Siddhesh Joshi (Editor)

Raphael Cohen Almagor

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Raphael Cohen-Almagor

University of Oxford

Raphael Cohen-Almagor httpswwwwilsoncenterorgsitesdefaultfiless

The scope of tolerance, The Right to Die with Dignity, Confronting the Internet's, The boundaries of liberty, Challenges to Democracy

Confronting the internet s dark side by raphael cohen almagor

Raphael Cohen-Almagor received his D. Phil. in political theory from Oxford University in 1991, and his B.A. and M.A. from Tel Aviv University (both Magna cum Laude). In 1992-1995 he lectured at the Hebrew University Law Faculty. In 1995-2007 he taught at the University of Haifa Law School, Department of Communication, and Library and Information Studies University of Haifa. He has served in various organizations, including as Chairperson of “The Second Generation to the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance” Organization in Israel; Founder and Director of the Medical Ethics Think-tank at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute; member of the Israel Press Council, Chairperson of Library and Information Studies, and Founder and Director of Center for Democratic Studies, both at the University of Haifa. Cohen-Almagor was the Yitzhak Rabin - Fulbright Visiting Professor at UCLA School of Law and Dept. of Communication, Visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins University, and Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Presently he is Chair in Politics at the University of Hull, United Kingdom, and Director of the Middle East Study Group. In 2008-2009 he served as Acting Deputy Dean for Research at Hull Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.


Raphael Cohen-Almagor Confronting the Internets Dark Side by Raphael CohenAlmagor YouTube

Professor Cohen-Almagor has published numerous articles and book chapters in the fields of political science, law, Israel studies, philosophy, media ethics, medical ethics, education, sociology and history. Since 2000, he is writing a monthly Blog on Israeli politics, human rights concerns, scientific developments, the arts and other issues. The Blog, has more than 1000 subscribers in some thirty countries and was quoted by The Washington Post, The Ottawa Citizen, The Baltimore Sun, among other newspapers.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Rafi CohenAlmagor almagor35 Twitter

The Democratic Catch

Cohen-Almagor argues that one of the dangers in any political system is that the principles that underlie and characterize it may, through their application, bring about its destruction. Democracy, in its liberal form, is no exception. Moreover, because democracy is a relatively young phenomenon, Cohen-Almagor asserts that it lacks experience in dealing with pitfalls involved in the working of the system. This is what he calls the “catch” of democracy. Cohen-Almagor maintains that the freedoms the media enjoy in covering events are respected as long as they do not imperil the basic values that underlie democracy. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, an important anchor of democracy; but it should not be used in an uncontrolled manner.

Concern and Respect

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Raphael CohenAlmagor

Concern and respect are reiterated themes in Cohen-Almagor’s scholarship. He argues that we should give equal consideration to the interest of others and grant equal respect to a person’s life objects so long as they do not deliberately undermine the interests of others by interfering in a disrespectful manner. The popular culture of a democratic society is committed to seeking the influence of social cooperation that can be discerned on the basis of mutual respect between free and equal individuals. This line of reasoning should be supplemented, so Cohen-Almagor maintains, by our emphasis on the notion of concern, which is seen as the value of well-being. We ought to show equal concern for each individual’s good, to acknowledge that human beings are not only rational creations but irrational, emotional creatures. In the context of medical ethics, treating people with concern means treating them with empathy – viewing people as human beings who may be furious and frustrated while, at the same time, are capable of smiling and crying, of careful decision-making, and of impulsive reactions. Concern means giving equal weight to a person’s life and autonomy. This is a combination of mind, body, and communication between the agent and those around her bed.

Death with Dignity

Cohen-Almagor is a strong proponent of physician-assisted suicide and equally strong critic of euthanasia. Drawing on the various ethical, medical and legal considerations as well as on the experiences of the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Oregon, he argues that on some occasions not only passive euthanasia may be allowed but also physician-assisted suicide. People should have the ability to control the time and place of their death. Cohen-Almagor’s thesis is that people, as autonomous moral agents, deserve to be treated with dignity. To treat a person with dignity requires respecting her choices and life decisions.

