I Am Ashamed to Be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli.

And not because the IDF killed some fifteen residents of Gaza during the demonstrations that took place on the 30th of April. I was not there, and neither was any of my acquaintances. So I cannot say whether the killing was “justified”—whether, in other words, the soldiers who opened fire really were in danger of their lives. Although I must say that, since the demonstrators did not carry weapons and since a great many of them were women and children, the number seems quite high. The more so because not a single Israeli was killed or injured.

Most of my readers not being Israelis, I cannot blame them for never having heard the name of Kobi Meidan. I myself hardly open my radio except to listen to classical music; hence I cannot say I am terribly familiar with the name either. I think I once talked to him over the phone, but that is all.

Mr. Meidan is a journalist. He works for Galei Zahal, the military broadcasting station that is one of the most popular in Israel. Referring to the demonstrations, he wrote that he was ashamed to be an Israeli. Please note that he did not say so while on the air. He did so on Facebook, in his capacity as a private individual in a free country.

No sooner had he done so than all hell broke loose. All over the country people demanded that he be fired. His direct superior, the station’s commander, held out for a time. However, pressed by his superior, minister of defense Avigdor Lieberman, he ended up by surrendering and threatening Meidan with dismissal.

Meidan in turn surrendered and apologized. His apology was accepted, so everything is fine now. Everything, except that, from now on, Mr. Meidan will surely be careful to look over his shoulder every time he puts a line on Facebook. As will a great many others. Everything, except that freedom of speech, the most precious thing on earth, has received a powerful blow. One that is by no means the first of its kind, and one that is very unlikely to be the last.

Here is a story I heard some time ago.

How many views do fifty Frenchmen have? Fifty. How many views do fifty Israelis have? A hundred and fifty. And how many views do fifty Germans have? One.

Further comment, superfluous.

That is why, for the benefit of Mr. Lieberman and others, Israeli and non-Israeli, of his ilk, I want to repeat, loud and clear:

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

And also for Mr. Meidan.

Why I Blog

Some three years have passed since I started this blog, and it is time to draw up a balance. No, my site has not drawn very large numbers of readers and has not developed into the equivalent of the Huffington Post. And no, I do not do it for profit; though at times I was tempted by offers to open the site to advertising, in the end I rejected them all. As a result, never did I receive a single penny for all the work I have been doing (normally, about two hours per week). More, even: since I am not very computer literate, I rely on my stepson, Jonathan Lewy, to run the site for me. But for him it would not have been possible. So let me use this opportunity to thank him from the bottom of my heart.

What I have received and am receiving is feedback. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Some people have used the appropriate button on the site to say what they think of my work or simply in order to get in touch. Others suggested that they write for me or else responded to my request that they do so. Others still have asked, and received, my permission to repost my work on their own sites. A few have even taken the trouble to translate entire articles into their native languages. Except for a few yahoos who ranted and swore, almost all my contacts with the people in question, many of whom were initially complete strangers, have been courteous, informative, and thought-provoking. Thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart.

Most of the ideas behind my posts are derived from the media. Others have to do with my personal experiences; others still, such as the series on Pussycats, have to do with the research I am currently doing or else were suggested by various people. Perhaps most important of all, I often use my posts as what Nietzsche used to call Versuche. By that he meant attempts to clarify his thoughts and see where they may lead. The most popular posts have been those which dealt with political and military affairs. Followed by the ones on women and feminism, followed by everything else. Given my background and reputation as a longtime professor of military history and strategy, that is not surprising.

At one point I tried to enlist the aid of a friend to have the blog translated into Chinese and make my posts available in that language too. No luck; I soon learnt that the Great Chinese Firewall did not allow them to pass. Why that is, and whether my work has fallen victim to some kind of dragnet or has been specifically targeted I have no idea. Thinking about it, the former seems more likely; to the best of my knowledge I have never written anything against China. But one never knows.

That brings me to the real reason why I write: namely, to exercise my right to freedom of thought. And, by doing so, do my little bit towards protecting it and preserving it. My heroes are Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. The former because he has exposed a few of the less decent things—to put it mildly—out dearly beloved governments have been saying and doing in our name. The latter, because he has shown how vulnerable all of us are to Big Brother and called for reform. Both men have paid dearly for what they have done, which is another reason for trying to follow in their footsteps as best I can.

