Commentary Magazine


Topic: justice minister

Israel Brings Senior Gov’t Officials to Justice

If any more evidence were needed of Israel’s moral superiority over the neighboring states, look no further than the news that former President Moshe Katsav has been convicted of rape. At first blush, that may seem like a strange statement: isn’t the fact that a rapist and sexual harasser was president of Israel a blow to the moral standing of the Jewish state? Actually no: abuse of power, especially by powerful men, can happen under any regime. Can anyone doubt that such offenses are frequent among senior Arab officials? Certainly Saddam Hussein and his debased sons were known for preying on women; and that is only the most public example of a pattern that no doubt applies across all dictatorial regimes around the world — including the dictatorial regimes that surround Israel. The difference is that, in Israel, there is an independent judiciary that has the power to root out wrongdoing at the highest level. Such prosecutions are in fact routine. As the AP notes:

The conviction was the latest in a series of high-profile cases against Israeli officials.

Former Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson is currently in prison after being convicted of embezzling more than $600,000 from a workers union. Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted in March 2007 of forcibly kissing a female soldier. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently standing trial on corruption charges.

It is, in fact, an amazing testament to the strength of Israel’s democracy that a former president — and other senior officials — can be convicted of such grave offenses and it’s not even big news. It would be very big news indeed if the former president of any major Middle Eastern state aside from Israel were to face prosecution and conviction for any crime — unless it was the result of a vendetta carried out by his political enemies.

If any more evidence were needed of Israel’s moral superiority over the neighboring states, look no further than the news that former President Moshe Katsav has been convicted of rape. At first blush, that may seem like a strange statement: isn’t the fact that a rapist and sexual harasser was president of Israel a blow to the moral standing of the Jewish state? Actually no: abuse of power, especially by powerful men, can happen under any regime. Can anyone doubt that such offenses are frequent among senior Arab officials? Certainly Saddam Hussein and his debased sons were known for preying on women; and that is only the most public example of a pattern that no doubt applies across all dictatorial regimes around the world — including the dictatorial regimes that surround Israel. The difference is that, in Israel, there is an independent judiciary that has the power to root out wrongdoing at the highest level. Such prosecutions are in fact routine. As the AP notes:

The conviction was the latest in a series of high-profile cases against Israeli officials.

Former Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson is currently in prison after being convicted of embezzling more than $600,000 from a workers union. Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted in March 2007 of forcibly kissing a female soldier. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently standing trial on corruption charges.

It is, in fact, an amazing testament to the strength of Israel’s democracy that a former president — and other senior officials — can be convicted of such grave offenses and it’s not even big news. It would be very big news indeed if the former president of any major Middle Eastern state aside from Israel were to face prosecution and conviction for any crime — unless it was the result of a vendetta carried out by his political enemies.

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Leading Palestinian Activist: Iran Perpetuates Palestinian Suffering

A remarkable conference took place in Jerusalem last week on “The Danger of a Nuclear, Genocidal and Rights-Violating Iran; the Responsibility to Prevent.” Its purpose was to present a report of that name, signed by 100 international scholars, jurists, and government officials, whose content would presumably be familiar to anyone who has followed events in Iran over the past few years. What made it remarkable was the identity of one of the three presenters.

The other two were unsurprising: Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian justice minister who has campaigned for years to get Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indicted for incitement to genocide in an international court, and Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s far-left Meretz Party who, unlike most of his colleagues, recognizes the threat posed by the current delegitimization campaign against Israel and has devoted himself since retirement to defending his country’s good name.

But the third was a shocker: Bassem Eid, a West Bank Palestinian who made his name documenting alleged Israeli abuses of Palestinians as chief researcher for B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Eid has always been an anomaly among the so-called human rights community, in that he objects to abuse regardless of who commits it. That’s what precipitated his break with B’Tselem: after the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, he wanted B’Tselem to start documenting PA abuses of Palestinian rights as well as Israeli ones. When B’Tselem refused, saying it had no interest in abused Palestinians unless Israel was the alleged perpetrator, Eid left to found his own organization, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.

