Monday, January 31, 2011
An impassioned speaker, she surely left a striking impression for the moderately liberal Conservative-affiliated synagogue, Ansche Chesed. The audience was unfailingly polite and mostly receptive to her message, which contrasted the massive upheavals for democracy and human rights going on in Tunisia and Egypt right now (including spillovers in at least a couple of other Arab countries) with a contraction of democracy and civil rights threatening to take hold in Israel. Dr. Chazan spoke powerfully of a crescendo of legislation up for imminent approval by the Knesset which, for example, seeks to criminalize the act of mentioning the "Nakba" (the Arab term for the catastrophic events that occurred in their community during Israel's war for independence), to investigate the funding sources of human rights NGO's, to outlaw any kind of boycott, and to facilitate discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel in housing.
Still, the first questioner during the Q & A strongly dissented. He expressed alarm at the chorus of strident anti-Israel voices erupting at our university campuses, as well as other places. (He mentioned the late Tony Judt in this connection, overstating Judt's ill-considered characterization of Israel as "an anachronism," as actually advocating its destruction.) Dr. Chazan responded on the need to distinguish between reasonable criticisms of Israeli government policies and moves that seek to delegitimize Israel's existence.
Note: This was originally posted at The Third Way: Finding Balance in Mideast Analysis
Israel has apparently begun working to press Europe and the United States to try to save the embattled regime of Hosni Mubarak. Ha’aretz reports that Netanyahu asked other countries to tone down criticism of Mubarak. However, while the headline says this came from Netanyahu, the article only mentions the foreign ministry, and, as we have seen many times, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman writes his own foreign policy and sometimes acts without necessarily coordinating with the Prime Minister’s office.
In any case, it doesn’t seem that anyone in Europe, nor the Obama administration, is interested in interfering with Egypt directly, though one suspects they’d all prefer to see Mubarak remain long enough to pass the mantle off to someone who would maintain Egypt’s current stances in foreign policy. The fact that they all were happy to work with Mubarak for thirty years despite his awful human rights record and refusal to democratize the country indicates that these are not the concerns of the foreigners.
Israel’s urging for other countries to prioritize Egyptian “stability” is simply code for maintaining the status quo, at least as far as Egypt’s real positions and actions in regard to the Palestinians, to Israel, to Iran and the Middle East in general. They seem to have completely missed the fact that the status quo has already crumbled in Egypt. Things are changing, and Israel’s desperation for holding the status quo is not only foolhardy, it reflects an inability to deal with changes that are already happening (increasing public pressure in Turkey, Europe, the US and elsewhere to free the Palestinians from occupation) and an even greater inability to deal with even more changes that are coming.
Israel simply can’t afford to be this ignorant. If it does not move immediately to change the status quo itself and start finding a way to seriously move toward a Palestinian state that is viable and includes Jerusalem and some accommodation of the refugee issue, history is going to overtake the country. And everyone interested in peace and in Israel’s future should be pounding away at this message.
Instead, we have Malcolm Hoenlein articulating not only the fact that the organization he heads, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (COPJ) works against Israel’s interests as well as those of the Palestinians and the USA, but also illustrates just why so many of us call the coalition of his group, AIPAC, ADL, AJC and other groups the “status quo lobby.” In one of the most absurd remarks even Hoenlein has ever made, he called Mohammed ElBaradei, the man who appears to be the favorite to take over for Mubarak, a “stooge for Iran.” Which mnade me laugh when I thought of all the people who had called ElBaradei a stooge for the US and Israel because he publicly chastised Iran for not granting his International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) full access for their inspections.
Israel is staring at a very dangerous future. The current government is steering it toward disaster, and the supporters of that government in Washington and Europe are literally killing Israel. If the occupation doesn’t end, Israel will find that it will have to face Arab anger over the issue of Palestine without dictators like Mubarak to keep the locals in line. And at that point, this ugly and unnecessary conflict will get a lot uglier.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Hosni Mubarak has been a chilly, yet reliable presence in the region for 30 years. Even during the tense times of the Lebanon conflicts and the Intifadas, Egypt has maintained diplomatic relations with Israel, even in the face of popular criticism and condemnation. In short, Mubarak's icy but steady approach is something Israel has take for granted for several decades.
Now everything is in flux, but one thing is for sure: nothing will be the same.
