Over the past day or so, a fierce fight has erupted between Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and New York Jewish author, Paul Auster. The controversy began when Auster, whose new book was recently published in Turkey, announced to an opposition newspaperthat he refused to visit that country to promote it. In the process, he blasted Turkey’s Islamist government for jailing authors and journalists:
“I refuse to come to Turkey because of imprisoned journalists and writers. How many are jailed now? Over 100?” Auster said, adding that Turkey was the country he was most worried about.
“Us democrats got rid of the Bushes. We got rid of Cheney who should have been put on trial for war crimes,” the author said. “What is going on in Turkey?”
Erdogan, who suffers neither fools nor political opponents gladly, lashed out at Auster during a party conference, telling the author that Turkey didn’t need him to lecture it on how to be a democracy:
“Author Paul Auster…said he will not come to Turkey as he finds it anti-democratic because of arrested journalists. Oh! We were much in need of you! [So] What if you come or not?” Erdoğan said during a party meeting yesterday.
Criticizing Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the newspapers for giving credit to Auster’s statements, Erdoğan asked, “Will Turkey lose altitude if you don’t come?”
Recalling that Auster joined a book fair in 2010 in Israel where he described Israel as a “secular, democratic country,” Erdoğan slammed the American writer for being unaware of the fact Israel was a non-secular state and had killed thousands of innocent people in the Gaza Strip. “I am sure Kılıçdaroğlu and Auster will join together for this year’s book fair in Israel,” he added.
Auster replied to Erdogan’s attack with this statement:
Whatever the Prime Minister might think about the state of Israel, the fact is that free speech exists there and no writers or journalists are in jail…All countries are flawed and beset by myriad problems, Mr. Prime Minister, including my United States, including your Turkey, and it is my firm conviction that in order to improve conditions in our countries, in every country, the freedom to speak and publish without censorship or the threat of imprisonment is a sacred right for all men and women.
While I don’t know Auster’s views about Israel, I presume he’s the typical liberal Zionist. The brief substantive exchange he included about it in his reply indicated a fairly standard lib Zionist approach to the issue of Israel’s so-called democratic values, including press freedom and free speech. It’s a shame he didn’t do his homework, as if he had he could’ve both bolstered his criticism of Turkey and done justice to the issue of the grave threats facing Israeli democracy.
There is no question that while Turkey as a nation has made great economic and political strides under Erdogan’s Islamist party, that country remains deficient in many areas which are well-known to many. Kurds are denied basic rights, acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide is a crime, and freedoms that many in the west take for granted are routinely threatened in Turkey. All of this is undeniably true. As a friend of mine married to a Turk and living there says: while there is more freedom of speech than there has been in many decades, it is still a crime to “insult Turkishness” or say something “un-Turkish.” The media is largely bought and paid for by moguls with large business empires who are willing to use their platforms to advance their business interests. They do this by ingratiating themselves with the powers that be. In the few instances when a corporate titan has allowed his journalists too much free rein to attack the government, he has paid a very high price in the economic warfare officials wage against him.
On the positive side, the country has made enormous strides in reducing poverty and addressing economic disparities and building wealth. It has also undertaken a foreign policy offensive which has made it a critical regional player attempting to bring stability to such conflicts as Syria-Israel and Iran. It will undoubtedly play a key role in ensuring the future stability of Syria if/when the Assad government falls.
But to get into a competition between the so-called freedoms of Israel and the so-called injustices of Turkey is a losing game. Israel needs to be examined in its own right and not in comparison to any other country.
So let’s return to Paul Auster’s claims about Israel. He hasn’t even scratched the surface. Israeli journalists and media are under the gravest of threats from the right-wing government and its thuggish non-governmental allies. Uri Blau, one of Israel’s leading investigative reporters, who broke the story of IDF targeted assassinations in violation of Supreme Court rulings, faces six years in prison if the government decides to prosecute him. His crime? He published top secret documents leaked to him by whistleblower, Anat Kamm. Jared Malsin, English language editor of the Palestinian independent news agency, Maan, was imprionsed by Israeli authorities for nearly a week, and then deported because they no longer wished to allow him to practice journalism in the West Bank.