Therefore, Cohen-Almagor calls to judge each case on its own merits and refrain from drawing sweeping conclusions that relate to categories of patients. One may try to prescribe detailed guidelines of conduct but, at the end of the day, the guidelines should be judged and evaluated in relation to each patient under consideration. The fear of sliding down the slippery-slope is, indeed, tangible. Cohen-Almagor prescribes cautionary measures and safety valves. Through real-life situations his plea for physician-assisted suicide is circumscribed.

Freedom of Expression

Cohen-Almagor dedicates much of his scholarship to delineate the confines of free expression. He has formulated principles conducive to safeguarding fundamental civil rights. His focus is on the ethical question of the constraints on speech. He advances two arguments relating to the ‘Harm Principle’ and the ‘Offence Principle’. Under the ‘Harm Principle’, restrictions on liberty may be prescribed when there are sheer threats of immediate violence (incitement) against some individuals or groups. Under the ‘Offence Principle’, expressions which intend to inflict psychological offence are morally on a par with physical harm, so he argues there are grounds for abridging them. A case in point is the Illinois Supreme Court which permitted the Nazis to hold a hateful demonstration in Skokie. Cohen-Almagor argues that the decision was flawed. Similarly, allowing Jewish racists to march in an Arab town in Israel is flawed.

Social Responsibility

In recent writings, Cohen-Almagor calls to strike a balance between freedom of expression and social responsibility. Responsibility is commonly associated with accountability and answerability. We live within a community and have some responsibilities to it. The responsibilities are positive and negative. That is, we have a responsibility to better the society in which we live, and a responsibility to refrain from acting in a way that knowingly might harm our community. The responsibility is ethical in nature. We can reasonably expect people to know the difference between good and evil, and then to act accordingly. In the Internet context, Cohen-Almagor distinguishes between Netusers and Netcitizens. The term “Netuser” refers to people who use the Internet. It is a neutral term. It does not convey any clue as to how people use the Internet. It does not convey any appraisal of their use. The term “netcitizen”, on the other hand, is not neutral. It describes a responsible use of the Internet. Netcitizens are people who use the Internet as an integral part of their real life. That is to say, their virtual life is not separated from their real life. Even if they invent an identity for themselves on social networks such as Second Life, they do it in a responsible manner. They still hold themselves accountable for the consequences of their Internet use. In other words, netcitizens are good citizens of the Internet. They contribute to the Internet's use and growth while making an effort to ensure that their communications and Net use are constructive, fostering free speech, open access and social culture of respecting others, and not harming others. Netcitizens, asserts Cohen-Almagor, are netusers with a sense of responsibility.


To what extent can liberal democracies interfere in internal affairs of their subcultures, especially when their conduct is illiberal? This question occupies much of Cohen-Almagor’s scholarship on multiculturalism. In a piece co-authored with Will Kymlicka, Cohen-Alamgor contends that if an illiberal minority is seeking to oppress other groups, then intervention is justified in the name of self-defense. Both Cohen-Almagor and Kymlicka further assert that in the case of immigrants who come to a country knowing its laws, there is no objection to imposing liberal principles on them. The situation is more complicated with national minorities, particularly if (a) they were involuntarily incorporated into the larger state (as the Palestinians claim with regard to their incorporation into the Jewish state), and (b) they have their own formalized governments, with their own internal mechanisms for dispute resolution. In these circumstances, the legitimate scope for coercive intervention by the state may be limited.

Cohen-Almagor and Kymlicka maintain that there are several things which liberals can do to promote respect for individual rights within non-liberal minority groups. Since a national minority which rules in an illiberal way acts unjustly, liberals have a right - indeed a responsibility - to speak out against such injustice, and to support any efforts the group makes to liberalize their culture. Since the most enduring forms of liberalization are those that result from internal reform, the primary focus for liberals outside the group should be to provide this sort of support. Moreover, incentives can be provided, in a non-coercive way, for liberal reforms. Cohen-Almagor and Kymlicka further recommend promoting the development of regional or international mechanisms for protecting human rights.

