Is Michael Backman the first journalist in Australia to be sacked for criticising Israel? In support of Michael Backman, the Secular Party held a protest outside the offices of The Age on May 8, 2009.

In January 2009, Michael Backman had the temerity to suggest that Israel’s actions over the last sixty years have helped inflame global Islamism. There was never any reason to suppose that this highly plausible proposition was anti-Semitic. Likewise, Israelis themselves should not be immune from criticism, just because they are Israelis.

The Press Council has dismissed the case against Michael Backman. The Age should have reinstated his column immediately and apologised to Backman. This has not been done. The Age’s treatment of Michael Backman is a gross injustice and a denial of free speech.

Rather than stifling criticism of Israel, we should all be open to alternative views. Otherwise we are in danger of losing our basic rights to freedom of speech for fear of offending religious and cultural sensitivities.

It is often suggested that the Israel-Palestine conflict has nothing to do with religion. This is nonsense. All religious believers have the delusion that they are their god’s chosen people and that this gives them rights and privileges at the expense of others. The false presumption of a right to land is at the core of this dispute. Israel is a state that systematically denies equal rights to non-Jewish citizens.

Instead of Jewish, Christian or Islamic states, we should aspire to a secular states in which all citizens have equal rights. Ideally, religion is something that should be conducted in private between consenting adults. As ever, ethical values are best determined based on the universal principles of freedom, justice, honesty and compassion.

May 8, 2009