Freedom of Speech, Free Speech, and their Enemies

I have recently signed a petition that condemns the constant attempts to silence Gilad Atzmon. The same petition also objects to the constant attempts to discredit and hinder the website that hosts, among others, Gilad’s views — Peacepalestine — one of the more enlightening internet platforms on Palestine. It would be an understatement to say that debating Gilad’s voice is supremely important. No thinking person could fail to be stimulated by the deep connections Gilad makes.

Dwelling together in the unsaid is what makes intellectuals’ innermost togetherness but it does not mean that all those who respond to the unsaid can be assimilated into one another so as to form some kind of a “group”.

All those who try to smother Gilad’s endeavours, to distort his voice through vulgar associations and conventional clichés, and to utilise uncritically accepted conventional havens for thoughtlessness, do not really do justice to the intellectual game as far as Palestine is concerned. I believe this message to be the essence of this petition.

In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel García Márquez narrates the story of a village in which everybody understands that a murder is about to be committed in the near future. Yet, nobody is doing anything about this forthcoming event that is chronicled to happen. Some deep causes combine to make everybody complicit in diverting, repressing, hindering, “forgetting”, being “delayed”, in short avoiding any possibility of stopping the chronicle from happening. This concealment thus becomes a part of that fate that eventually leads to the death of Santiago Nasar.

García Márquez may have given us a metaphor of how fate can unfold as possibilities that are always already grounded in denial of deep self-concealing past events. He also shows how the unfolding of this fate lurks amidst intensive highly-involved chatter.

Zionism may not merely be a cause of colonial injustice in Palestine in the sense of being a misguided response to anti-Jewish racism understood as “anti-semitism”. Zionism can be conceived as a symptom the non-empathetic manifestations of which are historically and existentially continuing certain facets of Jewish being and thinking. It is very important to ask whether the originary aggression of victim mentality as well as the choseness-begotten separateness existentially links the Zionist and the Jewish question. This link may well pervade the mentality of Israelis whether orthodox or not.

The anti-Zionist struggle must not encage itself in too simplistic a link between the Jewish Question with the Zionist Question — a simplistic link that, in fact, craves to sever the deeper ontological connection that might persist between the two questions. Such a dominant, and far too quick, paradigm that by and large dominates the anti-Zionist struggle has been that Zionism’s misuse of the Holocaust is somehow an aberration of Jewish thinking. Thus portrayed, Zionism can be successfully isolated and fought against by Jews as Jews.

It is this very denial of the existential link between the Jewish Question and the Zionist Question — a link that is suppressed by formulations such as “Jews Against Zionism” or, more broadly, by many attempts of “Jews” to become anti-Zionist — that needs to be questioned and destabilised. To be an anti-Zionist without due regard to that being and thinking that Zionism so tragically continues, may well be to confuse symptom and cause, thus perpetuating that history that leaves the symptom — Zionism — intact. There is need to fathom the extent to which the slogan “Jews against Zionism” may be an oxymoron. Such an oxymoron may be at the heart of the denial, and protection bestowed upon the denial, of the oxymoronic nature of another notion, namely that of a “Jewish and democratic state”.

It is the task of an intellectual to touch the untouchable and liberate thinking from its blackmailed, idle, comfort zones. I am firmly convinced that these vulgar attempts at silencing Gilad and other courageous voices offends against supremely thoughtful, compassionate and egalitarian intellectual endeavours. This propaganda of silencing which is characterised by breeding conflict and heresy stalls a debate which is crucial for Palestine and for humanity. Intellectual reflections on actuality, historicity, causes of events — those primordial events that manifestations of violence, the Holocaust amongst them, respond to — are not to be decided by picketing, balloting and smearing.

What is an intellectual? What is an intellectual pursuit? An intellectual pursuit is to make a connection that brings the unsaid and the unsayable into language. As such, an intellectual pursuit is not only about sharpening and clarifying but about being able to hear the unsaid, thus making a connection with near actuality in a way that may shock and surprise in its strangeness. Being an intellectual is first and foremost to hold the mirror, or rather losing oneself in the mirror.

The essence of an intellectual is free speech and therefore some reflections on free speech are in order here. For an intellectual, free speech is not a matter of choice, but a way of being, or responding, of being response-able and therefore responsible. To authentically speak rather than to be spoken by, to be active rather than passive, is to respond in speech to self-concealing actuality.

That which needs to be brought into language by free speech is quite often that which is most difficult to say and to hear. In fact, so difficult it might be that we might even venture to suggest that it is essentially impossible to respond in speech to what is. So, rather, it would be better to say that to speak is to respond to an always antecedent and mysterious call, thus essentially belatedly and distortingly — to respond to what needs to be attended to in speech. If speech is the captive of discourse, the captive of represented group identification, the captive of methodologies, the captive of a representative narrative of an amputated version of collective memory, the captive even in the notion of a thinking-subject, it is not yet active speech. The Saying of speech is irreducible to anything merely said and is always a response to a call by a yet always-antecedent Saying that has already called upon the speaker to respond.