Friday, January 28, 2011
It is hard to imagine that a matter as explosive as The Palestine Papers (a massive leak of some 1,600 documents the Palestinian Authority had, including minutes, strategy papers, maps and e-mails) could be completely drowned out by other events, but the massive upheaval in Egypt has done just that. The implications for Israel and the United States of the widespread protests throughout the Arab world and the Papers are not yet fully predictable, but they are sure to be profound.
The Palestine Papers have exposed the “peace process” as a sham, with the Palestinian Authority offering concessions that would probably not have been acceptable to most Palestinians, Israel downplaying and even ignoring many of those same massive concessions and the United States doing nothing to bridge gaps and putting pressure only on the Palestinian side.
But the spreading protests in the Arab world signify a major shift in the status quo on the horizon. The United States, which learned nothing from its experience of forcefully keeping a ruthless dictator in power in Iran, has done the same with petty and violent dictators throughout the Arab world. Interestingly, the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, and the simmering ones in Jordan and Yemen, have been completely focused on those countries’ respective dictators, and there has been relatively little anti-American rhetoric thus far; or at least very little has been reported. This may have a lot to do with American silence on both matters and our quick abandonment of our favored proxies once it became obvious they had lost control. Or it may be yet to come.
In any case, the issues of the US and Israel, and even the Palestinians have been sidelined as Egyptians, like Tunisians before them, demonstrate for democracy to overthrow their tyrants. But these developments will have serious implications for the US and Israel nonetheless.
One of the greatest fears of both the US and Israel has always been Arab democracy. For all the pro-democracy rhetoric that comes from both Tel Aviv and Washington, there is a reason that there has never been serious pressure on any Middle Eastern country to democratize. And that is because policies that reflect the will of the people will reflect the interests of the countries themselves, which will often be very different from Israeli or American interests. It may be impossible to generalize about “what Arabs want,” but it’s pretty clear that the vast majority want stronger action in support of the Palestinians and that a similar if not even greater majority wishes to see the resources of the Arab world used to benefit the Arab masses, rather than a few elites and their partners in Europe and the USA.
It’s not limited to the Arab world, but we can see what popular movements produce in the Middle East. In Iran, an unpopular president who is currently in office due to an election widely believed to have been fraudulent can still rally popular support by standing up to the United States and expressing hostility toward Israel. In Turkey, a key US regional ally, democratic politics have turned the government toward taking a much stronger stance in favor of the Palestinians and one less inclined to tolerate a rude Israeli foreign ministry.
In Lebanon, American insistence that the Lebanese government refuse to cooperate with Syrian and Saudi efforts to broker a compromise on the handling of the international Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, led to that government’s collapse.
While the protests throughout the Arab world have been calling for democracy, there is no certainty that, even if existing dictatorships are overthrown, democracy will obtain. Iran is a clear example of this. And perhaps ensuing governments will still be sympathetic to, or perhaps can be co-opted by the United States. But even if non-democratic movements emerge, they will need to be elevated to power by popular support. As such, whatever comes next is unlikely to be nearly as cooperative with the US’ Israel-centered policy in the region.
What this means is that the United States and Israel will have to do a complete re-evaluation of their tactics, though the current Israeli government will be more inclined toward a bunker mentality in the midst of renewed Arab antipathy and strengthened support for the Palestinians.
Two basic directions will present themselves to the US and Israel, within each of which there will be many other possible choices and options. One is to give in to that bunker mentality in Israel and for the US to maintain and solidify a Middle East policy that puts not Israeli security but Israeli governmental geopolitical strategy above all other considerations. This will mean continuing deterioration in relations with Turkey, while Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan all drift into increasing belligerence with Israel and the US.
Option two is the one Israel should have pursued many years ago, and that is to come to a credible, realistic and fair agreement with the Palestinians to end the occupation, end the siege of Gaza, determine a permanent status for Jerusalem that everyone can live with, come to a similar determination on Palestinian refugees and settle the issue of the Golan Heights with Syria.
That option, still the only way to move forward in a more secure, rather than more perilous, fashion for Israel, became much more expensive for Israel after years of intransigence that have now been revealed by the Palestine Papers. In order to pursue this option now the US and Israel must make it clear that they are not opposed to a free and open discussion among Palestinians of the issues and what should be done. And that is going to have to include those who support Hamas and other Islamist or militant groups, because those groups represent a significant minority among Palestinians.