Military censorship applies to wide swaths of Israeli journalism and can be invoked regarding stories great and small. Though Israelis have learned to read between the lines to discover when a story has been censored, they still don’t know what information they’ve been denied nor why.
The Israeli prime minister told the editor of the Jerusalem Post that the two greatest enemies Israel faces are the New York Times and Haaretz. That is, Israel’s leading liberal daily is a threat to the existence of the State of Israel. Does it remind you of Nixon’s enemies list? It should. Does that begin to scare you, Mr. Auster? It should.
Israeli journalists from around the country called an emergency meeting two months ago to rally against threats to press freedom. The organizer of this event, Uri Misgav, reporting for Yediot Achronot, recently lost his job. Another reporter who wrote for Maariv, Ruth Sinai, lost her job as well. Her editor, a former associate of Bibi Netanyahu’s told her:
“Post-Zionist journalists will not write for his paper”.
This is Israel’s second-largest circulation paper. Does that scare you? It should.
The director of the Prime Minister’s office, who is himself under investigation for sex harassment, blackmailed TV Channel 10 by demanding that it fire investigative journalist Raviv Drucker in return for the government not taking the station off the air. Drucker had just aired a damaging story about Bibi Netanyahu’s flaunting of ethics rules while he was an MK.
The Israeli Knesset is considering a new law which would drastically reduce the level of proof needed to convict someone of libel. It would massively increase awards against those found guilty of defamation. Complainants wouldn’t even need to establish proof of any economic damage in order to be compensated. Publishers could also be held liable for defamation for comments published in the Talkback section.
Journalists who report from Israel for Arab language outlets like Al Jazeera face routine embarrassment and harassment at the hands of Israeli security officials. This has included the stripping of female journalists by security agents before meetings with the prime minister.
Israel’s press is dominated by a single newspaper, Yisrael HaYom, funded by a billionaire for the express purpose of bringing Bibi to power and keeping him there. Does this sound like a country that enjoys a free press?
I urge Mr. Auster and anyone concered about freedom of the press in Israel to visit the site of Keshev, Israel’s leading NGO in this field. Israel’s leading website providing media criticism and advocacy is Seventh Eye. Though it is only in Hebrew, it is highly recommended.
Regarding free speech, the threats are enormous. Peace activists are routinely dragged before the Shin Bet for interrogation for the crime of speaking their mind. The women of New Profile were threatened with prison for advocating draft resistance in opposition to the Occupation. Ilana Hammerman has similarly been questioned three times and threatened with prosecution for the crime of bringing Palestinian mothers and children into Israel to breathe fresh air at the beach and go to the zoo. Solidarity activists at Sheikh Jarrah are routinely arrested and assaulted by Israeli police for opposing eviction of Palestinians from their homes. Peace Now staff have faced bomb and death threats from settler extremists and the Israeli police don’t even prosecute when they know the identities of the perpetrators.
The Israeli justice system allows extensive use of gag orders to protect the interests of the state, the military, and the wealthy. Gag orders are routinely granted without having to prove any specific jeopardy to the protected party. Rape victims often may not discuss the crimes committed against them if they’re accusing a powerful man of harming them and he has a good attorney who can secure a gag order (cf. Yoav Even).
Though I know of few threats to writers of the sort that Auster complains about in Turkey, Israeli performers who don’t toe the political line pay the price as major roles dry up on stage and screen. Haaretz, this week, featured a profile of Mohammed Bakri, perhaps Israel’s most famous Palestinian actor. After directing the documentary, Jenin Jenin, he was blackballed from many work opportunities in Israel. The Israeli Film Board banned the film until the Supreme Court lifted it. He has not acted on an Israeli stage since 2003, a year after the film came out:
The last time Bakri…was seen on an Israeli stage was in 2003, in Shlomi Moskovitz’s “Seven Days,” directed by Dedi Baron at the Habima Theater…More recently Bakri was supposed to have replaced an Arab actor in one play and another theater director did not employ him, fearing reactions like those of Im Tirtzu. That is, Bakri’s prospects for employment in Israel have already been affected without Im Tirtzu’s campaign against him.