Still, most human rights activists focus on a particular area; it’s unusual to see a specialist in Palestinian rights throwing his weight behind a report focused on two issues seemingly unrelated to his chief concern: Iran’s genocidal threats against Israel, and its massive abuse of its own people, including “reports of torture, an assault on women’s rights, oppression of minorities such as the Baha’is and Kurds; murder of political dissidents; the denial of gay rights and what Cotler described as ‘the wanton imposition of the death penalty, including the execution of more juveniles than any other country in the world.’”

But as Eid explained, it really isn’t so far afield — because by propping up the Hamas regime in Gaza, Iran is also responsible for massive Palestinian suffering. That suffering, he noted, has been thrown into sharp relief in recent years by the contrast between Gaza’s decline and the West Bank’s impressive development.

So if the world cares about Palestinian suffering as much as it says it does, shouldn’t it also care about Iran’s perpetuation of it? Eid certainly won’t be surprised if the answer is no; after founding PHRMG in 1996, he complained bitterly that the same journalists who flocked to hear his reports on alleged Israeli abuse of Palestinians gave him the cold shoulder when he tried to tell them about PA abuse. But he keeps on trying — eternally hoping that someday, the answer will be yes.

A remarkable conference took place in Jerusalem last week on “The Danger of a Nuclear, Genocidal and Rights-Violating Iran; the Responsibility to Prevent.” Its purpose was to present a report of that name, signed by 100 international scholars, jurists, and government officials, whose content would presumably be familiar to anyone who has followed events in Iran over the past few years. What made it remarkable was the identity of one of the three presenters.

The other two were unsurprising: Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian justice minister who has campaigned for years to get Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indicted for incitement to genocide in an international court, and Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s far-left Meretz Party who, unlike most of his colleagues, recognizes the threat posed by the current delegitimization campaign against Israel and has devoted himself since retirement to defending his country’s good name.

But the third was a shocker: Bassem Eid, a West Bank Palestinian who made his name documenting alleged Israeli abuses of Palestinians as chief researcher for B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Eid has always been an anomaly among the so-called human rights community, in that he objects to abuse regardless of who commits it. That’s what precipitated his break with B’Tselem: after the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, he wanted B’Tselem to start documenting PA abuses of Palestinian rights as well as Israeli ones. When B’Tselem refused, saying it had no interest in abused Palestinians unless Israel was the alleged perpetrator, Eid left to found his own organization, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.

Still, most human rights activists focus on a particular area; it’s unusual to see a specialist in Palestinian rights throwing his weight behind a report focused on two issues seemingly unrelated to his chief concern: Iran’s genocidal threats against Israel, and its massive abuse of its own people, including “reports of torture, an assault on women’s rights, oppression of minorities such as the Baha’is and Kurds; murder of political dissidents; the denial of gay rights and what Cotler described as ‘the wanton imposition of the death penalty, including the execution of more juveniles than any other country in the world.’”

But as Eid explained, it really isn’t so far afield — because by propping up the Hamas regime in Gaza, Iran is also responsible for massive Palestinian suffering. That suffering, he noted, has been thrown into sharp relief in recent years by the contrast between Gaza’s decline and the West Bank’s impressive development.

So if the world cares about Palestinian suffering as much as it says it does, shouldn’t it also care about Iran’s perpetuation of it? Eid certainly won’t be surprised if the answer is no; after founding PHRMG in 1996, he complained bitterly that the same journalists who flocked to hear his reports on alleged Israeli abuse of Palestinians gave him the cold shoulder when he tried to tell them about PA abuse. But he keeps on trying — eternally hoping that someday, the answer will be yes.

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Something’s Rotten in the State of Israel’s Legal System

Something is deeply wrong with a justice system when mainstream journalists and politicians take it for granted that a suspect’s political views will affect the legal proceedings against him.

Consider the following sentence from a column that appeared Monday in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz: “If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor [two left-of-center parties] at its center.”

