THIS government’s commitment to repeal at least parts of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, the so-called anti-hate speech laws that were used against Andrew Bolt, raises at least four crucial issues.
First, any commitment to free speech is a commitment to allowing people to say and write things you may not like, that you may detest, that you may disagree with and find offensive. If the words spoken are words we all agree with and find congenial, then there is no need for any commitment to free speech…
The next point about the repeal of these existing hate speech provisions is that they were grossly misused in the Bolt case…
The whole Bolt saga was an embarrassment to Australia’s liberal credentials…
Next, there is the democratic issue. Tony Abbott and the Coalition went to the September election with a major pledge to repeal all or most of section 18 of the act. So it is right that, having won a big majority, they do what they promised…
The fourth issue relates to the prudential aspects of running a newly elected government. George Brandis, our new Attorney-General, made plain his commitment to free-speech principles before the election. And he is clear that he will proceed with some sort of repeal…
This repeal needs to go ahead. All four aspects of this provision, the ones aimed at offending, insulting, humiliating and intimidating, they need to go. A half-hearted repeal would hardly make Brandis or the Coalition defenders of free speech and liberty. Honour your campaign pledge, Senator Brandis.
I have been particularly disappointed to be treated as collateral damage by Jewish community leaders and political players who have been demanding these illiberal laws be kept. Several have privately assured me they found the case against me a misapplication of the law or even an injustice. But not one publicly said so. Every one of them knows what a supporter I have been of the Jewish community, not just in print, yet not one publicly protested when a Jewish QC told a Jewish judge in my case something far more foul than anything I had written – that my thinking resembled that of the Nazis who drew up the Nuremberg race laws.Â That obscene slur struck me as a legally sanctioned defamation.
I do, however, single out Danny Lamm for offering to speak on my behalf. I am grateful to him.
But I believe the Jewish community – or those members involved in public advocacy – should reflect on whether principle here has been trashed for advantage by representatives who should know better.
I have been warned that some people are taking offence at my mentioning the religion of the judge and the barristers for the complainants. One Jewish community leader has even had the hide to wonder in an email to me if I was suggesting a “Jewish conspiracy”.
It should be clear – and would be to those who know me – that the reference is made to suggest just how much an insult was meant by the Nazi reference and how explosive it was in the context of the case.
There will be some who will nevertheless want to take offence and portray me as something I’m not so they can distract attention from the real argument. To them I say this: I haveÂ riskedmy reputation toÂ defendÂ Israel fromÂ calumniesÂ before aÂ mobÂ andÂ aÂ mediaÂ onlyÂ too keenÂ to hear andÂ spread them,Â and on national television:
Please do me the courtesy of not now trashing my reputation by smearing me as some kind of enemy of Israel or Jews just to win a debating point. I’ve dared say more in Israel’s defence in public than many Jews with a public profile. Drag me down in this debate and you only undermine one of Israel’s greatest supporters in the media. And you win only trash in doing so – laws even worse that the kind activists used to try to stop me from saying what I did below (from 2:45) about anti-Israel boycotts:
I understand Jews fearing that too much free speech will unleash anti-Semitism – and I understand even better how much they have to fear from such racism, given the history of the last century.
But they are drawing the wrong lessons from the rise of Nazism. The Nazis did not flourish because they had too much free speech. They flourished because their critics had none.
Indeed, Germany had laws against Nazi hate-preaching before Hitler’s rise to power, and they made not the slightest difference (although, yes, they were weak and even more weakly applied). For instance:
The [VÃ¶lkischer Beobachter] was originally founded in 1887 as a four-page Munich weekly, the MÃ¼nchner Beobachter. It had become a daily anti-Semitic gossip sheet with a circulation of about 7,000 when it was bought by Adolph Hitler in 1923 to serve as the propaganda organ of his Nazi Party. In 1941 its circulation had passed 1.1 million.
Publication of the VÃ¶lkischer Beobachter was suspended three times in the early 1920s by the pre-Hitler German government because of anti-Semitic articles and attacks on government policies and officials.
Or even more often:
VB was chiefly a purveyor of anti-Semitism and radical propaganda. [Publisher] Amann later bragged that after passage of the Law for the Protection of the Republic, it wasÂ banned thirty-four timesÂ for harassing the “Weimar system.”Â
BERLIN (Jul. 14)
The Voelkischer Beobachter, Adolf Hitler’s personal organ, was suspended by the Munich police today for three weeks. The suspension is the result of the paper’s virulent attacks on the German government in connection with the Hoover moratorium plan and the publication of an allegation that Karl Severing, Prussian minister of the interior, was heading an organized massacre of Hitlerites by Communists.
Hitler even boasted of being censored to win support:
Once the principle of such censorship was accepted,Â it was turned against everyoneÂ – and none more than the Jews of Germany: