Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who's "Right-Wing?"

By Barry Rubin

An AFP dispatch about the firing of Larry Derfner has been published widely throughout the world. It mentions correctly that I defended Derfner's right to free speech and said he should not have been fired.

There are two points in the article, however, I would like to challenge. First, is the description of me as "right-wing" and found it surprising that I defended Derfner.

I reject that entirely. There is more of a choice in politics today--I hope--than being either "left-wing" or "right-wing." As I have repeatedly made clear, I am more accurately described as a traditional liberal in American terminology and as a moderate social democrat in European or Israeli terminology. Since I was a parliamentary candidate in the last Israeli election of a social democratic party that might be some clue as to my political views.

By redefining everyone as extreme, the common ground of democracy is being destroyed. I judge each issue on its merits rather than on a preconceived ideological framework. Moreover, the defense of democracy, civil liberties, free speech, and judging someone's work on the basis of merit are important ideas to fight for. Political life should not be reduced to a battle between two extremes that ignore fair play in the search for victory.

Have we reached the point that it is shocking for someone to echo the famous statement that I might not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it (in this case, without being fired)? Is it surprising that someone actually agrees with the idea that an open democratic debate is the best solution for a society and opposes all of the various forms of "hate speech" thought crimes?

Because, you see, the founders of the United States were completely correct in understanding that once someone is able to set the boundaries of free speech--with the exception of speech intended directly to lead to criminal action--they can define it any way they want? Even laws defining "Holocaust denial" as a crime are pernicious and, as we have seen, were the opening wedge for far greater denials of free speech.

As for Israel today, a "right-winger" might be someone glad to hold onto control over territory. But most of the center and moderate left, though preferring a two-state solution, knows very well from experience that holding control over the territories in the framework of the 1993 and later agreements between Israel and the Palestinians is a necessity. That isn't "right-wing" that is sanity.

Finally, the AFP dispatch went out of its way to disagree with my point that in practice Palestinian-populated territory is not under Israeli occupation except for east Jerusalem and 20 percent of Hebron--both by agreement with the Palestinian Authority, by the way. The AFP says that international law interpretations say that everything--including the Gaza Strip--is "under occupation."

What this means in the context of the Derfner discussion is that a Palestinian can dwell completely within a Palestinian-ruled territory and be governed in every aspect of life by Palestinian authorities, and then kill Israeli civilians on the basis that he is suffering from a horrible Israeli occupation. This is absurd but then that's par for the course regarding Western news coverage of these issues.

Of course, the AFP had no space for my critique of Derfner's argument: that giving independence would not end the "right to kill Israelis" claim. But then they don't want their readers to know that the problem keeping this conflict going is not the lack of a Palestinian state but the existence of Israel.

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