The author, Amir Oren, is no right-wing conspiracy theorist; he’s a veteran, left-of-center journalist and star columnist for a respected highbrow daily. And he considers it patently obvious that if Lieberman wants prosecutors to treat him leniently, he would be wise to swerve Left.

Nor is Oren alone in this belief. In 2007, after then prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Daniel Friedmann, a well-known critic of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism, as justice minister, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “The justice system … has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann’s departure.”

Like Oren, Verter is a veteran left-of-center journalist and a star Haaretz columnist. And like Oren, he considers it self-evident that legal officials could and would use their prosecutorial powers to oust a politician whose policies they oppose.

And here’s another star Haaretz columnist and veteran left-of-center journalist, Ari Shavit, writing after the 2006 indictment of then Justice Minister Haim Ramon for sexual harassment:

Twelve hours before kissing the soldier identified as H, Haim Ramon sat at a private dinner and joked that he had to be careful, because something was liable to happen to him. Because something has happened to every justice minister who intended to shake up the judicial system the way he did, something that prevented the minister from ultimately filling the post. …

[Another] senior minister, whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice, decided at the beginning of the week to concede the coveted position because he was convinced that if he didn’t do so, he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation. The senior minister … determined that there was no chance that a person known as a critic of the rule of law would be able to serve as justice minister without the rule of law finding a way to distance him from the public arena on some criminal pretext or another.

That mainstream politicians and journalists believe the legal system biased in this fashion is worrying even if they’re wrong. That so many probably wouldn’t believe it were there not some truth to it is even worse. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the lack of concern: it’s just a fact of life, to be noted casually in a column.

Something is deeply wrong with a justice system when mainstream journalists and politicians take it for granted that a suspect’s political views will affect the legal proceedings against him.

Consider the following sentence from a column that appeared Monday in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz: “If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor [two left-of-center parties] at its center.”

The author, Amir Oren, is no right-wing conspiracy theorist; he’s a veteran, left-of-center journalist and star columnist for a respected highbrow daily. And he considers it patently obvious that if Lieberman wants prosecutors to treat him leniently, he would be wise to swerve Left.

Nor is Oren alone in this belief. In 2007, after then prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Daniel Friedmann, a well-known critic of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism, as justice minister, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “The justice system … has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann’s departure.”

Like Oren, Verter is a veteran left-of-center journalist and a star Haaretz columnist. And like Oren, he considers it self-evident that legal officials could and would use their prosecutorial powers to oust a politician whose policies they oppose.

And here’s another star Haaretz columnist and veteran left-of-center journalist, Ari Shavit, writing after the 2006 indictment of then Justice Minister Haim Ramon for sexual harassment:

Twelve hours before kissing the soldier identified as H, Haim Ramon sat at a private dinner and joked that he had to be careful, because something was liable to happen to him. Because something has happened to every justice minister who intended to shake up the judicial system the way he did, something that prevented the minister from ultimately filling the post. …

[Another] senior minister, whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice, decided at the beginning of the week to concede the coveted position because he was convinced that if he didn’t do so, he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation. The senior minister … determined that there was no chance that a person known as a critic of the rule of law would be able to serve as justice minister without the rule of law finding a way to distance him from the public arena on some criminal pretext or another.

That mainstream politicians and journalists believe the legal system biased in this fashion is worrying even if they’re wrong. That so many probably wouldn’t believe it were there not some truth to it is even worse. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the lack of concern: it’s just a fact of life, to be noted casually in a column.

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Fascism Old and New

As the jury and contestants entered the second round of Stuttgart’s triennial classical song competition last week, organized by the Internationale Hugo Wolf Akademie, idealistic young singers and pianists performed lieder by Robert Schumann and Wolf, often alluding optimistically to a better world. A brief break offered time for a stroll through one of Stuttgart’s parks, where high school girls jogged dispiritedly, sidestepping piles of horse dung. I walked to the Hegel-Haus, the birthplace of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. On display in the charmingly spare little house were letters from Hegel’s friends, stressing the importance of freedom: “Vive la liberté” writes one, while another quotes Klopstock, an 18th century German poet who cheered the American Revolution.

