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On Israel, Free Speech, and UN Censorship

Submitted by Robin Messing on Sun, 04/03/2016 - 4:22pm

Those who read this blog probably know I'm not a big fan of Israel or its propaganda (hasbara).  I despise the settlements and the apartheid regime in the West Bank.  I dislike that Palestinians are treated like second class citizens even within the Green Line.  And I loathe how Israel and its supporters tried to sucker us into an unnecessary war with Iran by doing everything they could to sabotage the nuclear deal. 

I doubt there is much that Danny Danon, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.N., and I agree on.  But today I find myslef agreeing with him.  It is not enthusiastic agreement.  In fact, it's kind of a hold-your-nose-you-must-agree-with-him-on-principle agreement.  But it is agreement nonetheless.

The UN is censoring three of thirteen exhibits that Israel's permanent mission to the UN and the group StandWithUs plan to open at UN headquarters on Monday.  The exhibits deal with Jerusalem being the spiritual and physical capital of the Jewish people for thousands of years,  portray Israeli Arabs as equal citizens, and describe Zionism as "the liberation movement of the Jewish people, who sought to overcome 1,900 years of oppression and regain self-determination in their indigenous homeland.”  

There is no doubt that these exhibits will be controversial and one-sided.  I'm sure many will object to their cherry-picking of history and ignoring the Palestinian point of view.  I'm sure there would be at least some aspects of these exhibits that I would find objectionable.

But censoring is wrong.  The antidote to speech you find objectionable is not censorship.  The antidote to speech you find objectionable is more speech.  If the UN is censoring these exhibits because they fear that viewers will mistakenly think that they represent the UN's point of view, then UN officials should put up large signs stating that the views presented represent the exhibitors only, and they are not endorsed by the UN.  In addition, the UN should invite the Palestinians to put up an exhibit of their own (although something tells me that most of Israel's supporters would object vehemently to that.)

Even though I would probably disagree with at least some of the exhibitions' substance, I sympathize with Israel's complaint that its right to free speech is being stomped on.  I hope others sympathize as well.  But I have a hunch those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause will not be convinced--at least not while Israel and its supporters try to stifle the speech of those who support BDS by smearing them as anti-Semites, try to use the government's power of the purse to pressure colleges to shut down Students for Justice in Palestine, and criminalizie pro-BDS speech where they can.  If Israel and its supporters want others to respect their right to free speech then they are more likely to gain a sympathetic hearing if they stop trying to stomp on the free speech rights of Palestinians and their supporters.


Update 4/4/16: The UN has now given their approval of Israel's exhibit on Zionism.  Read the followup story here.