German writer Gunter Grass is hardly the first person to be banned for criticizing the Jewish state VIDEO
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.
“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
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Rescue crews race to find tornado survivors
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
Salon is proud to feature content from GlobalPost, an awarding-winning international news site that focuses on original reporting from journalists stationed around the world. GlobalPost combines traditional journalistic values with the power of new media to offer a fresh perspective on global developments.