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To Ban an Israeli Film By: Alan M. Dershowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, September 09, 2009


A group of hard left filmmakers and writers from around the world have been using their celebrity to try to coerce the Toronto International Film Festival into banning Israeli films.  Their petition, which is filled with misstatement of facts and rewriting of history, describes Israel as “an Apartheid regime.”  It focuses not so much on Israel ’s occupation of the West Bank since 1967 but rather on Israel ’s very existence since 1948.  It characterizes Tel Aviv, a city built by the sweat of Jews largely on baron coast land, as illegitimate.  It never mentions the fact that the Palestinians were offered and rejected statehood in 1938, 1948, 1967 and 2000-2001.  It fails to mention that when Israel ended its occupation of Gaza , the result was rockets being fired at Israeli schoolchildren and other civilians. 

 

They claim that the inspiration for their censorship effort includes “former President Jimmy Carter,” who they say has characterized Israel as an “Apartheid regime.”  Jimmy Carter has said many nasty things about Israel but he has expressly disclaimed any allegation that the Israeli regime itself is Apartheid.  He acknowledges that Israel is a multicultural democracy in which Arabs vote, serve in the Knesset, serve on the Supreme Court and teach in Israeli universities.  Many even volunteered to serve in the Israeli Army.  His use—misuse in my view—of the word “Apartheid” was limited to Israel ’s occupation of the West Bank .

 

As Rhoda Kadalie and Julia Bertelsmann, two black South African women whose families were active in the anti-Apartheid movement, wrote recently,

Israel is not an apartheid state. . . . Arab citizens of Israel can vote and serve in the Knesset; black South Africans could not vote until 1994. There are no laws in Israel that discriminate against Arab citizens or separate them from Jews. . . . South Africa had a job reservation policy for white people; Israel has adopted pro-Arab affirmative action measures in some sectors. Israeli schools, universities and hospitals make no distinction between Jews and Arabs. An Arab citizen who brings a case before an Israeli court will have that case decided on the basis of merit, not ethnicity. This was never the case for blacks under apartheid.

Kadalie and Bertelsmann are critical of Israel ’s policies in the occupied territories but add that “racism and discrimination do not form the rationale for Israel ’s policies and actions. . . . In the West Bank , measures such as the ugly security barrier have been used to prevent suicide bombings and attacks on civilians, not to enforce any racist ideology. Without the ongoing conflict and the tendency of Palestinian leaders to resort to violence, these would not exist.”

 

At a recent concert by Daniel Berenboim and an orchestra composed of Israelis and Palestinians held at the Young Men’s Christian Association in Jerusalem , I sat next to an Israeli Arab who was Israel ’s minister of culture. This is a cabinet position. . The audience, too, was a mixture of Israelis and Palestinians, many from the West Bank . Hardly a feature of apartheid!

The ill-informed signers of the censorship petition ignore these realities, and in wrongly exploiting the apartheid analogy, they have devalued the antiapartheid struggle itself. According to Congressman John Conyers, who helped found the Congressional Black Caucus, applying the word apartheid to Israel belittles real racism and apartheid; the word “does not serve the cause of peace, and the use of it against the Jewish people in particular, who have been victims of the worst kind of discrimination, discrimination resulting in death, is offensive and wrong.”

 

Instead of submitting their own film or writings into the marketplace of ideas, the censors seek to close down this marketplace to Israel .  What are they afraid of? Why won’t they compete in the open marketplace of ideas and try to influence public opinion in a manner consistent with freedom of speech, rather than employing the age-old weapon of tyrants, namely censorship. 

 

The reason is clear.  They know they would lose in an open marketplace of ideas.  That is why they seek to close it to views different than theirs.  “Speech for me but not for thee!,” is the age old mantra of censors.

 

Who are these censors?  They consist mostly of obscure “activists” who nobody has ever heard of, but they also include Jane Fonda, who famously supported the Viet Cong and refused to condemn the Cambodian genocide.  Other signatories such as Danny Glover, Alice Walker, and David Byrne are way out of their league when it comes to knowledge of the Middle East .  They should know better than to be demanding censorship relating to a country about which they know so little.  Moreover, I do not recall their names on petitions condemning—or calling for censorship of—such truly repressive regimes as Iran, Cuba, China, Zimbabwe, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other nations that discriminate against women, gays, dissidents, religious minorities and others. 

 

Imagine how the hard-left would react if anyone tried to censor or boycott these writers and actors!  They would cry “McCarthyism.”  Yet McCarthyism from the hard left is as dangerous to liberty as McCarthyism from the hard right. 


Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, “The Case Against Israel’s Enemies.”


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