Freedom of speech is in trouble—and the only ones who do not know it are those who will soon find out. The idea of free speech is a recent one. It first emerged during the eighteenth century when Voltaire, the great French writer, said that while he might not agree with someone’s ideas he would fight to the utmost to protect that person’s right to express them. Like Assange and Snowden Voltaire paid the penalty, spending time in jail for his pains. Later, to prevent a recurrence, he went to live at Frenay, just a few hundred yards from Geneva. There he had a team or horses ready to carry him across the border should the need arise. Good for him.

To return to modern times, this is not the place to trace the stages by which freedom of speech was hemmed in in any detail. Looking back, it all started during the second half of the 1960s when it was forbidden to say, or think, or believe, that first blacks, then women, then gays, then transgender people, might in some ways be different from others. As time went on this prohibition came to be known as political correctness. Like an inkstain it spread, covering more and more domains and polluting them. This has now been carried to the point where anything that may offend anyone in some way is banned—with the result that, as Alan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind has shown, in many fields it has become almost impossible to say anything at all.

Let me give you just one example of what I mean. Years ago, at my alma mater in Jerusalem, I taught a course on military history. The class consisted of foreign, mostly American, students. At one point I used the germ Gook. No sooner had the word left my mouth than a student rose and, accused me of racism. I did my best to explain that, by deliberately using the term, I did not mean to imply that, in my view, the Vietnamese were in any way inferior. To the contrary, I meant to express my admiration for them for having defeated the Americans who did think so. To no avail, of course.

And so it goes. When the Internet first appeared on the scene I, along with a great many other people, assumed that any attempt to limit freedom of speech had now been definitely defeated. Instead, the opposite is beginning to happen. Techniques such as “data mining” made their appearance, allowing anything anyone said about anything to be instantly monitored and recorded, forever. All over Europe, the thought police is in the process of being established. Sometimes it is corporations such as Facebook which, on pain of government intervention, are told to “clean up” their act by suppressing all kinds of speech or, at the very least, marking it as “offensive,” “untrue,” and “fake.” In others it is the governments themselves that take the bit between their teeth.

Regrettably, one of the governments which is doing so is that of the U.S. Naively, I hoped that Trump’s election would signify the beginning of the end of political correctness. Instead, he is even now trying to prevent people in- and out of the government from discussing such things as global warming and the need to preserve the environment. Not to mention his attacks on the media for, among other things, allegedly misreading the number of those who came up to witness his inauguration. Should this line continue and persist, then it will become imperative to do without him and go against him. Not because of what he has to say about both topics is necessarily wrong, but to ensure the right of others to think otherwise.

This won’t do. That is why I promise my readers, however few or many they may be, one thing: namely, to go on writing about anything I please and go on speaking the truth as I see it. The English poet W. H. (Wystan Huge) Auden, 1907-1973, might have been referring to blogging when he wrote:

I want a form that’s large enough to swim in,

And talk on any subject that I choose.

From natural scenery to men and women

Myself, the arts, the European news.

Why Freud Got It Wrong

Freud got it wrong. The strongest drive that rules the species of homo which has the impudence to call itself sapiens is not sex. It is the urge to shut up those with whom one disagrees. Here are some examples, all taken from supposedly liberal, supposedly democratic, countries. In Australia, the government tried to impose draconian restrictions on its citizen’s access to various kinds of material on the Net. It was even been polite enough to ask the US for its approval (approval, thank goodness, was not given). In Canada, a newspaper editor who republished those famous Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad was summoned to explain himself before a government committee.

But it is not only the left which tries to dictate to people how to think. In France under Chirac and Sarkozy, teachers and professors who believe that French colonialism was an evil thing and did not help those who were subject to it in their march towards liberté, égalité and and fraternité were threatened with sanctions. In Britain, attempts were made to prevent a Dutch member of parliament who believes that the Koran is evil from entering the country. No surprise, that; in recent years, each time an Arab or Islamist has farted the British have wetted their pants.

