What is the meaning of freedom of speech? You might think it means simply the right to say what you want, constrained only by a few common-sense barriers against injuring others. There is, however, another definition of free speech propounded by the likes of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, and other Israel-bashers. By this definition, freedom of speech consists of their right to say what they want without having to suffer demurral or criticism. They complain that supporters of Israel “stifle debate” by, well, debating with them.
This audacious polemical stratagem now has been elevated to the status of a full-fledged campaign. On the web page of the New Israel Fund, I found MuzzleWatch, its logo a mouth taped shut. This is a blog sponsored by something called Jewish Voice for Peace, a group led by such luminaries of the hard left as Ed Asner and Adrienne Rich.
According to its statement of purpose, “MuzzleWatch is dedicated to creating an open atmosphere for debate about U.S.-Israeli foreign policy by shining a light on incidents that involve pressure, intimidation, and outright censorship of critics of U.S.-Israeli policy.” Among the repressive incidents exposed on the website were a critique of Jimmy Carter by Alan Dershowitz, a jibe at George Soros by the New Republic, and a report on Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International by the group NGO Monitor*. Seen through this warped looking glass, criticism of these individuals or groups amounts to a threat to civil liberties.
Most blogs, like contentions, allow readers to post comments. MuzzleWatch did too—during its first four months of operation. Then it announced that it had “decided to change course and shut down the comments capability of this blog.” This explanation followed:
It seemed clear that there was a need for a space where people could freely debate challenging political issues related to Israel, Palestine, and U.S .foreign policy. Over time, however, the comment boards seem to have drawn in those who communicate in a more polarized fashion, and have chased away people seeking more thoughtful dialogue. . . . Clearly, this experiment in unfettered free speech hasn’t worked.
Now MuzzleWatch posts its opinions without any risk that a reader might attempt to “stifle” or “muzzle” it by expressing a different opinion.