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Silencing dissent in Israel - continued

Silencing dissent doesn’t only mean directly quashing free speech. Silencing, or a chilling effect, also take place when certain forces in society dominate and monopolize the narrative, deciding what is acceptable, what is fringe and what is mainstream.

Judaism for me is a sensibility of collective self-questioning and uncomfortable truth-telling: the dafka-like quality of awkwardness and dissent for which we were once known. It is not enough to stand at a tangent to other peoples’ conventions; we should also be the most unforgiving critics of our own. I feel a debt of responsibility to this past. It is why I am Jewish.
Tony Judt, “Toni”, NYRB April 19, 2010.

This sentiment by the late historian Tony Judt articulates much of what informs my identity and my academic and journalistic pursuits. The mere fact that I quote him will already set off alarm bells, deterring those who wrote him off as anti-Israel and beyond the pale, due to his 2003 New York Review of Books article suggesting the two-state solution was dead; an argument much more ubiquitous today – and openly voiced by right-wing members of Israel’s government.

But he, Hannah Arendt, Baruch Spinoza and Yeshayahu Leibovitz are all examples of Jews in history who were ostracized for their opinions – precisely because they dared to open up sensitive topics and subsequently challenged a paradigm within the community. People accused them of inaccuracies, dismissed them, calling them bad Jews and Israel haters. I am by no means comparing myself to them but they are all significant inspirations who embody the issue of demarcating the limits of dissent in Jewish history, and whose work I go back to over and over again.

Israelis are really sensitive about having their dirty laundry aired in public. And that is exactly why it should be done. It is why I wrote what I wrote in the New York Times; the issues I raised need to be voiced and grappled with in a broader forum, and precisely because it is not something you normally see in that paper.

Pointing out worrying trends doesn’t mean Israel is China or North Korea. But that is not something to boast about. It is (still) a place where individual Jews can speak freely without being silenced – for the most part. There was the incident of high school teacher Adam Verete, who was nearly fired for holding an open classroom debate about the morality of the IDF, after receiving death threats. If that isn’t silencing, I don’t know what is.

Many of the few Jewish citizens who are regular fixtures at West Bank protests have been summoned by the Shin Bet and arrested countless times without charges in an effort to deter them from returning. Palestinian citizens of Israel aren’t afforded the same level of free speech because their loyalty is always in question. They were arrested in stark numbers over the summer for protesting the war in Gaza. This is a blatant form of silencing, something that is standard policy in the West Bank, where Palestinians aren’t permitted to congregate at all. And like non-violent protests in the West Bank, it wasn’t reported on much in mainstream media – which is also a form of silencing.

Another example, a very literal example missing from my piece, was the silencing of B’Tselem by the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which refused to run a radio ad during the war listing the names of the children killed in Gaza on grounds it was too “political.” But this wasn’t surprising since the Israeli establishment can’t stand B’Tselem anyway — it airs Israel’s dirty laundry out every single day.

Silencing dissent doesn’t only mean the direct quashing of free speech. Silencing is also when certain forces in society dominate and monopolize the narrative, deciding what is in and what is out; what is fringe and what is acceptable. Precisely the Us vs. Them mentality I discuss in the New York Times piece.

It is about an atmosphere of intimidation and intolerance: the fact that “death to Arabs” has become an increasingly common and acceptable slogan at protests and that numerous Facebook groups have been launched to police criticism against the latest Gaza war is part of this silencing process. It is not a coincidence that today, 51 percent of Jewish Israelis say they would boycott businesses that employ people who criticize the army and 24 percent of Jewish Israelis say they already boycott Arab businesses. During the war, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman specifically called for Jews to boycott those Arab businesses that dared speak out against “Operation Protective Edge.” Silencing.

Both Israeli society and the government it elects are responsible – for either actively creating this atmosphere or passively allowing it to take hold. Over a decade ago, during the Second Intifada, when Israelis began going to protest alongside Palestinians in the West Bank against the separation barrier, they were called “traitors” on the news and in other forums. Soon enough the word leftist began to be derogatory in Israel. It is no coincidence that two years ago, a Kadima MK said that “all human rights activists should be imprisoned and transported to camps we are building,” referring to those desert prisons holding African refugees.