A decade ago or so, Chava Alberstein recorded a powerful anti-Occupation work which adapted the traditional Pesach song, Chad Gadya. Many radio stations boycotted the song, the singer received death threats and she didn’t perform in Israel for many years. The only places she could perform were abroad, where the controversy was less well-known.
So is Israel is haven for free speech and free press? Hardly. In fact, Paul Auster owes it to himself and his readers to study this issue in much greater depth. He could speak out about these matters the next time he’s in Israel. In fact, after what he’s said in the midst of this controversy, he has a responsibility to do so. I’ve suggested to progressive bloggers in New York that they seek a dialogue with Auster and perhaps a public event sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace or PEN to address the freedom deficit facing Israel. I think it would be bracing and informative. What better person to invite to speak on a panel with Auster than Jared Malsin, who spent a week in an Israeli jail cell for the crime of being a good reporter?
“denial of the Armenian genocide is a crime”
That is France, Richard, not Turkey!
Richard Silverstein says
Whoops, thanks for yr correction.
“Israel needs to be examined in its own right and not in comparison to any other country.”
In other words – by double standards.
Richard Silverstein says
Just because you string words together doesn’t mean they make any sense, as in this case. For those who don’t actually read or understand what I wrote as in yr case, non sequiturs rule. What I wrote had nothing to do with double standards. Did you see me excusing Turkey’s human rights violations? No you didn’t. But I despise the relativism of the hasbarists who argue: sure Israel isn’tperfect, but look how much worse the other guy is. On closer examination, Israel isn’t that much better off than the other guy. And Israel wants to be accepted into the ranks of the European west, whose standards of democracy it doesn’t remotely match.
Anyone who describes Israel as a “secular country” indicates complete ignorance of “actually existing Israel.”
Israel is a secular country.
Richard Silverstein says
Really? Have you checked with the Haredim, Shas, Chabad & the settlers on that. They have quite a different take. I’d say Israeel is well on it’s well toward theocracy or quasi theocracy.
Like I said, Israel is a secular country.
Its laws are political structure are not in any way derived from religious roots.
Political bodies with religious affiliations exist in the US and other countries as well.
Richard Silverstein says
This is a false statement.
William Burns says
Personal status law in Israel, as is well known, is dependent on religious affiliation. That makes it not a secular country.
Amir G says
first it’s absolutely not true.
Personal status law is dependent on the English law, with correlation to the Jewish heritage – what ever that means and stands for.
But in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and any even the proposed PA constitution all laws derive from Sharia.
Richard Silverstein says
Pls don’t speak about subjects which you know nothing more than what you read fr Islamophobis sources & websites. Arab nations are no more influenced in their legal systems by sharia than Israel is by Halacha. And stop reading sources that are convenient to yr propagandistic vantage pt & examine how law is practiced & applied in everyday life. We’ve been over this subject before here (of the making of much hasbara there is no end to quote Ecclesiastes). Arab readers who actually know how law is applied have rebutted these claims. So stay on topic & don’t bore us with hasbara that’s already been debated here before.
Oh please, you don’t know anything. Jewish marriages aren’t valid unless performed by rabbis, which leads to all sorts of problems when a rabbi decides that someone claiming to be Jewish isn’t Jewish enough. Muslim marriages are performed according to Sharia, and Israel has a thriving system of sharia courts. And if you don’t think marriages in Israel are restricted by religion, check with the Cypriot tourist bureau.
And I wonder how Maronite Christians politically dominated Lebanon for so long if all laws derived from Sharia.
Please do some research before commenting.
Look what a simple google reveals:
to the surprise of absolutely nobody with the slightest knowledge of Middle Eastern history, Lebanese law is based on the French Civil Code.
