Israel, Attacked by Hamas, Annuls Its Free Speech History

Nat Hentoff

Now that Mahmoud Abbas has again incorporated Hamas into the Palestine Authority, I see no possibility of a meaningful truce or cessation of the fatal hostilities between Israel and Gaza. Hamas has clearly and consistently declared that its ultimate purpose is the destruction of Israel: “In an interview excerpt broadcast during CBS’s Face the Nation, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal . . . reiterated Hamas’ position that it doesn’t recognize Israel.”

With the increasingly deadly hostilities now certain to continue, one act by Israel nonetheless startled me. It was reported by Daily Kos.com on July 24 in a piece titled “Israel Bans Radio Advert That Lists Dead Palestinian Children.” This censored radio advertisement had been submitted by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. It listed “the names of some of scores of children killed in Gaza since the conflict began 17 days ago.”

Until now, I would not have been surprised that the Israeli government was the object of harsh public criticism from an Israeli organization. Through the years—including a time in the 1980s when I was in Israel reporting for the Village Voice—I’ve been impressed by the free flow of free speech there, including by foes of the government. As one of many examples: I spent much time with the editor of a fiercely anti-Israel Palestinian newspaper in East Jerusalem and never did he indicate any fear of punishment for his jeremiads.

But now we read on Daily Kos.com: “The Israeli Broadcasting Authority promptly banned [the B’Tselem ad] because, they said, it was ‘politically controversial.’”

“Controversial?” responded B’Tselem. “Is it controversial that the children aren’t alive? That they’re children? That these are their names? These are facts that we wish to bring to the public’s knowledge.”

There has been no response from the censor. B’Tselem has petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to have the ban revoked.

As I have reported elsewhere, Israel’s independent Supreme Court has a number of times reversed actions of the Israeli government that it held antithetical to the nation’s fundamental values. (Hamas does not have a Supreme Court.) B’Tselem, as of this writing, has not yet heard from the Israeli Supreme Court.

I am aware that Israel claims it has made every effort to notify targets of its return fire in advance so that they can remove themselves in time—and I believe that—but how successful could this planning be when targets include sites where children could be expected to be found, including schools and United Nations (UN) refugee centers?

The quintessential global failure here consists of other countries’ reactions to the unyielding terrorism that has come to characterize the united Palestinian government, now that Hamas is the substance of that government.

The UN is to be commended for establishing its refugee centers, but it goes no further. None of its members gives the smallest indication of joining together to directly disable the terrorist core of these mass horrors.

The near consensus of many nations is that Israel is primarily to blame. They ignore the facts. If Hamas is not disestablished, death will continue to triumph.


Nat Hentoff is a Universal (UClick) syndicated columnist, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and the author of, among other books, Living the Bill of Rights (University of California Press, 1999) and The War on the Bill Rights and the Gathering Resistance (Seven Stories Press, 2003). His latest book is At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene (University of California Press, 2010). He is currently working on his next book, Is This Still America?

Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff is a United Media syndicated columnist, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and the author of, among other books Living the Bill of Rights (University of California Press, 1999) and The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance (Seven Stories Press, 2004). His latest book is At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene (University of California Press, 2010).


Uncharacteristically, Israel silences a domestic critic. But Hamas is the real enemy.

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