This sounds groundbreaking, but is it, really? In Israel, even members of the Knesset speak openly of wanting to keep “Judea and Samaria” (the West Bank) and most Israelis agree with the vision of Jerusalem as “the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish people.” Many Israelis, too, espouse the view that there is no Palestinian people and that they should have no national rights, while some also contend that Arabs in Israel should not have the same rights of citizenship as Jews. All of these people are allowed to express their views and they all have their influence on Israeli politics. Despite this, Israeli leaders can negotiate and are generally recognized to have a mandate and the authority to work out a peace deal.
The Palestinians not only deserve the same, but if there is to be a peace agreement that Israel can trust, it must have the support, even if it is grudging, of the bulk of the Palestinians. As I explained elsewhere, the absence of that Palestinian dialogue throws into question the PA’s ability to deliver on any agreement that is signed, which turns right-wing Israeli contentions that they cannot trust agreements made with the PA into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If Israel settles its conflict with the Palestinians in a manner that neither side feels was forced down their throats, it will keep the focus of Arab protests on their own countries and not on the Palestinian issue. And this will allow the US to continue to sustain Israeli security while shifting its practices in the region away from support for dictators like Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and toward support for real democratic reform. And such reform also means that we respect the will, and the votes, of the people, whether we like their choice or not.
Israeli security need not come at the expense of the freedom of hundreds of millions of Egyptians, Tunisians, Algerians, Jordanians, Yemenis, Lebanese and, yes, Palestinians. And such a policy, in any case, has a shelf life that isn’t very long, as we’re seeing in the Arab world today. Security is best achieved by diplomacy that establishes mutual recognition and builds relationships based on shared interests. That has always undergirded the Middle East peace movements, both in the region and around the world, and the bankruptcy of the alternative is being demonstrated in Egypt at this very moment.
Eventually, rule by force falls apart. Israel can’t afford a strategy which, however successful it might be is eventually doomed to failure. It has options, and it needs to start pursuing them with vigor. Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood and it need not sacrifice its military strength to advance peace. But if it is ever to achieve security, it will have to use different tools. Refusing the sorts of offers the PA has made shows Israeli leaders’ preference to rely on their military might. That is a tool that increases the heat even as it puts out the fire. But peace with the Palestinians will turn Arab democracy into an asset for Israel’s future and security instead of a threat. It’s time to take that path before it’s too late.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Three events have recently occurred, all of which would normally be worth commenting and editorializing about, but they have tended to drown each other out.
First, the IDF's internal enquiry into the Mavi Marmara boarding incident cleared the IDF. This was to be expected. The terms for the enquiry were whether or not Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was legal under international law and whether Israel used excessive force. Blockade is a well established belligerent practice in both international and internal conflicts. ...
The second point is excessive force. ... The IDF was justified in using force to protect the life of its soldiers the same as if Iranians had attacked a U.S. Navy ship carrying out search duties during the UN trade embargo on Iraq and American sailors had fired back. What is inexcusable is that the IDF, an army descended from the pre-state Hagana/Palmakh militia that carried out blockade running against the British during the 1940s, was unprepared for this resistance.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
These documents only report one side of the story, providing a perspective based on Palestinian sources alone. It should be understood that Olmert did offer proposals that were not far off from the Palestinian concessions this leak purportedly discloses. None other than Daniel Levy sees Olmert as having sincerely sought peace. The process was sadly cut short by Olmert’s legal and political difficulties, not to mention the toxic fallout from Israel’s Gaza war.
Monday, January 24, 2011
In the UK Guardian: Secret papers reveal slow death of Middle East peace process:
• Massive new leak lifts lid on negotiations
• PLO offered up key settlements in East Jerusalem
• Concessions made on refugees and Holy sites
In Time.com: Will 'The Palestine Papers' Kill the Peace Process? By Tony Karon in Time.com
Friday, January 21, 2011
As Americans who are deeply concerned for Israel’s future, we are distressed by the fact that Israel’s government prefers its settlement policy to an honest attempt to negotiate a peace treaty and final status agreement that leads to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Rather than heeding the condemnations of its settlement policy from members of the global community including the United States, Israel’s government clings to dubious justifications for this counterproductive policy. Rationalizations like ‘natural growth’ and domestic political pressures, and legal loopholes that the West Bank and Gaza are “disputed”, rather than “occupied”, territories are just empty excuses to delay the serious work of peace-making. At the same time, Israel’s government has repeatedly turned a blind eye to and often furtively abetted the growth of wildcat settlements.