There is no shortage of examples of how the state is increasingly repressing dissent and signaling to others that such behavior is acceptable. There was the bill trying to limit funding of NGOs that document human rights violations. Then there is the Nakba Law, which is the state saying loud and clear that there is no place in Israeli society for its Palestinians citizens to mark or teach their historical narrative. Coalition Chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud) recently exhibited his intolerance for freedom of speech and press when he said he wants Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy put on trial for treason, following articles he wrote during the course of Operation Protective Edge.

Israelis are increasingly deciding what is acceptable rhetoric and what is not. This is what happens in a hegemony. For example, in a letter to the editor addressing my piece, one Israeli journalist wrote that it is “A sad phenomenon in Israel these days is that radical-left extremists, few in number, present themselves as ‘the peace camp,’ while the larger part of Israel’s peace camp wants nothing to do with their radical views. Somehow these views are echoed outside of Israel far beyond their importance in Israeli society.”

How sad it is that the rhetoric of human rights, about ending the occupation, guaranteeing equal rights and questioning what solution would be best for the conflict – all concepts embraced by the international community –  is considered radical or fringe in Israel – an attack on it. It is why I say in my piece that considering these are the parameters we are working with, I’m certainly with “them.” That doesn’t mean giving up – quite the opposite.

This paradigm is similar to the limits on dissent in the American Jewish community when it comes to support for Israel. After 1967, being pro-Israel somehow became synonymous with being pro-settlement and pro-occupation – or to be even more precise, those who questioned or disagreed were treated with suspicion and disdain. Only in the last decade, thanks to brave groups and individuals – has this hegemony begun to erode. You all may remember Peter Beinart’s NY Times oped encouraging settlement boycott, which is still considered by many to be beyond the pale. If Israelis hadn’t formed Peace Now and begun outing settlement expansion and settler impunity to a global audience, do you think Beinart would have become aware of their detrimental effects and come out strongly against them?

All the reactionary and vitriolic responses to trends like the ones mentioned above go to prove that there is truth to them, that they are uncomfortable and difficult to deal with; otherwise they would be ignored. All those who decided that what I write is fringe, unacceptable, hysterical, un-journalistic or disingenuous, are propagating the hegemony.

Those who insist on marginalizing dissent are themselves perpetuating a reality in which Israel is the single most divisive issue in contemporary Jewish politics, instead of a normalizing and uniting factor. Instead of encouraging Israel to become a “normal” country whose existence is not constantly in question, such voices continue to elevate Israel to a symbol, a value in and of itself.  They are the policemen making sure no one violates the values they have determined.

Related:
How freedom of speech was crushed during Protective Edge
Israel’s other war: Silencing Palestinian citizens
‘Unprecedented’ violence stalks anti-war demos across Israel
Boycott law aftermath: The sound of silence

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    1. bir

      I guess you haven’t been shamed enough yet, so you’re doubling down.

      As has been pointed out to you by various critics of your absurd piece in the NY Times (and on this site), Israelis and Israeli Arabs are entirely free to express themselves as they wish in as many forums as they like. Dissent is permitted in Israel and the atmosphere is such that people like Gideon Levy will publish pieces accusing pilots of being Nazi-like murderers and do so with complete impunity.

      You wish to complain that it isn’t perfect because B’Tzelem wasn’t permitted to run an ad? Okay. That’s one thing. But you’ve blown things entirely out of proportion claiming this is a societal problem of disallowing “dissent.”

      Ha’aretz and its pilot-murderer and apartheid articles isn’t enough for you? Then why don’t you look at the existence of 972mag? How many Israeli writers do you have writing on this Israeli-based, foreign funded publication? 20? 30? You now get pieces translated from Hebrew?

      Have you had a visit from the Shin Bet? No? How about the police? An angry politician? An angry neighbor? No?

      Have your fellow writers? Does Orly Noy get stopped by people and asked how she can publish lies and anti-Israel propaganda in the guise of news reports? No?

      But B’Tzelem got an ad with children’s names disallowed and that’s dissent? Aside from the fact that every day another “martyr” appears who was named as a child by the Palestinians in this recent operation, the fact is that you yourself have just pointed out in this article that B’Tzelem on a daily basis “airs Israel’s dirty laundry.”

