Editor's Notes: Caging the tiger

Larry Derfner crossed the line into territory of hate speech when in a personal blog last week he sought to justify Palestinian terrorism.

September 2, 2011 16:58
3 minute read.

Tiger in cage. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In one of my first columns as editor-in-chief (“Halting the hatred,” July 22), I urged The Jerusalem Post’s journalists and contributors to be more sensitive when it comes to reporting and commenting on potentially inflammatory topics in the news.

“We at the Post believe that hate speech harms the civil discourse in Israel, and in my opinion, it poses a real danger to the country’s very existence as a democratic Jewish state,” I wrote.

Larry Derfner, a veteran journalist who penned a weekly column and reported for our Magazine, crossed the line into the territory of hate speech when in a personal blog last week he sought to justify Palestinian terrorism against Israelis.

His egregious posting came in response to the August 18 terrorist murder of Israeli citizens on the Egyptian border.

“Whoever the Palestinians were who killed the eight Israelis near Eilat last week, however vile their ideology was, they were justified to attack,” Derfner wrote. “Palestinians have the right to resist – to use violence against Israelis, even to kill Israelis.”

These comments are exceptionally offensive to most Israelis, and especially hurtful to those who have been victims of terror. They endorse and encourage, if not incite and inflame, terrorism against Israel.

When Derfner asked that we run the piece in the Post, we rejected it and dissociated ourselves completely from his comments, to which we object in the strongest possible terms.

Even though his column did not appear in the paper, we came to the conclusion that we could no longer provide a stage to someone who openly promulgates such venomous views.

Derfner later wrote an apology that we chose not to run. In it, he expresses deep regret for his blog post, saying: “My intention was to shock people into recognition, but I ended up shocking many of them into revulsion, and twisting what I wanted to say into something I didn’t and don’t mean at all.

“I regret what I wrote [last] Sunday. I apologize to everyone who was offended by it, and I apologize to my countrymen. The post is no longer on my blog; I’ve taken it down.”

The substance of Derfner’s apology itself was not convincing. He used ludicrous logic to defend his position, repeating the same obscene sentiments that made many readers sick to their stomachs in the first place.

He had meant, he said, “to shock Israelis and friends of Israel into seeing how badly we’re hurting the Palestinians by denying them independence: It’s so bad that it’s helping drive them to try to kill us.”

If you saw Oren Kessler’s article in the paper this week about the anti-Israel coverage in the Arab media following the attacks on the southern border, you may have noticed that their commentaries were not significantly different from Derfner’s.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-inchief of the London-based pan- Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, wrote that Israel bore direct responsibility for the terrorist attack on its soil.

“This attack put the spotlight back on the most important struggle – that for the honor of the Arab and Islamic nation,” Atwan argued. “Resistance is a legitimate right as long as land is occupied and the people and holy places are humiliated.”

Derfner’s blog later appeared on a Hamas website, giving succor to Israel’s enemies.

By trying to rationalize the murder of his fellow Jews by terrorists, Derfner – who has always been the consummate journalist for the Post – went beyond the pale. Consequently we terminated his employment.

The move, I stress, had nothing to do with threats to cancel subscriptions or advertisements; it was an editorial decision taken on moral grounds. While politically independent, the Post is a quintessentially Zionist newspaper priding itself on its patriotism and credibility, as well as its balanced reporting and diverse commentaries.

We are certainly not silencing the Left, and will continue to feature columnists of all political stripes. Freedom of speech has its limits, however, and Derfner clearly overstepped them.

Derfner is a fine writer but a loose cannon. His column in the Post was titled “Rattling the Cage.” There is a huge difference between rattling the bars and letting the tiger out.

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