Israel’s free speech double standard: ‘Incitement’ law used to crack down on Palestinian political expression

Israel/Palestine
on 9 Comments

Last month, Israel’s top law enforcement authority told Palestinian citizens that a call for their beheading was not “necessarily” violent–and ruled out any reprimand of Avigdor Lieberman for the comment. The Attorney General’s office announced it would not be opening an inquiry into Lieberman’s statement that some Palestinian citizens should have their heads cut off.

At a March 8 election rally, the former Foreign Minister and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party said that for “those who are against us, there is no other option before us – we must raise the axe and cut off their heads; otherwise we will not survive here.”

In response, Adalah’s Nadeem Shehadeh called for the Attorney General to open up a criminal investigation to determine whether Lieberman had violated Israel’s law against incitement to violence. The Attorney General office’s responded curiously. In a letter to Shehadeh (PDF), the office said that “Lieberman sought to send a message that it is imperative that the authorities struggle – not a private individual – and not in a violent manner necessarily – against anyone who is disloyal to the state.”

Scholars around the world have long debated the lines between free speech and incitement to violence. It’s worth asking whether Israel’s incitement to violence law, which prohibits speech that encourages violence or terrorism, impedes freedom of expression. But for Palestinian citizens, questions of free speech are less important than what the reaction to Lieberman’s comments highlights. Like virtually all aspects of life in Israel, how the incitement law is applied depends on ethnicity. Palestinian citizens are routinely investigated and arrested for incitement to violence for comments that don’t come close to the edge of violent speech.

“There is a double standard here between citizens of Israel–you have the Arab citizens and Jewish citizens. You can see the difference,” Shehadeh, an attorney at Palestinian civil rights group Adalah, told me last week in Haifa.

Shehadeh recalled how Palestinian Member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi was the target of a criminal inquiry by the Israeli police earlier this year. Zoabi’s offense was to insult Palestinian police officers. She reportedly said the officers were “collaborators with the oppressors of their own people” and that they should be used to “wipe the floor.” Perhaps both Zoabi and Lieberman were using metaphors. The Attorney General’s reaction to both comments, though, is a window into the unequal application of Israel’s incitement law.

“That is a lot less inciting than what Lieberman said,” Shehadeh said of Zoabi’s comments, “but in the case of Lieberman, it’s the opposite result.” No decision has been issued on the case, though in February, YNet reported the Israeli Supreme Court was in talks with Zoabi’s lawyer to settle the case. Shehadeh noted that while the Attorney General noted Lieberman was immune from prosecution since he is a Knesset member, the office said no such thing in the case of Zoabi.

“Double standard” on freedom of expression

The arrest of Razi Nabulsi is an even clearer case of what Shehadeh called a “double standard” on freedom of expression and the law on incitement. On the morning of October 9, 2013, Nabulsi, a Palestinian activist, writer and journalist, woke up to Israeli police officers standing in his room who entered his house. They asked him whether he would go with them willingly, and he agreed, not wanting to be manhandled. The police took his laptop, his phone, and books by writers like Naji al-Ali and Ghassan Kanafani. He was being investigated because of Facebook posts that the police claimed were “incitement.”

Nabulsi was hauled into custody and spent the next eleven days in prison and an additional six days on house arrest, where he was not allowed to use any technological connection. Both the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, and the police questioned him. Israeli courts repeatedly extended his detention while he was in jail. The police gave the court a secret list of evidence against him–even though that evidence was publicly available Facebook posts.

In an interview, Nabulsi said the police told him he was “inciting” people to go to the streets to protest against Israeli policies on Palestinian prisoners and on Bedouin rights, and that he was a threat to Israeli security. It later emerged that the police had been tracking his posts on Facebook and Twitter, and they interrogated Nabulsi about his Facebook posts. They were particularly interested in a Facebook post in which he wrote that “one day the nightmare will be over”–a quote from a song by the Lebanese-Palestinian artist Julia Boutros.

“They arrested me for my political activism. They were searching for something to arrest me. And they found the Facebook. He didn’t have anything else,” Nabulsi, who is all smiles when talking about his ordeal, told me.

