Freedom of expression in Israel is a hollow pretension
Israel is sliding down a slippery slope. A country that imprisons its Jonathan Pollaks will end up with jails filled with 'opponents of the regime.'
Jonathan Pollak is due to go to prison in another few days because of his views. The official reason for his arrest was his participation in a quiet protest by cyclists demonstrating in Tel Aviv against the Gaza blockade. The police said the demonstration slowed traffic. Not nice, to slow traffic, so off to prison with him.
Even before that, Pollak received a suspended sentence for taking part in a nonviolent protest against the separation fence in Bil’in − the same fence that the Supreme Court ordered must be moved off the land of Palestinian farmers. But the army is refusing to carry out the order and is in contempt of court.
I have seen Pollak at dozens of demonstrations, both in Bil’in and Tel Aviv, facing tear gas and water cannon. I have never seen him raise his hand or a stone − he seems to have nonviolence in his blood. This week I saw him once again, at a demonstration in front of the Defense Ministry to protest the killing of Jawaher Abu Rahmah of Bil’in, who died after she inhaled too much “tear” gas. During this demonstration, a police officer punched former Meretz MK Mossi Raz. When Raz asked for the officer’s name, he was arrested.
Any nation would be proud of a son like Jonathan Pollak. He’s a person of conscience who is prepared to risk himself for the sake of justice, and now also to sacrifice his freedom. He is a worthy grandson of Nimrod Eshel, the legendary leader of striking sailors in 1951, and a worthy son of his father, the actor and idealist Yossi Pollak.
Freedom of conscience is a matter of principle. There is no difference if a person is jailed because of his views for three months, three years or 30 years. Pollak is joining a magnificent group of prisoners of conscience around the world, from the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo to the fighters for human rights in Iran.
Israel is sliding down a slippery slope. A country that imprisons its Jonathan Pollaks will end up with jails filled with “opponents of the regime.” We have seen that in other places − let’s hope we don’t see it here.
The greatest danger looming over Israel’s existence today is that it will become a country where it is bad to live, a country whose racist face will repel the Jews of the world, a country where the phrase “the only democracy in the Middle East” will make people laugh. The real danger is not that Pollak and his partners will express their views in stormy protests, but that they will stop demonstrating altogether and look for another place in this world where the term freedom of expression is not a hollow pretension.