Talk of the Nation

Over the years, the Jewish Light and its contributing writers have offered a plethora of editorials and opinions about the State of Israel. And when readers have disagreed with the opinions expressed, they’ve rarely been shy in offering their own perspectives in our letters and commentary pages.

The vast majority of our editorials are positive toward the actions of the Isaeli government. We’ve emphatically supported Israel’s existence as a Jewish State; consistently advocated for a two-state solution in furtherance of the prospect of peace; and condemned the aggressive actions and words of enemy nations such as Iran and Syria, terrorist factions Hamas and Hezbollah and their many predecessors and collaborators. In recent years, we supported Operation Cast Lead in response to seemingly endless rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel, and expressed outrage at the blatantly biased Goldstone Report which accused Israel of crimes against humanity in Cast Lead.


Yet there have been, and will continue to be, times when we don’t agree with everything Israel does, and will speak out to that effect. Contrary to some folks’ suggestions, criticizing the nation’s actions or policy is not anti-Israel but instead is a way to express our highest aspirations for the Jewish nation.

You’d think the ability to criticize their nation and its government is a value held dear to the hearts of most Israelis. After all, for anyone who’s spent time in or reading about Israel, the old saw “two Israelis, three opinions” is nothing if not a gross understatement.

Well, think again. This week we address the results of a recent survey published by Haaretz in which Israeli citizens were to a considerable degree intolerant of the open expression of ideas. The survey of 500 Jewish Israelis was commissioned by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, in advance of a conference on freedom of expression.

Here’s how the April 28 story by Or Kashti starts (you can find it at

“More than half of Jewish Israelis think human rights organizations that expose immoral behavior by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely, and think there is too much freedom of expression here, a recent survey found.”

The details seem even more surprising. More respondents than not were in favor of punishment for Israeli citizens who support sanctions or boycotts against Israel, and “support punishing journalists who report news that reflect badly on the actions of the defense establishment.”

Moreover, the survey “found that 57.6 percent of the respondents agreed that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely.”

These results suggest that many Israelis believe there is some sort of effective trade to be made between security and expression that can be safely accommodated within the construct of democracy. We certainly saw the same debate here on the heels of 9/11 and the hand-wringing over the Patriot Act. And Israel, as a small bastion of freedom amidst a sea of enemy nations and groups, feels the existential pressure more severely than do we. But the balancing act is a treacherous one, and the more stifling the restrictions, the further Israel will be perceiving as skittering down a slippery slope.

Indeed, the international journalism community has already suggested a notable change for the worse. Reporters Without Borders, which ranks nations on allowing freedom of expression, indicated Israel’s relatively high stature fell precipitously during and as a result of Cast Lead, and has “begun to use the same methods internally as it does outside its own territory.”

A good example of a restrictive Israeli approach currently is the handling of the case of Anat Kam, charged with stealing secret documents while in the Army and leaking information about a Palestinian assassination program. The court both told the press not to cover the case and to avoid mentioning the existence of the gag order.

If proven true, the facts of Kam’s conduct could be considered criminal and potentially treasonous. But to try to silence the media of an entire country about the case and controversy? Absurd. It’s even more absurd when you consider that anyone with an internet connection can disseminate information on the fly, and the best check against such mass distribution is the presence of professional journalists, who at least are trained to accurately report, fact check and edit what they’ve seen and been told.

Those who love and defend Israel (as we do) worry that crackdowns on historically democratic norms could serve to damage the connective tissue between the nation and the United States and other bastions of free speech. The reasons nations support Israel vary, but many do so because of its emphasis on democratic principles. If Israel’s people and government take steps to deprioritize freedom of expression, then one of the rationales for international support may wither. And we would absolutely hate to see that happen.