It’s true that members of the right-wing group Lehava were arrested for incitement last year after calling for “death to Arabs” at a wedding ceremony between a Jew and a Palestinian. But there is no comparison between Nabulsi–or that of the Palestinian arrested for a Facebook post calling the Jerusalem mayor the “mayor of the occupation”–and the likes of Lehava. And yet, they have both been investigated for the same crime.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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9 Responses

  1. just
    June 9, 2015, 11:48 am

    Thanks for bringing this terribly important issue to the forefront of MW again, Alex.

    The Israeli government and its mouthpieces in the MSM incited people all over to the horrific violence of last summer. It continues now with the full court press on BDS that is sponsored by Netanyahu, his ministers and lackeys, Adelson, Milstein, and Saban…

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.660391?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    From Gaza, through East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Negev, toward Iran, Lebanon, and now to BDS, the state- sanctioned incitement rages on and on and on. On the other hand, the state routinely imprisons non-violent Palestinians who they deem a “threat to Israeli security”!

    “‘She speaks the truth:’ Palestinian leftist parliamentarian Khalida Jarrar arrested in early-morning Israeli raid” – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/?s=jarrar#sthash.Q1Ko8h5F.dpuf

    “Israeli prosecutor calls Bil’in protest ‘ideological crime’ at Abu Rahmah sentencing hearing” – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/02/prosecutor-ideological-sentencing#sthash.OOxTIthM.dpuf

    “Khader Adnan is starving for freedom again”
    http://electronicintifada.net/content/khader-adnan-starving-freedom-again/14584

    There are too many to list! There is NO justice by Israel. None. The guy in the picture is only the current face of injustice, hypocrisy, discrimination, and apartheid.

    • bilal a
      June 9, 2015, 6:20 pm

      Weimar Germany was known for its Criminalization of Speech critical of the politics of the Jewish community:

      Flemming Rose notes that “rather than deterring the Nazis and preventing anti-Semitism, the many court cases served as effective public relations machinery for Streicher’s efforts, affording him the kind of attention he never would have found had his utterances been made in a climate of free and open debate. Only weeks after Streicher was sentenced to two months imprisonment for anti-Semitism, the Nazis trebled their share of the vote at the state legislature election in Thuringia.” Bernhard Weiss, Vice-President of the Berlin police, regularly dragged Goebbels into court on charges of anti-Semitism. In all these cases brought against the future head of Nazi propaganda, the prosecution came out on top, yet according to one observer, in the public eye Weiss consistently ended up looking more like the loser, as Goebbels’ anti-Semitic invective found a platform in the public process. In the period 1923 to 1933, Der Stürmer was either confiscated or its editors taken to court on no fewer than 36 separate occasions. In 1928, the paper and its staff were the subjects of five litigations in the space of 11 days. These proceedings, however, gave the general public the impression that Streicher was more significant than perhaps was the case. Those instances where Streicher was sentenced to terms of imprisonment were a golden opportunity for him to present himself as a victim and martyr. The more charges he faced, the more he was admired. On those occasions on which he was sent to jail, Streicher was accompanied on his way by hundreds of sympathisers in “what looked like his triumphal entry into martyrdom.” I

      article: Jews Continue Pressure for Internet Censorship – Andrew Joyce

  2. just
    June 9, 2015, 12:33 pm

    It’s interesting to read Regev’s version of ‘democracy’:

    “Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev was booed on Tuesday while addressing a film festival in southern Israel. Speaking at the opening of the Sapir Graduate Films program of the Cinema South International Film Festival, at Sapir Academic College, Regev declared that she would not give a voice to anyone seeking to insult Israel’s soldiers or to tarnish the image of the state. The mostly student audience responded with boos.