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As the jury and contestants entered the second round of Stuttgart’s triennial classical song competition last week, organized by the Internationale Hugo Wolf Akademie, idealistic young singers and pianists performed lieder by Robert Schumann and Wolf, often alluding optimistically to a better world. A brief break offered time for a stroll through one of Stuttgart’s parks, where high school girls jogged dispiritedly, sidestepping piles of horse dung. I walked to the Hegel-Haus, the birthplace of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. On display in the charmingly spare little house were letters from Hegel’s friends, stressing the importance of freedom: “Vive la liberté” writes one, while another quotes Klopstock, an 18th century German poet who cheered the American Revolution.

Such echoes of the so-called German Idealism movement are all the more timely as the current talk of the town is about Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, who on September 14th made a speech at the opening of a new art museum in which he stated: “Wherever culture is separated from the worship of God, cult atrophies into ritualism and art becomes degenerate.” The word “degenerate” inevitably hearkens back to Nazi-era jargon, as local newspapers were quick to point out; the Nazi’s notorious 1937 Munich “Degenerate Art” exhibit was intended to ridicule modernist paintings. Meisner’s statement was followed by a backlash of articles defending the Cardinal from “Meisner-Bashing” by the so-called “word-police” This vehement support was to be expected, since Meisner controls a vast empire of real estate and church-owned media, stoked by the highest annual donation rate in Germany, estimated at around 680 million euros per annum. In 2005, Meisner asserted that women who have an abortion are comparable to mass killers like Hitler and Stalin. Stephan Kramer, General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, noted that Meisner repeatedly “misuses language as a taboo-breaker. If that sets an example, we should not be surprised if Nazi beliefs become respectable again.”

Meanwhile, in between sessions of idealistic song, equal concern is devoted to the Swiss national elections scheduled for October 21, where the front-runner is a billionaire named Christoph Blocher, Switzerland’s current Justice Minister. Blocher’s campaign, featuring a poster of a black sheep kicked off the Swiss flag by three white sheep under the caption: “For More Security,” has been called fascist, racist, and perhaps worst of all, “un-Swiss.” Blocher’s wealth has also bought him a TV program during which servile interviewers, likened to East German broadcasters in the old Communist days, ask him adoring questions. While Europe ponders these reminders of oppression old and new, it is particularly useful to focus on the optimistic message of an international gathering like the Wolf Akademie’s lieder contest, where the sheep are dismissed only if they hit wrong notes, not if the color of their wool offends.

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Debating Israel

According to Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times last Sunday, American politicians, whether Republicans or Democrats, always bite their tongues when it comes to discussions about Israel. Both sides have “learned to muzzle themselves” and to acquiesce in President Bush’s “crushing embrace” of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. “That silence,” he argues, “harms America, Middle East peace prospects, and Israel itself.” Kristof’s piece is part of a growing genre: criticism of Israel whose starting point is to bemoan how such criticism cannot be made in public.

In Israel, Kristof informs us, there are no such constraints. Debates there “about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories” are healthily “vitriolic.” “Why can’t [our] candidates be as candid as Israelis?”

Among the examples of sabra candor he admires is a 2004 remark made by Tommy Lapid, then Israel’s justice minister, comparing the Israeli army’s razing of a house in Gaza to the Nazis’ dispossession of his grandmother during World War II. “Can you imagine an American cabinet secretary ever saying such a thing?,” asks Kristof. He omits the fact that the house in question was an entry point for a network of tunnels running across the adjacent border with Egypt, tunnels used for smuggling terrorist weapons. Nor does he attempt to explain how our political conversation might be improved by importing Nazi analogies as irresponsible as Lapid’s. Is this the sort of “discussion” that Kristof wants to see? Read More

According to Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times last Sunday, American politicians, whether Republicans or Democrats, always bite their tongues when it comes to discussions about Israel. Both sides have “learned to muzzle themselves” and to acquiesce in President Bush’s “crushing embrace” of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. “That silence,” he argues, “harms America, Middle East peace prospects, and Israel itself.” Kristof’s piece is part of a growing genre: criticism of Israel whose starting point is to bemoan how such criticism cannot be made in public.

