(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman scolded the commander of Army Radio, Yaron Dekel, on Thursday over the broadcast of texts by the prominent late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
After calling Dekel in to the Defense Ministry for a “clarification discussion,” Liberman proceeded to compare Darwish’s poems to the works of Adolf Hitler.
“Mahmoud Darwish, in his poems, called for ousting the Jewish people from the Land of Israel, and wrote that the ‘flesh of the occupier will be my food.’ He cannot be part of the established narrative of Israeliness, as he was presented in the program broadcast on Army Radio,” Liberman said. “By this same logic, one could also include in the Israeli narrative the heritage of Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini [the World War II-era Palestinian leader who formed an alliance with the Nazis and lived in Berlin from 1941 until 1945] or to praise, in a broadcast, the literary quality of Mein Kampf,” Liberman said.
The defense minister added that his comments did not constitute any form of political intervention in Army Radio’s broadcasts, but said that the goal of the radio station in the democratic and complex Israeli society is to “strengthen solidarity, and not to deepen chasms, and certainly not to upset public feelings.”
Liberman argued that there is a “big difference between freedom of expression and freedom of incitement,” and that the station’s commanders are “obligated to make that clear to its presenters, reporters and editors.”
Dekel, for his part, said during the meeting that freedom of expression was paramount, and that broadcasting educational texts does not signify an affiliation with them.
It is possible, Dekel added, that the context of the broadcast was misunderstood.
Darwish, widely regarded by Palestinians as their national poet, was born in the village of al-Birweh east of Acre in 1941 during the British Mandate.
His family fled to Lebanon in 1948. But unlike other Palestinian refugees, they returned a year later. Darwish ultimately settled in Haifa. In 1970 he went to study at the University of Moscow, and then lived in Egypt and Lebanon.
In 1973, when he joined the PLO, he was banned from returning to Israel. In 1995, following the Camp David Accords, Darwish settled in Ramallah in 1995. He died in Houston, Texas, in 1998 following heart surgery, and was buried in Ramallah.
Israeli school curriculum includes Darwish’s works, and students here study his texts.
In Darwish’s controversial poem “Passers Between the Passing Words,” written in 1988, he was accused of demanding that the Jews quit Israel, although he claimed he meant the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “So leave our land/Our shore, our sea/Our wheat, our salt, our wound,” Darwish famously wrote.