Analysis from Israel

In his post earlier today, Michael Rubin voiced concern that “the desire to ban rather than debate,” once a fringe phenomenon, is increasingly “infiltrating the mainstream.” But that shouldn’t surprise anyone, because the two primary sources free societies depend on to educate and inform them – teachers and journalists – increasingly view their own job not as educating and informing, but as censoring any information that contradicts their preferred narratives. This is particularly evident when it comes to Israel, as a few recent examples demonstrate. But as the old truism goes, what starts with the Jews never ends there.

One salient example is last month’s BBC documentary, “Children of the Gaza War,” which includes Arabic-language interviews with English subtitles. But as the Jewish Chronicle noted, reporter Lyse Doucet consistently and deliberately mistranslated the word yahud, meaning “Jew,” as “Israeli.”

Doucet defended herself by saying her Gazan translators told her “Israeli” would be more accurate, and I’m sure they did. Foreign media fixers in Gaza are all approved by Hamas, and Hamas isn’t stupid; it knows accusations against “Israelis” sound much better overseas than accusations against “Jews” would. It’s the same PR savvy Hamas showed when it ordered all Palestinian casualties of last summer’s war dubbed “civilians,” even if they were combatants.

The problem is that Doucet thereby opted to conceal important information from her viewers: Gaza is run by a viciously anti-Semitic organization whose founding charter explicitly calls for massacring Jews, and which propagates its anti-Semitic doctrines to children in schools and mosques throughout Gaza. Why did this information have to be censored? Because it undermines the media’s narrative that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is Israel’s fault: If people understood how widespread Palestinian anti-Semitism is, they might wonder how exactly Israel is supposed to make peace.

Or take another BBC program that aired on America’s National Public Radio last month. Discussing the Iranian nuclear deal, host Razia Iqbal told her stunned Israeli interviewee, “But you’re not under threat by Iran. Nobody in Iran has threatened you for a very long time. You’re harking back to a time when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened Israel directly.”

In a blistering response detailing several recent Iranian threats to annihilate Israel, David Harris of the AJC questioned whether Iqbal’s astounding untruth stemmed from “ignorance or ill will, or both.” But it doesn’t actually matter whether Iqbal lied deliberately or simply refused to investigate the truth of Israel’s claims; the motive is the same: The media’s narrative is that the Iran deal is good and Israel has no justified grounds for opposing it. Thus any information that might support Israel’s arguments must be suppressed.

And the education system is no better than the media. Just last week, British Jews lodged a complaint against the country’s largest teachers union over a new “educational program” detailing “the daily struggles experienced by Palestinian children as they try to gain an education” while “living under military occupation.” The National Union of Teachers and Edukid, the charity that helped create the program, both insisted they sought to remain neutral in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But as critics pointed out, the program makes no mention of the daily struggles of Israeli children trying to gain an education while under rocket fire from Gaza.

Again, this isn’t an innocent omission; it’s deliberate censorship designed to make sure British schoolchildren imbibe the narrative that NUT – which endorses anti-Israel boycotts – wants to sell them: There isn’t a conflict with two sides here; there’s just evil Israel oppressing innocent Palestinians.

Nor is this problem confined to British educators. Just this spring, American Jews were up in arms over an “educational program” about the conflict produced by Axis of Hope, an organization affiliated with Boston University, that’s used in U.S. high schools. Inter alia, the program omits any mention of Hamas suicide bombings – which is no surprise, since Axis of Hope’s founder claims that Hamas has “chosen to support change … by more peaceful means than intifada.” Censoring information about Hamas terror is obviously essential to promoting this narrative.

Such censorship is a blatant betrayal of trust by the journalists and educators on whom free societies depend for information. But it also shows, once again, that anti-Semitism harms the surrounding society no less than it harms the Jews. Censorship about Israel has been the accepted norm among liberal elites for a long time now. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone to discover that the rot is now spreading to other topics and other segments of society as well.

Originally published in Commentary on August 5, 2015

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Israel’s constitutional crisis has been postponed, not resolved

After years of leftists crying wolf about democracy being endangered, Israel finally experienced a real constitutional crisis last week. That crisis was temporarily frozen by the decision to form a unity government, but it will come roaring back once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

It began with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to let the newly elected Knesset vote to replace him as speaker and culminated in two interventions by the High Court of Justice. I’m one of very few people on my side of the political spectrum who considers the court’s initial intervention justifiable. But its second was an unprecedented usurpation of the prerogatives of another branch of government, in flagrant violation of legislation that the court itself deems constitutional.

Edelstein’s refusal, despite its terrible optics, stemmed from a genuine constitutional concern, and was consequently backed even by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, who had opposed Edelstein many times before and would do so again later in this saga. The problem was that neither political bloc could form a government on its own, yet the proposed new speaker came from the faction of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party that adamantly opposed a unity government. Thus whether a unity government was formed or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government continued, the new speaker would be in the opposition.

But as Yinon told the court, speakers have always come from the governing coalition because an opposition speaker can effectively stymie all government work. And once elected, he would be virtually impossible to oust, since 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members must vote to do so. An opposition speaker would thus “hurt democracy,” warned Yinon. “We’re planting a bug in the system, and this, too, undermines our constitutional fabric.” That’s why Edelstein wanted to wait, as Knesset bylaws permit, until a government was formed and could choose its own speaker.

Yet despite this genuine and serious concern, the fact remains that a newly elected majority was being barred from exercising its power. Moreover, it had no parliamentary way of solving the problem because only the speaker can convene parliament and schedule a vote. Thus if you believe majorities should be allowed to govern, the court was right to intervene by ordering Edelstein to hold the vote.

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