” are one’s home and organizations where people share common values.  It is hard to imagine that one can walk in public and never hear or see something disagreeable.

An inherent component of being part of the mixed society is to strike a balance of the use of free speech and society’s sensitivities.  Just because someone has the right to say something, doesn’t mean that they should, and that everyone has to support the comment. The other half of that balance is that there is no requirement in society to be polite to everyone.

Not Hypocrisy, But a Preference

When a party or organization chooses to defend some speech and not others, they show their own preferences or priorities. Consider the New York Times approach to several events that upset segments of the American population:

  • Mosque at Ground Zero (2010): The United States offers freedom of religion (as well as speech and press) and as such, Muslims are free to build a mosque at any location where they legally have rights to the land. However, many people viewed the proposed building of a mosque overlooking the site where terrorists killed thousands of people in the name of Islam, as wrong and insulting. The New York Times editorial felt differently stating that it saw “the wisdom of going ahead with the project,” in an opinion that sided with Muslims but offended many people.
  • Convent at Auschwitz (1989): Similar to the mosque at the base of the destroyed World Trade Center, the location of a Roman Catholic convent on the grounds of a notorious concentration camp where over a million Jews were killed simply because of their religion, was viewed as completely insensitive by many Jews. While the Times covered the news story in several articles, it conspicuously never offered its own opinion as to whether the convent should be moved.
  • Giuliani on the Brooklyn Museum art show (1999): The Brooklyn Museum ran a controversial series of “art works” that treated Christianity harshly, including a painting of Mary covered in dung. After New York City NYOR Rudolph Giuliani threatened to withhold funding for the museum, the NYT opted to attack the Mayor stating that “Art is the name of a perpetual human struggle with the limits of perception. The Mayor… is failing dramatically in that role in a fashion that makes him and the city look ridiculous
  • Metropolitan Opera on Klinghoffer (2014): When the streets of New York held civil protests about the Metropolitan Opera’s airing of a play that showed a sympathetic side of terrorists murdering an infirm elderly Jew, the New York Times rushed to the opera’s defense. The editorial page ran a headline that stated “The Death of Klinghoffer Must Go On”. It argued that it stood for art and free speech. Others claimed that it simply stood on the side of Palestinian terrorists.
  • Charlie Hebdo (2015): The New York Times printed a series of editorials trying to find its position on the murder of journalists by Muslim terrorists. While it clearly stood by the rights of journalists to free press, it seemed to support such right because it lampooned all religions, and not just Islam.
  • Draw Mohammed Exhibit (2015). The New York Times chose to attack the organizer of the event, Pamela Geller and stated that the event was simply “hate speech”. It condemned the contest “cannot justify blatantly Islamophobic provocations like the Garland event.

What is the summary of the observations of the New York Times?

  • It sided with Muslims at Ground Zero and the Draw Mohammed Contest; against them at Charlie Hebdo;
  • It sided against Christians at the Brooklyn Museum and offered no opinion at the Auschwitz convent;
  • It sided against Jews for the Klinghoffer opera and no opinion at the Auschwitz convent

When it came to religion, the Times record was mixed, while showing a preference for Muslim sensitivities over Christians and Jews.

Overall, the Times will claim its record is for upholding freedoms.  It obviously failed in that principle when it came to the Mohammed Exhibit, which it claimed failed the threshold for art and was merely “hate speech”.  Perhaps the Times forgot the never-ending nature of its definition of art from 1999: “Art is the name of a perpetual human struggle with the limits of perception.”


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Blasphemy OR Terrorism

My Terrorism

New York Times Confusion on Free Speech

New York Times Confusion on Free Speech

The attacks on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015 sparked a plethora of articles describing the freedoms of speech and press. The New York Times, like many other media sources, fiercely defended the right of people to offer their opinions, even if such views are unpopular. Despite the clarity of its overall stance, the paper appeared confused about “double standards” in its articles which failed to clarify and distinguish between free speech and hate speech.