    “Anyone attempting to delegitimize Israel will do this without our support,” Regev went on to say. “We had the crisis with FIFA and with Orange, who apologized because they understood that Jewish power is translated into consumer power. We can’t keep apologizing for our existence as the state of Israel. I’m all for pluralism that allows people to express their positions, but I’m against slinging mud and supporting boycotts. I’ll fight to increase budgets to support and expanding art, but I’ll direct them away from people hurting the state and toward those who want to develop. Art and culture are food for the soul. As minister of culture it’s my job to ensure a diversity of voices in Israeli society, [but] currently we are in the midst of a diplomatic campaign and we must do everything possible to stop giving ammunition to our enemies.”

    Prof. Aner Preminger, who teaches in Sapir’s filmmaking program, stood up and shouted in protest, and other audience members shouted that it’s not a democracy if people cannot express themselves freely. Most of the audience applauded when Regev said she would continue to support the arts and film in the country’s northern and southern regions.

    “This is democracy,” Regev said in response to the boos and the applause. “I’m happy to see what is happening here — the shouting expresses pluralism, which will take shape in Ariel, Kiryat Shmona, Nazareth and Sderot. The Ministry of Culture and Sports will support those who don’t delegitimize Israel.””…

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel/1.660386?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

  3. ritzl
    June 9, 2015, 1:24 pm

    The Attorney General office’s responded curiously. In a letter to Shehadeh (PDF), the office said that “Lieberman sought to send a message that it is imperative that the authorities struggle – not a private individual – and not in a violent manner necessarily – against anyone who is disloyal to the state.”

    Gotta love the art of weasel wording. “not…necessarily” eh? As opposed to, say, “sometimes, but only under the right circumstances?”

    Sheesh.

  4. markjohnconley
    June 10, 2015, 1:59 am

    In Australia the politicians, if they are consistent, should send in the Special Air Service Regiment; and strip dual citizens, who have volunteered to join the Israeli Defence Force, of their Australian citizenship

  5. Hugo Pharr
    June 10, 2015, 1:14 pm

    I am not a middle east expert or indeed a political expert,but how can any man talk of beheading any one who is against his travelling people.The last great version of this was of course Nazi Germany,but then other nations stood against them to prevent total invasion of Europe.
    it seems to me that Israel is being allowed to behave in any manner it chooses,irrespective of international opinion.I would like to know why the situation in Palestine is being totally ignored by the UN and the other squibs who really should be getting protective forces on the ground to protect the population in Gaza and the West Bank from israeli genocide.They will not stop untill they have driven Palestine into the sea.
    I again call for the countries who like to offer military aid at the drop of a hat to ignore the pro israel lobby and to put an end to this carnage.
    Would it be allowed to happen if it was any other people behaving this way.
    The israelis are a rogue state and must be stopped.As usual the usa is bankrolling these apartheid,sectarian abuses.
    An international military intervention is the only language and solution to this.

    • just
      June 10, 2015, 2:50 pm

      Thanks, Hugo~ for both of your comments.

      (Welcome to MW)

  6. eljay
    June 10, 2015, 2:59 pm

    At a March 8 election rally, the former Foreign Minister and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party said that for “those who are against us, there is no other option before us – we must raise the axe and cut off their heads; otherwise we will not survive here.”

    In response, Adalah’s Nadeem Shehadeh called for the Attorney General to open up a criminal investigation to determine whether Lieberman had violated Israel’s law against incitement to violence. The Attorney General office’s responded curiously. In a letter to Shehadeh (PDF), the office said that “Lieberman sought to send a message that it is imperative that the authorities struggle – not a private individual – and not in a violent manner necessarily – against anyone who is disloyal to the state.”

    So…a politician in some other country were to threaten to “raise the axe and cut off the heads” of Jewish citizens he felt were “against his state”, the Attorney General of Israel would be fine with that, yes? Or would he hypocritically consider such language to be inflammatory, an incitement to violence and perhaps even anti-Semitic?

  7. just
    June 10, 2015, 4:10 pm

    wrt Israeli racism, I found this via Ronnie Barkan’s twitter:

    “VIDEO: When Racism is the Norm: Taxi Driver Needed – Jewish only please!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-FYJ29Yq9U … #BDS #Jerusalem”

    https://twitter.com/ronnie_barkan/status/608691469059301376

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