In Germany some years ago, the geniuses at the Bundesministerium for Family and Youth tried to ban a children’s book. The author was Michael Schmidt-Salomon; the title, Where Can I find the Way to God, Please? Asked the Little Piglet. It attacked bishops, kadis and rabbis, presenting them all as rogues out to swindle people. If those people rejected the confidence trick, violence might ensue. On this occasion the High Constitutional Court, to its credit, denied the Ministry’s request.

And how about the US? In the self-proclaimed “land of the free” the situation is no better than anywhere else. In the media, in political life, even in sports and entertainment, anyone who utters a word that could possibly be constructed or mis-constructed as “racist” or “sexist” risks losing everything. The redoubtable Ann Coulter, who had seven conservatively-oriented books on the New York Times best seller list, has even engaged on a regular witch-hunt against what she pleases to call “liberal” professors. She encourages students to spy on them, exposes their alleged thoughtcrimes, and demands that they be fired; all while calling them by their names.

And how did the universities react to the assault? For centuries past, an essential part of their mission has been to defend freedom of thought. Yet in- and out of the US most universities, coming under the steamroller of political correctness, have long started sawing off the branch on which they sit. For daring to suggest that, in his view and as much research indicates, women may not have the same innate ability at mathematics as men, do, Larry Summers, president of Harvard University and a former secretary of the treasury under Clinton, lost his job.

As Voltaire once said, “I do not agree with a word you utter; but I will fight to the death for you right to do so.” As he also said, most philosophers are cowards. As Alan Kors and Harvey Silvergate in their book, The Shadow University, showed, many American universities regularly open the academic year by extensively briefing students on what they are, and are not, allowed to say. Those who, advertently or not, overstep the guidelines are persecuted and prosecuted. Often this is done in complete violation of the most basic rules that are supposed to govern a fair trial. So bad have things become that there now exist several organizations whose sole mission in life is to defend students’—and professors’—constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech against the universities where they study or teach.

Restrictions on freedom of thought and speech are, of course, nothing new. During most of history they were imposed either by dictatorial governments or by priests who, often working hand in hand with those governments, did not want anybody to question the hold religion gave them over society. For two centuries after the American and French Revolutions the West, to the extent that it did not turn either Communist or Fascist, took justified pride in the fact that it had done away with censorship and cast off most of those restraints. It was even thought, with very good reason, that this freedom was one of the cardinal factors that made the West as successful as it was.

No longer. What distinguishes the last two decades from most of their predecessors is the fact that much of the pressure in this direction is exerted in countries that are supposedly democratic and free. It seems to come not from above but from below, i.e. society itself. Nowadays in most “advanced” countries whenever anybody says or writes anything, there is certain to be somebody else around who finds his words “inappropriate” or “offensive.” To return to America’s universities, in many of them things have now reached the point where only blacks may write dissertations about blacks, gays about gays, lesbians about lesbians, and so on. Objectivity, or at any rate the attempt to reach it, has been thrown overboard. Yet where objectivity is lacking any attempt to understand also necessarily comes to an end. Whenever the alleged offender is at all prominent, a demand for an apology is certain to follow. Often the apology itself is but a cover for greed as “compensation” is demanded and mandated. There has even come into being an entire class of lawyers who, cruising the law, spend their time looking for cases of this kind.

Many of the offenses against freedom of speech are committed in the name of minors. Supposedly they must be isolated from all kinds of “false” ideas. For example, that God does not exist; or that sex before marriage is not morally wrong; or that their teachers may sometimes mislead them; or whatever. Now radio is called the villain, now TV. Now video games are to blame, now the Net. Those in charge of these technical instruments and their contents ought to be restrained, silenced, and punished if necessary. Not that there is anything new in this. The need to “protect” the young has often been used to justify some of the worst crimes of all; look at the execution of Socrates 2,412 years ago.

Perhaps worst of all, little if any of this is written into positive law. Since nobody knows what is and is not permitted, those who still dare engage in non-mainstream discourse are forced to watch their every step. What remains tends to become repetitive and tepid. The end result is the endless repetition of meaningless clichés, what George Orwell in 1984 called duckspeak. Perhaps authoritarian figures such as Russia’s Putin have got it right after all. With them, at any rate, one knows where one stands.