Human Rights

Cohen-Almagor is a human rights and peace activist. He has written against administrative detention, religious coercion, discrimination against Arabs in Israel, the 1982 Lebanon War, and the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War. He spoke in favour of separation between state and religion, women and minority rights, patients’ rights, a two state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. In 2000, he opened an international campaign to evacuate the Gaza Strip, seeing this move as the start of a Palestinian State (“Gaza First”). In late 2006 he called for early elections in Israel after he lost trust in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the tragic architect of the Israel-Hezbollah War. This campaign ended in February 2009, when Israel held early elections that terminated the Olmert government. In 2009, Cohen-Almagor called upon Israel to institute a national enquiry commission to address all the issues mentioned in the Goldstone Report regarding Israel’s war conduct during its Cast Lead Operation (2008–2009). During 2009-2011 he was engaged in a campaign which called for a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas that would bring Gilad Shalit back home. That campaign ended in October 2011, when Gilad was united with his family, and more than 1000 Palestinians were released from Israeli jails. Since 2011, Cohen-Almagor is calling for a two state solution, believing this is the only viable and just option for both Israel and Palestine.


Unlike most liberals, Cohen-Almagor confines his scholarship to the democratic world. He says explicitly that he is concerned with all countries around the world, because he thinks that what he says is appropriate, simply because he is realistic. Cohen-Almagor believes that there are some basic universal needs that all people wish to secure such as food, raiment, and shelter. Sexual drives are universal and people need to have some sleep to be able continue functioning. He also believes that we should strive to universalise moral principles. But sociologically speaking we cannot ignore the fact that universal values do not underlie all societies. Some societies reject the moral notions of liberty, tolerance, autonomy, equality, and justice that liberal democracies promote. If a country is not founded on these notions, then it would be futile for us to speak about these values. Thus, his practical recommendations on freedom of expression, end-of-life and multiculturalism are restricted to the democratic world.

Grants and Awards

In the course of his career, Professor Cohen-Almagor has won numerous grants, scholarships and fellowships from major institutions around the world including the Bogliasco Foundation, the British Council, the Canadian Government, The Fulbright Foundation, the Hastings Center, the Israel Ministry of Science, the Italian Foreign Office, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Volkswagen Education Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His biography appears in many books of distinction, including Outstanding People of the 20th Century, Distinguished and Admirable Achievers, The International Directory of Distinguished Leadership, Biography Today, Biography Fame International, Who's Who in the World, Distinguished and Admirable Achievers, The Dictionary of International Biography, Asian/American Who's Who, The Contemporary Who's Who of Professionals and Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare.


Middle Eastern Shores (poetry, Hebrew, 1993)

The Boundaries of Liberty and Tolerance (1994; Hebrew 1994, 2nd ed. 1999)

Speech, Media and Ethics (2001, 2nd ed. 2005; Turkish 2003)

The Right to Die with Dignity (2001)

Euthanasia in the Netherlands (2004)

The Scope of Tolerance (2006)

The Democratic Catch (2007, Hebrew)

Voyages (poetry, Hebrew, 2007)

Confronting the Internet's Dark Side: Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway (2015)

Edited Books

Basic Issues in Israeli Democracy (Hebrew, 1999)

Liberal Democracy and the Limits of Tolerance (2000)

Medical Ethics at the Dawn of the 21st Century (2000)

Challenges to Democracy: Essays in Honour and Memory of Isaiah Berlin (2000)

Moral Dilemmas in Medicine (Hebrew, 2002)

Israeli Democracy at the Crossroads (2005)

Israeli Institutions at the Crossroads (2005)

Public Responsibility (with Asa Kasher and Ori Arbel-Ganz, Hebrew, 2012)


Raphael Cohen-Almagor Wikipedia