Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Self Perpetuating Sanctimony

Haaretz tells of a recent poll to be presented tomorrow at a conference about the public's support for democracy. At first glance, it's findings are troubling.
They found that 57.6 percent of the respondents agreed that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely. Slightly more than half agreed that "there is too much freedom of expression" in Israel. The poll also found that most of the respondents favor punishing Israeli citizens who support sanctioning or boycotting the country, and support punishing journalists who report news that reflects badly on the actions of the defense establishment. Another 82 percent of respondents said they back stiff penalties for people who leak illegally obtained information exposing immoral conduct by the defense establishment.
Lest we not appreciate how dire our situation is, the report offers the platform to some professors to clarify:
"Israelis have a distorted perception of democracy," said Daniel Bar-Tal, a professor at the university's school of education, and one of the conference's organizers. "The public recognizes the importance of democratic values, but when they need to be applied, it turns out most people are almost anti-democratic." Another conference participant, Ben-Gurion University's David Newman, called the polling results "very worrying," adding that there has been an assault on freedom of expression in recent years. "We say Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, but in Europe they are beginning to think of us otherwise," he said.
Note Prof. Newman's point of reference, because it may inform us about his broader worldview: though not asked in this poll, it's unlikely most Israelis are in awe of European political opinions - which is fine, it's a free world.

Here's a suggestion not remotely hinted at in the news item, and probably in the poll itself. When Israelis express support for the principles of freedom of speech, along with simultaneous displeasure with some expressions of it, might this somehow be connected to the fact that much of the expression has been dishonest, fraudulent, and inadvertently played directly into the eager hands of our enemies at a time of war? Take the most recent concrete case, which had to be at the top of peoples' minds as they responded to this poll: Haaretz published a story based on stolen documents which proved that the IDF had been adhering to the laws of the land and the strictures of the High Court, yet Haaretz cast the story as proof of the opposite, with no factual base for this allegation beyond an ideological conviction that "it must be so". Or the steady stream of allegations last year that the IDF had engaged in massive and intentional war crimes or worse, for which no conclusive evidence was ever produced. Might it be that the run of the mill Israeli democrat dislikes being lied about by his compatriots to the court of international public opinion?

Admittedly, they are free to say whatever they wish, our homegrown critics - though stealing thousands of secret military documents may cross a reasonable line. Yet notice that no-one is advocating any real measures against these people. There's lots of kvetching, a bit of cynical political grandstanding, and that's it. The critics are as free to act today as they ever were, which is as it should be. That they are disliked for it is merely something they've honestly earned.

If one were truly to be interested in Israelis' support for practical applications of freedom of speech, it would be better to test it where it matters. I dare anyone to bring evidence that many Israelis would advocate shutting down of informants, internal or other, who informed us of unpleasant realities. Criminal activities by figures of power, say, or life-endangering idiocy in the armed forces, or massive corruption in the government, civil service and banks.... Wot, those are all reported on? Huh?

(My apologies that the sources are all in Hebrew, but that's the language we have our free speech in, not English)


Anonymous said...

I've read that polling whether the death penalty should return "proves" that a majority want it

My impression is that very few polls ask non-leading questions and still less ask exactly the same non-leading questions again and again over a long period of time. Arguably only those may show a trend in public opinion.

The only reason why I approve of extensive polling of whatever journalists deem interesting to help their inspiration into gear is that it creates job opportunities for the questioners.


NormanF said...


Let's see the Israeli Left support the legalization of the Kahanists and their right to express their views.

Don't bet on that happening. These folks have a rather limited view of the notion of democracy - only for themselves.