“The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental one, necessary to protect the exercise of all other human rights in democratic societies because it is essential for holding governments accountable to the public”
— Human Rights Watch, “When Speech Offends,” February-March 2006
Contrary to Fox News and Benjamin Netanyahu, Democracy is neither alive nor well in the United States or Israel; indeed it is dying a slow, agonizing death as each nation writhes in pain in adjoining beds unaware that the intravenous feeding tubes controlled by their respective Knessets drip poison into their life sustaining veins. Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, in the voice of Carlo Strenger, carries the warning:
The flood of anti-democratic laws that were proposed, and partially implemented, by the current Knesset, elected in February 2009, constitute one of the darkest chapters in Israeli history. The opening salvo was provided by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party with its Nakba law, that forbids the public commemoration of the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war.
Since then, a growing number of attempts were made to curtail freedom of expression and to make life for human rights groups more difficult. The latest instance is the boycott law that (is) was passed (this) last Monday by the Knesset, even though its legal advisor believes it to be a problematic infringement on freedom of speech (“Israel’s McCarthy coalition is on a dangerous power trip,” Haaretz, July 11, 2011).
Curiously, America does not have a newspaper as brave and open to civil discourse as Haaretz; we rely on the New York Times, infamous for promoting the Iraq war on its front page thus benefiting the war industry and its corporations that control the Congress. Yet our Congress, like its twin in Israel, has adopted similar anti-democratic resolutions that curtail freedom of speech and action not only of American citizens but of the representatives of the United Nations.
House Resolution 268, “Reaffirming the United States commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,” introduced May 13, 2011, passed overwhelmingly 406-6, specifically threatens the member states of the UN that it condemns any “unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state” as well as the “unbalanced United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” To accomplish this end, the 268 resolution announces that “?the Administration will veto any resolution on Palestinian statehood that comes before the United Nations Security Council?,” opposes recognition of a Palestinian state by other nations, and in other international forums?,” and, in a Mafia-like manner, threatens the Palestinians with “serious implications” for assistance programs should they not obey.
Resolution 268 condemns in advance any deliberation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by any nation, in any forum, that does not await an “agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.” Curiously enough, this same resolution states that the United States “?will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas?,” a statement that prevents at the outset negotiations with the Palestinians since Hamas represents over 1.5 million Palestinians, thus belying the very purpose of the resolution, to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. How deceptively clever.
It also demands that Hamas and the people they represent accept unconditionally the position of the US and Israel that it renounce violence, recognize Israel and agree to follow the previous obligations of the PLO. There is no recognition of Israel’s violence against Hamas or Gaza, nor recognition under International Law that the Palestinians have rights to resist the occupation of a foreign nation. It does not impose on Israel a comparable need to recognize the right of the Palestinians to have a state of their own since that would require that Israel recognize where Palestine exists, what borders it possesses, what land Israel must return to its owners. And, finally, no mention is made of the conditions imposed by Israel that made implementation of the Oslo Accords possible nor its rejection of the stipulations made by the Quartet, thus placing full blame for the failed “peace negotiations” on the Palestinians.
Resolution 268 dictates to the people of the world that their voices will not be heard, their desires not considered, and their empathy for a besieged people made irrelevant; only the will of the Israeli administration and the Obama administration will stand. Calculatedly, the administration passed the resolution as the “Quartet for Middle East peace”?the European Union, Russia, the UN and the US?met in Washington. The acid that destroys democracy drips on.
But Resolution 268 is only the most recent example of the erosion of our rights in the United States; it follows one of the most glaringly illegal and potentially destructive interventions in international affairs taken by a purportedly democratic state and fully supported by our own Knesset. Israel’s prevention of freedom of speech and action by the international group of peace activists desiring to express their solidarity with the imprisoned Palestinians in the second flotilla to Gaza by coercing the economically crippled Greek government to refuse representatives from many countries to leave the Greek ports, although they had complied with every legal demand, graphically demonstrates that a government like Israel can and will enforce its will on any nation denying thereby the rights of free people everywhere.
