In Praise of Incitement

From the archive (legacy material)

Gideon Levy | Haaretz | August 14, 2005

The struggle against incitement is the refuge of cowards, who are afraid to attack the inciters for their genuine acts of injustice. The battle by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz against turning incitement into a wholesale offense is an important fight to preserve freedom of expression in Israel.
Mazuz does not deserve the flood of criticism that has followed his statement that no legal connection has been established between the incitement that preceded the murder of Yitzhak Rabin and the murder itself, and that right-wing inciters deserve condemnation, but not prosecution. They deserve to be tried for the injustices they commit, and these are countless, and not for their words and thoughts.
However, the right’s evil deeds and violence are hardly ever prosecuted in Israel, terrified as it is of the settlers. Many more people demand that some rabbi be put on trial for saying harsh things against the prime minister than a settler who has shot a child.
In general, incitement cannot by itself lead to murder. When people on the left called Ariel Sharon a murderer after the Lebanon War, nobody imagined harming him because of it.
The truth is, we ought to lament the fact that only the right commits incitement nowadays. It would be good if the left were to awaken from the long hibernation that has seized it and also use the weapon of incitement.
It’s a shame nobody here incites against the Immigration Police, an army of thugs that torments the weak; too bad the left does not incite against the liquidation units in the territories, against soldiers who harass Palestinians at checkpoints, against Border Policemen who shoot children and unarmed and nonviolent protesters, against Shin Bet agents who torture detainees, against soldiers who demolish homes. Too bad there isn’t more incitement against the settlers, the olive grove plunderers, vineyard uprooters, land grabbers. Too bad a real fomenting campaign does not take place here against everyone tainted by the crimes of war and occupation.
The fashionable thing nowadays is to criticize the right for incitement. Everyone who comes out strongly against the disengagement and in favor of refusing evacuation orders is immediately suspected of this fashionable offense, and when the attorney general refrains from issuing indictments, the so-called left grows frantic. Shinui chair Yosef Lapid is horrified by the rabbis’ incitement, but never by the acts of the settlers and soldiers. This is the cowardly conduct of somebody who is afraid of laying out the real indictment. The ones who need to be put on trial are those who have committed heinous crimes, such as killing hundreds of innocent Palestinians over the past four years in the name of the State of Israel, and not the extremist rabbis.
Who hasn’t been suspected of the terrible offense in recent months? Police officers were dispatched to the funeral of the terrorist Eden Natan Zada to prevent incitement; the soldiers who combat protesters against the fence in Bil’in testified they had heard “cries of incitement” at demonstrations; the broadcasters of the pulsa denura curse ritual were excoriated as inciters; and those who put up the posters proclaiming, “Sharon is a dictator” fell under the same suspicion, as did a Monopoly game that was confiscated in the settlements. Even the singer Mookie, who called for “breaking the settlers’ bones,” was accused of incitement. Every blunt and extreme stance immediately elicits a self-righteous demand for a trial, and only the attorney general stands in the breach and prevents an indictment from being filed. Mazuz may be the last soldier defending freedom of expression.
Words do not kill. It is permissible to take every extreme position and it is permissible and necessary to condemn immoral positions, but not to prosecute them. In any case, the fiercest incitement running rampant here is not against Sharon or the disengagement, but against Arabs, yet we do not constantly get suggestions to prosecute those who smear the slogan “Death to the Arabs” across the country. But even these filthy racists do not deserve being prosecuted. Society needs to disgorge them from its midst, but not put them on trial.
The racist rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliahu, who called to not rent apartments to Arabs, should not be prosecuted, only made a pariah. Whoever truly wants to combat an affliction would do better to repudiate the racism that has taken hold of the judicial system, at every level, before picking on the eccentrics and crackpots of the right. But that would take guts.
Accusation of incitement are usually found under dark regimes, which set up thought police. There are 63 Ethiopian citizens imprisoned in Israel who are seeking political asylum because in their own country, they might be tried for incitement, an offense that carries a possible death sentence. Does Israel want to resemble such regimes?
The settlers must be allowed to wage their desperate and futile rearguard action, and given an opportunity to unload all of their violent and racist thoughts. Their true nature is thus revealed and must of course be condemned. But the evil damage they cause stems entirely from their actions. Let them call for refusal as much as they like, and put the refuseniks on trial; let them preach violence, and put those who are violent on trial. The actions of the settlers, by definition an immoral public that settled in a country where they did not belong, are sufficient; leave their thoughts and words alone.