Commentary Magazine


Derfner’s No Martyr to Free Speech

I wrote last week, Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner’s defense of the right of Palestinians to murder Israelis “was beyond the pale of civil debate and that he would deserve every bit of the abuse that comes his way from fellow Israelis.” If anything, I underestimated the opprobrium that rained down on Derfner, who subsequently gave a non-apology apology and took down the controversial post from his personal blog. But his evasions were of no use, and he wound up losing his job at the Post this week.

While Derfner’s critics are celebrating his demise, his firing generated a predictable wave of sympathy from liberals who are claiming he is a martyr to freedom of speech. In particular, New York Times blogger Rocker Mackey takes up Derfner’s talking point about the use of terror during Israel’s struggle for independence in a specious attempt to portray the writer as doing nothing more than telling the truth. Such absurd arguments miss the main point about Derfner’s piece. There’s nothing new about treating Palestinian terror as morally equivalent to Israeli self-defense. Derfner’s main fault was his claim Israelis deserved to be killed because they were the only party at fault in the conflict.

Abstract arguments about the utilization of terror are one thing, even if they are premised, as the Times attempted to say, on a false analogy between those striving to create the sole Jewish state and those attempting to destroy it in order to create one more Arab nation. But Derfner’s astonishing assertion that Israelis are asking for it by refusing to give in to Palestinian demands is quite another. As fellow Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler argued, such statements are actually actionable as an incitement to terror under Israeli law, because there is no absolute First Amendment protection of speech there (or in just about any other democracy) as there is in the United States.

But even if we apply American standards to this situation, there is nothing in any law that obligates a newspaper to employ a writer or an editor who espouses beliefs utterly repugnant to that publication and its readers. That was the case with the Jerusalem Post, and Derfner was a fool if he expected this episode to end any other way but with his dismissal.

I take no pleasure in the idea of a working journalist, even one whose ideas I despise, being given a pink slip. But as much as I sympathize with Derfner’s family, I have a lot more sympathy for Israelis who live under the threat of terror from killers who will use his arguments to justify their atrocities. As for Derfner, I doubt he will starve. The left-wing press in Israel is alive and well and given the millions being poured into the country by left-wing and anti-Zionist NGOs, it would be surprising if he didn’t soon find a more congenial home for his odious writing than the centrist Post.