It is time for such tactics to end.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
The Israeli government sent bulldozers and Israeli riot police to demolish the Negev Bedouin village of Al Arakib for the 9th time on Sunday and again on Monday, shooting the residents with rubber bullets, beating them with batons, injuring 11 people, 5 of whom were hospitalized. The police have arrested 11 Israeli human rights activists, including some of the most prominent in Israel who attempted to help the residents rebuild the village.
Israel Lands Administration (ILA) Development Director Shlomo Zeiser said "We are making an effort to find a permanent solution [as translated into English on YNet; Doni uses the term "Final Solution"--RS] to what's happening in Al-Arakib," and "We are preparing the ground for planting," clearly implicating the JNF, which has now built a new camp in Al-Arakib (under police protection) for its bulldozers to plant a forest there, prevent the return of the Bedouin forever and cover up all traces of Bedouin life in the demolished village. ...
Tell Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ILA Chief Yaron Bibi and ILA Director Shlomo Zeiser: American Jews - and the world - will not stand by as you try to wipe out an entire Arab village in Israel!
Click here to send a forceful message to Israeli leaders right now.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Think Israel's a lost cause? Ten reasons to think again By Bradley Burston
Something's started to happen here, and for the first time in a long time, something good, the decency that still somehow informs people here, has a chance of taking wing.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The parliamentary faction representing the party that founded and built the state of Israel and that dominated its governments for decades was today reduced to mere single digits -- Israel's Labor Party now has eight members in the Knesset. This latest dilution resulted from a move that took everyone by surprise, enacted by its now-erstwhile leader, still the country's defense minister, Ehud Barak.
To make any sense of the shock that has just convulsed Israeli politics, a very brief primer is in order. Israel is a parliamentary democracy in which the country is a single electoral district and members of the parliament, the Knesset, are elected on party lists according to a pure system of proportional representation (with a threshold of two percent for entering parliament). The system has always made for a proliferation of parties being represented in the Knesset, for government by coalition, with various rules being introduced over the years to prevent too much horse-trading, including one stipulating that for a new faction to split away from an existing party and be recognized with full rights in parliament, the breakaway faction must constitute at least one-third of the members of the mother party.
Monday, January 17, 2011
This morning, January 17th, Ehud Barak, Chairman of the Labor party, had announced his secession from the Labor together with 4 other MK's. Together they are forming a new faction called 'Atzma'ut' – 'independence'. This faction is not a left-wing party, in the words of Ehud Barak – a 'center' [centrist] party. This move was coordinated with and supported by Binyamin Netanyahu, in order to avoid Labor breaking the coalition.One can click here for Haaretz coverage of this story. Dr. Thomas Mitchell has already posted about this event on his blog (www.selfhatinggentile.blogspot.com), which begins under the heading "Is This the End of the Israeli Labor Party?" as follows:
According Dror Morag, the secretary-general of the World Union of Meretz, this strengthens Meretz as the "most stable Zionist left wing party."
Saturday, January 15, 2011
The interview was only in the print edition and only in Hebrew. I did get a translation, but due to various restrictions on my receiving it, I was not permitted to publish the full interview. I was allowed excerpt pieces of it, and posted those pieces and my comments on them. Lieberman makes it abundantly clear why today's demonstration was so vital.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Please show your solidarity with those marching by signing the statement of support for Israeli democracy on our website.
Over the past several months we have watched with growing concern the regressive politics of Avigdor Lieberman, Im Tritzu, and others dominate the discourse and policies in Israel. We are dismayed by the path these forces are charting for the country. Proposed legislation like the loyalty oath and now the call to investigate human rights organizations has not only shaken us and our colleagues in Israel, but the very foundations of Israeli democracy.
We can no longer remain on the sidelines. The time has come for all of us to add our voices to the growing number of Israelis who are fighting to uphold the country’s democratic values. The time has come to take to the streets, both literally and figuratively, to fight for democracy.
Our statement and the list of signees’ names will be shared with the march organizers in Israel – the “Democratic Camp”, a broad-based coalition of NGOs and political parties – so that they, in turn, can share our message of support with the march participants.
Please click here to show your support for democracy in Israel, and here to learn more about this issue.
