The media, led by cheerleader Paul Murray, have rapidly transformed the O’Connell verdict into an issue of free speech. Despite the clear annunciation from the Judge that this case is not about a matter of free speech.
Some write that O’Connell is behind bars because he dared to think a particular way, and express that view. Out comes the reasonable mantra that as abhorrent as a view may be, a person still has the right to express it. It is the ideal of Voltaire –“I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death to defend your right to say it”.
It’s a nice virtue. But it does not apply here.
O’Connell, contrary to publicity, was not convicted for criticising Israel. He was convicted for racially vilifying (read: threatening) people in public, with clear intent to intimidate and spread feelings of hatred.
Words can be dangerous, especially when there is clear and reasonable chance of follow through. A suicidal person should be helped before they kill themselves, instead of waiting until they die and saying we should do something about it. An accident should be prevented before it occurs, if it can be. In the case of O’Connell, his violent intentions and physical harm should be prevented, instead of waiting for somebody to be attacked before justice can then be served. A fence should be built at the top of the cliff, as opposed to waiting for an ambulance to drive to the bottom of the cliff. This is what the O’Connell imprisonment verdict is all about.
Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks, writes of free speech as follows:
Free speech involves respectfully listening to all views, especially those with which you disagree. It means attending to the arguments, examining the evidence, keeping an open mind, being willing to admit when you are wrong, and everything else that goes with the pursuit of truth. Bans, boycotts, interrupting speakers, refusing to let one side of the argument present its case, demonising those with whom you disagree, accusing them in advance of listening to them: all these things are a betrayal of the virtue of free speech.
O’Connell and his supporters need to understand that it works both ways. You will not tolerate us, and therefore don’t expect us to tolerate you. Your unjustified accusations that we kill, that we are a death-cult, that we control the world finances, that we preach that non-Jewish people are insuperior, that the holocaust did not occur, that we are not a race, that we are homocidal maniacs; these are all lies. They offend. When they are spoken within the community in which we live, they mis-educate. They lead to fear, hatred and anti-Semitism. It is a libel against my liberty as a Jew, and it is an affront to any decent society.
Brendan O”Connell was convicted for calling a Jewish person “racist”, yet he doesn’t believe Jewish people are a “race”. Spot the irony?
Paul Murray calls anti-Semitic views mainstream in the Arab world, yet these views are held because the people live in non-free societies without freedom of speech. They have to hold these views and that they are part of state sanctioned educational programs. Spot the irony?
The WA Friends of Palestine disown O’Connell from amongst their rank because they don’t sanction racism. Spot the irony?
I support freedom of speech and stop each and every day to appreciate that I live in a free country such as Australia where freedom is a basic value of society. Yet, as with every virtue, there has to be boundaries and limitations. That includes free speech. So long as free speech doesn’t impinge on the rights, freedoms, security, and tolerance of others it should be embraced. When it puts a section of the community at risk of physical harm, it should be curtailed. When it is based on a patent and dangerous falsehood, it should not be allowed to perpetuate and put me at risk of further hate crimes.
Justice has prevailed. If you don’t accept the verdict, I suggest that you arrange to meet up with Brendan O’Connell and all his supporters. You should all take a King James Bible to Gaza, read from it in public (and feel free to post that on You Tube). When you have finished, if you finish, feel free to shout out “free Gaza”. Then tell Hamas all about the virtues of the freedom of speech.