Freedom of thought, freedom of expression and breaking silence

In one of my old vinyl recordings Pete Seeger sings “Die Gedanken sind frei”, “Thoughts are free”. In Nazi Germany expressing freedom of thought was a deadly endeavor that Hans Fallada made powerfully vivid in his novel “Jeder stirbt für sich allein”, “Every man dies alone”. In the former Soviet world, gruesome was the silence of parents for fear their children would inadvertently divulge dissident words heard at home.

Israel was born as a true democracy and still is very much so despite the violent hostility in which it was conceived, gestated, and developed. The press and whistleblowers can expose wrongdoings that powerful people at the highest level of government commit. Yet, repeated insidious undermining of freedom of expression granted by the Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel has prompted me to break silence. My outcry stems from the official inference that targets culture, arts, literature, and academic freedom. It endangers freedom of thought that spurs creativity.

The implementation of a new code of ethics that would prevent University professors to expose discriminatory rules targeting dissidents and Arab viewpoints is as venomous as the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Painter Yair Garbuz was denied the highest award granted by Israel because he is used deleterious wording to qualify a superstitious slice of the population that most certainly ignores his oeuvre and even his name. Yair Garbuz may have overlooked talisman worship is a remnant of strict obedience to rituals which shielded Jewish communities engulfed in oppressing environments. Still, the denial aims at muzzling the thoughts that feed his artistic imagination.

Cutting the funding of a theater because its program includes readings of Mahmoud Darwish poetry is another measure to quell dissident voices. The rhythmic sound of words gives poetry its magical sense. Translation loses this power but still carries the strengths of Darwish’s nostalgic images of a lost land. His voice needs to be heard although it strikes phony sounds to my ears. From his verses emerges also repeated reference to blood and weaponry revealing an atavistic hatred that distorts the true meaning of the past. Did he forget that the Arab sword conquered Palestine still inhabited by Jews and the murderous attack carried out 1300 years later by the armies of five Arab countries on the day following the rebirth of the Jewish State?

Government interference against freedom of thought culminated with the contradictory rulings about closure and reinstitution of public broadcasting. The hidden purpose of the saga was to silence criticism of the Prime Minister and of his household. Episodes could have raised laughter like medieval farces played in the forecourt of churches had they not threatened the livelihood of hundreds of people. Using economical pressure to muzzle embarrassing revelations and to promote political agendas is a pernicious form of public opinion control. I keep in mind that the media, commercial and public, are not always at the service of objective truth. They have their own agendas that exert control on the selection and presentation of the material they publish. The multiplicity of media that generates competition for ratings enforces self-regulation from which reliability finally emerges. Yet, perversion challenges even this form of check and balance when, during an election campaign, the owner of a leading newspaper, known for his sharp criticism of the Prime Minister, proposes to mitigate his attacks in return for limiting the diffusion of a competitor. Advertisement, which fuels commercial media, interferes with freedom of thought by shaping the way we purchase goods and entertainment. Still, the freedom of choice remains our own responsibility. Advertisers also have an impact on the contents of radio and television programs as they seek to reach the widest possible audience, often at the expense of quality and good taste. Freedom from these constraints is the main “raison d’être” of public broadcast because it is the channel of cultural innovation.

I find comfort in being able to write this post.


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