You and Izik (and Auster, for that matter) are not helping the cause of Israel by revealing the utter ignorance of its online supporters.
Amir G says
@ Richard, it is strange you are willing to accept the word of your Arab readers that Sharia – though part of Arab state constitution’s – has no effect on daily life, yet you are not willing to accept the equivalence from your Israeli readers.
Isn’t it a double standard ?
Richard Silverstein says
I didn’t say it had “no” effect on daily life. I said it was probably about as integral to law in those nations as halacha is to Israeli law. That is, it plays a role, but not a critical one.
“Let us know when Guantánamo closes down” is all Prime Minister Erdogan needed to say.
Couldn’t agree more!!
Albertstein’s song Chad gadya was featured in amos gitai’s free zone a movie available to anyone who can stand his movies.
The Turks, especially erdogan are over the top hypocrites kudos to auster for pissing him off
Ian Gray says
Wow, the entire nation of Turkey are “over the top hypocrites?” I did not know that. Thank you for educating us.
Clearly you are still in need of a remedial education since I didn’t say that the entire nation of Turkey consisted of hypocrites. I was thinking specifically of Erdogan, his ruling party and the useful idiots who rush to his defense. I hope this well help pass your o-levels.
Richard Silverstein says
I’m not wild about the term “useful idiots” since it’s flung around far too readily by the far-right Islamophobia crowd. Let’s can that one, OK?
You have accused me in the past of being behind the times–wasn’t “useful idiots” a term that Lenin proffered? Damnit anyway–back to the colorful metaphor drawing board…
Richard Silverstein says
If Erdogan is a hypocrite Bibi is 1 hundred times worse.
Bibi is a lying and untrustworthy prima donna. I will spot you on him being a hypocrite. If you want to add a cavorter with criminals–I am still not crying. I am not sure how him being 100 times anything Erdogan is will subvert what Auster did, or even if that is strictly speaking true. Erdogan is souring many Europeans on Turkey.
On another note, thank you for posting the rules on reporting to the censor. It is interesting that stories that routinely appear in the Israeli press–where the Mossad is located, details about the various sayerets and their missions, Malmab, have all passed through the censor–what stories are they stopping? It seems like you and the guy from The Times (“of London,” as we say) print whatever they throw out.
Ian Gray says
I respect Mr. Auster’s ability to criticize anyone he wishes. In fact, even if I disagree with it, I will still defend his freedom of speech with my life. However, he doesn’t have to even go to Israel. What does he think it is happening now with the BDS meetings at UPenn? Or the constant pressure by any academic or even blog writer if they criticize Israel? See what happened with CAPs on the Israel-firsters discussion? Is the only measure of freedom of speech whether you go to jail? Being harassed, fired, boycotted don’t count?
Only in theory. It is a putative democracy rather rapidly morphing into a theocracy at least in terms of the greatest, most energized and unified participants in the country’s activities and direction. In our own country, the USA, seems to me, given the worship of Mammon as our truest sincere religious manifestation, we, too, might find it a stretch to call ourselves much of a democracy beyond a number of ostentatious displays, like voting, and that’s becoming curtailed; plutocratic oligarchy might be more like it. Koch, Adelson, Coors, Scaife et al über alles.
My reply was supposed to be in response to Izik’s “Israel is a secular counter.”
In that case, you should begin “not even in theory.”
Richard, you have often used the term “liberal Zionist”, but to use a nasty and historical designation, the facts on the ground might well suggest that such a term is, or has become, an oxymoron.
Mister Auster could explain why Israel is on the place number 92 (Israel (Israeli territory)) and 133 (Israel (extraterritorial)) on Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders. In the same category as Congo. Reporters Without Borders have huge amount of news of the limited free press in Israel and in the area under its rule. These numerous news tell how domestic and foreign reporters are killed, put in prisons, blocked etc in Israel.
