Are opinions a security threat?
The right to free expression, when it risks harming others' political or economic interests, is a hotly debated issue in Israel right now. In a strange coincidence, the so-called 'air flotilla' (activists flying into Israel with an explicit intention to visit the occupied territories in order to show the world how tourists are sorted according to their views) and a controversial anti-boycott law have become a part of a very emotional debate. While I'm far away, separated by already a year of not living in Israel and not even closely following the news from there, this situation affected me in a strange way.
To tell the truth, I was not very interested in these two issues. I follow them as much as my friends discuss them on facebook and in their blogs. For those who want to have a background story, here's a backgrounder from one of my favourite Israeli bloggers on the anti-boycott law. Here's another opinion from an Israeli newspaper's online English version. Here's why its supporters believe it makes sense (an interesting observation from my friend I.: Israeli news portals are much more critical of the law in their Hebrew versions, while more articles explaining the world why this kind of law would be good are published in English).
Regarding the 'air flotilla', here's the story from BBC. The arrival of activists provoked a rage among some groups of the Israeli population. To restore order, the police had to intervene and actually protect the activists. Here's what an Israeli journalist witnessed.
I did not repost a single link on the 'air flotilla', or 'flytilla', as BBC calls it, on my Facebook or Twitter. However, one undoubting supporter of any of Israel's policy, certain Mr. Julius R., who remembers me from a discussion on someone else's Facebook wall about some of Israel's policies, unrelated to this issue, wrote a threat to me on another person's wall: he claims he has submitted a file against me with my data and photo to Ben Gurion Airport (I'm still considering whether to disclose his full name. Many of my friends know him as someone who tries to make friends on Facebook, and then starts insulting them if their opinions do not quite match that of his own. Mr. R. is a double citizen (Lithuanian and Israeli, maybe more) and, after a long time in Israel, came back to live here).
He claims he did it because 'hooligans' from all over the world are coming to protest against the state of Israel. This is rather funny: I never considered joining the 'air flotilla', and I am not even an anti-occupation activist. I believe that Israel as such has a right to a place on the map, and I strongly oppose academic boycott. Of course, Mr. R. is not interested in any of these. For him and people like him, any opposition to anything that the current far-right government in Israel does is an opposition to the existence of Israel itself. Much of contemporary ultra-Zionism stems from inability to separate states, governments and societies. The world is made of friends and enemies for such people.
Of course, it is not a secret that my opinion about the occupation changed while living in Israel. More or less the only people who helped me make sense of my experience there were leftists. The group of friends that I found never pushed me (or anyone) towards a simplistic "love it or leave it" attitude. They deeply love their country and are worried about its future. I leave it up to them to analyse and comment the situation. Since I met them, I rely on them for news from Israel and repost their wonderfully written blog posts and articles.
Of course, I have a strong opinion about [the absence of] refugee policy and the way the society perceives and treats labour migrants and refugees. Unlike in relation to the occupation of Palestinian territories, this is where I can claim to know more than an average person. I volunteered at the African Refugee Development Center and lived among Filipino migrant workers. One of my best friends in Israel does research on the latter group.
Democratic countries respect people's right to have an opinion, even if it may sound uncomfortable. Exchange of opinions, excluding only those which incite hate or violence, is one of the main sources of vitality of democratic systems. In most democratic countries I would only laugh hearing that someone reported an airport that I have an opinion which is contrary to what the nationalist establishment thinks. However, the airport in Israel is a bit tricky. I have heard stories of people being held and questioned for hours just because some of their travel history or personal details sounded non-standard. One example here. I have many people I love and miss in Israel, as well as some unfinished academic work, so I never know what the airport may think, amidst all this hassle, of a file sent by an Israeli national. Maybe they will not dismiss it as weird and ideological?
A friend of mine, an expat in Israel, encouraged me to blog about this story to expose the new form of bottom-up censorship that is emerging. To the fear of my anarchist friends, it is not a government policy imposed on individuals, but rather, individuals volunteering to symbolically, technically or even physically (as we see in the journalist report above) lynch people with another opinion.
The airport is rather unpredictable. I did not have any problems entering or leaving Israel. One friend told me it makes a difference if you are going as a tourist couple rather than a single tourist. Some people never even noticed anything different than in other countries' airports.
Israel has a strong and vibrant civil society. I always admire the courage of journalists, bloggers, activists and other socially and politically conscious individuals in the face of increasing pressure from various institutions and the extreme right. I have a hope that their initiative and commitment will push the situation in Israel in the right direction.