Legal Forum Calls on A.G. to Investigate Derfner Over “Incitement”
JERUSALEM– According to a letter obtained by the Algemeiner Journal, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, a non-profit legal aide society affiliated with Israel’s settlement movement, has requested that State Prosecutor Yehuda Weinstein investigate recently terminated Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner for allegedly encouraging terrorism against Israeli civilians.
Controversy regarding the nature of a free press erupted last week in Israel following Derfner’s firing due to the publication of a post on his personal blog calling the recent triple terror attack in Eilat “justified.”
The issue of Derfner’s remarks spread through the Internet like wildfire, propelled by conservative Israeli bloggers, and led to what Derfner claimed were “hundreds of notices of cancellations of subscription[s]” sent to Post editor Steve Linde.
Within hours, the news of Derfner’s termination was picked up by the AFP and JTA wire services and published in major newspapers around the globe, including the New York Times, Lebanon’s Daily Star, and France 24.
Following the Eilat attack, in which eight Israelis were killed, Derfner wrote that the violence had been “justified” and that “Palestinians have the right to resist [the occupation]—to use violence against Israelis, even to kill Israelis.”
Now, Derfner’s controversial statements -which were reported on the website of Hezbollah controlled satellite network Al-Manar, as well as by Palestinian media outlets Ma’an and Al-Quds – have led some Israelis to pursue legal action against the columnist.
The Forum alleged that Derfner “expressed in no uncertain terms the legitimacy and justification of that massacre [in Eilat] and [other] terrorist acts committed by Palestinians against Israeli civilians.”
His comments, they claimed, constitute “serious violations of the prohibition of support and encouragement of terrorism and of incitement to terrorist acts and the murder of Israelis.”
The Forum cited a 1948 ordinance on the prevention of terror which outlaws the “publication of praise, sympathy or a cry for help or support of a terrorist organization, or an act that reveals identification with or sympathy for the terrorist organization.”
However, several media figures in the West Bank have indicated that they were not aware of Derfner’s statements and that they were not of concern to most Palestinians.
Fadi Abu Sada, Editor in Chief of the independent Palestine News Network, told the Algemeiner Journal that he is “sure that [the Palestinians] are not aware of what happened in the Jerusalem Post,” stating that he “didn’t hear about that” himself. Palestinians are much more concerned about Israel’s social justice protests and the upcoming Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, he explained.
Chief Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib likewise stated that he was not familiar with the matter and that there would be no official comment coming out of Ramallah.
However, he stated, “you may get reactions coming from unofficial levels here.”
Despite a follow-up apology posted after the eruption of public outrage in Israel, Derfner was unable to mend fences at the Post and retain his position.
In his apology, the frequently controversial commenter, who previously had provided a left-leaning counterpoint to such conservative Post columnists as Caroline Glick and Isi Leibler, wrote that he meant “to show that I wasn’t ‘for’ terrorism, that while I thought the occupation justified it, that didn’t mean I supported it. But I see now that the distance from ‘justified’ to ‘support’ is way, way too short, and I am as far away as anybody can be from supporting attacks on Israel and Israelis. I don’t want to write obscenity about Israel. I didn’t mean to, and I deeply regret it.”
Seemingly bitter about his separation from the newspaper, Derfner explained that what bothers him “is not that I got fired, but that I’m not being given the opportunity to fill in the picture that’s been so distorted” and that “the parts of the picture being obscured or outright hidden would show that while I misspoke myself harmfully, my intent was not to support, endorse, advocate, encourage, or call for terror against Israelis, but to end it.”
In the end however, Derfner’s apology was described as unacceptable by Post editor Linde, who wrote in his Friday column that “the substance of Derfner’s apology itself was not convincing. He used ludicrous logic to defend his position, repeating the same obscene sentiments that made many readers sick to their stomachs in the first place.”
Dimi Reider, writing in the Internet magazine +972, was one of the first media figures who came to Derfner’s defense on Monday, following the announcement on Derfner’s blog of his impending termination.
“Larry’s dismissal is made all the more obscene,” Reider wrote, “by virtue of the light it sheds on the egregious double-standard that once-professional publication now employs in regard to conservative versus liberal opinion; I say that as someone who fondly remembers the fairly conservative op-ed editor of my own time at the Post soliciting op-ed pieces he openly disagreed with.”
Jameel Rashid, a pseudonymous Israeli blogger who was largely responsible for the public backlash against Derfner, disagreed with Reider, writing on his Muqata website that “the Jerusalem Post made a business decision when they decided that keeping Larry Derfner on staff was hurting their bottom line rather than helping it (or even keeping it neutral). While unpopular for a while among certain circles, his expressed opinions weren’t far enough along, until now, to ‘provoke’ a wholesale instinctual community self-defense reaction.”
“One might ask,” questioned Rashid, “where are the limits of free speech? But then, no one has actually taken Derfner’s free speech away. He has merely been removed from standing up on someone else’s private soapbox.”
In a surprising turn of events, conservative Israeli commentator Barry Rubin came to Derfner’s defense, stating that “all too often nowadays the response to disagreement is to try to destroy people on the other side of the argument, to delegitimize them with name-calling, and to silence them. That’s not the way democratic debate is supposed to work. If you think someone is wrong then answer the substance of the statements being made.”
Derfner, Rubin opined, should have been “debated, not fired.”
Ruminating on the controversy over his words, Derfner told the New York Times’ Lede Blog on Tuesday that he “knew that what [he] was writing was shocking.”
“I wanted it to be shocking,” he wrote, “that was my whole point, I thought that shocking the Israeli public, not by my little blog alone, but as a strategy for the Left, might shake people out of their paralysis. It was sort of a reckless, blind conviction, now I see that that’s one of the dangers, if not the danger of a personal blog: no editor.”