Free Speech and Criticism of Israel

Public debate in the US is highly polarized, with two camps, conservative and liberal, who increasingly dislike even engaging with each other in debate.

The two camps have different rules about free speech. Conservatives:

  • Have a low tolerance for profanity.
  • Feel that there are some “sacred” symbols, such as the flag and religious symbols, that should not be “desecrated”, and
  • Are uncomfortable with the explicit discussion of sex.

Banning profanity is not too onerous a limitation on free speech, it is generally possible to express any important idea without using profanity.  Desecration of “sacred” symbols, similarly, is usually a childish way to get your point across, and is not really a necessary means to express important ideas.  The limitation on the discussion of sex is the most harmful of these limitations, as it manifests itself in “abstinence education”, rather than proper sex education, in many red states, which is widely observed to result in higher rates of teen pregnancy and STD’s in those states.

Conservatives believe strongly in inalienable individual rights, sometimes taken to extremes.  This assumption pervades their whole ideology, in both speech and economics.  What is permissible for one person is permissible for any other.

Some liberals believe strongly in free speech.  Most liberals have no problem with profanity, the desecration of symbols, or the explicit discussion of sex.

But there is a very influential faction within the liberal camp, the Social Justice Warriors.  The SJW’s don’t believe that individuals have rights, only groups have rights.  Something permissible for a person in one group may be taboo for someone in another group.  And speech rights, especially when discussing groups, are totally dependent upon group membership.

In the extreme SJW world view, groups exist on a continuum ranging from “victim” groups to “privileged” groups.  In any conflict between two individuals, regardless of what actually transpired, the person whose group membership is more toward the “victim” end of the scale is automatically right, and the member of the more “privileged” group is automatically wrong.  This means that members of extreme “privileged” classes have no rights, and members of extreme “victim” classes are completely above criticism.

While the SJW world view is more prevalent in American society than it ever has been, the shadow of it has existed in American society for a long time.  After the Nazi holocaust, Jews were considered so far toward the “victim” end of the scale that they were above criticism in polite society for over half a century.  This was exacerbated by the fact that the Palestinians were spectacularly inept at making their case to the American public.

Observe this exchange:  Prof Norman Finkelstein is comparing Israel’s wrongs against the Palestinians to Nazi Germany, which is preposterous.  If the Israeli government were 10% as bad as Nazi Germany, every Arab in Palestine would have been killed or driven out decades ago to make room for Jewish settlements.  The girl in the video is not making the point that what he is saying is absurd, but is rather making the point the he has no right to criticize Israel, because Jews have so many “victim points”.  His response, similarly, is not so much to address the merits of what he is saying, but to point out that his parents were Nazi holocaust survivors, and therefore he (who as an individual has probably never met a Nazi in his life) has, through group membership, enough “victim points” to have the right to speak.

Probably 0.3% of the American population is descended from survivors of the Nazi holocaust.  Would it be a good thing if the other 99.7% of the country were not permitted, in polite company, to criticize Israel?

Last year, the Israeli government and its American lobby threw their full weight into derailing the nuclear deal with Iran.  We had 3 options with Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

  1. Do nothing and let them get the bomb.
  2. Go to war with Iran to destroy their nuclear facilities (which are buried underground so they can’t be taken out by air strikes) and either effect regime change or go back every few years to prevent them from rebuilding their nuclear capabilities after we’ve destroyed them, or
  3. Make a nuclear treaty with them.

The Israeli government is against option 3.  It’s a safe bet they are against option 1.  So basically, this means the Israeli government and its American lobby are using all their formidable influence on the US to try to make us go to war with Iran.  In the meantime, any American politician, like former defense secretary Chuck Hagel, who dares to even mention the existence of the Jewish lobby is seriously risking their career.

The war we waged against Iraq was more than we could handle.  Iran has twice the population of Iraq, and twice the GDP.   Iraq was flat, easy fighting for us.  Iran is mountainous, good terrain for an insurgency.   Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who hadn’t held a multi-candidate election for many years, and was despised by everybody in his country except for the Sunni Arab minority.  The Iranian government has semi-democratic elections every few years, and as a result enjoys much more legitimacy and popular support than Saddam Hussein did, and as a result, the Iranians will resent and resist any new regime we impose upon them much more vigorously than the Iraqis fought against the government we imposed there.

Our invasion of the brutal Iraqi dictatorship was disastrous for America’s reputation, credibility, and prestige worldwide.  What reason is there to believe that invading a much more legitimate, semi-democratic state would be better received by the global audience?

Going to war with Iran would be extremely difficult, not to mention probably catastrophic, and all Americans should be free to express their opinions on whether it’s a good idea, and free to criticize anyone who advocates for it, regardless of how many “victim” points they do or do not have.

Even if the social justice movement continues to wield so much influence, the days of Israel’s exemption from criticism in polite American society are clearly numbered.  There are many Muslim students on college campuses who, while subscribing the the SJW viewpoint, feel that they have more “victim” points than Jews, and many other SJW’s agree with them.  I don’t entirely follow the logic, but I never found the SJW’s to be outstanding pillars of rationality to begin with.  And this year we had Bernie Sanders, a major presidential candidate, express an opinion of Israel other than unconditional support, without it meaning the end of his campaign.  It was the first time I’ve seen that happen since I was old enough to read the news, a Gentile candidate never could have gotten away with it, and to my knowledge the taboo phrase “Jewish lobby” never escaped his lips, but it is probably a harbinger of what’s to come.

My position is that the whole Social Justice Warrior world view is entirely bogus.  People should have the inalienable right to free speech regardless of how “privileged” they are, and statements should be evaluated on their merit, absolutely without regard to the group membership of who is making them, or the “victim” status of those being discussed.  The marketplace of ideas can hardly be expected to reach accurate conclusions with so many limitations on who is allowed to say what.