Censored: On Thought Control in Israel

By Stephen Lendman

Since its 1948 establishment, IDF military censor authority banned or sanitized material potentially damaging to Israel’s security. Thereafter, voluntary media/government agreements prevailed, all domestic and foreign news organizations abiding by censorship rulings.

Some are sensible like banning reports beneficial to adversaries. Others aren’t by suppressing information the public has a right to know. For example, whatever affects their welfare and when officials commit crimes. In addition, various Supreme Court decisions limit content suppression to "tangible (or) near certain" instances of public endangerment. Of course, interpretations are crucial, authorities increasingly hardline to get their way.

It shows up in prohibited protests, free expression erosion against government policies, a booklet about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because freedom of religion and asylum-seeker protection is included, suppressing nonviolent resistance, promoting patriotism over truth, attacking academic freedom, and sanitizing history among other ways, the latter issue addressed in an August 31 Haaretz editorial headlined, "Educating toward indoctrination," saying:

Frequent Education Ministry school curricula changes "share one common denominator….the same kind of crass, shallow patriotism that glosses over any complicated issue, forcing students to swallow the same rote, sanitized version of the multifaceted, paradoxical Israeli story (while) silenc(ing) all critical thought."

History books have been rewritten. Nakba teaching is banned, Netanyahu once calling its use tantamount to spreading propaganda against Israel. Yet for Palestinians, it’s their defining issue, the catastrophic mass slaughter and theft of their homeland. Not taught in Jewish schools, it was introduced in Arab Israeli ones in 2007 for children aged eight and nine.

In July 2009, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s spokesman, Yisrael Twito, said:

"After studying the matter with education experts it was decided that the term nakba should be removed. It is inconceivable that in Israel we would talk about the establishment of the state as a catastrophe."

Henceforth, only praise for the Jewish state is allowed. Yet a passage in the "offending" textbook said the following:

"The Arabs call (the 1948) war the nakba – a war of catastrophe, loss and humiliation – and the Jews call it the Independence War."

Distorting and suppressing truth by "nakba" denial doesn’t change it. It’s the Palestinian "Holocaust," six months of horrific slaughter, mass atrocities, land theft, and displacement, turning historic Palestine into Israel, the crime and its importance never erased from the collective consciousness of new generations who teach it to their children.

In today’s Israel, even the Oslo Accords have been erased, while "Holocaust" studies are expanded "to strengthen Jewish identity. According to Haaretz, "Now the school system’s main civics textbook will be modified because it states that ‘since its establishment, the State of Israel has engaged in a policy of discrimination against its Arab citizens.’ "

In other words, truth and critical thought are anathema in Israeli schools, by order of the Netanyahu government’s Zvi Zameret, the Education Ministry Pedagogic Secretariat head. As minister of censorship, he intends indoctrination and a "patronizing version of the past," insulting students by denying them real education.

Most recently on August 21, an article covered academic freedom, under attack and threatened because hardline Israeli extremists favor McCathyist censorship against free expression. As a result, anger in academia was aroused, the latest example reported on August 29 by International Middle East Media Center writer Saed Bannoura headlining, "Israeli universities condemn ‘witch hunt’ by right-wing groups," saying:

"In a joint statement by Israel’s largest and most prominent universities, the academic leadership challenged a foreign-funded campaign to undermine academic freedom in the name of Zionism, led by radical Israeli rightists and Christian fundamentalists," a threatening sinister partnership.

University officials condemned "this dangerous attempt to create a thought police," targeting professors considered too left-leaning. The Institute for Zionist Strategies demands review of their assigned readings and class content as well as "balancing" them with hardliners, saying otherwise pressure will be put on major donors to cease support. To their credit, university authorities refused to accede to extortion or threats backed by scholars, intellectuals and Haaretz editorial writers, another August 20 effort headlined, "Protecting academia," saying: "a pluralistic, democratic society is incompatible with external interference in course curricula of lecturers’ political views." Censorship has no place in academia, the media or anywhere in a free society if it’s to stay that way. As in America, in Israel, it’s fast eroding.

