In the United States, one of the few limitations on free speech concerns the use of “fighting words”—“those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” The doctrine comes from Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, a 1942 case in which the court unanimously ruled in favor of a police officer who arrested a Jehovah’s Witness for calling him a “damned fascist.”
Israel appears to have something similar to the fighting words doctrine. But it’s application seems a bit convoluted. Case in point:
A Jerusalem magistrate court ruled last week that a Hebron settler who shouted “Heil Sharon” - a reference to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon - at a police officer while making a stiff-armed Nazi salute should not be tried for insulting a public sector worker.
The magistrate judge, Hagit Mac-Kalmanovich, determined that if the settler had used the word “Nazi” or a similar word in referring to the police officers, or if the settler had uttered “Heil Hitler” or a similar statement which implied that the officers are Nazis or resemble Nazis, this would undoubtedly have constituted a crime.
Mac-Kalmanovich acquitted Oren Zer, a resident of Hebron, of insulting a public figure. Zer is the brother of Gilad Zer, who was killed by Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank. The outpost of Havat Gilad was founded in his memory.
Zer did not deny making the gesture, though he claimed it was an act of protest and anger against “the expulsion of Jews” from the Gaza Strip. Sharon’s government evacuated some 8,000 Israelis from settlements in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, a move which touched off massive protests among settlers and their right-wing supporters.
In his statement to police, Zer said his intention was to express “strenuous disgust from the regime of corruption, brutality, and terror that was led by a destroyer of Israel, Ariel Sharon ... the criticism was of course about him, about Sharon, and I stand behind it.”
“I believe he carried out crimes against humanity and against the Jewish people in destroying 25 Jewish communities in the Land of Israel,” Zer told police.
Zer should not be confused with Israeli neo-Nazis.