The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental one, necessary to protect the exercise of all other human rights in democratic societies because it is essential for holding governments accountable to the public. Freedom of expression is particularly necessary with respect to provocative or offensive speech, because once governmental censorship is permitted in such cases, the temptation is enormous for government officials to find speech that is critical of them to be unduly provocative or offensive as well.
The freedom to express even controversial points of view is also important for societies to address key political, social, and cultural issues, since taboos often mask matters of considerable public concern that are best addressed through honest and unfettered debate among those holding diverse points of view (Human Rights Watch).
The full implications of Israel’s takeover of the Greek government (with its conscious awareness that any action it took would be supported by our Congress) and hence its disregard for the will of the Greek citizen has been little regarded by our free press, yet nothing is perhaps so ominous as this blatant, hostile action by one foreign nation on another. What mindset enables itself to impose its will on citizens of other nations? What provocation could possibly justify intervention of such magnitude? If Israel had evidence that the flotilla and its organizers were physical threats against the state of Israel, could they not bring that evidence before the UN and International Courts to prevent the boats from sailing to Gaza? Why then the need to deny freedom of speech to citizens of many nations and commandeer another nation’s government? Doesn’t a democracy pride itself on rule of law? How then abandon law in favor of might? “The right to freedom of expression is?necessary to protect the exercise of all other human rights in democratic societies because it is essential for holding governments accountable to the public.”
No nation on this planet, no member state of the United Nations, no individual citizen nor groups of citizens can change what Israel and the United States did to Greece and to freedom of speech. They move with impunity as they impose their wills on nations that disagree with their policies. Neither is ruled by their people; they are owned by an elite few who have surreptitiously over time taken control of our freedoms. Neither government is held accountable to the public. Indeed, it is that very accountability that they do not want and cannot allow to happen which is why both governments fear the “Arab spring.” Given the absolute control of our Congress by Israel, as the vote on Resolution 268 exemplifies, America has to raise the fear of terrorism in its citizenry to ensure compliance with the anti-democratic behavior and policies it pursues. Israel does the same. Carlo Strenger puts it this way:
What stands behind this frenzy of attempts to shut down criticism? The answer, I believe, is fear, stupidity, confusion – and now also a power-trip.
The result of Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s systematic fanning of Israelis’ existential fears is tangible: polls show that Israelis are deeply pessimistic about peace; they largely do not trust Palestinians, and in the younger generation belief in democratic values is being eroded.
But this pessimism and siege-mentality is not only to be found in ordinary Israeli voters, but also in the political class?. They have profound misconceptions about the Free World’s attitude towards Israel, and very little real understanding of the paradigm shift towards human rights as the core language of international discourse. They buy into Netanyahu’s adage that Israel’s existence is being delegitimized, rather than realizing that Israel’s settlement policy is unacceptable politically and morally to the whole world.
America’s umbilical cord that sustains Israel’s policies of occupation, settlements and oppression damns it before the world as people throughout the world begin to find other ways to break the controls that America’s power provides for Israel. The flotilla activists effectively utilized moral sensibility in clearly identifying the illegality and inhumanity of Israel’s siege of Gaza. And while Israel successfully torpedoed the flotilla in Greek ports through a massive political propaganda campaign of manufactured lies, coercion and threats of law suits against shipping companies and insurance carriers, it also successfully torpedoed truth turning even more of the people of the world against a state that thrives on distortion, deception and devastation.
What both Israelis and Americans must realize, as these anti-democratic actions by both nations attest, is that democracy in both nations has been subverted in favor of those who command our representatives to actions that betray the essence of democracy, the will of the people, and turned it over to those who undermine the moral foundations on which it was built: equality for all, justice for all, dignity and respect for all with government serving the people not a corporate board. When the representatives of the state determine what people must accept, what they can and cannot do or say, when the power of two nations subverts the will and actions of all other nations, democracy is dead.
William A. Cook is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His latest book, The Plight of the Palestinians, was published by Macmillan this past August. He can be reached at www.drwilliamacook.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published on Al Jazeera.