What is this Freedom we so value?

Recently I found myself disturbed by the resignation of an Australian journalist, Mike Carlton, in the wake of attacks made on him – and his own response to them – arising from his take on the current Israel-Gaza conflict. It’s not that I’m a particular fan of Carlton, or have any beef against Fairfax…

For a while I couldn’t work out what exactly I found so disturbing – the slinging of terms such as Fascist, Nazi, Anti-Semite, Jewish Bigot, etc., among people one had regarded as somewhat educated? Possibly. Then I got it – It’s the fuss that is being made, and how it has degenerated into personality attack, rather than focusing on the issues Carlton had raised in the first place. The actual humanitarian issue in Gaza and the need to speak out about it.

So, to calm myself down, I submitted my own comment on the HeraldSun website. To wit:

I thought we valued freedom of speech in this society? And yet we go berserk when a journalist writes passionately about images of injured civilians in Gaza and reports the words of a surgeon struggling to cope with the rising toll. Surely an open and frank discussion of what is happening in Gaza – including an assessment of political policies impacting on the situation – is within a journalist’s province? Or are there still sacred cows, emperors without clothes, and elephants in our rooms?

Although Carlton’s does not include the entire history of the Arab Israeli conflict in his article, it is none-the-less a reasoned and humane response to what has been clearly witnessed. He speaks out against unbridled attacks on civilian populations and acknowledges that both sides have engaged it this.

The most damning remarks about current Israeli policies in this column were actually quoting an Israeli journalist whose life has come under threat for speaking out. Punishment for speaking out against atrocity has always been the hallmark of extremism (L & R) and I question the politics of those who would disallow this freedom.

I also question the policies of the current Israeli government, as I question all extreme nationalistic politics and powers – across all national, religious, or territorial divides. And right here at home!  Am I anti-Semitic because I use this freedom to judge an action, a policy, even war itself, on its merits or lack of them?

And look at the manipulation of language in this  fracas – forgetting that Arab peoples are also ‘Semitic’.

As for the cartoon so hastily apologised for – depicting Netanyahu in an armchair, remotely detonating a bomb – nobody takes offence when Australian, American or any other country’s politicians are depicted as, shall we say ‘war mongering’.  Within a democracy, the worthy tradition of political cartooning allows such commentary – and yet we are now told that this eloquent image was anti-Semitic and offensive.

What is really going on here?

Just how much freedom of speech, thought and discussion is left to us?

Mike Carlton’s ‘offending’ column.

Crikey’s report on the ensuing resignation.

Sample of reader response to Carlton’s article that set it all in motion.

In the interests of full disclosure:  I am neither Pro-Palestinian nor Pro-Israel.  I am simply Anti-war.  It is no longer an effective tool in conflict resolution.

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