Freedom of speech is an absence of constraint on free speech. Freedom of speech is not merely associated with freedom of information but with a freedom that ensures conditions for free speech, speech that responds to what is unsaid — to something which is nameless and inexpressible.

Sometimes freedom of speech can be understood as that condition in which nobody has dominance over the means of representation. But even this is not quite, not yet, to capture the essence of free speech. Even conditions of absence of dominance of the means of representation are still not conditions that allow for freedom of speech. This is because equality of the means of representation does not by itself entail free speech. Speech happens as the dark side of representations and their means. Freedom of speech ensures the conditions for some people to ethically bring the inexpressible into language without giving up the secrets that language holds — secrets that call upon the ear and the mind.

We need free speech in order to understand what might be the deep origin of Zionism and in order to contemplate Zionism’s so-successful use of the Holocaust “memory”. By simplistically condemning any free speech about the mystery of the Holocaust as “anti-Semitic” or “holocaust denial” the silencers suck all energy from our thinking, thus playing into the hand of denials and vulnerabilities, thus helping to tranquilise the mind from connectedness to primordial events.

Moreover, it is the idle speech of those silencers which may in effect deny the significance of the Holocaust. The significance of the Holocaust, like the significance of terror and violence, is not attended to by making it dependent upon, or subservient to, this or that person or groups. The significance of the Holocaust is both nebulous and ubiquitous to humanity.

We must not legalise the thinking about the Holocaust. We must not turn thinking about it into a moral, legal or, indeed, factual reflection. The horrors and murderous violence against Jews may have been a response to events that had corrupted the relationship between humans and Being long ago. Grasped thus, the Holocaust may have been severely distorted by National Socialism; by those who are said to “deny” the Holocaust by some arguments about facts; by self-righteous Jews-against-Zionism; by Zionists. All these forms of forgetfulness of the Holocaust may well be on a common matrix of denial. Indeed this denial may constitute a chronicle of another Holocaust foretold.

My point is that the Holocaust’s significance lies beyond the actions by the Nazis who actually perpetrated the violence and who justified these actions by turning this significance into a militarist object of an idea. The same claim can be made in relation to Zionists and their Jewish opponents.

Thus, a simplistic anti-Zionist struggle — including such struggle’s memorialisation of the Holocaust by fighting against the abuse of Holocaust memory by Zionists — may itself tragically become the most sophisticated form of Holocaust denial. It is not simply that Zionism denies the Holocaust. Those who fight Zionism may have already fallen into that very fateful chronicle that Zionism participates in.

Voltaire’s words concerning the freedom of speech loom large. I urge all people with free speech as their guide to sign this petition and to help by that to respond to the actuality of the actual in Palestine, an actuality, again, which embraces all humanity and the denial of which might well have catastrophic implications for humanity.

I believe that only through holding of the mirror might there be a faint chance to find a connective tissue to that being and thinking of Israelis. Without holding this mirror the egalitarian struggle against Zionism may well remain in distance and deafness to the self-preserving violence in the Middle East and the World.

Oren Ben-Dor grew up in the State of Israel. He teaches political philosophy and the philosophy of law at the School of Law, University of Southampton, UK. His books Constitutional Limits and the Public Sphere (2000) and Thinking about Law: In Silence with Heidegger (2007) are published with Hart Publishing, Oxford. He can be contacted at: Read other articles by Oren, or visit Oren's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Contra Racisma said on March 17th, 2008 at 3:18pm #

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article!

    “It would be an understatement to say that debating Gilad’s voice is supremely important. No thinking person could fail to be stimulated by the deep connections Gilad makes.”

    Indeed, that is the truth, and it’s good to realise that there are other people originally from Israel who recognise his hugely valuable contribution to the discourse.

    Tony Greenstein however is not a thinking person, but a tribal crypto-zionist leftist, a so-called “anti-zionist Jew” who serves the Zionist project in immeasurable ways, incessantly labelling people as “neo-nazis, “anti-semites” and “holocaust deniers” if they offer any real support for the right of the Palestinians to fight back against their oppressors, and for the ROR.

    Greenstein, an ex-criminal with at least 12 convictions (for petty theft, credit card fraud, beating up Jewish students etc.) documented ad nauseum on the internet, has shown he has the chutzpah to actually attempt to hide behind the British Rehabilitation Act for Serial Offenders, which he hopes to use to silence Atzmon and anybody else who dares refer to the fact that he has repeatedly proven himself to be unethical to the core, and wholly dishonest!

