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Protected Speech or Unlawful Incitement: An Israeli Perspective

by Gabriel Eckstein

Freedom of speech and expression are arguably two of the most guarded liberties globally. They often are touted as fundamental to any democratic society that is based on pluralism and respect for human dignity. Yet, states worldwide have devised varying rationales for imposing limitations on the enjoyment of such rights. U.S. jurisprudence, for example, formulated the concept of fighting words, while Germany places restrictions on statements considered to promote a belief in racial superiority.

Recently, the extent to which the freedoms of speech and expression should be protected has come to the fore of Israeli debate in light of the recent assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a right wing extremist. Many Israelis, including the Prime Minster's widow, accuse the right wing Likud political party of inciting extremists to go beyond the bounds of civil disobedience (i.e., to engage in violence). One parliament member recently demanded that the Israeli media refuse to report on extremists' views and demonstrations. In addition, the Knesset (parliament) has been considering several bills that could modify the scope of the right to free speech and a free press in Israel.

In this issue's Point/Counterpoint, the authors consider whether or not international human rights law should permit governments to impose limitations on certain speech, in the context of the ongoing debate in Israel following Rabin's assassination.

POINT: Is There a Right to Hate Speech?

Natan Lerner is Professor of Law at Tel-Aviv University, where he teaches international law, and a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Business, Law and Technology. His most recent book is Group Rights and Discrimination in International Law.

COUNTERPOINT: Limiting the Limitations on Political Speech

Zeev Segal also is Professor of Law at Tel-Aviv University and a legal commentator for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. He specializes in administrative, constitutional, and media law. He recently published Israel Ushers in a Constitutional Revolution: The Israeli Experience, The Canadian Impact in Constitutional Forum.

Point/Counterpoint is a regular feature of The Human Rights Brief. The purpose of the section is to encourage meaningful, intellectual discussion on contemporary issues in human rights and humanitarian law through the presentation of two diverse, though not necessarily opposing, opinions on the subject at hand. Commentaries for the Point/Counterpoint section are generally solicited by The Brief; however, the Editorial Board welcomes submissions, comments and suggestions. The newsletter does not facilitate exchange of the authors' compositions prior to publication. The views expressed in the Point/Counterpoint section are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The Human Rights Brief, the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, or their Directors or staff.

© Copyright 1996 The Human Rights Brief

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