Saturday, April 14, 2007

Limits of expression

Azmi Bishara is an Arab Member of the Knesset, a representative of the Balad or Arab Communist Party. Being a Christian has not made Bishara less, but rather more extreme in his views. As an MK he regularly expresses his opposition to Israel as a Jewish State. Not only that, he has often broken the law, and got away with it because he is an MK. For example he has spoken at meetings in Lebanon and Syria supporting the activities of terrorist groups such as Hizbollah, which is illegal for an Israeli, and generally acting as a traitor to his country. Yet, he has gotten away with it for years. There have been several attempts to modify the law to make it possible to prosecute him for his activities (to remove his parliamentary protection) but so far none ahve passed. Freedom of speech in Israel goes beyond what would be allowed for any MP in the UK or Representative in Congress in the USA. Could you imagine any one of them going to Iraq and supporting the insurgents or to Afghanistan and supporting the Taliban?
There is a rumor now going around that Bishara is about to defect to an Arab country. He is currently visiting relatives in Jordan and the story is that he intends not to return but to take up residence in a Gulf State where he will become a commentator on Arab affairs for one of the Arab networks. Many Jewish Israelis will say 'good riddance' and even many Arabs are shocked that he will leave his own people in the lurch. On the other hand he will no doubt argue that by taking this position he will expand his audience and enable himself to make even more effective attacks on Israel.
Ironically, any Arab state that he goes to live in will not have anywhere near as much freedom of expression as he had in Israel. Here he can say practically anything he likes, and was well known for whipping up crowds of Israeli Arabs with anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-terrorist rhetoric. He will no doubt be able to do the same in Qatar or whereever he chooses to reside. But, he will certainly not be able to criticize the Royal family there or in any Gulf State, and he dare not criticize the Arabs in the same way that he dared criticize the Jews in our Jewish State.
Many Arabs think we Jews are crazy for allowing this, in fact they can't understand us. They think we are weak for allowing such criticism, and for allowing people like Bishara to get away with radicalizing the new generation of Israeli Arabs. But, on the other hand there is no doubt that they see the virtue of Israeli freedom of expression in our democracy. For example, the kidnapping of Allen Johnston, the BBC commentator in Gaza, who was well known for his pro-Palestinian bias (both his father and the BCC representative made the point that he supports the Palestinians, so why did they kidnap him?) and was the last free journalist able to report from Gaza. Now there are no more, they all report from Israel, where they can say what they like about Gaza and Israel, but they must be careful if they ever intend going back there. The truth is that Gaza is in chaos and is run by violent gangs. All the international welfare agencies, that are usually critical of Israel, have asked the Israeli Govt. to grant their reps in Gaza access to Israel in case they need to escape.
With Bishara's move to the international Arab media, the irony is that he has been allowed freedom of expression in the one country in the Middle East that he can criticize.


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