October 28: Free speech, present danger

Promoting a sense of empathy and understanding can help bridge the differences that divide Israeli society into “us” and “them.”

By JERUSALEM POST READERS
October 27, 2010 22:54
October 28: Free speech, present danger

letters 88. (photo credit: )

Free speech, present danger

Sir, – I was astonished by your stance in favor of censorship in your October 27 editorial “Truth over ‘narrative.’” You say you “normally oppose book banning and back the free exchange of ideas,” but your support for the banning of Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative from Israeli schools makes it clear that those values apply only to ideas and perspectives with which you agree.

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Your position in favor of censorship is regrettable for several reasons.

First, it undermines the very notion of freedom of expression that your paper and others rely on to publish sometimes unpalatable information.

Second, it presumes that you, and the historians with whom you agree, have a monopoly on the truth and that dissenting opinions are therefore fraudulent and should be suppressed.

Third, it undermines what should be the true goal of education, which is not only to pass on information but to teach students to think critically.

I have not read the book in question, but from your own description it appears to present both the Israeli and Palestinian perspective on events in an evenhanded manner.

That doesn’t mean that all claims are equally true; rather, it suggests that they are equally believed by the parties who hold them. Is it not obvious that beliefs influence actions? It sounds to me that the book would be a valuable tool for helping Jewish and Arab students to see the world through each other's eyes. Promoting a sense of empathy and understanding can only help bridge the differences that divide Israeli society into “us” and “them” and make it so hard for Israelis and Palestinians to find common ground.

You pay lip service to the imperative for Israel to “continually reexamine its own history and teach it honestly to its children,” but your pro-censorship position undermines both that laudable goal and the attempts by the schools who’ve adopted this textbook to teach students, Jewish and Palestinian alike, to think more deeply about their own history and to consider conflicting perspectives.

BARBARA ROGAN
New York

Sir, – This writer applauds the editorial “Truth over ‘narrative’” in which the important principle of objective historical truth is addressed.

Freedom of speech is a hallmark of Western democracy. Yet it has its limits in the form of laws of libel and defamation.

In this case, the Education Ministry’s decision to ban Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative, to present facts rather than fiction, is a breath of fresh air in today’s confusions of political correctness and relativism.

US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in his opinion on censorship wrote, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater...”

The point of his argument was that the danger to life far outweighs individual freedom. The question remains, however: Is there a fire or not? One is therefore relieved to see that Israel’s Education Ministry understands that presenting on an equal footing lies and distortions of reality beside historical facts to our impressionable children while we are facing an ongoing, lethal enemy onslaught can be reasonably defined as a fire.

This Jerusalem Post editorial is a must-read for all those who have been blinded and distracted by today’s rhetoric of false constitutionalism and misplaced judicial rights.

YITZCHAK BEN-SHMUEL
Modi’in

Sir, – What good news that the Education Ministry has decided to discontinue the use of Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative as a history textbook.

However, what bad news that the book was ever deemed appropriate for Israeli schools, since it apparently was financed in large part by foreign sources, including the European Union, whose goal is to legitimize the Palestinian narrative as historical truth.

As noted, the book is a product of a group called “Peace Research Institute in the Middle East.” From their website, it does not appear that they are registered as an independent NGO in Israel, and their “international partners” include Swedish and Italian groups as well as the EU. Their Israeli address is the Peres Center in Tel Aviv.

Just as these foreign-funded NGOs have influenced our judicial system by filing numerous petitions in the Supreme Court, and our legislative process by intensive lobbying in the Knesset, we now learn that they have also attempted to infiltrate our educational system by producing materials which distort our history and thereby delegitimize our rights to our land.

This unfortunate episode boldly underlines the need to require disclosure of the influence of foreign funding on NGOs, as provided in the bill which is now making its way through the Knesset.

DR. JAN SOKOLOVSKY
Jerusalem

Slippery slope

Sir, – You report: “UN envoy Serry to Israel: Freeze settlements or risk Security Council support for Palestinian unilateralism” (October 27). And then, if we don’t agree to the division of our capital? And if we don’t consent to the “right of return” of four million Palestinian refugees? What Serry is threatening could only lead us down a slippery slope to annihilation.

MILTON J. KRAMER
Ashdod

Scared away by witch-hunters

Sir – My grandson’s dream is to join the IDF as soon as he graduates from his high school.

Our family has been very supportive of this noble gesture. My younger brother served in the IDF and other members volunteered in its Marva program.

We have now decided not to allow our grandson to carry out his longtime wish – it’s too dangerous! No, not from a possible conflict, but from the danger of being indicted for something deemed an infraction by military witch-hunters.

The two Givati victims of the military prosecutors and leftist judges (“Givati chief protests outside trial of Cast Lead troops,” October 26) have scared us to such an extent that we will suggest that he stay away from the IDF.

KEN KLEIN
Boynton Beach, Florida

Don’t meddle

Sir, – Jonah Mandel reports that “MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), chairman of the Knesset Law Committee, submitted a bill to the Knesset secretariat on Sunday that would make all military conversions valid and irrevocable” (“Chief Rabbinate panel’s validity challenged by bill that would legislate all IDF conversions,” October 25).

The Knesset can legitimately decide who is deemed to be a Jew for the state’s own purposes, as in the Law of Return. The validity of conversions to Judaism, however, is no business of a secular body. It should not meddle in such matters but should leave them to the rabbinic authorities who are the only ones competent to make such decisions.

MARTIN D. STERN
Salford, England

Exports are booming

Sir, – An EU representative claims that although Gaza has plenty of consumer goods, export restrictions imposed on Gazans are hurting their economy (“Gaza awash in coriander... and other consumer goods,” October 26).

Actually, if the Gazans were to curb certain of their own exports, this might help their economy (“Palestinians fire five mortar shells from Gaza; none hurt,” Online Edition, October 26).

YONATAN SILVER
Jerusalem


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