Friday, February 11, 2011

Pfeffer Prefers Incitement

Whether Anshel Pfeffer is still wearing a kippah I do not know. I do know, ,though, that he is firmly in line with his employer's outlook on religion, that being Haaretz where he writes. I first met him in the late 1990s when he was a reporter on KolHair, the Haaretz Jerusalem weekly. He contributes to, what else, The Guardian.

Here is a forthright statement of his today:

...there is a world of difference between the Islamist and the Israeli ultra-Orthodox religious-right establishments, but they have one trait in common, and that is fundamentalism. They share a firm and unshakable belief that in every instance, their religious code is supreme over all man-made legal systems, especially democracy. In other words, sharia or halakha trumps every other consideration.

That doesn't read that bad even if, as we know, in comparing two things, especially two socio-cultural aspects like religion, one is in danger in persuading your reader, or listener, that the two things are always equal and in all circumstances. And the additional dange is not only mixing up people but that your own journalistic rhetoric becomes incitement itself. And that is what he does in his opening paragraphs:-

A few months from now, Egypt may come under the rule of a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose supreme spiritual leader said just a few years ago that God would "destroy the seed of the Jews and extirpate them from the world. These Jews are accursed scoundrels, crying crocodile tears while they murder people; it is forbidden to have any mercy on them. We have to destroy them with great missiles."

And if you think this is populist scare-mongering, and that this represents only one benighted faction of the popular Egyptian movement, here is what the leader of a rival faction of the Brotherhood said about Israeli civilians: "There is nothing in Islamic law about consideration for innocents in time of war." And lest there be any mistake, his secretary explained that "there is no problem with killing Jewish civilians, because the entire population supports Israeli terror."

It's quite a nightmarish scenario just over the Negev border - except that it isn't happening in the land of the Nile, but right here in Zion. Substitute "Arab" for the words "Jewish" and "Israeli" and you have a representative sample of the teachings of rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Dov Lior...

But he does manage to salvage his liberal outlook when he makes this point, which should be obvious to anyone in a democratic society: inflammatory as their statements are, a police investigation is not the way to counter their influence. It will only confer martyr status on them and do nothing to encourage their followers to adopt a more democratic stance. These rabbis are the enemies of democracy, and we shouldn't hand them the achievement of an erosion of a basic democratic right. The laws against incitement should be used as sparingly as possible, only in cases when there is a clear and direct call for violence.

Basic Jewish values and outlook are debatable and that is what the book was engaged in. It was not a political tract and it needs be challenged but Israel still has to find it's way as the so-called liberal and progressive forces that have the power to sway judges, police and government officials are the more illiberal elements on the scene.


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