Lieberman, the 'Champion of Democracy', Uses Charlie Hebdo to Bash Muslims

Yisrael Beiteinu is being dishonest in going to war over freedom of expression and the democratic right to buy a newspaper.

Ilan Assayag

With officials of Yisrael Beiteinu fighting for democracy and freedom of expression on behalf of all of us, It might seem like the end of the world has arrived. The saga of Steimatzky, the weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo and Avigdor Lieberman’s party upset me because of the cynical use of the tragedy.

So as not to be accused of insensitivity, as happens to anyone who does not toe the line, I will start by saying that the attack on both the magazine in Paris and the kosher supermarket, were horrific crimes. During the awful week that Paris went through, I wrote posts expressing my grief and solidarity with the victims’ families.

Still, I did not see fit to celebrate and share the cartoons that the magazine took pride in as an exemple of freedom of expression — neither the ones of the prophet Mohammed nor of the prophet Moses, which were just as offensive. Both cartoons went beyond the boundaries of good taste, and I see no advantage in letting loose against the religious symbols that many people hold dear. In my humble opinion, the same messages could have been conveyed without insisting on the use of sacred symbols.

I myself am not religious. Almost the opposite is true. I have a clear antagonism toward religious institutions, and some will say that I have no respect for religion or religiosity. But I have a great deal of respect for people. And out of that respect for people, I decided not to share the cartoons and settle for posts about freedom of expression and freedom of artistic expression, including when it comes to art that I personally do not like.

The Steimatzky bookstore chain planned a special event during which it would sell the edition of the magazine that came out after the attack. When Muslim public-opinion leaders came out against the event, Steimatzky cancelled the event, whether out of consideration or a desire to save itself the headache. The weekly magazine will be sold, but over the Internet and with no celebrations. And all of a sudden, the fighters for freedom of expression from Yisrael Beiteinu embark on an operation to protect democracy.

We could debate the question of whether it is even appropriate to sell the special edition of Charlie Hebdo. I would not buy it, but I definitely support the right of anyone who wishes to buy it to do so. But is buying a newspaper really the issue here? Is that what Yisrael Beiteinu is fighting about? The same Yisrael Beiteinu that, under different circumstances, would surely accuse the magazine of anti-Semitism? After all, this is a party that I have never seen raise the banner of freedom of expression — the opposite, perhaps.

This is the party that adopted several completely undemocratic slogans to the effect that anyone who does not advocate its positions is not patriotic enough. And let us not forget that this is the party of which several members are up to their necks in a messy corruption investigation — and this is the party that is going to war over freedom of expression and the democratic right to buy any newspaper I want? It does not make sense, and I do not believe them for a moment.

With wonderful timing, a party that was fighting for its life - despite recruiting a prominent journalist - had a golden opportunity to divert the discourse from its corruption and engage in wholesale incitement against Islam and Muslims. The problem is with the acts, not with the Muslims who asked only that their religious symbols be shown consideration. The problem is that there is no responsible adult around who understands that one insignificant act in the election campaign, an act that is nothing but propaganda, could ruin much more in the long term. If we weigh these things on the scales of history, it is obvious that it is better to find ways to create bridges between people, rather than creating transitory scandalsthat may attract voters but will ruin the lives of all of us.

The emperor has nothing on. Sharon Gal did not come to defend freedom of expression or democracy; the purpose of Yisrael Beiteinu’s planned and deliberate demonstration was to drive a wedge between Jews and Arabs, while taking cynical advantage of a human tragedy and the very same freedom of expression that has become a worn-out slogan. We should not collaborate with such a repulsive act.

Finally, a word to the leaders of the Muslim community, wherever they may be: The honor of the prophet Mohammed remains intact within your hearts, and it is not harmed by cartoons of any sort.

It is better for each person to live according to his own faith, for Muslims to live at peace with cartoonists and for Israelis (of Yisrael Beiteinu) learn to live at peace with Israelis (who hold different opinions.)

The writer is an actor.