Limmud Oz, Tracker Debate

I’ve had an increase in traffic over the last week or so. I imagine it’s for people who want to find out about the Limmud Oz bans and my take on it. Sorry, I really don’t have time to write about that again. I wrote some thoughts at Overland.

Other things to mention: Robin Margo came out in defence of NIF’s support for Adalah, saying something like Arabs can’t be expected to be Zionists, and their struggle for civil liberties (which he acknowleges they lack) makes Israel a better place. I think that’s very decent and honourable, and a major step forward, which he deserves to be commended for. Frankly, I didn’t expect it from him, as I was unimpressed with previous statements when he worked for JBD [edited – yes I’m fallible](below). I should be speaking on a panel with Larry Stillman and Mark Baker. I think I could fairly say I’m a long way to Dr Baker’s left, and broadly sympathetic to Larry’s concerns. AJDS supports a targeted boycott, which is basically my position, though there are differences in nuances (and I don’t think it’s a significant issue, but on historical issues I support I could be called more left wing or whatever, as I’m anti-Zionist [I should say, strongly opposed to political Zionism as it existed and exists, and just mildly disagree with  cultural Zionism etc [in the sense that, I’m opposed to nationalisms, but think its harmless]]). These categories are probably unhelpful, because the terms need more definition – I suppose if they let me talk at Limmud Oz, someone can ask me about it.

Anyway, Tracker, the new Aboriginal rights advocacy paper, asked me to debate Andrew Bolt’s freedom of speech in relation to the racial villification trial. I got sent a pdf which I can’t copy and paste, so here in an exclusive is my unedited original (it was shortened for Tracker. Go out and buy it, support an excellent new paper with Nicole Watson, Chris Graham, Larissa Behrendt and more). You can then see Amy McQuire’s response and judge who won the debate.

 For Bolt’s Freedom of Speech

Last year William Farkas passed away. He survived the death marches when he was 24, weighing 24 kilograms. His gravestone includes a commemoration of his father, murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. My grandmother also survived the Holocaust. Almost everyone else in her family was exterminated.

I find Holocaust denial deeply hurtful and distressing. I find it difficult to write dispassionately about the case of Frederick Toben. After being jailed for Holocaust denial writings, he released a book called Arbeit Macht Frei – the slogan placed on the gates to Auschwitz. The concentration camp my grandmother survived, and which so many of my relatives did not. It is hard to imagine how he could calculate being more grossly and outrageously offensive.

Yet for all the hurt he causes me, and perhaps every other Jewish person in Australia, I have repeatedly written that his imprisonment is unacceptable, and he should have the right to express his opinions, however vile, depraved, or ignorant they may be.

Obviously, I do not enjoy defending the freedom of speech of someone like Toben. However, freedom of speech doesn’t mean the right to say uncontroversial things that people like. The only views that ever face suppression are those that are considered outrageous, disgusting, depraved and vile. It is when people say the most disgusting and outrageous things that it is most important to defend their freedom of speech. Anyone who supports freedom of speech, except when that speech is outrageous and offensive, does not support freedom of speech at all. As Noam Chomsky has said, it’s a “poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers.”

Andrew Bolt has accused me of “hate preaching”. I documented some of the (many) outrageous things Bolt has said at ABC Drum. However, as HL Mencken noted, people who defend human freedom always end up spending “most of [their] time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”Andrew Bolt does not deserve to have perhaps the most important civil liberty squandered on him.

For those who think freedom of speech isn’t so valuable, I can’t prove otherwise here. I can simply pose a question: if you let the State decide what freedom of opinion should be allowed, why do you think that that it will be a friend of Indigenous Australians? It is never going to be the views of vulnerable minorities that determine what is and is not considered intolerably offensive and outrageous to the community. If you want to let the courts decide what we can and can’t say, why do you expect enlightened judges to rule in your favour? In a society as racist as ours, why should we expect judges to be bastions of enlightenment?

I know that some think these laws are giving a weapon to the oppressed. That is not how power works. If you give power to the State, it will be used as a weapon against the poor and marginalised. It would not be the first time claims of being “offended” were used in that manner. The Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody wrote that

It is surely time that police learnt to ignore mere abuse, let alone simple ‘bad language’….


Charges about language just become part of an oppressive mechanism of control of Aboriginals. Too often the attempt to arrest or charge an Aboriginal for offensive language sets in train a sequence of offences by that person and others – resisting arrest, assaulting police, hindering police and so on, none of which would have occurred if police were not so easily ‘offended’.

The Royal Commission dismissed “the pretense that they are sensitive persons offended by such language”.

This is how we can expect such laws to be applied in practice. Already we see Twiggy’s Fortescue Metal Group claiming that the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation video is defamatory and “incites racial vilification”. Obviously, this sort of legal bullying will favour the rich and white in Australia. There’s also Gary Johns writing in the Australian that “the two most egregious instances of public racial vilification in Australia in the past two decades were the Aboriginal deaths in custody report (1991) and the report on the separation of Aboriginal children and their families (1997).”

Ridiculous? Outrageous? Yes and yes. But why trust a rich white judge to be more like Michael Kirby, and less like Keith Windschuttle? Chris Graham has shown that we jail Aboriginal men at a rate far higher than Apartheid South Africa jailed blacks. How much faith can you have in the courts? Remember that it was a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory who gave glowing character references to the 5 white men who terrorised Aboriginal campers with their car and gun, before beating Kwementyaye Ryder to death.

How helpful will the courts be, when it’s Prime Ministers who openly advocate racism (the NT Intervention)?

And remember this: what if Bolt wins? Would that prove Bolt raised legitimate issues? Or do you think it’s irrelevant: that we should not give the State the right to determine which opinions deserve public expression and which ones don’t, which ones are disgusting and racist, and which ones are not.

This is a political struggle. Sadly, there are no shortcuts.

One Response to “Limmud Oz, Tracker Debate”
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  1. […] sometimes that are easy for someone on the Left – like criticising Andrew Bolt. Criticising the case against him in Tracker took courage, for me, as lame as it sounds to praise myself, because I was criticising people I […]

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