Monday, November 24, 2008

A Poet Goes on Trial in Israel for Verses Offensive to Arabs

Free speech is a rare quantity and many Americans are all too unaware of how rare it really is. Israel, like Europe or Canada, does not have actual free speech, instead it has free speech subject to government discretion and the politically correct sensitivity of "oppressed minorities".

While mockery, contempt and even outright hatred for Judaism and Jews can be found on TV shows, political commercials, editorial cartoons and throughout the Israeli left wing media, when directed at Arabs quickly becomes a criminal offense. And that is no joking matter. Tatiana Soskin, a young Jewish immigrant who drew a cartoon of Mohammed as a pig and pinned it to a door, served time in jail for it.

Today however in Israel it is a poet going on trial. Gershon (Gregory) Trastman is a moderately well known Jewish Russian poet living in Israel who wrote a series of satirical verses about a rival political party for Vesti, a Conservative Russian Jewish language newspaper. The verses included references to Arab demographics as a weapon against Israel, a premise first put forward by Arafat himself. The key offensive lines ran something like these, accounting for translation errors.

A Nightmare, the number of Arabs passes a Million
And increases without weakness or respite
Look upon them and your vision grows dark
I will tell the Jews without offense
At night they farm and form is filled
By the eclipse of the moonlight's beam,
The breath of death, what way is found?
The hare, the cat, the locust cannot match
And whether through Ill Luck or Prophecy
We already pave the way to the Tomb of Night
The Tomb of Night, an Arab woman's womb

It is a matter of interpretation whether the lines are straightforward or a satirical jab aimed at Avigdor Lieberman, an Israeli right wing politician. The translation here is rendered seriously, but it does not have to be. More to the point though, whatever the intention, Gershon (Gregory) Trastman, should have been able to write whatever he saw fit subject to the willingness of newspapers to print it and of the public to buy the newspapers.

But of course that is only how things work when there is free speech. While left wing parties such as Shinui are free to run cartoons and articles that mimic Der Sturmer's evocation of religious Jews as rats cockroaches, Arabs are protected from similar criticism.

Since Vesti is a conservative newspaper, it has left wingers regularly monitoring it for material they can use for a court case. David Eidelman, the Russian spokesman for the left wing Kadima party, and an all around scumbag, on seeing the verses prepared his own skewed Hebrew translation of them and distributed them around, looking to incite a court case.

David Eidelman's mistranslation found its way to the Mossawa Advocacy Center, an Arab organization funded by the EU and Oxfam, which wrote a letter to Attorney General Mazuz demanding action and warning that if such poems were tolerated it could lead to more Arab riots such as in Acco. Mazuz, ever eager to crush political opponents of the left, jumped in with both feet and ordered an investigation.

The identity of the poet, Gershon (Gregory) Trastman, who had been writing under a pseudonym was exposed and he along with Sergei Podrazhansky, the Vesti op ed page editor, are now headed to court. This is not the first time that Vesti editors and writers have been dragged through the court system. That became a feature of the Barak era, one of whose goals was to destroy conservative Jewish media in Israel. But the timing adjacent to an election is not accidental either. A regular feature of the Israeli left wing's election strategy is to advertise their fight against "right wing extremism".

Gershon (Gregory) Trastman and Sergei Podrazhansky would appear to be the latest targets of this fight. Aside from a smear article in the radical left wing publication Haaretz and the always reliably repulsive Lily Galili, no mention of the trial has appeared in any English speaking publication.

Mention of what is going on, even on the blogsphere, could at the very least alert the judge and prosecutor that there is outside attention being paid to this case. Anyone who would like to email a protest can do so to Attorney General Mazuz at . In a time when Arabs and Muslims have succesfully proven that they can silence free speech in just about any First World democracy in the name of not giving offense, it is important to continue fighting for that fundamental right without which no political opposition or legal dissent is possible.


  1. I'll send an email.

    Lemon is right. Politics in Israel are a mess, and the US is heading down the same road.

  2. Anonymous25/11/08

    could you give more information about Gregory Trastman

  3. i'm afraid that i don't have much information myself, he is a poet who was formerly active in lieberman's party

  4. Trastman's poem is good. I don't find anything in it that should warrant political persecution. The thing about an Arab woman's womb...that's alluding to something Arafat said.

    There was a Russian though English language alternative newspaper and website in Buffalo called Buffalo Beast...This man's poem?? Mild by comparison. I see nothing wrong with the poem.

  5. Interesting. My mother buys Vesti and I had read it regularly until I got married (I speak Russian, husband doesn't). I'll have to ask Mom to dig up the original version of this poem.

    Note that the lefties are free to speak derogatory words about the right wing, the religious, and those of us living in Judea&Shomron. If something was to happen to my husband or I from the hands of Arab terrorists, it wouldn't be "tragedy". We wouldn't even be "victims". We would be nasty, land-stealing, fanatical settlers that got what they deserved for living in Samaria.

  6. they've written off actual jews as subhuman and evil, in the original german, life unworthy of life

  7. Anonymous25/8/09

    This is insanity! Has anyone bothered to look at all the anti-semitic rhetoric that abounds in Israel! Does anyone know where to start to end the madness?...or at least get all the lefty foreigners deported. Do we not have enough enemies all around us???

  8. the anti-semitic rhetoric gets a pass, but say something critical about arabs or islam, or the left wingers themselves like neve gordon, and it's off to the guillotine with you