    Greenstein has dedicated the past few years to his obsession with Atzmon, carrying out a bitter and insane personal vendetta which has included the worst kind of defamation, slander and smearing slung at Atzmon, as well as at any venue, stage, site, or bookshop which has invited him to peform or talk.

    “I believe that only through holding of the mirror might there be a faint chance to find a connective tissue to that being and thinking of Israelis. ”

    Greenstein and his small band of Jews Against Those Who Fail to Make Anti-Semitism Their Number One Priority would be well advised to hold that mirror up as well!

  2. sk said on March 17th, 2008 at 11:39pm #

    In the early Sixties, as a ‘wind of change’ was blowing across Africa, Jean Paul Sartre wrote the following about the hole his country had dug itself into in North Africa:

    In other days France was the name of a country. We should take care that in 1961 it does not become the name of a nervous disease.

    Those who would found their settler state on fallacies such as ‘Algeria is French’ or ‘The Bible is our mandate’ need to take special care of their mental well-being.

  3. Simone said on March 18th, 2008 at 10:31am #

    How amusing that unemployable sociopath Tony Greenstein deviates his abuse trail onto Dr of Philosophy & Law, Oren Ben-Dor & in the process asks his (imaginary) readers: Who Is Gilad Atzmon? …university.html

    Well, bloody hell Tony, you should know & despite the crushing limits of your remarkably small brain, I think it’s just about possible you do know.

    The man you stalk & harass 24 hours a day & write about incessantly in your narcissistic little blog is an immensely talented, internationally successful & dearly beloved polymath. He is the antithesis that forces you to acknowledge your pretty impressive lack of achievement outside the world of vandalism.

    It is clear to anyone with a GCSE in psychology why you hate Gilad with such pathological bile. I almost feel sorry for you. It must be very painful to look in the mirror & see a violent thief with about as much charm as a dead dung beetle. It’s hard. But Tony, what can we do?! It’s obvious as well why you cling to your identification with ‘Jewishness’. It’s the only thing that distinguishes you, in your own mind, from a small town ASBO-proud ‘hoody’. But Tony, aside from the generation gap, that is all you are.

    I wish for you own sake & for the sake of all of our boredom thresholds, that you had something to contribute to the world other than ‘crimes against poultry’ but there is simply nothing of note about you. It really is sad. You imagine you’re Ben Gurion on an Eichmann hunt. But Tony, you’re just a man who a nicked a chicken & got caught.

  4. Lungfish said on March 18th, 2008 at 10:45am #

    Amusing that all these supporters of Atzmon and Peace Palestine have so far failed to address the charges.

    No mention of Atzmon’s dubious views on the Holocaust, his Jewish conspiracy theories, the open distribution of Holocaust denial material with an endorsement, his contributions to Holocaust denial sites, the incident in Bochum when a German crowd turned hostile at his comments about the Holocaust, nor PePA’s linking to the Ku Klux Klan, Radical Press and other far-right/NeoNazi sewers… all neatly sidestepped.

    In fact, the above article doesn’t address anything, it simply attacks Greenstein and perpetuates the false propaganda that he is a Zionist.

    What does that tell us about the strength of their position?

    Has anyone else not noticed these people walk and talk like some of the White Power people they associate with? Such as David Duke and Ernst Zuendel…

  5. hp said on March 18th, 2008 at 12:21pm #

    As opposed to Alan Dershowitz and William Kristol?

  6. Contra Racisma said on March 18th, 2008 at 12:46pm #

    Greenlungfish: “Amusing that all these supporters of Atzmon and Peace Palestine have so far failed to address the charges.”

    Which “charges” might those be, greenie? The so-called charges you’re bringing to your fantasy court case don’t deal with holocaust denial, anti-semitism, neo-nazism, or have you forgotten, o psychopathic one.

    The ‘charges’ you’re hoping to sue GA for revolve around the mention of your various and motley list of criminal offences, not correct? The fraud, intimidation, bullying, shoplifting, pilfering, vandalism (latest offence involving church property) and other petty crimes in which you specialise.

    Yet there have been so many honest citizens drawing our attention to your dishonest, unethical behaviour which seems to be on the increase. The internet is rocking with mirth about it, and there’s little doubt generally that the judge will find the charges you attempt to make against GA ‘amusing’ as well.

  7. Barbara said on March 20th, 2008 at 1:13am #

    Too bad there’s nothing Artie Fishel about either the detractors of Atzmon, or, alas, the detractors of his detractors.

    May “fate . . . unfold as possibilities . . . grounded in” recovery of our deepest past, turning from “intensive highly-involved chatter” to grateful ceremoniousness, drawing upon words of an integrity as unburdening as these by Oren Ben-Dor, on music as harmoniously sophisticated as Gilad Atzmon’s, to awaken us to, and inspire us to embrace, a fate of fully human possibilities.