He's come to the view, which I now share, that bilateral negotiations between two unequal parties (Israel and the Palestinians) will not deliver peace. It's not that the peace won't ultimately be negotiated, but it requires an active involvement by United States representatives offering reasonable bridging proposals and being willing to leverage its influence to secure a viable two-state solution. To start with, the US needs to encourage at least a workable agreement on Israel's borders; in most ways, this is the easiest issue for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to agree upon.
Levy also astutely suggested that the organized American Jewish community's six million dollar budget to fight Israel's "delegitimization" will be a wasted expenditure because it does not address the forces and actions within Israel that are currently doing all they can to delegitimize Israel from within: e.g., Avigdor Lieberman's antics as foreign minister and the efforts of his Yisrael Beitenu party and others to "investigate" and criminalize the voices of dissent. Levy doesn't deny that there are hateful and anti-Semitic elements among the Palestinians and in the broader Islamic world, but he reasonably contends that the occupation "drives" this hatred of Jews.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I have been too busy here in Florida to write. However, Bernard Avishai's latest post is deserving of a wide reading. Below, he makes essential points: A major Supreme Court ruling is being simply ignored; this important non-violent struggle is under-reported by the world media; deaths of protesters are occurring; and can a drama without an audience succeed??
He does not make the point that the failure of non-violence may so frustrate the young participants that they turn to violence which will play into the hands of the Israeli right. Those, like our [Canadian] former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, who praise the Israeli courts as a bastion of democracy, have had little or nothing to say about the regular defiance of court rulings.--Steve
... I left the demonstration feeling more perplexed than inspired, given the many deaths the cause has occasioned. ... The Israeli Supreme Court has already ruled that the route of the security wall, which separates the town of Bil'in from hundreds of dunams of its agricultural land, must be moved to restore this land to the town. So the Defense Ministry, in effect, is brazenly violating a decision of the Supreme Court by not complying. ...
Monday, January 10, 2011
Saturday, January 08, 2011
In an interview given to Newsweek, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made the following, quite chilling statement: “I am the mainstream. When I started with my vision, I was really a small minority. Today we’re the third [largest] party in Israel.”
Lieberman is certainly no stranger to bluster, so it’s easy to dismiss this as more of Yvet’s (as he is called) hubris. But is that really the case? There’s a good deal of evidence to suggest that Lieberman is absolutely right.
Each piece of that evidence is another massive blow to the teetering ship that is Israeli democracy. The latest was a proposal introduced this past week by Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, to set up a Knesset committee to investigate the funding sources of progressive, and only left-wing, NGOs.
Israeli journalist and blogger Yossi Gurvitz likened the event to the burning of the Reichstag, implying that this was the point where Israel slipped from democracy to fascism. Gurvitz may be overstating the case (I’d certainly say he is), but he is not exaggerating how anti-democratic this action and this Knesset are. Nor can it be reasonably denied that, whether Gurvitz is right or not today, if Israel continues on its present course, there is no doubt he will be someday and probably not in all that distant a future.
The committee may never be formed, but that is beside the point. The goal of the proposal is not to investigate the funding sources of Israeli progressive NGOs. Their funding is already fully transparent, there are already oversight agencies and yet the organizations that are being singled out – including ACRI, B'Tselem, Yesh Din, Machsom Watch, Adalah, Mossawa Center, and Ir Amim – have not had any accusations of impropriety leveled against them. One might note that the same cannot be said, for instance, about ElAd, the most prominent of settler NGOs, which has never been forced to live up to the requirement of all NGOs in Israel to disclose their list of donors.
No, this tactic is about smearing. It follows in the footsteps of the extremist anti-democracy group NGO Monitor, which uses obfuscation to attack research by human rights groups (like in this example, where they claim inflated number of non-combatants in Operation Cast Lead by using Hamas’ numbers of how many of their members were killed, ignoring the fact that being a Hamas member and being a non-combatant are far from mutually exclusive) and the even more radical Im Tirtzu, which roused Jewish revulsion around the world with their heinous, and anti-semitic, campaign to demonize New Israel Fund chair and former MK Naomi Chazan. The substance of the attack is secondary to the goal of raising public animosity in Israel to those working for peace and universal human rights.
