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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater?

Last week, an Oklahoma City man was pulled over by police for having an anti-Obama sign on his car. The sign said "Abort Obama, not the unborn." Police pulled the man over and confiscated the sign, even though the motorist said that he believed the sign to mean that Obama ought to be impeached.

Here in Israel, we're way ahead of that. During the Oslo War, there was a very popular bumper sticker here that said "Ain Aravim, ain piguim" (if there are no Arabs, there are no terror attacks). The bumper sticker embodied the fact that all (or nearly all - there are two incidents that happened in this country in the last fifteen years in which Arabs were attacked by Jews) of our terror attacks were carried out by Arabs against Jews. Some interpreted the bumper sticker as calling for the expulsion of Arabs from the country.

On Wednesday, for the second time, a resident of the Samarian town of Yitzhar, 37-year old Neria Ofan, was convicted of 'incitement to racism' for driving his car near his home with such a bumper sticker (which I will not reproduce on this blog for fear of being prosecuted for the same 'crime' [UPDATE - I have now reproduced it. If the JPost can publish it, so can I. CiJ) in 2004. The last person convicted - David HaIvri (who I believe reads this blog) - was sentenced to six months of community service. Ofan hasn't been sentenced yet. The 'wheels of justice' turn slowly in Israel.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court in the case of Schenk v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919)
The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.
That has become the standard for measuring free speech in the United States. That's why, for example, the Mohammed cartoons were not banned in the United States. That's why that case in Oklahoma City constituted such a stir last week, even though the motorist was apparently not arrested or charged.

Is putting a bumper sticker on a car that says 'if there are no Arabs, there are no terror attacks' like shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater when there is none? Is it a 'clear and present danger' to bring about a substantive evil that the Knesset has a right to prevent? Does it endanger anyone other than the car's driver and his passengers? Or is prosecuting someone for displaying such a bumper sticker a selective prosecution to 'protect' a politically correct minority who'd rather not know what the rest of the world thinks of them? In Israel, it is most certainly the case that the prosecution is a selective prosecution to protect a politically correct minority who would rather not expel the terrorists from among them. Here's some proof.

Fifteen years ago there was a popular bumper sticker that said "dros kol dos" (run down every dos - dos being a derogatory term for ultra-Orthodox Jews). Throughout the '90's people drove around with stickers on their cars that said "yamutu ha'kanaim" (death to the zealots - the zealots being understood to mean the revenants or the ultra-Orthodox Jews). Guess what: No one was prosecuted for those stickers.

Prosecuting bumper sticker bearers from Yitzhar convinces Israelis that the country's laws are unjust and unevenly enforced. And unfortunately, they often are unjust and unevenly enforced. After prosecuting bumper sticker displayers, the next step is prosecuting people who publish uncomplimentary cartoons of Mohamed (oops - sorry - we've done that already too) and barring Dutch lawmakers who point out the truth about Islam from entering the country. It's just plain wrong. It brings about disrespect for the law and for those who are charged with upholding it.


At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to make a statement:

"אם אין ערבים, אין פיגועים"

"If there are no Arabs, there are no terror attacks"

One more statement:

"If there are no leftist elitist mind controlling judges, there is no injustice."

Come and get me, Stasi.

At 9:54 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

In Israel, there is a Leftist First Amendment. Basically, leftists and the Arabs are free to say whatever they want. Any other view that is viewed by the Left as politically incorrect can be gagged. The leftist police, prosecution and courts work to ensure controversial non-leftist opinions can't be expressed in Israel.

Not only is democracy compromised but public respect for the rule of law and the legitimacy of the state's authority is markedly reduced in view of the unfairness by which so-called racist "anti-incitement" laws are enforced.

All the Israeli Left does with its prosecutorial heavy-handedness is to make martyrs of innocent people and far from deterring their conduct, it reinforces them in the rightness of their convictions. No idea on earth can be suppressed by force.

The absurdity of suppressing free speech is the most eloquent and principled argument for not suppressing it in the first place.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Shy Guy, if I lived in Israel, I'd put the following bumper sticker, credit to Steven Plaut for the idea, on my car:

No Leftists, No Treason

And I'd dare Israel's Gestapo to come and arrest me.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Shy Guy, what you just said may get Carl convicted but in your defense and in his I defend your right to say it! Gentlemen, if harboring the "wrong" opinion and not because either of you have done anything wrong, is a crime in Israel that could land you in prison for six months, then something is wrong with Israel's justice system and not with your views. No one in a free society, has the right not to be offended - and certainly leftists, my friends, have no right to be shielded from opinions that happen to offend them!

At 10:21 AM, Blogger sheik yer'mami said...

Simple: When the theatre is on fire you scream FIRE!

When cartoons make the news, you print them, you show them, and you discuss about it.

When Arab-Muslims scream 'allahu akbar' and attack you, you will say that it was an Islamic terrorists who attacked you, provided you survive the attack.

And who are the swine who want to prevent us from telling the truth?

At 10:31 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Sheik, Israeli leftists can call for the destruction of Israel and Arabs can scream "Death To The Jews" and that is viewed as protected free speech in Israel. If Israeli rightists call for the transfer of hostile Arabs from Israel and demanding loyalty from the Arabs, that is considered racist incitement in Israel and is an indictable offense.

Israel is a sort of Jewish Animal Farm and some of the animals in it are truly more equal than others.

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I've found a non-contestable sticker. :)


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