When the amount of reporters in prison in Turkey and in Israel is compared, we must remember that Israel’s population is 10 times smaller. Without doubt Israel has in prisons more than 10 reporters, which means that proportionally Israel has in prisons many more than those >100 claimed by Auster in Turkey.
In that “secular” country named Israel, Jews, the dominant religion’s worshipers, can express almost everything they want if the military, court and/or the owners of the media allow it to be said. Non-Jews there have not that luxury and Auster must have heard of the “problems” in Israel’s “free speech”. Surely the Anglo-americans have one of the worst general knowledge of the world (and of their own country), but if one of the American Jewish top intellectuals calls Israel a secular state and praises its free speech, that is the record of total ignorance (=stupidity) or he is expressing deliberately pure propaganda. Well in that “ignorance” category Auster is not “alone”. Let us remember that of young Americans 75 percent could not point out Iran or Israel on a map. Inside the United States, “half or fewer of young men and women 18-24 can identify the states of New York or Ohio on a map.
Daniel F. says
“These numerous news tell how domestic and foreign reporters are killed, put in prisons, blocked etc in Israel.”
Are you suggesting that foreign reporters are killed in Israel in order to prevent their reporting or are even being killed because they are reporters .If so can you give examples.
Stop spreading nareshkeit, richard
Ilana Hammerman has not been interrogated for “bringing Palestinian mothers and children into Israel to breathe fresh air at the beach and go to the zoo”. She has been interrogated for breaking the law by illegally bringing in foreigners without proper permits. The policy requiring Palestinians to receive permits for entering Israel is the result of hundreds of terrorist attacks committed by Palestinians. I can only imagine how American authority would have dealt with hamernman if she attempted to smuggle illegal visitors into the USA. Most probably she would end up with a stiff prison term
Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah are not being evicted from their HOMES. They are illegal squatters that invaded and took over Jewish property. The jewish owners have documents to prove it and there position was confirmed by court. Even if you think the court is wrong basic fairness would require you to at least mention the fact that ownership of the homes is controversial.
Your claim that Israeli police knows the identity of those threatening peace now members and yet covers up for them is pure crap unless you can come up with something substantive to back up your claim.
Finally, calling mohamad bakry’s film a documentary is an insult to the public’s intelligence. The only thing documented in the film is bakrys monumental ability to invent lies and make up tales of atrocity that never occurred. This can easily be checked by looking up the information.
I am amazed at the sloppy way you deal with facts. Don’t you realize that you’re hurting your reliability? If you can’t be counted upon to report truth even when facts can be easily ascertained how can anybody relay on you when you quote secret mysterious sources as you often do?
Richard Silverstein says
Palestinians, even ones who are dying & require emergency medical care can’t get permits to enter Israel. So to argue this is merely a matter of someone who didn’t bother to get a permit is itself narischkeit of a choice variety. She is engaging in civil disobedience in the honored tradition of Henry David Thoreau because even unarmed, harmless Palestinian women and babies can’t enter Israel under any account. Or are you arguing that dying Palestinian cancer patients & Palestinian babies are terror threats? Or are you arguing that because Palestinians have engaged in terror attacks that Palestinians, even non-lethal ones, should be punished as well by being denied entry?
BTW, many American individuals and churches have harbored illegal immigrants and not even been questioned by the police, let alone interrogated as Hammerman has. Your knowledge of America is deficient in that regard.
As for Sheikh Jarrah, you’re spouting propaganda on behalf of Elad & the Judaization squad in E. Jerusalem. East Jerusalem Palestinians are being evicted from homes they lived in for decades. They are not squatters nor did they take over Jewish property. There are no Jewish ‘owners,’ & documents proffered are fakes, frauds and forgeries as proven by Israeli courts.
The way things work around here is when you want to make a claim, you offer specific credible evidence (read the comment rules to understand what that means & what sources are considered credible). If you don’t, you may not last long.
The Israeli police arrested Dror Oved. They know his role in price tags against Peace Now. He has not been charged & in Israel his name can’t even be reported.
As for yr view of Jenin, Jenin, the day when you become a film critic whose taste and critical judgements can be trusted will be a cold day in Hell.
