Arab-Israeli Knesset (Israeli parliament) member Basel Ghattas is seen on January 18, 2017. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

In Israel, Yelling Out ‘Fire’ is Considered Free Speech

Picture if you will, a member of the US Congress getting caught smuggling cell phones, SIM cards and documents to the Black Liberation Army, Aryan Nation or some other domestic terrorist group. Would house arrest and suspension from Congress be an adequate punishment for what looks, walks and talks like an act of treason?

Recently, Knesset member (MK) Basel Ghattas was banned from all parliamentary activities for six months and briefly placed under house arrest after being taped on camera giving envelopes that contained documents, 12 cellphones, 16 SIM cards and related equipment to convicted terrorists inside Israel’s Ketziot prison. One of the prisoners that Ghattas met, Walid Daka, is serving a life sentence for torturing and murdering a 19-year-old Israel Defense Forces soldier.

Arab-Israeli Knesset (Israeli parliament) member Basel Ghattas is seen on January 18, 2017. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)
Arab-Israeli Knesset (Israeli parliament) member Basel Ghattas is seen on January 18, 2017. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

Though suspected of committing a serious crime against Israel’s security and its citizens, Ghattas retains his parliamentary voting rights and will continue to draw a hefty, publicly funded, salary.

Yes, Israel Police summoned Ghattas for an interrogation on suspicion of committing security violations. Still, despite the red meat rhetoric being hurled by populist Israeli politicians, the most severe punishment that the duly elected representative from Jesus’s hometown of Nazareth can expect is impeachment.

So, is there validity to Ghattas’s claim that he is being persecuted for his political beliefs? Ghattas is a member of Balad, a Palestinian nationalist political party that advocates for an Israeli state that is not Jewish. In addition, Balad supports the return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants, which is tantamount to being in favor of Israel’s national suicide. As such, MK Ghattas views himself as a colonized Palestinian and works off the same ideological playbook as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Authority.

Though Ghattas is free to think and express his contention that Israel is the primary source of evil in the world, let’s not forget that in 2016 he acted on this belief, as one of three Arab Israeli lawmakers who met with the families of Palestinian terrorists. Did providing aid and a cover of legitimacy to the genocidal aspirations of murderers fall within the protected bounds of these parliamentarians’ freedom of expression?

While Israeli citizenship confers many benefits, it also entails certain obligations. By allowing Basel Ghattas to actively subvert against Israel, the message that the Israeli government is sending to its citizens is that fomenting violence is a legitimate form of expression. Though his ability to speak his mind should not be hindered, his right to freedom of expression ends at the very moment it violates the rights of his fellow Israeli citizens.

As a citizen, Bassel Ghattas’s allegiance to Israel is mandatory. If he is found to have attempted to levy war against Israel or adhere to its enemies, by giving them aid and comfort within Israel or elsewhere, he should be tried for treason. In Israel, the law allows courts to revoke the citizenship of persons convicted of treason. If a person does not have dual citizenship or reside abroad, then he or she can be granted residency status in Israel instead of citizenship, a downgrading that severely restricts the right to political participation.

According to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Schenck v. United States (1919), “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” If providing convicted terrorists with the means to perpetuate, from behind bars, a murderous campaign against Israeli citizens doesn’t constitute “causing a panic,” what on earth does?



Check out other essays by Gidon Ben-Zvi that have been published by the Algemeiner.

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