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Friday Fuck No: The Growing Silencing of Criticism In Israel, and American Complicity

It’s been a rough few weeks for activists and journalists seeking to criticize Israel’s right wing, repressive government.

This week, Ayoob Kara, Israel’s communications minister, promised to shut down Al Jazeera’s broadcasts, revoke press credentials, and close the popular network’s offices in Jerusalem, according to VICE. While Israel has claimed that the well-acclaimed media outlet “supports terrorism” and “incites violence,” the government has offered no evidence of incitement by the news site — or indeed anything beyond factual news reporting.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have condemned Israel’s actions, calling it a “chilling message that Israeli authorities will not tolerate critical coverage.” They are joined in their criticisms by commentators, journalists and press associations. Israel’s actions echo that of its more unpopular neighbors, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt pushing Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, to close it — most likely because it often reports on authoritarian atrocities and the views of dissidents within those countries.

This isn’t the first time a country that purports to be “the only democracy left in the Middle East” has joined some unlikely bedfellows in the repression of speech. Earlier this year, Israel came under fire for joining Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela in denying access to Human Rights Watch, claiming that the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization was pushing “Palestinian propaganda” despite Human Rights Watch’s extensive documentation of the human rights abuses perpetrated by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. It was only after international pushback that Israel acquiesced, and granted Human Rights lawyer Omar Shakir a work permit. Human Rights Watch is still not permitted into Gaza, and has also reported that journalists — among other humanitarian workers — are restricted by Israel from entering, rendering them unable to report on the rife abuse within the territory, by either Israel or Hamas.

Israel’s latest act of repression comes on the heels of a time when Israel arrested the largest number of Palestinians in years, fueling an epidemic of Palestinian mass incarceration in the West Bank. Israel has also made the unprecedented move — described by Human Rights Watch as a war crime — of stripping a Palestinian man, Alaa Zayoud, of citizenship, so he is now effectively rendered stateless by the Israeli courts.

Meanwhile, back on American shores — far from being the bastion of freedom of speech it purports to be — our own country is looking to support Israel in its attempts to restrict free speech. A bill criminalizing non-violent dissent against Israel in the legislature, that has wide bipartisan support. The proposed bill, which would be blatantly unconstitutional, would make it a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison to exercise one’s right to boycott settlement and Israeli products. (The ‘BDS’ movement, which the bill targets, is a non-violent protest tactic that could be found distasteful by some, but should, by no means, be illegal.) To sacrifice every principle the nation prides itself on (however hypocritically) to support a nation also engaged in egregious violations of the very same principle is abhorrent; that centrists and liberals are participating in these efforts is truly a sign of their feeble, unprincipled, opportunistic political will.

I’ve written before about why feminists should care about all this. Currently, the human rights abuse and growing, rife authoritarianism in the Occupied Territories is encouraged, tolerated, and supported by Americans. If feminism is to mean anything at all, this should worry us — not the least because what goes on abroad in the nations of our allies only serves as roadmaps for what may happen at home.

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Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and politics, intersectional feminism, criminal justice, human rights, freedom of the press, the law and feminism, and the politics of South Asia.

Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and gender, race and criminal justice, human rights, cats, and sports.

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