In Israel, Kristof informs us, there are no such constraints. Debates there “about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories” are healthily “vitriolic.” “Why can’t [our] candidates be as candid as Israelis?”

Among the examples of sabra candor he admires is a 2004 remark made by Tommy Lapid, then Israel’s justice minister, comparing the Israeli army’s razing of a house in Gaza to the Nazis’ dispossession of his grandmother during World War II. “Can you imagine an American cabinet secretary ever saying such a thing?,” asks Kristof. He omits the fact that the house in question was an entry point for a network of tunnels running across the adjacent border with Egypt, tunnels used for smuggling terrorist weapons. Nor does he attempt to explain how our political conversation might be improved by importing Nazi analogies as irresponsible as Lapid’s. Is this the sort of “discussion” that Kristof wants to see?

Still, there is no denying that political debate is somewhat more contentious in Israel than in the U.S. (although we seem gradually to be catching up). But it is also the case that, despite the rough-and-tumble of the debate Kristof praises so highly, a fairly stable consensus has been reached in Israel about certain policies pertaining to the Palestinians.

One is the need for a security fence to keep suicide bombers from entering Israel. Another is the disinclination to offer more concessions to a Palestinian entity that shows no inclination to live in peace with Israel. Despite his avowed admiration for Israel’s freewheeling brand of politics, Kristof takes the opposite view on both these questions.

His own analysis of the problem, such as it is, is little more than a series of clichés: he blames Israel and its “hard-line policies” for “radicalizing young Palestinians, empowering Hamas and Hizballah, isolating Israel in the world.” It does not occur to him that these “hard-line policies” (though it’s hard to see what is “hard-line” about building a defensive barrier and refusing to negotiate with radical movements devoted to your destruction) might be a response to years of Palestinian terror. And nowhere in his column does Kristof press for the Palestinians (or the larger Arab world) to engage in the kind of self-lacerating debate he so admires in Israeli politics. Apparently, the mere fact that “the Palestinian cause arouses ordinary people in coffee shops” across the Middle East is enough to warrant demanding of Israel that it bend over backward to address their grievance.

For all of the noise Kristof makes about candor in politics, his main concern is that Israel be cast, permanently and publicly, as the primary cause of its own problems: “The best hope for Israel isn’t a better fence or more weaponry. . . . Ultimately, security for Israel will emerge only from a peace agreement with Palestinians.” Why Kristof ignores Israel’s repeated demonstrations of its willingness to make peace is unclear. But before he demands more concessions of Israel, or changes in American discourse on the Middle East, he ought to wait until some healthy “vitriol” appears in Palestinian political debate. The silence of dissenters in that arena is truly deafening.

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News from the Continent: Never Again?

In the midst of Europe’s week of official mourning for the Holocaust, the question of how the continent should preserve that terrible memory and transmit it to future generations was the focus of a great controversy. The boycotting of Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent Muslim organizations has by now become an annual ritual. With the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) first among them, these groups believe that a “more inclusive” event should replace the “selective” ceremonies devoted to remembering the Nazi war against the Jews.

What organizations like the MCB have in mind is plain: a “Genocide Memorial Day” focusing on allegedly “ongoing” genocides like that of Israel against the Palestinians. And the MCB’s argument to replace the day with a different sort of commemoration is making headway—so much so that, this year, the city council of Bolton decided not to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to replace its usual event with an observance more to the MCB’s liking. According to the city council, the decision to move the commemoration to June and to call it Genocide Memorial Day was reached in consultation with an interfaith council, although several prominent Jewish leaders were not consulted. Bolton has a rapidly growing Muslim population. With Europe’s shifting demographics, one might wonder how long it will be before such changes sweep the continent, from Sweden’s Malmö—where one-quarter of the population is Muslim—to Sicily’s Mazara del Vallo.

