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Unlike Egyptians, Israelis support restricting expression
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כדילתרגם לעברית
Posted on February 7, 2011
By Akiva Eldar

Nearly 40 percent of Israelis believe there is too much freedom of expression in Israel.

While the newspaper headlines the world over excitedly told of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, most of them young, demonstrating day and night at Tahrir Square in favor of democratic reforms, a small report appeared in Israeli newspapers. It recounted that in a new survey held among Israeli Jews, 52 percent of those asked agreed to the need to restrict freedom of expression where a report threatens the image of the state. The survey, carried out by the Geocartography firm for the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, shows that 64 percent of those surveyed are willing to see the state limit the freedom of expression in conditions of a security threat. Similar results were shown on limiting academic freedom.

The Israeli Democracy Index for 2010, published recently by the Israel Democracy Institute, shows that nearly 40 percent of Israelis believe there is too much freedom of expression in Israel. 59 percent of Jews who identify with the right, 49 percent of those who say they are center, and 39 percent of those who believe they are left, think that human and civil rights groups such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and B'Tselem cause damage to the country. Avigdor Lieberman knew what he was doing when he declared war on them.

President Hosni Mubarak must be jealous of his Jewish neighbor who heads the "only democracy in the Middle East." The subjects of Benjamin Netanyahu applaud as they watch television (unless they are absorbed by the show Big Brother ). The Democracy Index has shown for some years now that 80 percent of Israelis do not believe they can influence government policy. In the eyes of a large portion of citizens, civil order precedes the right to protest and demonstrate; moreover, six out of 10 Jews believe that the police must disperse demonstrations, even if they do not threaten human lives or property and only disrupt traffic.

Indeed, there is no room to compare the Egyptian worker, who lives on humus and pita and has the price of his flour raised, to the Israeli clerk who is required to pay a few more shekels for a tank of gasoline. True, in Israel they do not arrest bloggers for insulting the president's honor. On the other hand, Egypt does not hold for more than 43 years millions of people under military occupation, at an enormous cost to its security, political standing and economy. Even the prime minister of the right, Benjamin Netanyahu, said at Bar-Ilan University that this cannot go on, and announced his support for a two-state solution.

So he said. Did anyone hear about any protest against the fact that Israeli governments have ignored the Arab Peace Initiative of March 2002, which offers Israel normalization with all the Arab states in return for withdrawing to the 1967 borders (the Arab League is supporting an exchange of territory ) and an agreed solution to the refugee problem? "Israeli society prefers conformity, self-censorship and willing obedience," notes political psychologist Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University. "This attitude is a recipe for arrested thought, blindness and deafness."

Bar-Tal, who researched the obstructions to peace, says that the authorities and the army have, for years, flooded the public, with the help of conscripted media, with information that fits the narrative they want to pass on ("there is no partner," "unified Jerusalem," "the fate of Ariel is that of Tel Aviv" ). He says that from this point of view our situation is much worse than that in "closed societies" like the eastern bloc of the 1970s. In those countries the citizens knew that the regime was giving them false information, sought other sources of information and worked for reforms that would bring change.

The Israeli public believes the authorities and worships "security sources." It shuts its ears to different voices and prefers to shut the mouths of those few who dampen the joy and warn of isolation and bloodshed.

According to the Democracy Index, 60 percent of Israelis (Jews and Arabs ) support the view that "a number of powerful leaders will be more useful to the country than all the discussions and the laws." It is not surprising that many Israelis, perhaps most of them, including senior analysts, share the sorrow of President Mubarak and are disappointed with President Barack Obama, who abandoned him.

Netanyahu should offer his Egyptian friend political asylum. Mubarak will feel here like his better days at home.

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