Israel’s free speech aversion

German writer Gunter Grass is hardly the first person to be banned for criticizing the Jewish state VIDEO

Topics: GlobalPost, Israel,

Israel's free speech aversion German writer Gunter Grass (Credit: AP/Fritz Reiss)
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Earlier this week, German writer Gunter Grass was barred from Israel for the content of his poem “What Must Be Said,” a meditation on the situation between Israel and Iran. The Nobel laureate’s piece, which warns of Israel’s military might and condemns German arms sales to Israel, caused an outrage in both countries and tempers have flared all over the Internet, both in favor of and against the content of the poem.

Global Post“Grass’s poems fan the flames of hatred against Israel and the Israeli people, thus promoting the idea he was part of when he donned an SS uniform,” said Israel’s interior minister, Eli Yishai, according to the New York Times, apparently referring to the writer’s adolescence with the Hitler Youth, an admission Grass made in 2006.

But do words warrant instituting a ban on a person?

Grass’ controversial past could explain away Israel’s actions against that German writer in particular. But it isn’t just the poem. Israel has a free speech problem.

In 2010 renowned professor and linguist Noam Chomsky was banned from entry to Israel after an attempt to give a lecture at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. Norman Finkelstein, also a Jewish professor, was arrested, deported and banned from Israel for 10 years in 2008. [Here's a slide show of more controversial critics of Israel who have been banned from entering the country.]

“The decision to prevent someone from voicing their opinions by arresting and deporting them is typical of a totalitarian regime,” said Oded Peler, a lawyer for Israel’s Association for Civil Rights to the Guardian after Finkelstein’s deportation. “A democratic state, where freedom of expression is the highest principle, does not shut out criticism or ideas just because they are uncomfortable for its authorities to hear. It confronts those ideas in public debate.”



In Israel, there is no protection of freedom of speech, because there is no constitution. There is no specific legal accountability in regard to words or art, because no Israeli document exists that protects this inalienable human right, the way the U.S. Constitution does. The Knesset makes laws and the Supreme Court decides if they’re legal or not, but there is nothing equal to a universal free speech provision on the books in Israel.

In the past few years, it has become apparent that without a central document that protects freedoms, the Knesset has the ability to pass laws without being accountable to a higher idea of human rights. Besides a recent law against organizing boycotts of Israeli goods, which one Israeli journalist called “fascism at its worst,” there have been a flood of incidents that would never fly in the face of the American First Amendment — or even the most general understanding of the concept of free speech.

“Israelis accept limits on free expression that other democracies would reject,” explained Edmund Sanders in a July Los Angeles Times article. “… many of the controversial measures received solid public support, reflecting a growing ambivalence in Israel over free-speech rights.”

The Israeli government also insists that some news outlets submit their reports for approval before publication. A Palestinian TV station was recently shut down without cause or warning, and, according to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment was seized. Journalists are routinely detained and questioned, and a professor was recently arrested for launching a new website through Al Quds University.

“Unfortunately for Israelis, their country has anti-free speech policies that do not represent modern democracy. Israel is more open than countries it borders, yes, but this isn’t a liberating revelation,” wrote blogger Justin Martin at the Columbia Journalism Review. “If Israeli politicians wish to brag that their nation resembles western democracies, they must defend the freedoms those countries hold dear. Israel does not.”

The full text of “What Must Be Said” can be found at the Atlantic

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>