Op-Ed: Would-Be Book Burners

Posted: 12/12/2013 10:13:00 PM
Author: Prof. Steven Plaut
Source: This op-ed was originally posted on the Arutz 7 website on Dec. 12, 2013.

Op-Ed: Would-Be Book Burners
by Prof. Steven Plaut

Since when is it the job of the government in a democracy to arrest or indict people for exercising their freedom of speech? That is what the Supreme Court seems to be demanding.

There is selectivity in the "jihad" against freedom of speech.
The Israeli Supreme Court is ordering the Israeli government (executive branch) to appear in court and justify the fact that it is not suppressing freedom of speech.

No, that was not a misprint. The Supreme Court of Israel has ordered the government to justify and explain why it refuses to prosecute two rabbis who wrote a controversial book, and also two other rabbis who recommended that people read that book.

The case involves the controversial book "The Path of the King," also titled "King's Torah," written byRabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur. It is a rabbinic text that discusses, among other things, circumstances under which Jews may kill non-Jews, such as in war.

The book has been denounced as "racist" by the Left and also by some not on the Left. It may have been published by the authors less as an exercise in scholastic research and more as a provocation. Because of its sections discussing situations in which there might be killing of non-Jews - but not calling for that to occur - it has long been featured by every Neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic web site on earth trying to paint Jews as ghouls.

I have not read the book nor do I plan to read it. From my impression of it in media reviews, I think it would have been preferable had the authors never published it.

The Supreme Court was petitioned by members of the Reform synagogue movement in Israel, which is intimately intertwined with the Israeli Left. Other leftists joined in and even Tel Aviv University's ethics expert, Prof. Asa Kasher, decided to join the demand to ban the book by the rabbis. They all petitioned to have the two authors indicted for "racism," along with two other "controversial" rabbis who endorsed the book, Rabbi Dov Lior of Hevron and Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzberg of Yitzhar.

It is quite possible that the contents of the book are upsetting, as its critics claim they are. So what?

Since when is it the job of the government in a democracy to arrest or indict people for exercising their freedom of speech? Suppose the book is really as "racist" as its critics are saying - although one should bear in mind that in Israel the word "racism" is often used to refer to people who disagree with the political agenda of the Left. So what? Since when is it legitimate for a government to arrest people for holding or expressing racist opinions and feelings?

It is not against the law in any real democracy to hold and express racist opinions. It might get you punched in the nose and a judge might even deal with the puncher leniently, but you will not be arrested for expressing your opinions unless you call explicitly for violence. If you were to arrest every person in the United States who had ever expressed a racist or anti-Semitic thought or opinion, the bulk of the population would be behind bars.

So here we have the spectacle of the book-burners from the Reform movement in Israel (a microscopic movement in Israel) petitioning the Supreme Court with a demand for the indictment of rabbis who exercised freedom of speech and who dared to express their opinions in a book. The Court then demands that the government legal advisers appear and justify the fact that it has not indicted (yet) the rabbis for this felony.

There is selectivity in the "jihad" against freedom of speech. Even if the rabbis' book is as bad as the media are saying, it still would be nowhere near as racist as the books by Prof. Shlomo Sand from Tel Aviv University or Ilan Pappe, to mention but two members of the tenured anti-Semitic campus. Their books appear in every university library in Israel and are sold freely in book stores. No one has initiated a campaign to ban them. Even professors who have called for the murder of their political opponents, including Zeev Sternhell from the Hebrew University who suggested that terrorists aim at "settlers" and not other Israelis and Eyal Nir from Ben Gurion University, have never been indicted.

No one burns anti-Semitic leftist books. You can buy books in Israel by Walt and Mearsheimer, Chomsky, and Norman Finkelstein. No one censors the anti-Semitic outbursts in the Israeli Arab media and Raed Salah is still walking about free. No dogs in the airport attempt to sniff out anti-Semitic books being carried by travelers.

A big part of the problem is that the devotion to and understanding of basic democracy and freedom of speech is extremely weak and shallow in Israel, and this weakness extends all the way to the top of society. The number of law professors in Israel who protested the past persecutions of these and other rabbis when they exercised their freedom of speech or who protested other attempts to deny freedom of speech to non-leftists is nil.

The Supreme Court has yet to overturn the ridiculous law proclaiming the Kahanist faction a terrorist organization, whose freedom of speech is denied in Israel. Israel's "anti-racism" law is an anti-democratic bludgeon used to persecute right-wingers and suppress their freedom of speech. It has never been used to prosecute leftists or Arabs. Laws against treason in Israel are almost never applied against anyone.

Instead, for years the judicial Left, led by the figure who was just authorized to be the next State Prosecutor, attempted to silence the Right with police harassment and prosecutorial persecution. Settlers, professors, teenagers who attended anti-Oslo protests, rabbis, and many others became the hunting environment for the judicial Left. Leftists openly encouraging terrorism were never touched.

The Supreme Court has never demanded that the government appear and justify its past prosecutions of rabbis for expressing opinions deemed "racist" by the radical Left. To the contrary, it now orders the government to explain why it has not prosecuted them.

The anti-democratic hostility towards freedom of speech by the Israeli Left continues to metastasize. It is today bordering on book-burning. Can torchlight processions be far behind?
Prof. Steven Plaut
Steven Plaut teaches at the University of Haifa and is author of "The Scout" (available from Gefen Publishing House). More of his writings can be seen on the New Plaut Blog, as well as in numerous electronic and print newspapers.