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In the midst of Europe’s week of official mourning for the Holocaust, the question of how the continent should preserve that terrible memory and transmit it to future generations was the focus of a great controversy. The boycotting of Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent Muslim organizations has by now become an annual ritual. With the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) first among them, these groups believe that a “more inclusive” event should replace the “selective” ceremonies devoted to remembering the Nazi war against the Jews.

What organizations like the MCB have in mind is plain: a “Genocide Memorial Day” focusing on allegedly “ongoing” genocides like that of Israel against the Palestinians. And the MCB’s argument to replace the day with a different sort of commemoration is making headway—so much so that, this year, the city council of Bolton decided not to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to replace its usual event with an observance more to the MCB’s liking. According to the city council, the decision to move the commemoration to June and to call it Genocide Memorial Day was reached in consultation with an interfaith council, although several prominent Jewish leaders were not consulted. Bolton has a rapidly growing Muslim population. With Europe’s shifting demographics, one might wonder how long it will be before such changes sweep the continent, from Sweden’s Malmö—where one-quarter of the population is Muslim—to Sicily’s Mazara del Vallo.

When the MCB pressed for the abolition of Holocaust Memorial Day in 2005, “Home Office officials. . .told the [group], which represents more than 350 Muslim organisations, that they [were] considering the request. But officials have no plans to broaden the remit of the occasion because they fear it would infuriate the Jewish community.” Not principle, then, but sheer political expediency safeguards the day in Britain. And with only political arguments keeping Holocaust Memorial Day in place, how long can it be before voters convince the government that it is time for Britain to be more “inclusive”?

It is, therefore, doubly important to watch how Europe responds to the initiative, recently launched under the new German presidency of the EU, to introduce continent-wide legislation banning Holocaust denial. Strictly speaking, the MCB is not denying the Holocaust. But its comparison of the murder of Europe’s Jews to the plight of the Palestinians is a clear attempt to demonize Israel, with the not-so-unintended side-effect of trivializing the Holocaust. In Palestine, fewer than 4,000 people have been killed by the Israeli military in the last six years, all in an effort to disrupt the activities of terrorists and armed militants. In Auschwitz, 30,000 defenseless Jews were slaughtered every day. The analogy, in other words, is a patent untruth.

This kind of gross distortion has already gone a step further in Spain, where the city council of a small town near Madrid tried to mandate the commemoration of the “Palestinian Holocaust.” In the end, luckily, the council backed down. But making the case that history can defend itself rings hollow in the face of such episodes.

Even with such moral stupidity abounding, the subject of banning Holocaust denial remains a highly contested one across Europe. On January 24, Joan Bakewell commented in the Independent that “Freedom of speech commits us to hearing things with which we profoundly disagree. But unless we hear them, we have no chance to refute and correct them.” Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian a few days earlier, concurred, arguing, in essence, that free speech must be protected, memory must be defended through education, shutting them up would turn them into celebrities, etc.

This argument holds sway in much of the continent. Angelo D’Orsi wrote a similar column in Italy’s La Stampa, claiming that “history can defend itself” without being helped by legislation. In Italy, however, there are opposing voices. The justice minister Clemente Mastella has tried to beat the Germans to the punch, introducing his own legislation against Holocaust denial, which the Italian cabinet approved on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Most Americans consider it both and silly and dangerous to punish people for their opinions. But Europe is not America. It is a continent where the dark shadow of the past requires striking a fine balance between freedom of speech and the protection of memory. Is Holocaust denial truly something that we should defend, à la Voltaire, despite its odiousness, its motives, and its sometimes seductive power? Is truth, in a world submerged in the cacophony of cultural relativism, so compelling that we can always confidently rely on evidence and education to rebuke the charlatans and their sinister denials?

Regulating such hate speech may well endow the David Irvings of the world with the halos of martyrs. But it could also deprive them of a platform, discourage others from providing them with one, silence thousands of hate-spewing websites, shut down publishing houses that still print the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and in general make it more difficult to spread the “opinion” that the Holocaust did not happen. For to say such a thing is not just an opinion: it is a libel against the six million Jews who died—as well as those who survived and their descendants.

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