Think Again: More free speech follies

Many on the Left employ a double standard concerning free speech. They want their own advocates immunized from criticism yet have an elaborate set of rules to disallow the speech of others as incitement, Islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, or McCarthyism.

Fast and furious was the reaction to the recent accusation by Im Tirtzu, a Zionist student group, that 92 percent of the Goldstone Report’s citations came from 16 NGOs funded by the New Israel Fund. David Newman described Im Tirzu’s efforts, in these pages, as “the latest campaign to trample freedom of speech and political activity within our dying democracy,” pure McCarthyism (“The politics of delegitimization,” February 10).
That statement was typical Left-academic fare, both in its casual dismissal of Israel’s “dying” democracy and in its misunderstanding of free speech.
In his classical defense of free speech, John Stuart Mill imagined a free marketplace of ideas, in which truth will usually prevail. But Newman could not be bothered to respond to a single item in Im Tirzu’s meticulously documented report on NIF funding. Instead of refutation, he offered only name-calling.
Free speech presupposes criticism, without which there can be no marketplace of competing ideas. It does not mean that no one who has won in the battle of the marketplace of ideas will ever act upon their perception. Free speech is precious precisely because ideas have consequences. The NIF would prefer its donors to think that it is involved in social welfare projects or pushing religious pluralism. It tells donors that it does not fund groups that call for disinvestment or boycotts of Israel, or who negate the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, or which advocate the Palestinian right of return, or which engage in propaganda. Each of these claims is false. Im Tirzu shone a light on the activities of the NIF that the organization would rather hide. But increasing public knowledge is precisely what the marketplace of ideas is supposed to do.
Many on the Left employ a double standard concerning free speech. They want their own advocates or professors immunized from criticism – thus Prof. Newman’s outrage at groups, such as Campus Watch, which publicize what professors say in and outside the classroom. On the other hand, they develop an elaborate set of rules to disallow the speech of others as incitement, Islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, or McCarthyism.
Neve Gordon is an egregious example. He published a widely disseminated op-ed in The Los Angeles Times calling for a boycott of Israel, but whines when others point out what kind of people head Ben-Gurion University’s Political Science Department and files libel suits to silence critics. Similarly, NIF’s CEO Larry Garber characterized those who take note of NIF’s funding of organizations that call for an end to Israel as a Jewish state as “contemplat[ing] ethnic cleansing.”
FINALLY, THE Goldstone Report is a crucial public issue demanding the most robust public debate. The Goldstone findings place Israel in an intolerable bind, unable to defend itself. Goldstone could provide no answer in the Brandeis debate to Ambassador Dore Gold’s question: What should Israel do in response to rocket attacks? If every Israeli response to terrorists using civilian populations as a shield is automatically labeled a “war crime” or “disproportionate,” Israel is left with the unpalatable choice between swallowing terror attacks or risking international condemnation and possible sanctions. All those concerned with Israel’s security have a right to know who laid the groundwork for Goldstone.
Shmuel Rosner, also writing in these pages, did not accuse Im Tirzu of stifling free speech. He did, however, describe Im Tirzu’s campaign as “ugly, brutal and quite disgusting” (“I would have done the same,” February 9). Presumably, he was referring to the billboards and newspaper ads depicting Chazan with a horn affixed to her head (a visual pun on the identity of the Hebrew word for fund and for horn). Those ads undoubtedly succeeded in drawing much more media attention to Im Tirtzu’s thoroughly researched 135-page report.
I’m not an aesthetician, but it strikes me that the horned Chazan is not nearly as ugly as an internationally circulated letter signed by Chazan on the second day of Operation Cast Lead accusing Israel of a “massacre” of Palestinian civilians, while not even mentioning Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Nor as ugly as the statement by seven NIF-funded NGOs to the Goldstone Commission claiming that Israel had no military purpose in Operation Cast Lead, and sought only to wreak havoc and destruction on Gaza. Nor as ugly as the letter written by another NIF-sponsored NGO to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown demanding the issuance of arrest warrants against Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni for their oversight of Operation Cast Lead.
Rosner also made the truly startling claim: “The NIF has nothing to do with the Goldstone Report.” Hey, if you have a lot of friends some will turn out to be bad apples.
But the 16 NGOs discussed in Im Tirzu’s report were not small fry. Collectively, they received millions of dollars in annual funding from NIF. Nor were their efforts at delegitimizing Israel incidental to their main task. B’Tselem describes its primary task as “changing Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories.” Nor is it just a coincidence that the same groups funded by NIF also received many millions more from those with an established animus to Israel – the Ford Foundation (an NIF partner), the EU and European governments, George Soros’s Open Society Initiative, and mainline Protestant church groups. Far from being unknown to the NIF, the activities of these NGOs were frequently highlighted in “updates” on NIF’s Web site.
FINALLY, THE delegitimization of Israel by the 16 NGOs was long-standing. Adalah, which poses as a defender of civil rights of Israeli Arabs, was actively involved in the preparation of the 2001 Durban Conference, which turned into an anti-Israel hate-fest. Adalah helped draft the final resolutions, including one recognizing the right of Palestinian resistance (i.e., terrorism) against Israeli apartheid and another calling for the right of return.
The State Department’s 2003 Report on Human Rights Practices, which relied heavily on B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, both funded by NIF, made no individual mention of any of the 213 Israelis killed and 900 injured in terrorist attacks that year, but detailed Palestinian grievances done to three beds destroyed in a Nablus hospital.
Perhaps nothing better captures NIF’s long-standing agenda than a March 23, 2001, letter to The Jerusalem Post by one Evalyn Segal, who describes how she was a “devout Zionist,” until she came to Israel for the first time on a 1989 NIF study tour and had her eyes opened to the “racist contempt of the Israel government ... toward Palestinians [and] how the founders of Zionism schemed from the start to take over, by any means necessary, the whole of Palestine and to cleanse it of Palestinians.”
Do I think that Naomi Chazan wants to see Israel destroyed? No. I think she believes that only a quick withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines can save Israel. And she knows that after the failure of Oslo and the disaster of the Gaza withdrawal, there is no chance that the majority of Israelis will agree with her proscriptions. Therefore she and NIF seek to maximize international pressure on Israel, even at the cost of delegitimizing Israel.
That is not something to which those of us in the majority should remain oblivious.
The writer is the director of Jewish Media Resources. He has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.