The limits to free speech

BDS is against Israel's existance

I’m a passionate believer in free speech. I’m of the view that kiwis should be free to express any opinion they wish – with the only limitation being on speech which threatens violence or is designed to incite others to violence.

But just as speech should be free – there are also times when we willingly and knowingly agree to trade off some of that freedom in return for the benefit of employment or the right to be associated with an organisation. If I join a Church, or a Synagogue, or start work with a new employer, I’m agreeing to uphold the standards and values of that organisation – and if I’m not prepared to do that, I’m free to leave. That very issue is being played out, right now, in the dispute between Israel Folau and the Australian Rugby Union in respect of the extent of his right to free speech during the period he was employed by them.

It’s also being played out – less publicly – in the contradiction between the stated ideals of the New Zealand Labour Party and the comments and actions of one of its MPs, Dr Duncan Webb. The New Zealand Labour Party, like the National Party, has long supported a negotiated two-state solution to the Arab-Israel conflict – a position which respects the existence of both Israel, and the Palestinians, and which seeks to find a solution which meets the needs of all those affected by the conflict.

In contrast – Dr Webb is an outspoken supporter of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement (BDS) – a movement which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and which has well-established links with terror groups. Indeed, there is a strong correlation between BDS activities and an increase in antisemitic incidents and there is little doubt that the discriminatory and distorted messages fostered by BDS have amplified antisemitic sentiment.
Omar Bargouti, the founder of BDS, opposes the two-state solution and has said “…we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine”. BDS activists also oppose “normalisation” projects which bring Jews and Palestinians together for better understanding and the dialogue that is required for a negotiated solution.

For these reasons, some democratic nations have now passed anti-discrimination laws to combat BDS and others are examining the activities of this subversive organisation. The German government recently passed a motion (with support from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian-Democratic Union, the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democratic Party) that stated “the pattern of argument and methods of the BDS movement are antisemitic … reminiscent of the most terrible phase of German history,“, referring to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.

Even Norman Finklestein, who is a prominent Jewish critic of Israel, and no supporter of that nation, has been quoted as saying that he “loathes the disingenuousness [of BDS]” and that “they don’t want Israel (to exist)… they are a cult”.

The Israel Institute is concerned about the stark contradiction between the stated values of the Labour Party and the statements and actions of Dr Webb, in support of BDS, and has written to the Labour Party seeking clarification of their view toward Dr Webb’s position. In drawing their attention to this matter it is our hope that they will either remind Dr Webb of his commitment to Labour Party principles, or encourage him to find another home for his racist and violent views.

At a time when the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission has formally launched an investigation into the UK Labour Party to decide whether it has “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish” it is our hope that such views will not find a home here in New Zealand.