      Does that sound like someone is shutting them down?

      No. B’Tzelem does their anti-Israel advocacy work without fear or concern that its message will be shut down. In fact, it is B’Tzelem that recently told the IDF that it wasn’t going to provide it with information regarding the Gaza war. So the IDF approached B’Tzelem to get information about the Gaza operation in order to ensure that its investigation included B’Tzelem’s research and viewpoints. B’Tzelem refused. Are you going to write an article about how extreme left NGOs in Israel seek to stifle government bodies that represent all Israelis?

      I could go on, but the fact is that your article is sheer nonsense. It shames you, it shames 972mag and it shames the NY Times. Least of all the NY Times because at least they live in the USA.

      Reply to Comment
      • MG

        Exactly Bir! The Israeli left (which I identity with somewhat) LOVE to fantasize that they live under some sort of oppressive regime sponsored censorship and intimidation. Oh the humanity! The Israeli press and freedom of expression rights are some of the freest and most progressive in the world. Yes, boo hoo b’tselm didn’t get an ad, but that is the only one of a few examples you can muster. Aside from this “travesty”, anyone can say anything, including the Arabs. Israel enjoys one of teh most robust environments for dissent on earth. And frankly, your carrying on is an insult to those who really do suffer under authoritarian censorship, like the Palestinians under the PA government organs of intimidation, suppression and censorship. I hate this cliche, but you really have first world problems.

        Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        “As has been pointed out to you by various critics of your absurd piece in the NY Times (and on this site), Israelis and Israeli Arabs are entirely free to express themselves as they wish in as many forums as they like.”

        If they are okay with being arrested and held in custody for it.

        “Dissent is permitted in Israel and the atmosphere is such that people like Gideon Levy will publish pieces accusing pilots of being Nazi-like murderers and do so with complete impunity.”

        And then their statements are completely blown out of proportion, they receive death-threats, etc.

        “Have you had a visit from the Shin Bet? No? How about the police? An angry politician? An angry neighbor? No?”

        Has Mairav been arrested and/or questioned by the Shin Bet without charge? Good question. I’d guess zes, several times probably, but let’s let her answer that question.

        “Have your fellow writers? Does Orly Noy get stopped by people and asked how she can publish lies and anti-Israel propaganda in the guise of news reports? No?”

        Again, I’d wager a bet that the answer is “yes, on several occasions.”

        But let’s hear from them.

        If the answer is no, the reason is probably because they are to well known. If you look for peaceful protesters that HAVE been detained by the Shin Bet you will find hundreds, if we’re talking Palestinians more like tens of thousands.

        “Are you going to write an article about how extreme left NGOs in Israel seek to stifle government bodies that represent all Israelis?”

        There was an article about that on this very site. As always, you’re distorting reality as much as possible.

        http://972mag.com/leading-israeli-human-rights-group-to-stop-cooperating-with-idf/96440/

        To quote B’Tselem:
        “Common sense has it that a body cannot investigate itself,” said B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad. “Yet, again, the military will be investigating its own conduct in Operation Protective Edge; again, these investigations will not be supervised by anyone outside the military.”

        In every other democracy gross military misconduct (even when only alleged) is investigated in Parliament or by independent commitees. Not in Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • bir

          In other words, you have zero proof to contest what I’m saying but you’ve decided to contest it anyway. Just because.

          Come back when you have evidence.

          Reply to Comment
          • annie

            “In other words, you have zero proof to contest what I’m saying but you’ve decided to contest it anyway. Just because.”

            yossi gurvitz was questioned by shin bet and wrote about it, just one 972 writer. btw, not providing a link or “proof” is unnecessary , as you yourself decide to respond “just because”when contesting others.

            Reply to Comment
          • bir

            Yossi Gurvitz once called Yonatan Gefen a “two-bit pundit” and therefore deserves not only interrogation but jail time.

            In any case, please provide a link to the story so that I may see it and see how his dissent was stifled.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            So by your logic, did Haifa University adjunct professor Steven Plaut deserve even more jail time, for not only calling another professor a “Judenrat wannabee” (i.e. libel), but for conspiring to get other professors fired for their political views? Because if so, justice was not done: he got off with a 10,000 shekel fine, and the court’s tacit support for his right to “criticize” the complainant.

