People across the political spectrum in Israel were disgusted recently to see others at a Jewish wedding celebrating the fire bombing of a Palestinian family and holding up a picture of 18-month-old Ali Dawabshe who was burned away in the attack. One youth was shown stabbing the picture of the baby as others danced and rejoiced. Israeli police arrested four of the men in the videotape today, though (as despicable as these extremists are) the arrests raise questions over the criminalization of speech.
The wedding of a couple from the far religious right showed people dancing with weapons and rejoicing in the deaths. The father and the baby Ali both burned to death in the attack. It took a month for the mother, Reham, to die in the hospital. She was a 27 year old teacher and had third degree burns over 90 percent of her body. Only their four-year-old son Ahmed survived with second-degree burns on more than 60 percent of his body.
The four men arrested include the groom Yakir Ashbal. What is interesting is that the lawyer representing them was one of those at what is now being called the “hate wedding” filled with extremists. Attorney Itamar Ben Gvir has insisted that a weapon shown in the videotape was a toy and that “even if it was tasteless, no crime has been committed during the dance from this perspective.” Giver would seem to have an obvious conflict in representation as a potential witness. His participation in such a hateful event also raises questions about his own moral judgment, but I fail to see how he could defend a case in which he is a witness.
Putting those ethical concerns aside, his point is still a valid one. The men were charged with “incitement to violence” and “illegal possession of weapons.” The latter charge is a factual question and not particularly troubling from a legal perceptive. The incitement charge is a concern. We have long discussed the increasing criminalization of speech. We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have even seen comedians targets with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here).
Here you have hateful individuals celebrating and rejoicing in the death of a family, including a baby. However, what constitutes incitement and what constitutes opinion rests on a highly subjective determination. Presumably any rejoicing over the attack would encourage or incite others. This creates a slippery slope in which prosecutors can pick and chose who to arrest for unpopular speech. I find these people, including a lawyer at such a hateful event, to be disgusting and grotesque people. Yet, civil libertarians are often required to defend the least sympathetic individuals in our society. We do not need free speech to protect popular speech or individuals. The test of our convictions is our willingness to extend the same protections to those whom we despise.
While Israel does not have the same free speech protections as the United States, it is the country with the most such protections in this region. If there are gun charges to be brought, I say bring them. However, the incitement charges raise deep concerns over how speech is regulated or prosecuted by the government.
What do you think?