Op-ed: Freedom of expression is a noble value, the air democracy breathes; but the court has failed to equip democracy with tools to defend itself against those who are using freedom of expression to recruit hate criminals.

Since Friday morning I have been asking myself why I am so angry: After all, hate crimes are a global epidemic. They are directed at foreigners, at immigrants and at ethnic, racial, religious and gender minorities.

We often cover anti-Semitic outbursts, but attacks on Jews are just one link in the chain. The United States has been dealing in recent years with white hate criminals who murder black people and with Muslim hate criminals who murder soldiers. Europe is dealing with Muslims who murder Jews and Christians and with Christians who murder Muslims.

The law authorities are doing the best they can to prevent such acts or at least to jail the culprits. Nonetheless, they are failing time and again.

So why get angry? It’s the way of the world. Our forefathers believed that only when we have a Jewish prostitute and a Jewish thief here, we will become a normal state. Miraculously, we outdid their expectations: We have Jewish prostitutes and thieves, murderers and rapists of all kinds, and we have hate criminals.

Two people were murdered in hate crimes over the weekend: Two-year-old Ali Dawabsheh of the village of Duma and 16-year-old Shira Banki of Jerusalem. The prime minister offered his condolences.

Shira Banki, 16, who was stabbed at the Jerusalem Pride Parade and later died of her wounds (Photo: AP)
Shira Banki, 16, who was stabbed at the Jerusalem Pride Parade and later died of her wounds (Photo: AP)


I am angry because Israel is not a state like all other states. It’s an idea, a project, an initiative. There is a hotel chain in the country which advertises itself on the radio as “a hotel with an idea.” I never understood what that means when it comes to hotels, but I can understand why the ideological plan which led to the Jewish state’s establishment is still part of it, 67 years after it was established. That’s how we are judged by others; that’s how we should judge ourselves. The villains who burn babies or stab teenage girls because of their hatred towards the other are sabotaging the foundation of our existence.

Looking back, Israel’s governments should have treated the settler public differently. They shouldn’t have gave in to the lawbreakers in Sebastia, they shouldn’t have pardoned the Jewish Underground terrorists prematurely, they shouldn’t have – acting on an order from above – skipped the rabbis who inflamed Yigal Amir, funded their whims, winked at them and flattered them.

Governments are not the only ones who sinned deeply here. The Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice Meir Shamgar and mainly under the leadership of Chief Justice Aharon Barak, gave full, remarkably liberal protection to the freedom of expression on the one hand, while on the other hand legitimizing the settlement enterprise in the territories in different ways.

In the issue we are discussing, it was a lethal combination. It opened the door to weeds like Kahane Chai, the Lehava organization and the price tag gang. It conveyed a message to the judges in the lower courts, to the State Prosecutor’s Office, to the police, that political delinquency can be forgiven as part of the freedom of expression. There is no wonder that slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s widow, Leah, refused to shake Justice Barak’s hand over her husband’s grave. She knew exactly why.

Freedom of expression is a noble value, the air democracy breathes. But the court has failed to equip democracy with the tools it needs to defend itself against those who are turning freedom of expression into a basis for recruiting hate criminals. This applies both to extreme right-wing organizations and to the haredim. Hate crimes are usually not committed in an empty space: There is an atmosphere, there are instigators, there is a supportive community.

The recurring waves of terror and the failure of the peace process, and perhaps the demographic changes as well, have made the Israeli street more rightist. That’s natural and understandable. The voters wanted a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Little did they know they would be getting a government which depends on the finger of one Bezalel Smotrich, a Knesset member on behalf of the Bayit Yehudi faction, who combines both haredi for Arabs and hatred for the LGBT community. He is the supreme authority.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the head of Smotrich’s party, asked if he could speak at the LGBT protest on Saturday evening. He was offended when his request was turned down. “I wanted to tell them I love them,” Bennett said. “I disagree with them and I love them.”

Bennett is a legitimate representative of his voters, a worthy politician from several aspects. But his expressions of love are unrestrained. “I love you,” he told the stone and bottle throwers in Beit El. A sea of love. If you want, love will cover every crime.

The members of the LGBT community don’t need his patronizing love. They need security. The education system Bennett is in charge of is afflicted with racism and homophobia. He should start with the state-religious education and the ultra-Orthodox streams.

P.S. The LGBT community asked every speaker to sign a document summarizing its demands. Bennett and MK Yinon Magal, both from the Bayit Yehudi party, refused to sign. No one forbade them to come and express their solidarity with the victims, just like thousands of people did in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv. Magal, who used to be a journalist, arrived at the protest, but the moment he realized he won’t be allowed to speak, he broke off contact. Either he speaks, or he goes home.

As reported by Ynetnews