IN A DEMOCRACY THOUGHTS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE FREE

Thought Crimes

By Neve Gordon*


Would Meryl Streep, Spike Lee, Tim Robbins or Susan Sarandon be willing to swear an oath of loyalty to the United States and its policies in order to receive public funding for feature films that they star in, direct or produce? In Israel, the far-right Knesset member Michael Ben Ari has proposed a bill that would require entire film crews to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and to declare loyalty to its laws and symbols, as a condition for receiving public funding. It’s just one of more than ten bills to be discussed during the Knesset’s winter session that
several commentators in Ha’aretz have characterised as proto-fascist.

As in most democracies, all new Israeli citizens must declare loyalty to the state and its laws, but the cabinet last month decided to support (22 in favour, 8 against) an amendment to Israel’s citizenship law that would require all newly naturalised citizens to declare loyalty to the Jewish character of the state. In Britain, this would be like requiring Jews, Muslims and atheists who wish to become citizens to declare loyalty not only to the laws of the United Kingdom but also to the Church of England.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has warned that this amendment, which will soon become law, is the tip of an iceberg. Some of the bills now going through the Knesset, which have a good chance of being ratified, would make support for an alternative political ideology, such as the idea that Israel should be a democracy for all its citizens, a crime.

A proposed amendment to the existing anti-incitement bill, for instance, stipulates that people who deny Israel’s Jewish character will be arrested. This extension to the penal code, which has already passed its preliminary reading, incriminates a political view. Another bill lays the groundwork for turning down candidates for membership in communal settlements built on public land if they do not concur with the settlement committee’s political views or are adherents of a different religion. The point of this is to make it legal to deny Palestinian citizens of Israel access to Jewish villages.

Still another bill that has already passed its first reading stipulates that institutions marking the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 will be denied public funds. This is like denying public funding to schools in the United States that wish to commemorate slavery or to memorialise the crimes perpetrated against Native Americans.

Then there is a bill against people who initiate, promote, or publish material that might serve as grounds for imposing a boycott against Israel. According to this proposed law, which has also passed a preliminary reading, anyone proven guilty of supporting a boycott will be ordered to pay affected parties about $8000 without the plaintiff’s need to demonstrate any damages.

Finally, eight Knesset members are proposing a bill to ban residents of East Jerusalem from operating as tour guides in the city, potentially putting hundreds out of work. The rationale behind this is that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem should not be certified guides because they do not represent Israel’s national interest well enough ‘and in an appropriate manner’.

The sudden spate of these bills at this historical juncture is no coincidence. The struggle between the democratic demand that all citizens be treated equally and Zionism’s hyper-nationalist ideal seems to have been determined once and for all: Zionism’s aspiration to promote democratic values is giving way to its nationalist ethos.

*Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. One can read about his book Israel’s Occupation and more



Enjoy the following

This is a subversive song!  In certain times and places, you might go to jail for singing “Die Gedanken Sind Frei“.  This song says that our thoughts cannot be bound or controlled, simply because—thoughts are free!

In addition to its inspiring words, the song boasts a lively, catchy tune.  Who could ask for more?



The lyrics

Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten,
sie fliegen vorbei wie nächtliche Schatten.
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jäger erschießen
mit Pulver und Blei, Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket,
doch alles in der Still’, und wie es sich schicket.
Mein Wunsch und Begehren kann niemand mir wehren,
es bleibet dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Und sperrt man mich ein im finsteren Kerker,
das alles sind rein vergebliche Werke.
Denn meine Gedanken zerreißen die Schranken
und Mauern entzwei, die Gedanken sind frei!

Drum will ich auf immer den Sorgen absagen
und will mich auch nimmer mit Grillen mehr plagen.
Man kann ja im Herzen stets lachen und scherzen
und denken dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich liebe den Wein, mein Mädchen vor allen,
sie tut mir allein am besten gefallen.
Ich sitz nicht alleine bei einem Glas Weine,
mein Mädchen dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They flee by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them,
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free!

I think what I want, and what delights me,
still always reticent, and as it is suitable.
My wish and desire, no one can deny me
and so it will always be: Thoughts are free!

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all this would be futile work,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart. Thoughts are free!

So I will renounce my sorrows forever,
and never again will torture myself with some fancy ideas.
In one’s heart, one can always laugh and joke
and think at the same time: Thoughts are free!

I love wine, and my girl even more,
Only I like her best of all.
I’m not alone with my glass of wine,
my girl is with me: Thoughts are free!

3 Comments

  1. bLaKouT said,

    November 6, 2010 at 21:58

    Actually, in a Democracy 51% of the population gets to determine what the other 49% get or don’t get…including freedom of speech or any other freedom, or anything else! Democracy has been defined as “Two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner” – Only a Republic can protect the rights of the minority. Israel is obviously not that.

  2. Clyde said,

    November 7, 2010 at 13:52

    Democracy has been defined as “Two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner”

    Wouldn’t “Millions of sheep voting for which wolves will eat them for dinner” be a more exact representation of post-enlightenment democracy?

  3. November 7, 2010 at 14:45

    DP you are a thought criminal, that’s why I love ye!!:)


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