Free Speech in Europe and Teaneck, New JerseyBy Rich Siegel
The Suburbanite of Teaneck
02 May 2012 Note: This essay is several years old. In the final paragraph I refer to myself as a "good Jew". I have since re-thought that and now consider myself an "ex-Jew". I deal with that subject in other, more recent pieces, notably in the essay "The cult of atheist Zionism posing as Judaism". An additional comment: In the second paragraph I discuss what happened to my relatives in Czestochowa. I have since found out that while they were taken to a town square and shot at, there were survivors of that massacre who were rounded up and put on a train to concentration camp. What is certain is that my relatives did not survive, whether or not they died in the town square or in the camp, or whether their fates were different from each other.
David Irving is going to spend the next three years in jail in Austria, and everyone seems to be glad about it. Why? Because he is a so-called holocaust denier, and therefore a symbol of evil to many people. But in reality, he is not actually a holocaust denier; the term is a misnomer. He is a revisionist who questions some of the popularly accepted facts about the holocaust, and the price he and others like him have paid is that this earns them the label of holocaust denier, as well as jail time in many countries.
I have personal knowledge that the Nazis killed Jews, because among the victims are three people whose photos I keep in my home. They would have been my relatives had they not been murdered; had they lived long enough to see me born. My family knows exactly what happened to them as there was a fourth family member who witnessed the slaughter, then escaped into Russia, and then wrote to family members in London about it, before he disappeared. The three I mentioned were rounded up with the rest of the Jewish community in Czestochowa, Poland, taken to the town square, and shot. This is a provable fact.
But I personally don't have any problem with David Irving and others like him challenging accepted views on the holocaust. Quoting Noam Chomsky, "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all." It seems to me that if holocaust revisionists are wrong, the open dissemination of their views encourages those with opposing views to prove them wrong. And if they are right, all the more reason we should hear about it. Only an officially sanctioned pseudo-truth can be arrived at by restricting free speech. If our society really wants truth, it has to allow those of disparate opinions express themselves and duke it out. Speaking personally, I want for that to happen, on any issue, including the holocaust. Because, what do I really know about the holocaust? I know how my relatives died. I know the history that most people accept. The news of David Irving's sentence has made me want to read his writings, to see what he has to say.
A story that got less media attention this week: The Polish government has turned down an Iranian request to send a research team there to do a study on the holocaust. There seems to be a double-standard as Europe is defending Muslim-bashing cartoons as free speech while completely squelching any free speech on the holocaust. In the U. S., while we supposedly value free speech, our media have implicitly supported this European double-standard by failing to criticize it. And that's a good segue to my experiences in Teaneck, New Jersey, with regard to free speech:
Some months ago the driver's side fender of my car was bashed in while it was parked in front of my house. I assumed it was a hit-and-run accident. I drove around with a bashed in fender for awhile, and then finally bought a new fender and had it painted and installed, at some expense. It wasn't on my car more than a week or two when it was bashed in again- the same fender on the same car parked in the same spot. So clearly somebody is trying to tell me something. I have three political bumpers stickers on my car. From left to right they read "Peace is patriotic", "Free Palestine", and "Bush, a global disaster, a national disgrace". I'm thinking the guy who bashed in my fender twice doesn't like the second one. The others express opinions which are too common, and while many would disagree with them, too, probably not with the same passion.
I have a T-shirt that has the same sentiment written on it. I was recently in the men's locker room at the Spa at Glennpointe, where I am a member, when all of a sudden I felt a sharp slap across my back. I thought it was someone I know saying hello a little too vigorously. But I turned around, and found a total stranger screaming at me in my face about what an abomination my T-shirt is. When he finally backed off I asked him his name. He said it was "Putz", which is Yiddish for male genitalia. While I feel this would actually be an appropriate name for the man, the club has no one registered by that name and so I was not able to have him charged with assault and battery or expelled from the club.
This past October, when American military deaths in Iraq reached the 2,000 mark, I participated in a Teaneck Peace & Justice Coalition peace vigil at the Teaneck Armory. I made up my own sign, which read, "The REAL axis of evil—USA, UK, Israel. Get out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine". The term "axis of evil" was coined by White House speech writer David Frumm, and was used to connect three unlikely allies, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea in a Bush speech aimed at stirring up pro-war sentiment. I maintain that the axis of evil that appeared on my sign is a reality, whereas the axis of evil posited in Bush's speech was a fabrication. At the vigil, just as a reporter was about to interview me, a man I recognized as a leader of the Coalition muscled in between the reporter and myself and physically prevented the interview. He then became extremely verbally abusive, ordered me to leave the peace vigil, and accused me of being an FBI plant. Putting this into proper perspective, this is a man who is in a leadership position in a group organized around the concept of promoting peace and justice, acting in a violent manner at a peace demonstration. I hope the irony is apparent.
