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January 25, 2017 5:37 am

In Israel, Shouting ‘Fire’ in a Theater Is Considered Free Speech

avatar by Gidon Ben-zvi

Email a copy of "In Israel, Shouting ‘Fire’ in a Theater Is Considered Free Speech" to a friend
Arab Israeli MK Basel Ghattas. Photo: Alchetron.

Arab Israeli MK Basel Ghattas. Photo: Alchetron.

Imagine, if you will, a member of the US Congress being caught smuggling cell phones, SIM cards and documents to the Black Liberation Army, Aryan Nation or some other domestic terrorist group. Would house arrest and suspension from Congress be an adequate punishment for what looks, walks and talks like an act of treason?

Recently, Israeli Knesset member Bassel Ghattas was banned from all parliamentary activities for six months and briefly placed under house arrest after being caught on camera giving envelopes that contained documents, 12 cellphones, 16 SIM cards and related equipment to convicted terrorists inside Israel’s Ketziot prison.

One of the prisoners that MK Ghattas helped, Walid Daka, is serving a life sentence for torturing and murdering a 19-year-old Israel Defense Forces soldier.

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Though he is suspected of committing a serious crime against Israel’s security and its citizens, Ghattas retains his parliamentary voting rights and will continue to draw a hefty, publicly funded salary.

What is Ghattas’ defense? He claims that he is being persecuted for his political beliefs.

Ghattas is a member of Balad, a Palestinian nationalist political party that advocates for an Israeli state that is not Jewish. In addition, Balad supports the return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants, which is tantamount to trying to destroy Israel as we know it. As such, MK Ghattas views himself as a colonized Palestinian, and works off the same ideological playbook as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Authority.

Though Ghattas is free to think and express his contention that Israel is the primary source of evil in the world, let’s not forget that he is acting on this belief by supporting and aiding Palestinian terrorists. Does providing aid and a cover of legitimacy to the genocidal aspirations of murderers fall within the protected bounds of freedom of expression?

While Israeli citizenship confers many benefits, it also entails certain obligations. By allowing Bassel Ghattas to actively subvert the state, the Israeli government is telling the world — and Israel’s Arab citizens — that fomenting violence is a legitimate form of expression.

According to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Schenck v. United States (1919), “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” If providing convicted terrorists with the means to perpetuate, from behind bars, a murderous campaign against Israeli citizens doesn’t constitute “causing a panic,” what on earth does?

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