In the NY Times lead front page story of January 14 referring to such “double standards”, the paper contrasted the right of Charlie Hebdo to make cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, to the arrested French “comedian” M’bala M’bala who stated that a Jewish journalist should have been killed in the Nazi gas chambers and that he considers himself like the terrorist who shot and killed four Jews in the Parisian supermarket. Neither clarification nor education was given about the differences and limits of free speech.

20150115_144909

The NY Times continued to confuse the public (or itself) in a story the next day by David Carr, which included the following:

  • “Not all the French were reveling in unbridled expression of speech. Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a comedian who has made highly provocative statements since the shooting at Charlie Hebdo’s offices, was detained as an “apologist for terrorism” for statements he made on his Facebook page that were seemingly in support of one of the attackers.
  • His arrest highlights the fact that one man’s free expression is another man’s hate speech or sedition. In Israel, the conservative Jewish newspaper HaMevaser scrubbed out the German chancellor Angela Merkel from a photograph, along with other female leaders who had participated in a solidarity march in Paris, because photos containing women are considered inappropriate in ultra-Orthodox publications.”

In an effort to educate the Times and its readership, here are three important points to distinguish between various types of speech:

  • Concept versus People
  • Active versus Reactive Incitement
  • Editing versus Censorship

 Concept versus People

A central dividing line between freedom of speech and hate speech has to do with the right to discuss concepts as opposed to the right (and limit) to discuss people. Everyone is free to say anything they want about concepts such as: capitalism, communism, Islam and Buddhism. Whether it is religion or economic theory, each topic is considered a concept worthy (perhaps?!) of discussion and debate in a positive or negative fashion. However, speech can descend into “hate speech” (or libel) which is banned by many countries, if people attack either groups or specific human beings.

For example, Louis Farrakhan, a bombastic anti-Semitic Muslim preacher referred to Judaism as a “gutter religion”. He was not brought up on any charges, despite the hateful speech. Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi was not prosecuted for calling Jews the descendants of monkeys and pigs, which could have perhaps been classified as hate speech in some countries because he addressed people rather than a religion.

 Active versus Reactive Incitement

A key factor in the distinction of permissible versus prohibited speech revolves around “incitement”. Many countries prohibit speech that incites violence, as does the recent United Nations Resolution 16/18. The UN language:

  • “condemns any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, whether it involves the use of print, audio-visual or electronic media or any other means”

The phrase incitement to violence is clear. For example, when an imam in Germany called for killing Jews, that fell under hate speech to incite violence, and the country is now investigating that imam.

However, it is considered completely legal to say things that may involve “reactive incitement”, that is, saying something that may annoy people to the extent that they would use violence. To ban reactive incitement would stifle free speech completely which is what the press sees as the essence of the Charlie Hebdo assassinations. Just because Muslims were insulted by the publishing of cartoons of their prophet, their reaction cannot be the basis to ban that freedom of expression.

Based on the United Nations language, the incitement to discrimination would have to be explored further. Did Charlie Hebdo promote discrimination against Muslims? Was the paper simply making pictures of Mohammed or was it attempting to foster intolerance of all Muslims? The new United Nations law makes a distinction.

The M’bala M’bala calls for a Jewish journalist to be killed in gas chambers and supporting terrorists who killed four innocent Jews are calls for direct and indirect incitement to hostility and violence.  Acting Palestinian Authority President Mamoud Abbas praise for martyrs who slaughtered innocents could also be called incitement to hostility and violence.

dalal_popular_inauguration

Fatah officials at naming of Dalal Mughrabi square,
murderer of 38 civilians including 13 children

 Editing versus Censorship

Every media outlet edits their news stories. Papers constantly select only those parts of interviews that confirm a thesis it promotes to its readers. That is (theoretically) its right. Michael Moore edited interviews about global warming and the auto industry to convey a particular narrative that he wanted to portray in his movies. The public may ultimately view the half-stories they receive as accurate, half-accurate or completely inaccurate because of the known bias of the producers of the content.

However, no one considers editing to be a form of censorship or an infringement on the freedom of speech or press. If a paper opted to not publish a sports section, that is its right. If it crops a picture to focus on a particular image to reinforce its narrative, that is also its right. It may be bad journalism, but it is not censorship (and certainly not by a governmental authority).

