I understand Israel’s frustration. But who in the West wants to sound racist these days by criticising poor Palestinians or Iranians? With the laws we have against free speech – laws foolishly backed by Jewish community leaders – who dares?
Benjamin Netanyahu accused the West of failing to condemn Iran’s involvement in an intercepted weapons shipment on Monday because it wanted to delude itself that the country’s leaders had changed course.
Standing beside an array of rockets, mortars and bullets seized from a ship that sailed from Iran, the Israeli prime minister said the international community was guilty of “hypocrisy” for failing to speak out while loudly denouncing Israel for continued settlement building.
“At most I heard a few faint condemnations of Iran from the international community,” he said
“In contrast if we build a balcony in Jerusalem we hear harsh condemnation from the international community.”
Mr Netanyahu was speaking at a naval base in the southern Israeli port of Eilat, where the arms haul was ceremoniously showcased in an event intended to draw the maximum propaganda value from the seizure of a merchant vessel on March 5 that Israel says was carrying supplies destined for Palestinians militants in Gaza.
Last December  the Australian Financial Review (AFR) printed an article by Opinion Page writer Tom Switzer, titled “With friends like Palestinians, who needs enemies?” in which Mr Switzer wrote that the Palestinian people “cannot be trusted” and describes them as “terrorists” and “vicious thugs” who show “no serious willingness to comply with agreements”…
The Head of the General Palestinian Delegation to Australia and Ambassador of Palestine to Vanuatu, Mr Ali Kazak described the article as highly inflammatory and racially stereotyped and demanded that the Financial Review print an apology. While the AFR’s editor Colleen Ryan, apologised privately to Mr Kazak, the newspaper refused to make a public apology. Mr Kazak took his complaint to the Press Council.
In their ruling the Council said that “the article was certainly vituperative but it was published as a clearly marked opinion piece” and dismissed the complaint.
Remember the next step in this punishment by process?
THESE proceedings concern a complaint of racial vilification made by Mr Ali Kazak against The Australian Financial Review. Mr Kazak alleges that an article written by Tom Switzer published on 23 December 1998, contravenes s20C of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (the Act). The article as a whole paints an extremely negative picture of the Palestinian people and an extremely positive picture of the Israeli people and their government. The language used suggests that the Palestinians, unlike the Israelis, are unworthy and undeserving of support because, at least in relation to the peace process, they are hypocritical, untrustworthy, blameworthy and viscous[sic] . . . ..In our view, based on these considerations, the ordinary reasonable reader would be incited to hatred or serious contempt of the Palestinians by reading the Switzer article. The article uses brief and one sided “factual” information to justify extremely negative generalisations about the Palestinians. It paints them as inferior to the Israelis in the sense that all the features attributed to the Palestinians are negative, while those attributed to the Israelis are consistently positive. It negates the worth and value of the Palestinian people in the peace process. The effect is to incite an ordinary reasonable reader to hate or despise Palestinians, to view them with contempt and to see them as inferior to the Israelis…Â The complaint is substantiated.
The finding was eventually overturned on appeal (with virtually no media coverage). But think of the legal costs. The stress. The time. And think of the chilling effect. Would you have the money, time and heart to fight such battles just to express an opinion – and, in my opinion, a correct one on the obstacles Israel faces to find security? Would you have the support of your boss or shareholders?
Would you want to risk having all this controversyÂ used to smear you and to try to silence youin other fora? From 2012:
It’s an attitude perfectly illustrated by an event being put on at the University of New South Wales by the United Nations Society… They have four speakers: three white, all men. One of them is Tom Switzer.
Readers will know I am not a fan of Switzer… Now, you might think that someone who has very publicly been found guilty of inciting ordinary reasonable readers to hate or despise Jews, gay people, or Indigenous Australians – to view them with contempt and to see them as inferior – might not be welcome at such an event. Given that such organisations like to play it safe, one would not expect them to court the controversy and outrage that would be expected if their speaker were a renowned anti-Semite.
But saying such things about Palestinians is just considered an unpleasant side issue.
The UNSW UN Society explained that
as it stands, given that the topic of the Q & A is not in relation to the apparent comments made by Mr. Switzer, and whilst we understand the wariness that has been expressed as regards such strong comments being made, it is not generally the policy of the UNSW UN Society to remove speakers should they have strong opinions on any topic.You see, racial vilification of Jews is anti-Semitism. But racial vilification of Palestinians is merely ‘strong comments’ or ‘strong opinions’ on another topic.
No doubt other organisations shunned Switzer rather than court controversy, even though Switzer is actually a highly intelligent, informed and principled man. The lepers bell has been rung, and we have many people too weak to defend free speech and defy those using the scream of “racist” not to defend the weak but to shut down debate.
The Jewish community leaders now fighting to keep the kind of laws used against Switzer – and me – do not know what damage they do not just to free speech, long the truest defence of Jews, but to the best defenders of their community.
Peter Wertheim, please, please, think again.
You wonder why so few journalists speak in Israel’s defence? Now ask yourself why you work so hard to defend the laws used to silence those few who do.