No Room for Free Speech for Israeli Arabs – and Israel Isn't to Blame

Extremists within Israel's Arab community pose a real threat to a pluralistic society with room for all ideologies.

AFP

Two members of the Islamic State kill two Muslims who in their opinion weren’t knowledgeable enough about religion. Then they argue about which of them gets to kill a Christian they captured, because the killing of a Christian gets you extra points on Judgment Day.

Meanwhile, the Christian has a heart attack, and the two ISIS guys beg him to hold on until they can kill him, “after which you can go to hell.” This was one of the scenes in a comedy sketch by a theater group from Ramallah.

Extremists from the city of Tamra in the Galilee, where thousands of academics live, blocked the staging of the show, claiming that it showed contempt for religious leaders. Do members of the Islamic State represent Muslim clergymen?

The answer comes from the Islamic Movement, both of whose factions vehemently denounce the Islamic State, so it should have opposed the cancellation of the performance. But instead of standing firm against censorship, some chose to remain neutral, as if this were a fight over a taxi. And thus, thanks to the threats, the show was canceled. Domestic tranquility was preserved at the cost of silencing people.

As the darkness fell, many people condemned what had happened. Tamra’s potters' movement, affiliated with Hadash, and the local Balad branch issued a sharply worded statement against the attack on artistic freedom.

In Tira, another city with thousands of academics, a marathon in which women were to take part was canceled at the last minute due to threats from residents and clergymen. Not only did they demand that the municipality call off the race (which it refused to do), but shots were fired at the car of Hanin Radi, the woman who organized it. MK Haneen Zoabi, who vehemently protested this disgrace and asked the police to secure the event and not cave to the extremists, received a flood of threats and curses on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint Arab List, tells us of his vision for 2025, by when he believes the sharp dispute between the two peoples will be resolved. While everyone hopes the problems between the two peoples will be resolved, what about the disputes within one of them?

Does Vision 2025 include the tiny issue of freedom of expression for that people? After all, artistic freedom and freedom of speech aren’t luxuries. It’s part of a person’s soul to be himself. In what kind of society can’t you be yourself in your own hometown? In what kind of society are you ordered to shut your mouth and not express an opinion, lest you incur the wrath of the arbiters of what’s permitted and forbidden?

We should mention that we have an Arab homeland that stretches “from the stormy gulf to the rebellious sea,” in the words of Arab nationalists. But in this mighty Arab world there is no room for a different viewpoint. If such a thinker wants to, God forbid, open his mouth, he’ll have to move to the imperialist and infidel West, since in the Arab homeland, as a famous Syrian actor says, you only open your mouth at the dentist.

Of course, the Joint Arab List has an important role to play in representing Arab citizens and influencing parliament. But it can’t neglect the struggle in the Arab community for a pluralistic society with room for all ideologies.

In any case, I take comfort that everything will be hunky-dory now that Miri Regev is culture minister. Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav has already greeted her with the closing of the Al-Midan Theater, which dared to stage a play not to the right’s liking, while the minister herself has said, “If censorship is needed, I’ll censor.”

Given the flood of racism, the need to censor will increase. The Arab reactionaries will be buoyed and Arab progressives will find themselves between two ends that always meet at the same point. As the Arabs say, “I don’t get along with Grandpa, or with Grandma, either.”