As for “realiability,” there’s only one person unreliable here & it ain’t me.
[comment deleted–I specifically told you in your last comment to read my comment rules before replying so as to learn what was a credible source and what wasn’t. Dore Gold and Mitch Bard are not reliable sources nor any websites associated with them. If you want to use sources use sources that are consider non-propagandist, fair & balanced.]
“As for yr view of Jenin, Jenin, the day when you become a film critic whose taste and critical judgements can be trusted will be a cold day in Hell.”
It has nothing to do with being a film critique. Jenin Jenin is full of lies. In a libel case against Bakri, the supreme court deemed the movie as “full with lies”. David Zangen, an Israeli MD who served in operation Defensive Shield, had the following to say about the movie:
“harmless Palestinian women and babies can’t enter Israel under any account.”
Wrong again. Stop spreading misinformation. Palestinians enter Israel regularly for medical treatment. Here’s just a few examples, but you don’t need to look far, just do a simple Google search.
Why do you lie?
Richard Silverstein says
I don’t care what the Israeli Supreme Court said about this film. The justices are neither experts on the Israeli-Arab conflict or film critics. Not to mention though you’ve placed the words in quotes, I’m not convinced that the Supreme Court used those words precisely & would like you to link to the ruling. Further, the Court ruled the Israel Film Board was wrong in banning the film and forced it to lift the ban as an encroachment on free speech.
Second, an Israeli MD quoted on the MFA website is not a credible source.
Third, very few Palestinians receive medical treatment in Israel who need it. The security services often extort Palestinians into becoming collaborators by granting or withholding treatment to them or their loved ones in return for spying. I challenge you to find the number of Palestinians who receive such permits and find the number who applied for them overall (including those denied).
I’m uninterested in anecdotal heartwarming stories about an individual Palestinian baby saved by a miraculous Israel medical procedure. The way the process works is that the Peres Ctr. & other hasbara outfits get approval for a small number of such Palestinians to receive medical treatment. Those people are held up as example of Israel’s munificence. But they don’t hold up the thousands who they refuse entry to & who die of their illnesses.
You have broken a major comment rule by accusing me of lying. If you break another comment rule it will be your last comment. Read the comment rules carefully before you publish another comment.
I am a first time visitor to your site/blog. All I can say it is refreshing to see discussions on current affairs without bias and nationalistic propaganda being aired. Well done on a very worthwhile cause.
On the issue of Auster and PM Erdogan, your bang on the nail, firstly Erdogan has by popular vote has an opportunity to address a number of historic issues for Turkey, reconciliation between the state and its Kurdish citizens, recognition of the Armenian genocide is long overdue, further increase personal freedoms of all its citizens. He has won successive elections, constitutionally this is his final spell as PM, as no PM can serve more than 3 terms, he has his sights on the Presidency from 2014..with a popular mandate behind him, ke can make historical changes to the make up Turkish society, unfortunately he is missing the chance and playing the old age nationilistic card..so criticism from Auster on this front is bang on.
Where Auster is wrong was to move to expand from his original stand (solidarity with writers and journalists) to one of make a political statement that Israel is better than Turkey in terms of secular and democratic freedoms..his personal opinion, but when done in front of the world press, he losses the moral high ground and credibility of argument.
As a Turk, my personal view is that the common Israeli and the common Turk are more worried about everyday issues such as how to pay their next rent/mortgage, kids education etc..they are only minimially aware, but then you get the idiotic right wingers on both side playing the jongoistic card to distract from their own mismanagement of their conutry’s affirs..this in turn creates negative stereotypes of each nation. The truth of the matter is that the Israelis/Jes and the Turks have a long history of peace an cooperation with each other, unfortunately, the likes of PM Erdogan, Auster, Nethanyahu and Liebermann are putting in so much negativity instead of working on the solid foundations that exist..the damage may become beyond repair in the future.
Keep up the good fight. Best wishes
LONG LIVE ERDOGAN