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Are Informers Israel's New Heroes?

Zehava Galon
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Right-wing protesters in Tel Aviv hold a banner reading: "Left-wingers are traitors."
Right-wing protesters in Tel Aviv hold a banner reading: "Left-wingers are traitors."Credit: Moti Milrod
Zehava Galon

Shortly after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in World War II, they handed the town of Odessa over to their allies, the Romanians. Odessa had been under Soviet rule for 20 years, something that was reflected in the habits of its citizens. A few days into the Romanian occupation, its new rulers put up flyers saying: “Residents of Odessa, be ashamed of yourselves! Stop denouncing each other!”

I recalled this last week, when I read an item published in Israel Hayom: The president of the Haifa District Court, Ron Shapira, had been sent brochures produced by the human rights organization B’Tselem. The brochures were addressed to the judges of the court and he duly sent them on. The court stressed that this is a regular procedure; the court receives mail from all sorts of sources. The president stated that anyone who is not interested in the brochures is welcome to shred them.

But that is not the point: The story here is that someone in the Haifa District Court ran to squeal to MK Itamar Ben-Gvir to sully the names of the district court’s president and his justices. The implied charge was in the ignominious nature of the words “left-wing”. Ben-Gvir and Israel Hayom say the justices are left-wing, and not another word need be said.

Of course, this is complete nonsense. The information provided by human rights organizations is accurate and critical. A decade ago, senior officers in the IDF Central Command would state proudly that they read B’Tselem’s reports. These reports provided the officers information from the field that they weren’t receiving through the standard channels.

It is highly doubtful that any officer would dare say this today. He would be immediately marked as an enemy of the people; the master of denunciation, Shai Glick, head of the right-wing organization Betzalmo, would start making calls and Ben-Gvir would turn up to demonstrate in front of the officer’s bureau.

But why stop with the court? B’Tselem sends its reports to the Knesset as well. Shall we ban MKs from receiving this information? Perhaps there should be a categorical, Putin-style ban on B’Tselem disseminating its reports anywhere. Who needs to know?

Channel 11 TV is currently broadcasting a series based on the story of Adam Verta, a civics teacher who was fired after a student named Sapir Sabah denounced him for daring to tell his class that the IDF is not sacred. Why was he dismissed? Because you cannot admit to being left-wing today. If you look at right-wing demonstrations, you will notice that they are made up mostly of teenagers. This is no coincidence. It was noticeable during protests against the Gazan disengagement, when the right-wing sent children to demonstrate and be arrested. This is somewhat more damaging to children’s souls than a remark in class, but the right is allowed to do that. That’s what we’ve gotten used to accepting.

This is the way free societies die: When they begin to adopt the “German perspective”– looking over one’s shoulder to make sure no one is close enough to hear what you are saying, because who knows where it will end up. Freedom of expression is critical to the existence of strong societies. It demands the defense of even the most shocking opinions – because we do not know where the truth lies, and it may well be that it is in the hands of those who bother us the most, and it is they who will be our saviors.

Today we admire Martin Luther King, but we forget that in his time he was widely considered a public enemy. The authorities hounded him because he was considered dangerous even by good liberals. If we want to find the next Martin Luther King in our ranks, this despicable culture of denunciation must come to an end.

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