The Bukay Affair - by Steven Plaut
The attack against freedom of speech in Israel.
The most outrageous assault by the Israeli authorities against academic freedom of speech took place in recent days in what is becoming known as the Bukay Affair. The affair combines leftist undermining of democracy, the attempt at thought control by governmental officials and the police, harassment of a university lecturer by an over-zealous anti-democratic prosecutor, and an attempt to create in Israel a political Inquisition against incorrect thinking.
The entire saga revolves around Dr. David Bukay, a lecturer in Middle East Studies at the University of Haifa, with expertise in Arab history. Bukay speaks Arabic better than I speak English. He has conservative points of view and is very outspoken about them. His articles are carried by numerous journals.
About five years ago, Bukay was the victim of a smear campaign of demonization at the University of Haifa. At the time, an Arab student who was active in the university branch of the communist party sat in on one of Bukay’s lectures without being registered in the class. The student then ran to the Arabic press in Israel and claimed that in his lecture Bukay had repeatedly made racist derogatory comments about Arabs. The student claimed that Bukay had said in class that all Arabs should be shot.
After the story ran in the Arabic press, it was also reported in the Hebrew press and web. It turned out that the story was planted there and spread by an Israeli “Trotskyite” named David Merhav, who later issued a retraction and apology to Bukay, admitting the entire story had been a tissue of lies. But the retraction did not help. Today anti-Semitic internet web sites carry the story of Bukay’s alleged racist statements against Arabs.
Once the story began to spread, it turned out that none of the other students in the classroom had heard Bukay make any of the “racist” statements the communist student had alleged that he made. Many of these students went public and claimed that the Arab student had fabricated the entire story. Hundreds of Bukay’s students backed Bukay in the case. Many wrote the Haifa University chiefs to give their side of the story. In any case, because of the uproar, the Rector at the University of Haifa, himself no right-winger (he was a founder of Peace Now), appointed a committee of investigation to look into the charges against Bukay. They found that they were lies.
But in response to the media uproar, the Israel state Deputy Prosecutor, Shai Nitzan, decided to open a criminal investigation against Bukay for the “crime” of “incitement.” That is the catch-all anti-democratic nonsense charge that was used in a wholesale manner after the Rabin assassination to persecute and intimidate and indict numerous Rabbis, public figures, and protesters. Nitzan evidently believes that leftwing lawyers should be able to dictate the content of university lectures and the police should indict those who say things that Nitzan considers to be incorrect. Moreover, Nitzan ordered the criminal investigation of Bukay on the basis of a “criminal complaint” that was filed against Bukay with the police by the misnamed “Committee against Racism.” That committee is a front group for the pro-terror Israeli communist party, a party of anti-Semitic racists that has never quite come around to repudiating Stalin. The Stalinists claimed Bukay had made insensitive anti-Arab statements in class. Bukay denies that he did. That charge, coming from communists, was enough for Nitzan to investigate Bukay, who was not invited to the Nitzan’s office to tell his own side of the story.
Then for about four years the story was nearly forgotten. Until last week.
What changed? Last week, the same Shai Nitzan, still the leftist Deputy Director of the Israel Prosecutor’s Office, ordered Dr. Bukay to come into the Haifa police precinct as part of the renewal of the earlier investigation into alleged criminally incorrect thinking and speaking by Dr. Bukay in his classroom. The new development was reported in full in detail in the Israeli daily Maariv. (Translations into English of those articles and some related documents can be read here).
In a scene like something out of the dungeons of the KGB in the days of Stalin, Bukay was ordered to the Haifa police precinct by Nitzan. There he was ordered to sign a written confession that he had made anti-Arab statements in the classroom. He was ordered by police operating under Nitzan’s instructions to sign an apology for those statements, under threat of being prosecuted by Nitzan for “incitement” and “racism” if he does not do so. He was ordered to commit in writing and promise to make no such statements henceforth in his classroom.
Bukay refused to sign.
Maariv deputy editor Ben-Dror Yemini wrote in response to this that interrogating and prosecuting lecturers for what they say in the classroom is without precedent in Israel or any democracy. He then reminded readers that Israel is filled with far-leftist anti-Israel and anti-Semitic members of Israel’s Academic fifth column, who routinely use the classroom to support terrorism against Jews, to call for Israel’s annihilation, to denounce Israel as a Nazi-like apartheid regime, and to urge law breaking. Not a single one of these has ever been interrogated, let along prosecuted. Yet here we have the spectacle of a naked political persecution of someone accused of having made politically incorrect statements in his classroom, a claim incidentally he denies, accused by a prosecutorial enemy of freedom of speech.
Now as it turns out, even if Bukay had made the anti-Arab statements in the classroom that he was falsely accused of having made, they still should have been speech as protected as are outbursts that are made in scores of Israeli university classrooms every day by Israel’s tenured radicals. Since when is it the job of the police to arrest and prosecute people who make offensive or incorrect statements?
But, alas, Israel has a long history of selective protection for freedom of speech. Countless Israeli Jewish Right-wingers have been indicted and prosecuted for “racism,” for “sedition,” and for “incitement,” in a few cases for wearing tee shirts with “insensitive” slogans on them Fanatic Jewish leftists and Arab radicals never have been, even when cheering on terrorism and demanding that Israel be annihilated. The courts have repeatedly endorsed anti-speech prosecution and litigation directed against non-Leftists, while protecting and defending the most outrageous hate speech of far-leftist traitors. In one infamous court case, an Israeli sitting judge ruled that leftist sedition is protected speech while criticism of leftist sedition is libel.
One thing is certain. Israeli democracy is under attack by Shai Nitzan, and Israeli freedom of speech and academic freedom will not be safe until Nitzan has been summarily dismissed from his position.