            Reply to Comment
          • bir

            Ray, I’ll be gentle and kind. That was a joke. Yonatan Gefen happens to be someone who I’ve enjoyed reading over the years and whose intelligence is, to be generous, at least the equal of Gurvitz’s. Oh hell, I’ll say it. He puts Gurvitz in his back pocket and still has room to spare.

            So relax. I only advocate jailing ignorant commenters on website forums.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Mikesaior

      Mairav: Keep speaking truth to the ignorant and obtuse. I know it is discouraging to hear from hasbaristas like Bore who never accept any criticism of the “Jewish” state merely becuase it calls itself the “Jewish” state. Funny how the ignorant never understand the concept of criticism to improve something: a play, a book, a country…and always conflate it with an attack upon that which they hold to be something it never is. Keep up the good work.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Khaled Cheema

      Great piece of Writing, Mairav. Wonderful and illuminating.

      Reply to Comment
    4. DerAsylant

      to make a point, Soviet dissidents left soviet state and gave up on their soviet citizenship to live in the west. israeli dissidents should leave zionist state, have their citizenship revoked and live in gaza. right wing israeli society does not deserve such enlightened humanitarian geniuses, but an arab one is in desperate need.

      Reply to Comment
      • Khaled Cheema

        And Zionists who love Israel’s racist policies should Move back to the Zionist State…instead of living outside Israel in western liberal societies demanding equal rights before the law while hypocritically supporting right wing Israeli state racism?

        Reply to Comment
        • DerAsylant

          zionist outside of israel do not try to change the western liberal societies they live in because they do not reject them. israeli dissidents reject zionist society and want to change it, so they should move out.so no hypocrocy here, just sane conformism.

          Reply to Comment
          • Felix Reichert

            Ahhh… yes… great idea.
            I mean the world would certainly be a better place if all those who criticized their governments in history would have just moved to other countries.

            Those pesky opponents of slavery and racial discrimination in the US should have just moved to Canada instead of protesting.

            Same goes for the members of the ANC in South Africa, Gandhi and his followers, the people of Paris and France in 1789, etc.

            What were they even thinking questioning societal norms?

            Traitors I say. Traitors!

            Reply to Comment
          • DerAsylant

            your cheap sophism and angry red herrings amuse me much.thanks for that.in addition to criticizing slavery and racial segregation, abolitionists and civil righters justified their position by personal engagement, like showing that black are not inferior beeings but people who are able to perform in society equally to whites when giving same rights and opportunities. so all i´m asking from left wing dissidents to set a personal example and show that jews and arabs can coexist , even and especially in arab dominated territory. by doing so they will calm the rather secptic segemnst of israeli society.

            Reply to Comment
      • Peter Lake

        Leave Israel to live in Gaza???!
        (What colour is the sky in your world?)
        Gaza is a concentration camp under Israeli occupation. (defined as control of ingress, egress, air and sea space, access to food, water, power) and its citizens regularly killed by IDF snipers and ships.
        I know many Jewish Israelis who have left Israel for the same reason that many of my South African friends left SA before the end of apartheid: They refuse to be conplicit with the racist oppression of another group and found their and their families’ lives made intolerable in the Fascist State.
        Most have kept their citizenship.
        That you would consider revoking it for their beliefs confirms the intent of this article… and Blunenthal’s book.

        Reply to Comment
        • DerAsylant

          by your defenition Syria is also a conecantration camp which is ok in the eyes of the world. also could you tell me if your south african anti apartheid friends left SA for white (western european) countries or moved to bantustans and helped native black population there to achive they civil rights.

