The Andrew Bolt case has opened up a heated debate about whether his right to freedom of speech should over-ride the right of people to be protected from racial vilification.
Last year William Farkas passed away. He had survived the death marches when he was 24, weighing just 24 kilograms, and survived Auschwitz.
His gravestone includes a commemoration of his father, murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.
My grandmother also survived the Holocaust.
Almost everyone else in her family was exterminated.
I find Holocaust denial deeply hurtful and distressing.
I find it difficult to write dispassionately about the case of Frederick Toben.
After being jailed for Holocaust denial writings, he released a book called Arbeit Macht Frei – the slogan placed on the gates to Auschwitz. (It translates into English as: work liberates)
This is the concentration camp my grandmother survived, and which so many of my relatives did not.
It is hard to imagine how Toben could calculate being more grossly and outrageously offensive.
Yet for all the hurt he causes me, and perhaps every other Jewish person in Australia, I have repeatedly written that his imprisonment is unacceptable.
He should have the right to express his opinions, however vile, depraved, or ignorant they may be.
I do not enjoy defending the freedom of speech of someone like Toben.
However, freedom of speech doesn’t mean the right to say uncontroversial things that people like.
The only views that ever face suppression are those that are considered outrageous, disgusting, depraved and vile.
It is when people say the most disgusting and outrageous things that it is most important to defend their right to do so. Anyone who supports freedom of speech, except when that speech is outrageous and offensive, does not support freedom of speech at all.
As Noam Chomsky has said, it’s a “poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers.”
Andrew Bolt has accused me of “hate preaching”.
I documented some of the (many) outrageous things Bolt has said at ABC Drum.
However, as H.L. Mencken noted, people who defend human freedom always end up spending “most of [their] time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all”.
Andrew Bolt does not deserve to have, perhaps, the most important civil liberty squandered on him.
For those who think freedom of speech isn’t so valuable, I can’t prove otherwise here.
I simply pose some questions: if you let the State decide what freedom of opinion should be allowed, why do you think that that it will be a friend of Indigenous Australians?
It is never going to be the views of vulnerable minorities that determine what is and is not considered intolerably offensive and outrageous to the community.
If you want to let the courts decide what we can and can’t say, why do you expect enlightened judges to rule in your favour?
But why trust a rich white judge to be more like Michael Kirby, and less like Keith Windschuttle?
It has been shown that we jail Aboriginal men at a rate far higher than Apartheid South Africa jailed black citizens.
How much faith can you have in the courts?
Remember that it was a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory who gave glowing character references to the 5 white men who terrorised Aboriginal campers with their car and gun, before beating Kwementyaye Ryder to death.
How helpful will the courts be, when a Prime Minister openly advocates racism (the NT Intervention)?
And remember this: what if Bolt wins?
Would that prove Bolt raised legitimate issues? Or do you think it’s irrelevant: that we should not give the State the right to determine which opinions deserve public expression and which ones don’t, which ones are disgusting and racist, and which ones are not.
This is a political struggle. Sadly, there are no shortcuts.
• Michael Brull is studying a Juris Doctor at UNSW. He has been published in the Indigenous Law Bulletin, National Times, ABC Drum, Overland and elsewhere. He has been accused in Parliament of anti-Semitism for defending the rights of Palestinians, and suspects the laws he’s defending here may one day be used against him.