It is reassuring to know that in Israel everyone can have their voice heard. Thus, an Israeli anti-war demonstration held last Thursday was countered by a rally supporting the military operation in Gaza by Israeli forces. But there should be a limit on free speech, especially when some of those voices are calling for violence against others.
In developed societies, incitement to violence is a punishable offense. Israel’s standards should be no different.
During Thursday’s rally, right-wing Israeli member of Knesset Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) is seen encouraging the chanting crowd with phrases like, “leftist traitors,” and “leftists out.” He then asks:
Why is it only 200 flights and 15 killed? We want 15 flights and 2,000 killed!
Watch: Right-wing demonstrators call for expulsion of leftists
When I posted this video on my personal facebook account earlier today, it had only 300 views, and I noted that, in my opinion, MK Ben-Ari should be arrested. (I still believe that to be the case, and I hope the authorities are reading this.) I got a number of responses from Israeli Jews noting, with some embarrassment, that the clip is disgusting and that Ben-Ari does not represent Jews or Israel or them:
No no no – This is NOT representative of me or Torah or Israel … We’re taught that when we’re angry, part of our neshama [soul or spirit] is chased away.
I advise this friend (a religious Jewish female, raised in the U.S. but now living in Israel) to write about the issues from her perspective, and to not allow the likes of Ben-Ari to hijack the voice of religious Jews. Meanwhile, another friend – a secular Israeli living in the North, noted:
[A]s a Jew, Israeli and Zionist, I am ashamed in each and every single person in this movie. The damage they cause us as a nation is far beyond any missile coming from the Gaza Strip.
The sentiments are reassuring. And indeed, politically, Ben Ari – a self-declared supporter of the slain Rabbi Meir Kahane and a former member of the outlawed group Kahane Chai – has very few followers in Israel, though enough to get him and his party elected. Some of them are seen in the video with him, chanting “Gaza is a graveyard.”
But for me, perhaps more alarming than Ben-Ari and his supporters are the following:
First, that sentiment – even if not as violent in tone – is creeping into Israeli society and institutions, and it is doing so unchecked. Crackdowns on leftists are often spearheaded by the government itself. Few, except for on the Left, have spoken out against this witchhunt. And comments like “we have to get rid of all of the Arabs” can now be overheard in cafes in “liberal” Tel Aviv.
Second, more and more so, these views – and incitement to violence – are being tolerated in Israeli society, rather than purged with the greatest of efforts.
It is not enough to hide in embarrassment. One must do something to counter these calls for violence, spoken through and shielded by an exploitation of democracy and freedom of speech. MK Ben-Ari does not want dialogue. He wants war, domestically and beyond Israel’s border, and is calling for as much using taxpayer money.
Democracy is complicated. Yes, it includes free speech. But democracy also has responsibilities, which include the safeguarding of rights, including life, for everyone. Israelis and their supporters should raise their voices not just to drain out Ben-Ari and his followers, but to defend the very values their claim to cherish.