          Reply to Comment
        • Scott

          I know many Jewish Israelis who have left Israel for the same reason that many of my South African friends left SA before the end of apartheid: They refuse to be conplicit with the racist oppression of another group and found their and their families’ lives made intolerable in the Fascist State.
          Most have kept their citizenship… most S Africans I know who left duing apartheid did not keep their citizenship. That is a powerful statement. It would be a powerful statement ifthe bloggersof 972 also gave up their citizenship, because it would imply that they are willing to make sacrifices for a cause they believe in. Your Jewish Israelis that did not give up their citizenship came to the US for economic reasons and gave you some BS about the “occupation”. You swallowed it whole

          Reply to Comment
    5. Victor Arajs

      Israel has turned out to be a worse silencer than MYanmar. Mr Zonzhein had to publish her article outside of Israel in the New York Times because no one in Israel would publish it for fear of imprisonment. Fortunately he was able to use the internet to smuggle out the article

      Reply to Comment
    6. _B_

      Typical leftist hypocrisy. Gush Shalom calling for settlers to be castrated and the state prosecutor saying this is ok, YAMAS police going into settlers’ homes and tazing them repeatedly as their children watch, or brutalizing rightwing demonstrators, riding them down with horses and tearing their nostrils open, beating children, beating rabbis, evicting people from their legally owned homes and banning them from coming back because of an editorial they wrote: these things are not silencing dissent. They’re all part of a healthy discourse!

      But when some teenagers make leftists at a protest uncomfortable, or Gideon Levy and Gila Almagor get irate Facebook comments for providing moral succor to an enemy trying to kill Jewish civilians-that is unacceptable. That is silencing dissent. This aggression will not stand, man!

      >Over a decade ago, during the Second Intifada, when Israelis began going to protest alongside Palestinians in the West Bank against the separation barrier, they were called “traitors” on the news and in other forums.

      Well, you see, when you support the enemy who is trying to kill your people, the English word for that is “treason.”

      >Soon enough the word leftist began to be derogatory in Israel.

      Leftists behave in such a way that leftism is considered shameful. Obviously, the problem is with the people disgusted with their behavior, not with the behavior itself.

      >During the war, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman specifically called for Jews to boycott those Arab businesses that dared speak out against “Operation Protective Edge.” Silencing.

      I see. So, boycotts are silencing.

      >Only in the last decade, thanks to brave groups and individuals – has this hegemony begun to erode. You all may remember Peter Beinart’s NY Times oped encouraging settlement boycott, which is still considered by many to be beyond the pale.

      Oh…wait, boycotts are noble? I’m confused.

      > Palestinian citizens of Israel aren’t afforded the same level of free speech because their loyalty is always in question.

      Their loyalty is not any more questionable than yours.

      >All those who decided that what I write is fringe, unacceptable, hysterical, un-journalistic or disingenuous, are propagating the hegemony.

      I see. Or maybe you actually are hysterical and disingenuous.

      >Instead of encouraging Israel to become a “normal” country whose existence is not constantly in question, such voices continue to elevate Israel to a symbol, a value in and of itself.

      This is the quintessence of a leftist: one who thinks the value of his or her country is determined by the New York Times’ opinion of it.

      >They are the policemen making sure no one violates the values they have determined.

      And you only like policemen when they are brutalizing your opponents.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Brian

      Chilling effect of the Nakba Law on Israel’s human rights

      The court ignored the infringement of free speech stemming from the very existence of the law, as opposed to one stemming from the law’s application.

      By Roni Schocken
      Published 04:25 17.05.12

      By rejecting the petition calling for the repeal of the Nakba Law in January of this year, the High Court of Justice ignored the violation of human rights inherent in the danger that institutions may now preemptively refuse to fund activities that involve the exercise of free speech, for fear of financial sanctions.

      The High Court argued that time was not yet “ripe” for such a request in its ruling against the petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights. The Nakba Law grants the finance minister the authority to impose harsh fines on government-funded organizations that budget expenses for (among other things ) marking Independence Day as a day of mourning….

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard

        The government not funding your speech is not a violation of free speech, under the U.S. first amendment or any similar standard. Being dumb or lying?

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Where did you go to law school? Settler Halachik U? The one with the champion olive tree hacking sport team? And the courses on “How to beat shepherds and get away with it”? And “The ins and outs of real estate theft law when God is your real estate agent”?
          The Nakba law or it’s US version would absolutely be struck down by the US Supreme Court. Absolutely. And here’s another equally important facet if this genius: in the USA if you brazenly disobey the Supreme Court you go to prison! And fast! No exceptions! Not so in Israel! To the astonishment of American lawyers. Major fail! Back to school for you!