I did not leave the peace vigil, and from subsequent conversations it became clear that the coalition leadership felt my sign was off-topic. Was it? Do we know why America invaded Iraq? Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz stated, "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. Government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on—which was weapons of mass destruction—as the core reason." And as we know they fabricated documents to make it appear that Iraq had acquired materials for use in the production of WMD's in a deal with Mali (W. Africa). Clearly WMD's are not the reason we invaded Iraq. So why are we in Iraq? The big three reasons generally cited are oil, corporate interests, and Bush's personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein, all probably valid.
However, Ariel Sharon had been calling for a US invasion of Iraq. AIPAC was lobbying for it. Ultra-Zionist neocons Wolfowitz and Perle, who were part of our defense department's decision-making apparatus, were pulling for it. This short list is by no means complete. And the potential benefits to Israel are obvious: removal of the most serious threat Israel faced in the region, Saddam Hussein, and the creation of a friendly buffer between Israel and its second most serious threat in the region, Iran. However, as the U.S. has failed to install a puppet government in Baghdad as it intended, and has only been successful in creating utter chaos, the reality in the region is that things are far more dangerous for everyone: for Israel, for the U.S., and for Iraqi citizens.
Can we say that Israel had nothing to do with why we invaded Iraq? The Teaneck Peace and Justice Coalition would like to say so. In fact the Coalition refuses to deal with Israel in any way, shape, or form, which begs the question as to why. The same man who bullied me at the peace vigil also told me at a recent Coalition meeting not to attend future meetings. Why? I had offered to bring the Coalition a presenter on the Palestinian issue. (I had made the same offer previously by e mail and my e mails were ignored.) I have since been told that I need to respect the coalition's democratic process by which it has decided not to deal with the Israel/Palestine issue. And of course I do support the coalition's democratic process. I would support it if they democratically voted not to wear underwear on alternate Tuesdays. Democratic process does not necessarily indicate sanity. And democratic process does not mean I have no right to point out to this group of which I am a member, that it's more than a little strange that a "peace and justice coalition" is democratically choosing to ignore one of the most pressing peace and justice issues in the world today.
The sign I carried at the vigil made a connection between the different occupations in the region, and in doing so it brought Palestine into the equation. So why is a nice Jewish boy in a town where Israeli flags and little statues of IDF soldiers are displayed in Judaica shop windows, openly supporting the Palestinians? Because there is a human rights emergency going on right now. It would be impossible to list all the methods Israel is using to make life impossible for the Palestinians in order to squeeze them out, but I can try: extra-judicial executions, administrative detentions (arrests and jail-time, often long-term, without charge), pervasive use of torture, house demolitions, destruction of olive trees and crops, withholding of building permits, check-points, curfews, closures, manipulation of the water supply, and a wall that separates farmers from fields, students from schools, workers from jobs, patients from hospitals, all while illegal settlements continue to expand and encroach on Palestinian land.
Much is made of Palestinian terrorism, but not much is made of the fact that deaths of Palestinians outnumber deaths of Israelis in the conflict by about five to one. And not much is made of state terrorism, like IDF soldiers shooting up residential neighborhoods using U.S. made helicopter gunships, or demolishing homes on top of their occupants using U.S. made over-sized Caterpillar equipment. I am personally against Palestinian terrorism. I am against violence in general and I don't think it does their cause any good. But Israeli former prime minister Ehud Barak disagreed with me when he said, in an interview with Gideon Levy in 1998, "If I were a Palestinian of the right age, I'd eventually join a terrorist organization."
The American public in general, and the Jewish community in particular, are in a state of denial about Israel; about what America is supporting by giving Israel an astounding $15 million per day, beginning with myths about the history which are very persistent. Even though a generation of Jewish Israeli historians has debunked these myths, most people still believe, for example, that in 1948 there were radio broadcasts by Arab leaders ordering the Arab population to leave, so that they could "drive the Jews into the sea", and once that was accomplished they could return. This myth is used to show that the Arabs deserved what they got. But those radio broadcasts were a fabrication. There are records of all broadcasts, they have been researched, and the truth is clear. In fact there were broadcasts ordering the population to stay put, and to return to their homes if they had already fled.
The state of Israel was achieved through military conquest, massacre, and forced expulsion. Israel needs to re-examine the crimes it has visited on the indigenous population of Palestine. The American Jewish community needs to re-visit the popularly-held notion that Israel can do no wrong. And America needs to re-examine its "special relationship" with Israel.
A patriotic American uses free speech to express objection when he sees his country going down the wrong path. A good Jew follows the strong Jewish tradition of pursuing social justice, and does not cease to do so when he finds the Jewish community to be in error. I claim to be both a patriotic American and a good Jew. And I claim my right to free speech, guaranteed me as an American. I demand my right to express my opinions unmolested, and to do so in this community. Anyone who thinks I'm a lunatic can avoid me. Anyone who wishes to express opposing views can do so in any number of fora. Anyone who wishes to engage me in a calm and respectful conversation will find me willing. Anyone who wishes to punish me for my views by taking a crow-bar to my car in the middle of the night again will likely find the police there the next time.
I would like to close by requesting that the clergy in this community speak to their congregations on the subject of free speech, particularly in the Jewish community.