In its ramble on free speech above, the New York Times highlighted the Israeli “conservative” newspaper Hamevaser’s choice to edit the picture of the Paris unity march to remove the female leaders. Hamevaser is run by and serves an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community (not politically conservative) that is against showing pictures of women due to their interpretation of modesty. Such action is a form of editing that newspapers engage in to meet the tastes of its readership. To somehow suggest that it is a form of Israeli censorship is absurd. Why would the Times possibly lump this example in with examples of freedom of speech and hate speech? It is completely off topic.


People in the western world rallied behind Charlie Hebdo because they see this situation as falling completely within the framework of free speech: it poked fun at a religion (a concept), not people (Muslims); and it did not call for any violence, rather the attacks came from a reaction from incensed Muslims. The case of M’bala M’bala has to do with inciting violence against people, and the Hamevaser picture has nothing at all to do with government censorship.

So how did the Times develop this list of irrelevant examples and not try to educate its readers (and actually confuse them with calling out “double standards”)?


Sources:

NYtimes articles and picture Jan 14: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/world/europe/new-charlie-hebdo-has-muhammad-cartoon.html

NY Times article January 15: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/15/business/media/flocking-to-buy-charlie-hebdo-citizens-signal-their-support-of-free-speech.html?_r=0

Louis Farakhan on Judaism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbrH3eUuA3U

Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi calling Jews names: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JukaOi8pKzM

UN Resolution 16/18: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/16session/A.HRC.RES.16.18_en.pdf

German imam calling for killing Jews: http://forward.com/articles/202751/germany-warns-against-hate-speech-after-imam-calls/

PA Abbas praise for terrorists: http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/01/10/video-of-abbas-praising-hitler-supporting-mufti-terrorists-released-video/

Naming square and centers after terrorist who killed 37 civilians: http://www.palwatch.org/pages/news_archive.aspx?doc_id=1442

Related First One Through articles:

Blasphemy or terrorism: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/blasphemy-or-terrorism/

Klinghoffer opera: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/eyal-gilad-naftali-klinghoffer-the-new-blood-libel/

 

Journalists in the Middle East

It is not easy to be a journalist in the Middle East.

The Middle East / North Africa (MENA) region is the only part of the world which does not have a single country with a full free press. This compares to Western Europe which does not have a single country without a free press according to Freedom House.

The profession has become much more dangerous as seen by the murders of two American journalists in Iraq by ISIS in August and September 2014. Some 70 journalists were killed around the world in 2013, the majority in volatile Muslim countries including: Syria; Iraq; Egypt; Pakistan; and Somalia.

Journalists lucky to be alive are often intimidated in their coverage (Gaza) or jailed (Turkey, Egypt and China).

Free press is only part of the problem in the region. There is virtually no freedom of assembly or freedom of speech. Protests in many cities around the world have been halted by government crackdowns – including in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Curiously, academia, which prides itself in freedom of expression, has singled out Israel for BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanction). Israel ranks far ahead of any country in the MENA region in every category of freedom of press, speech and assembly (Israel ranked #64 globally compared to the Palestinian Authority #182).

Free speech music video (Coldplay):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSuuuwPUjWI&list=PL42FF9A26E50944A7&index=20


Sources:

http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/Global%20and%20regional%20tables.pdf

http://www.cpj.org/killed/2013/

http://www.cpj.org/imprisoned/2013.php

http://www.wjla.com/articles/2013/12/turkey-leads-world-in-jailed-journalists-for-second-straight-year-98286.html

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6f70100a-fdba-11e2-a5b1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2qZ6LIKvB

http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/country-chapters/algeria

http://www.channel4.com/news/university-of-london-student-protest-ban-senate-house-occupy

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/25/quebec-spain-anti-protest-laws-democracyEgypt jailing: http://fsrn.org/2014/06/egypt-sentences-journalists-confirms-mass-death-sentences-squelches-protests/

killing Steven Sotloff: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/09/isil-steven-sotloff-110520.html

Gaza intimidation: http://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-threatening-journalists-in-gaza-who-expose-abuse-of-civilians/