Historical Revisionism in Textbooks

Nurit Peled-Elhannan is an Israeli peace activist, Hebrew University Professor, and one of the founders of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. She’s also a recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights and Freedom of Speech, awarded annually by the European Parliament to honor individuals or organizations active in the defense of human rights and freedom.

Earlier in 2010, her article titled "Legitimation of massacres in Israeli school history books….examine(d) reports about massacres in eight Israeli secondary school history books, published between 1998 and 2009."

It explained how they’re legitimized verbally and visually, rewriting history to justify the "killing of Palestinians as an effective tool to preserve a secure Jewish state with a Jewish majority," as well as prepare Israeli youths to be good soldiers, and to justify a repressive occupation.

Some textbooks, especially more recent ones, explain massacres as "routine battles or successful military operations." Others present them as "transgression(s)" or diversions "from official plans" but nonetheless legitimated by their positive outcome, benefitting Jews over Arabs.

Yet massacres are defined as barbarous wanton murder of "usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty," Israeli history strewn with examples, worst of all its so-called "war of independence," but many others also, involving cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians.

Today, they’re sanitized and forgotten. Earlier they were wrongly justified as they are today, including decades of extreme repression, ethnic cleansing, imperial wars, and repeated attacks against noncombatants, ideologically committed for an ethnically pure Greater Israel, the end justifying the means no matter how barbaric or criminal.

For example, the October 1953 Kibya massacre, ordered by Ariel Sharon, when Israeli forces attacked the Jordanian village, northwest of Jerusalem. Using mortars, machine guns, rifles and explosives, they blew up 42 houses, local schools and the mosque, killing every man, woman and child found – in total, 75 noncombatant villagers, slaughtered in cold blood, an atrocity by any standard portrayed as a "success (that) restored the morale and dignity of the army and helped it become a deterring vigorous (force) whose long arm can reach the enemy deep in its own territory."

The moral – killing is good, slaughter is better, and in great enough numbers combined with atrocities best of all, a lesson taught Israeli youths preparing them to be soldiers.

Like all imperial states, Israel specializes in historical revisionism, legitimizing massacres in school texts, transforming the outrageous into liberating heroism, "align(ed) with the goals of Zionism and with Jewish creed." They become acceptable acts in times of conflicts. Utility is all that matters, justifying the unjustifiable for a greater good, manipulating young minds to believe it and Jewish exceptionalism, including the mythology about Israel’s "war of independence."

Portrayed as outgunned and outnumbered by Arab armies, the truth is mirror opposite. Zionist forces neutralized the Jordanians, the strongest regional army, bribing them not to fight with 20% of historic Palestine, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In 1948, on the eve of battle, Jewish forces numbered around 50,000 against a hopelessly outmanned, outgunned irregular Palestinian force of about 7,000. Until May 15, 1948, when Israel was established, other Arab nations deferred, acting belatedly with token forces proving no match for the superior Israelis.

It was a walkover, 78% of Palestine seized; the Jewish state created; 800,000 Palestinians massacred or displaced; 531 villages and 11 urban neighborhoods destroyed; no quarter given in committing mass murder; ethnic cleaning; vast destruction of villages, communities and crops; rapes and other atrocities.

Yet Israeli historiography portrays the war as liberating, including the myth that Palestinians left voluntarily, fearing harm from invading Arab armies – the same token ones never showing up until it was too late to matter, ill-equiped, fighting with no commitment. Proving no match for superior Israelis, they exited and went home. The war’s outcome was never in doubt, the fate of Palestinians sealed, atrocities against them to this day sanitized, including memoricide of the Nakba, fortress Israel and revisionist history enforcing it.

Another myth as well about the region’s only democracy, affording rights solely to Jews, and increasingly less of them, Israel solidifying the same elitist society as in America, assuring most rights to the privileged, eroding ones to ordinary Israelis, becoming more like Arabs on their own and out of luck under hardline governance no longer caring.

Israeli thought control enforces it, including crackdowns on dissent – an open, just, free society eroding to conceal growing harshness against anyone challenging injustice, including journalists and academics unwilling to support wrong over right and saying so. It’s now a crime.

– Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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