Friday, September 02, 2011

The Derfner affair

Larry Derfner was a columnist writing in the Jerusalem Post and he was known as the resident left-wing opinion in a predominantly center-right newspaper. He could be counted on to always take the pro-Palestinian opinion on any issue or clash. But I use the past tense since he was fired last week and a small item appeared on the front page of the paper announcing his firing. This is what happened.

In his personal blog last week Derfner wrote "I think a lot of people who realize that the occupation is wrong also realize that the Palestinians have the right to resist it – to use violence against Israelis, even to kill Israelis, especially when Israel is showing zero willingness to end the occupation, which has been the case since the Netanyahu government took over ..." This was taken to mean that Derfner was justifying the killing of Israeli civilians by Palestinians, as exemplified in the recent attack near Eilat when 8 Israelis were killed. There then came calls, orchestrated by Steven Plaut, a well-known right wing columnist, that Derfner should be fired by the Editor of the Post, Steve Linde. It was felt that Derfner had gone too far, that sympathizing with the Palestinians is one thing, calling for the formation of a Palestinian State is another, but justifying the murder of Israelis for any reason is beyond the red line that all writers must adhere to. Further, this was justified because of the policies of the Netanyahu Government, a clear political bias, not due to the bad policies or extreme positions of the Palestinians themselves. In other words blame it on the Israeli Government. Now, this might have gone down well in an extreme leftist newspaper like Ha'aretz, where such opinions are commonly expressed, but not in the Jerusalem Post. Apparently the Post received so much criticism for allowing Derfner to continue writing there and potential loss of revenue, that Linde had to fire him.

Then of course, there was the left's reaction. Most commentators pointed to "freedom of speech" as a major issue. Let everyone say what they like is the libertarian view. But, columnists in newspapers are not allowed to say anything, or should not be allowed to. And this is one exception, you cannot justify violence against Israelis, "even to kill Israelis" for any reason, no reason, including national and religious opinions can be used to justify killing people. Of course, Derfner replied that he had been misunderstood, that he had written against violence and killing in the past, that he really didn't mean to justify killing Israelis. But, as Plaut pointed out, he might not have written what he did had he been thinking about the killing of his own family, who are also Israelis. So Derfner is gone, and a lot of us who prefer a middle of the road columnist to an extreme leftist can breath easier. Let's hope the terrorists who truly believe what Derfner wrote will not be able to attack again. Note that they attack Israelis randomly (sometimes killing Israeli Arabs or foreign visitors) while the IDF is a well organized Army and only retaliates against the killers themselves. Luckily the IDF also protects the freedom of speech of leftists like Derfner.


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