          Reply to Comment
          • Richard

            If the Kennedy Center (owned by the U.S. government) refused to fund a Neo-Nazi rally, there would not be a free speech argument on the side of the Neo-Nazis. Try being less hysterical next time and maybe it won’t be so obvious that you’re desperate because you know you’re wrong.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Ridiculous, in fact hysterical analogy. It only underscores the intellectual and moral impoverishment fueling the Jewish neo-fascist assault on free speech.

            Reply to Comment
    8. Richard

      Having an unpopular opinion, even one that a few assholes will threaten you for having, does not mean you are being censored or “silenced.” You’re not a victim, you’re just losing the argument and looking for excuses. If you have an argument, make it instead of wasting time with crybaby nonsense.

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        “Crybaby” nonsense like people being arrested for peacefully demonstrating? Like the limitation of free speech and press freedom through the Nakba Law (and of course the Israeli military censorship)? Like members of Knesset calling for the imprisonment of people because they communicate their beliefs? Like the Foreign Minister calling for a boycott of Arab stores where owners have dissenting opinions?

        “Kauft nicht bei Arabern!”

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard

          If you take away all the vague language you’ve deployed to obscure the facts, its all happens in America and Europe too. Literally, quietly literally, everything you mentioned. So I guess the whole western world is Nazi Germany. Seriously though, what drives your deranged, obsessive need to lie and spew hatred about Israel?

          Reply to Comment
    9. Felix Reichert

      “by your defenition Syria is also a conecantration camp”

      No it’s not. The neighboring countries of Syria (excluding Israel of course) all have relatively open borders, and let in thousands if not tens of thousands of Refugees.

      Reply to Comment
      • DerAsylant

        your cheap sophism and angry red herrings amuse me much.thanks for that.in addition to criticizing slavery and racial segregation, abolitionists and civil righters justified their position by personal engagement, like showing that black are not inferior beeings but people who are able to perform in society equally to whites when giving same rights and opportunities. so all i´m asking from left wing dissidents to set a personal example and show that jews and arabs can coexist , even and especially in arab dominated territory. by doing so they will calm the rather secptic segemnst of israeli society.

        Reply to Comment
    10. Felix Reichert

      That’s utter bullshit.

      Nobody published in Israel for fear of boycott of his or her publication. And for fear of death threats, etc.

      Reply to Comment
    11. James

      [This comment has been deleted by the editor. Personal attacks will not be tolerated.]

      Reply to Comment
    12. James

      [This comment has been deleted by the editor. Personal attacks will not be tolerated.]

      Reply to Comment
      • Josh

        Go see a doctor, “James”. Your medics need to be adjusted. Immediately

        Reply to Comment
    13. James

      [This comment has been deleted by the editor. Personal attacks will not be tolerated.]

      Reply to Comment
    14. James

      Personal attacks will not be tolerated, yet the author of this does tolerate anti-Jewish violence, anti-Israel violence, anti-Jewish discrimination across the Middle East, discrimination against Israelis, etc.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Piotr Berman

      A society can be democratic, and repress nonconformists with overwhelming popular acclaim. That phenomenon was observed as soon as nominal democracies appeared, and thus some ancient writers coined a term “ochlocracy”, “rule of mob” as a degenerate form of “rule of people”.

      Southern states of USA before the Civil War exhibited this exact pattern. Anti-abolitionist paranoia and hostility were increasing, abolitionists speakers were attacked with knives and pistols, their tracts were prohibited from being delivered by mail, and southern mob burned an abolitionist newspaper office in Ohio, across the river from slaveholding Kentucky.

      With all differences, there are many parallels with contemporary Israel. There is a reinforcing cycle of oppression and paranoia, and political and intellectual pluralist is waning. One difference may be that American slaveholders started on very high intellectual level, contributing a lot to American constitution etc., while Israel avoided having a constitution. Even the idea that Jews of Israel should have equal rights is controversial, more precisely, there is a dispute to what degree these right can be unequal.

      The level of verbal hostility that one can see in Israeli media and comment sections confirms that “the Left lost the argument”, pretty much like abolitionists in ante bellum South.

      Reply to Comment
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