by Steven Plaut
There is a fascinating story underway at the fringes of election-eve Israel. Israel’s radical Left has always been anti-democratic, and is showing increasingly fascist tendencies these days. One manifestation of this is that the Left tries at every opportunity to suppress the freedom of speech of non-leftists. It does so in a variety of ways, including legislation, court lawfare, suppression of pluralism in many of the country’s media, and so on.
After Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a radical nationalist religious law student in 1995, the leftist-controlled media led a McCarthyist campaign in Israel, claiming that the assassination was actually caused by the exercise of freedom of speech of non-leftists. The Left insisted that freedom of expression for “rightists” presents a clear and present danger of violence and murder and so must be criminalized. Much of the political establishment followed the lead of the leftist media McCarthyists, prosecuting “rightists” who dared to express their opinions. Later Rabbis have been dragged into police headquarters by the bushel and accused of “racism” because they endorsed a book some considered bigoted. In the mind of leftists, recommending to people that they read such a book is a crime, unless it is an anti-Semitic leftist book.
But the most amusing twist to all this is the growing number of complaints coming from the same anti-democratic leftists about how freedom of speech for leftists is supposedly under attack by Israeli conservatives! And they are increasingly pointing to the supposed surveillance and “spying” activities against them being carried out by critics of the far Left.
Several watchdog groups and web sites, led by Isracampus.com, keep tabs on and monitor the radical tenured Left in Israel, the extremists who are on the faculty at Israeli universities. They operate a bit like Campus Watch in the US. The monitoring consists of citing verbatim what the radicals write and say in public. The Israeli Left has long claimed that such monitoring is equivalent to creating “blacklists,” supposedly like the lists of people boycotted in the days of Joseph McCarthy. Of course a more accurate description of these exposure and monitoring efforts would be “citation.” The Left claims that these watchdogs are plotting to silence leftists. But the main way that they silence leftists is by giving broad publicity to what leftists publish and proclaim in their public lectures.
The claims by the Israeli Left about “blacklisting” are a bit amusing, given that many of these very same complainers have long promoted international blacklisting against all of Israel. This has been the “complaint” by the Fascist Left against Isracampus.com and the NGO Monitor group led by Professor Gerald Steinberg, both of which expose the political mischief and anti-Israel activities and publications of the Israeli far Left.
Another group that has been very successful in exposing the far Left has been the Zionist student movement Im Tirtzu, headed by Ronen Shoval. In the past few years Im Tirtzu has become the most important and popular student organization in Israel; it regularly holds counter-protests against the smaller communist party and Arab fascist student groups when they organize anti-Israel pro-terror demonstrations. The Im Tirtzu students have also (gasp!!) recorded what left-wing professors say in their classroom lectures and published these statements. Left-wing professors have accused the students of “spying” because they obtain course outlines and syllabi from propaganda courses operated by tenured leftists in the universities and publish their contents. In other words, the students are engaging in journalism. The far leftists insist this is really spying and McCarthyism.
Israeli universities, like many American universities, are crawling with far-leftist faculty members, and there are many departments in which no non-leftist opinion may be voiced and no pro-Israel or anti-Marxist instructor may teach. Academic standards have been trashed and hiring procedures corrupted in order to fill these departments with wall-to-wall radicals. The worst institutions engaged in these things are Ben Gurion University and Tel Aviv University, but the other schools are also at fault.
A few months back Shoval and his Im Tirtzu students filed a huge libel suit against a small gaggle of leftists for setting up a Facebook group accusing Im Tirtzu of being a “fascist organization” and accusing its leaders of being “fascists.” The suit is for 2.6 million shekels ($660,000) in Jerusalem District court. As part of their court action, Shoval and his people are also keeping tabs on the radical political activism of the lawyer representing the defendants, the ultra-leftist Michael Sfard. He is associated with Israel’s “Association for Civil Rights in Israel,” a far-leftist NGO group that has no interest in defending any civil rights for Jews or in defending freedom of speech. The ACRI has long been headed by the Stalinist writer Sami Michael. Student leader Shoval dared to provide information on Sfard’s activities to two newspapers. I guess that makes Shoval guilty of journalism.
Israel’s far-leftist daily Haaretz is roughly analogous to The Nation in the US. It has been covering the story of the “spying” on Sfard in detail, which is a bit amusing because one of the defendants in the libel action is herself a Haaretz writer and editor. Haaretz even cites the claim by one of the far-leftist defendants that reporting what leftist NGOs do is a form of terrorism.
In that story, the paper cites the student leader as proudly admitting collecting a dossier on the political extremism of Sfard.
When asked by Sfard what methods were used to uncover such anti-Zionism, Shoval said: “We read the publications and listen to the claims and look at the motives people talk about, and then we reach conclusions.” When asked if Im Tirtzu had ever used material collected by private investigators, Shoval said: “Definitely.” In response to a question that the organization had used documents obtained from Sfard’s office, Shoval replied, “We see you as someone who is consistently involved in harming the State of Israel. Your ideological rejectionism from [your time in the] army has continued until now, in providing your services to organizations that consistently persecute IDF soldiers and identify Zionism as racism.Sfard is claiming that documents about his political activities were stolen from the ACRI offices and leaked to the press. There is no evidence that these were taken in any sort of Watergate-like incursion, and, even if they were, there is no evidence that the Im Tirtzu students were involved. But the very same radicals who have always claimed that Daniel Ellsberg’s espionage was the highest form of patriotism and that the Wikileaks people are the world’s greatest heroes are suddenly aghast at the leaks to the press about the political activities of Israel’s far Leftists.
Of the two newspapers who used the leaked materials, the spokesman for one of them (Israel Hayom) said: “The newspaper acted according to the principles of the law.” The other newspaper, Makor Rishon, said they had no stolen documents and did not send “reporters or ‘plumbers,’ like in the Watergate affair, and of course we have not stolen any documents. We received the documents and cannot reveal their source, as is accepted here.”
This is just the tip of the oppressive iceberg to suppress the radical Left, screams Haaretz. In an op-ed by its educational reporter this week, it points to a long litany of supposedly anti-democratic initiatives by the Israeli Right. First there was a petition to bar an Arab woman from running for the parliament just because she had herself engaged in terrorism and violent attacks against Israeli soldiers. Never mind that the Supreme Court foolishly overruled the initiative and let her run. Then there was the case of the “boycott” of a leftist professor at Tel Aviv University by Benjamin Netanyahu. She was “boycotted” in the sense that Netanyahu declined to invite her to attend a state reception with the German Prime Minister which she wished to attend. Then there was the case of a radical leftist who was pushed into an archives job from his research position in the parliament because he insisted on filling all his reports with his far-leftist opinions. Also a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Education was canned for churning out textbooks for use in civics classrooms that were filled with anti-Israel bias and historic revisionism based on Arab pseudo-history. And to top it all off, the Minister of Education called for closing down the Department of Politics at Ben Gurion University simply because the department refuses to allow any conservative or pro-Israel opinion to be voiced, because its courses are anti-Israel and Marxist indoctrinations, because its academic standards are so awful that an international panel of experts demanded that the department be shut down altogether, and because it harasses students if they dare to question the extremist indoctrinations by the professors.
So from all the above, you can see that the complaints by the Left that freedom of speech and pluralism are under a McCarthyist assault in Israel are completely valid. The only problem is that the assault against freedom and democracy is coming from the Fascist Left.
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