Free speech of the week


On a whim, I bought this week’s print edition of the Economist. As usual, it is full of well written, well edited, informative and interesting material from across the world. In general, its opinion pieces are solid and well argued. Although its Israeli coverage has become too much of a Guardian imitator, it remains the best quality print journalism I have read.

This week’s edition leads on free speech and censorship. The opinion piece Under attack includes this gem:

One strongman who has enjoyed tweaking the West for hypocrisy is Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkey. At home, he will tolerate no insults to his person, faith or policies. Abroad, he demands the same courtesy – and in Germany he has found it. In March a German comedian recited a satirical poem about him “shagging goats and oppressing minorities” (only the more serious charge is true). Mr Erdogan invoked an old, neglected German law against insulting foreign heads of state. Amazingly, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has let the prosecution proceed. Even more amazingly, nine other European countries still have similar laws, and 13 bar insults against their own head of state.

Think about the highlighted text. It’s a clever swipe at Erdogan; one that will have his political opponents smirking, and the man himself fuming. And, at the same time, it adds to the points being made about freedom of speech. Well done to the Economist.

Not free to speak

From Arutz Sheva, a story to bear in mind when you hear a certain European leader going on about Israel:

Which country has the most free speech violations?

European Court of Human Rights reveals the Council of Europe state that again leads the pack in violating freedom of expression.

The European Court of Human Rights’s (ECHR) annual report, released on Thursday, revealed that in 2015 Turkey led the Council of Europe member states with the highest number of violations of freedom of expression.

Of the 28 cases in 2015 in which a violation of freedom of expression was determined, ten of them were committed by Turkey according to the report as cited by the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News. The closest after Turkey was France, with three rulings against it.

I wonder how much of the French violations were driven by bad decisions following earlier terror attacks. Hopefully they will get back on track.


While Turkey led in terms of freedom of expression violations, Russia outpaced it in terms of the total number of violations, putting Turkey in second place.

Highlighting the freedom of expression problem in Turkey was a case last December in which courts called up experts to decide if a doctor should get jail time for comparing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings – the doctor had already been expelled from the Public Health Institution of Turkey in October for sharing the images comparing the two.

Turkey is not new to violating freedoms of expression. Back in 2014, the country committed more such violations that the rest of the Council of Europe states combined, being responsible for 24 of a total 47 violations.

Aside from freedom of expression, Turkey is also not granting the right to a fair trial according to the findings. Of a total of 120 Turkish violations in 2015, 20 were over the right to a fair trial.

The report found that the right to a fair trial was in fact the issue with the highest percentage of violations among the member states, standing at just under 25% of all violations.

While Turkey is second behind Russia in terms of violations in 2015, it is ranked first place in terms of all violations determined by the ECHR since it was first established in 1959.

Turkey committed a whopping 3,182 violations since 1959 according to the report, with Italy coming in second at 2,336, and Russia third with 1,720.

People in glass houses?

I hear no silence

An op-ed in the New York Times (by Mairav Zonszein) claimed that the Left in Israel had been silenced by intimidation. It was a strike against one of the core values of democracy. Or, a form of delegitimization. Surprisingly, as Israel Matzav points out, an op-ed in Haaretz confirms the allegation is nonsense:

But we haven’t been silenced. We’ve just failed to make our case. For a dozen years, we have failed to win a majority in the Knesset. We have failed to convince other Israelis that the cost of holding onto the occupied territories is greater than the dangers of relinquishing them. In Zonszein’s analysis, this is because a right-wing cabal has shut us up, and there’s little we can do about it.

The truth is, we’ve failed because we’ve failed, and there is a lot we can do about it. Rather than whine in the New York Times about how we’ve been silenced, we need to figure out how to speak to other Israelis so that they will listen. The answer is not to convince readers of the New York Times that Israel is no longer a democracy. The answer is to accept that Israel is a democracy, and that democracy demands that we speak to our fellow citizens and listen to them, that we persuade them rather than dismiss them. Zonszein argues that democratic politics in Israel are hopeless. The fact is, it is in Israeli democracy that our greatest hope lies.

Read Israel Matzav’s analysis in full, here.

Where I might differ in that analysis is that I believe there are ideas that the Left in Israel could get backing for, but to do so they would need to jettison some articles of faith. And I think they know that, but are reluctant to do so. For example, blaming the ‘settlements’ and construction there for every so called setback in peace negotiations, just does not work. When you get down to the details, and the possibilities attainable through negotiation, you see it’s a handy excuse, but it doesn’t stand up to examination. It’s a complex situation, beyond the scope of this post, but for now it’s enough to note that I will be keeping my eye out for new developments from that sector. After all, they are free to speak up any time they want.

No twitter for you!

From AP via Times of Israel:

Iran’s culture minister is urging authorities to unblock social media networks that are widely used by government figures but remain officially banned, the state news agency said Tuesday.

I sure as hell have been asleep at the wheel for a while, it seems. I must have missed all the protests and campaigning for human rights – like free speech – for Iranians. Bugger.

The appeal reflects another point of tension between the moderate-leaning government of President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s hard-liners. Rouhani does not have the authority to make decisions such as freeing up social media, which is seen as an internal security matter and under the sway of groups such as the powerful Revolutionary Guard.

Where does “moderate-leaning” come from? Is that fact, or opinion? (Obviously, we expect AP to label Bibi Netanyahu as “right-wing”, because that’s what the media are supposed to do to bolshy Israelis who have the temerity to stand up for their country.) I mean “moderate-pretending” or “two-faced” might be more accurate in many people’s minds…

The report by IRNA quotes Culture Minister Ali Jannati as saying all social networks, particularly Facebook, should be accessible.

Surely we can do Iranian productivity a favor by banning them from Facebook as a part of the current sanctions? Is that too cruel?

Some government officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, post extensively on Facebook and Twitter. Many ordinary Iranians use proxy servers and other methods to bypass the ban.

“Do as I say,” not “do as I do.” Again. Hypocritical. Again.

Believe me

There are two parts of Chris Huhne’s weekend appearance in the Guardian (here) that made me smile:

“If most of the press is to be believed…”

I don’t think Mr “It was my wife what done it.” should ever call into question who is believable, and who is not. (Neither should he be lecturing anyone on the need “urgently to re-establish credibility.”)

Second up, given the topic is supposed to be press censorship, this closer says a lot:

Comments on this article are turned off for legal reasons

I’m unsure which of these is the worst: Huhne, the Guardian, or the changes to the UK law about the press. They all leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Blinkers and earplugs

[A big tip of the hat to Elder of Ziyon for the following.]

The following story is from Israel Hayom:

BBC debate can’t secure Muslim cleric to face off with Rabbi Lau

The Doha Debates – a Qatar-based free speech forum for discussing issues facing the region – invites former chief rabbi and current Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau to participate in panel alongside representatives of other faiths • Lau: They are always talking about dialogue, but they don’t really mean it.

Yehuda Shlezinger

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