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Censoring Criticism of Israel Threatens Free Speech
Surprisingly, The Free Speech Defenders are nowhere to be found.
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Over the past few years, the bulk of “free speech” discourse has come from the Right. But while Conservatives tout themselves as The Free Speech Defenders, their real concern is to stop people from getting mad at them when they say hateful things on www.Twitter.com.
An especially obnoxious debate, this manufactured outrage has caused many on the Left to roll their eyes at any mention of “free speech violation,” “cancel culture,” etc., etc. As a result, we’ve forgotten why protections of free thought are worth enshrining. Despite what Elon Musk says, the 1st Amendment was not designed to protect people who bully trans kids on the internet.
Rather, the right to think and speak freely is a way to hold the powerful to account. When dissent is disallowed, autocrats and oligarchs are free to do as they please. In no situation is this more evident than the censoring of critics of Israeli apartheid.
Last week, The Hill refused to air a segment recorded by journalist Katie Halper. Halper’s segment, a 10-ish minute video series known as a “Radar,” made the case for labeling Israel an apartheid state. Halper chose the segment to defend Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who recently came under fire for (correctly) stating one cannot be a progressive and support Israel.
But Halper’s Radar was never aired. Instead, she was offered a meager explanation that The Hill had a policy of not criticizing Israel in op-eds. The piece was scrapped and Halper was fired. (Halper details the ordeal in this episode of Deconstructed.)
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This is not an isolated incident. Halper is one in a long list of journalists and pundits who have been systematically penalized for accurately criticizing Israel.
Marc Lamont Hill, a progressive activist, was fired from CNN after giving a speech at the UN condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Lamont Hill’s sentiment was identical to Tlaib’s, arguing that one cannot be a progressive and support apartheid. This is objectively true, as one cannot claim to bear the torch of justice while picking and choosing which groups are worthy of the light. (Lamont Hill’s book Except for Palestine offers a look at progressives’ shortcomings on Israel. It is well worth a read.)
Nathan J. Robinson, editor-in-chief of Current Affairs, was fired from his role as a columnist for The Guardian after satirically criticizing the inclusion of $500 million in military aid to Israel in a COVID relief bill. Robinson’s offending tweet (below), was deemed “antisemitic” by The Guardian’s editor-in-chief.
Days prior to the firing of Katie Halper, Palestinian photojournalist Hosam Salem shared he’d been dismissed from The New York Times. (I’ll give you three guesses what his crime was.) Salem, who covered the Gaza Strip for the NYT since 2018, was informed of his termination without warning.
The censorship goes far beyond quieting journalists. Seeking to stomp out every whisper of dissent, supporters of Israel (both Israelis and non-Israelis) go above and beyond the bounds of respectful society to coddle their favorite ethnostate.
Following the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, the city of Dickinson, TX required Texans to pledge not to boycott Israel in order to receive disaster relief funds. Withholding life-saving aid from desperate survivors until they pledge allegiance to a faraway nation sounds like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel, yet Dickinson defended the policy.
Furthermore, there’s been a concerted attempt to only allow Israeli propaganda on college campuses. It’s ironic, considering how often we’ve heard Conservatives whine that universities must be a place for “all ideas.”
Last year, The Intercept reported the Israeli government was pressuring the University of North Carolina to fire a graduate student who was teaching a class on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Employing the go-to defense, Israeli officials baselessly claimed the teacher was an anti-semite.
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The list of advocates, activists, teachers, journalists, and others who have been penalized for sympathizing with the Palestinian cause is so long it makes Moby Dick look like a brochure. But with each “cancellation,” there are two takeaways that stay true.
First, it adds to the already-overwhelming case that Israel is an apartheid state. Halper’s reporting was factual, citing organizations both inside Israel and out. She wasn’t fired for shoddy reporting, nor was her report pulled for inaccuracy. On the contrary. It was canceled for being too accurate.
If Zionists truly believed Israel was being maligned, they would pull back the curtain and invite the world to see what life is like for Palestinians living inside Israel and the occupied territories. They do not. Instead, they try to scare the world into silence through hollow accusations of antisemitism.
Second, it shows the Right has no interest in free speech. Right-wing ideologues love to preach the importance of the so-called “marketplace of ideas,” yet we hear crickets from them when pro-Palestinian voices are silenced. The lack of support for Halper, and the numerous others that have been penalized before her, shows their commitment to free speech is nothing more than a thin guise to eliminate criticism of their bigotry.
I’d call them hypocrites, but one has to first hold principles in order to be hypocritical against them. Evidently, there isn’t a principle among them.
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