The prologue was a national election campaign, which, amongst other novel ideas, put into question the citizenship of one in five Israelis. With such a promising opening, chapter one quickly unfolded: Less than 100 days into this new government, a barrage of anti-democratic initiatives emerged: Nakba remembrance on Israel's Independence Day to become illegal; loyalty oaths to be required of citizens; communal villages to be allowed by law to exclude residents based on their political positions; and more. Some of these initiatives are backed by leading figures such as the Justice Minister and the Minister of Education. And even if none of the above has progressed much through the legislative process in the Knesset, the fact that some of these anti-democratic proposals are backed by the government is extremely troubling. Some basic aspects of what it means to live in a democracy are being undermined.
Clearly, these current initiatives are targeting Arab Israelis. This is alarming enough, but further yet -- we know very well what a slippery slope silencing always is. In this regard the recent call by Israel's deputy prime minister, on the eve of the pride parade in Tel Aviv, to have the event canceled or restricted to a "closed area" stems from exactly the same basic disregard for the essential ingredients of what makes up a functioning democracy.
At the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), defending freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our mission. Thus, we looked for non-preachy, timely ways to convey to the public the dangers of that ever-so-familiar slippery slope. We came up with www.lystom.com (lystom is Hebrew for "shut up"), a Web 2.0 initiative, built on the wordpress platform and based on user content. lystom.com introduces itself as a website dedicated to defending national moral and the public's broad sensitivities, and invites readers to suggest new ideas for silencing others in defense of these ideals of public comfort, moral, and cohesiveness. Users can also rate the suggestions of others, and indicate which group should specifically be silenced -- lefties, right-wingers, Arabs, new immigrants, Jews, settlers, heterosexuals, women, etc. In front of one's very eyes, society slips into silencing everyone. The currently leading suggestion, by the way, is to limit freedom of expression of elected officials. The public, apparently, is not pleased with its politicians. Other ideas include banning fictitious websites from running witty online campaigns (is someone trying to tell us something?), prohibiting any speech that advocates limiting freedom of speech, and so on.
lystom.com also includes a "serious" section, explaining (in Hebrew) the principles defining freedom of speech and its protection, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the relevant decisions, through the decades, of Israel's High Court of Justice -- many of which were handed down in cases brought forward by ACRI.
The website has proven snazzy enough to gain coverage in the general media in Israel, bringing in yet more traffic. For a quick web production created on the cheap, this is quite pleasing. Our hopes are that what is presented to the Israeli public as food for thought will indeed resonate with readers, and that broader respect for freedom of speech will emerge from this communally-created demonstration of a society screaming itself to silence.