Religious, Hateful and Racist Speech in Israel

Shofar, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Winter 2013), pp. 97-115

23 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2013

See all articles by Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Raphael Cohen-Almagor

University of Hull; Middle East Study Centre; Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


This essay is a study in politics and law. The first section of the paper explains Israel’s vulnerability as a Jewish, multicultural democracy in a hostile region, with significant schisms that divide the nation. Given Israel’s tenuous conditions, this paper is set to observe how Israel has coped with destabilizing expressions that aim to increase the rifts in society and to promote hatred against the other, whoever the other might be. This essay is largely concerned with Israel’s policy on hate speech and racial expressions as they have come into expression by religious authorities, and in that sense this study supplements similar studies conducted in the past. Those expressions have stemmed from the ideologically motivated religious authorities against two groups of people: those who aimed to give away parts of Israel’s territory, and Palestinian Arabs.

The paper presents the State Attorney's stance regarding extreme statements made in the context of the disengagement from Gaza. Following that presentation, the paper continues by addressing the issue of religious incitement by Jewish and Moslem sages. What is suggested about fighting bigotry emanating from Jewish religious teaching is true also for hatred emanating from Islam. The argument is made that the State cannot sit idly by while senior officials incite racism and undermine the State’s democratic values. Such officials should be discharged of all responsibilities. The State ought to weigh the costs of allowing hate speech, as well as the risks involved, and balance these against the costs and risks to democracy and free speech associated with censorship. Israel needs to protect its citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as well as to protect itself as a Jewish democracy. In doing so, Israel should not unnecessarily infringe on free expression or create discriminatory situations. It is not a small feat to achieve both. A balance needs to be struck between competing social interests. Freedom of expression is important as is the protection of vulnerable minorities.

Keywords: Israel, Judaism, religion, incitement, Islam, rersponsibility, hate speech, racism, democracy, freedom of expression

JEL Classification: Z00

Suggested Citation

Cohen-Almagor, Raphael and Cohen-Almagor, Raphael, Religious, Hateful and Racist Speech in Israel. Shofar, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Winter 2013), pp. 97-115, Available at SSRN:

Raphael Cohen-Almagor (Contact Author)

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