This event comes on the heels of a heavy dose of police violence at a Tel Aviv protest last week and the police intimidating, harassing and arresting activists in their own homes. This last followed activists being charged with attacking the US ambassador’s home for a protest where they “returned” spent tear gas canisters to him in the wake of the death of Jawaher Abu Rahme.
Only the previous week, Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak was convicted for taking part in a bicycle ride to protest the blockade of the Gaza Strip. The prosecution in that case made no secret of wanting to “make an example” of Pollak, just as the Shin Bet has made no secret of targeting Israeli Jewish non-violent radicals.
And, of course, at the very center of these attacks on peace and human rights groups is the occupation and its daily violations of international and Israeli law, and the norms of universal ethical values.
It looks like Lieberman is very much in the mainstream in the Knesset. That is particularly clear when one considers the Prime Minister’s reluctance to confront him, as well as the fact that many Likud MKs and several Kadima ones also supported the proposed witch hunt. It should be noted, however, that the Right is not united on this. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) opposes it and Likud hawk Benny Begin was quite eloquent in his denouncement of the proposal.
Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that Lieberman’s racist views are very much in the mainstream in the Israeli public, not just the Knesset. Recent polls have come up with the following findings:
· 46% of Jews in Israel do not want to have Arab neighbors (keep in mind, this is referring to their fellow citizens).
· 86% of Jews believe that critical decisions regarding the future of Israel must be decided by a Jewish majority
· 53% of Jews believe Arabs should be encouraged to leave Israel, while only 51% believed that Jews and Arabs should have equal rights.
· 62% of Jews believe that as long as the conflict with the Palestinians continues, the country should not take foreign policy opinions of Arab citizens of Israel into account
Is Lieberman the mainstream in Israel? He certainly doesn’t define it. But his views are clearly mainstream and a very big part of that mainstream. And, as the increase in these events, as well as Israel having elected its most right-wing government ever which has also proven to be the most stable one in many years, demonstrates this trend is moving in Yvet’s direction.
Is this the same Israel as it ever was? Some say so. But consider this: when Meir Kahane’s Kach party was banned two weeks before the 1988 elections, polls suggested big gains for him, gains which would have brought Kach three or four seats in the Knesset. Yisrael Beiteinu, which espouses many of the same views Kach did currently holds 15 seats. Those who are predicting that Lieberman will be Israel’s next Prime Minister may be wrong, but it’s not a baseless prediction and, even if he’s not next, the prediction could prove correct in the not-too-distant future.
An American Response
The proposal to demonize left-wing NGOs has brought an unprecedented response from a wide swath of the Jewish spectrum. One would naturally expect J Street to condemn it, and of course Americans for Peace Now. But on this particular issue, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) also harshly criticized the proposal and even a prominent right-wing blogger, while blasting progressive Israeli NGOs still called the measure “a misguided response.”
This is very good news, particularly seeing AJC siding, for once, with the New Israel Fund and other, liberal Israeli groups. It reminds everyone of the generally liberal sensibilities of most American Jews.
But what is the effect, really? The point of this proposal was never the actual investigation of the NGOs. Indeed, it is highly doubtful that the forces behind the legislation want to see it happen because they know the funding of these NGOs is already transparent. It was always about demonizing human rights groups, peace groups, and virtually everyone in Israel who sees an Arab as deserving of rights and dignity as a Jew.
So the American groups come out against the idea, and the bill is likely going to fail. But are we prepared to go further, and to address the real problem: the mainstreaming of an avowed racist and anti-democracy ideologue like Avigdor Lieberman?
The question is fundamental to how Jews relate to Israel. For years, it was a point of pride for many Jews that Israel had passed a law barring racist parties, at the time directed at Kach, from standing for election to the Knesset.
Today, Israel’s Foreign Minister, and leader of its ruling coalition’s second-largest party, stands for similar ideas, and the reaction is comparatively invisible. Lieberman is a little less brazen than Kahane in order to avoid conflicting with the law, but few doubt he is the fruit of the same poisonous tree.
And it’s not just Lieberman; Michael Ben-Ari, a former member of Kach and devout disciple of Kahane, also sits in the Knesset, for the National Union coalition. He doesn’t bother with the pretense that this proposal has anything to do with transparency, and proudly names the witch-hunt for what is.
Israel has no constitution (something it needs very badly), and that, along with several other factors like the coalition structure of its government, lends populism a good deal of influence in shaping the political zeitgeist of the state.
There’s little doubt that Israeli zeitgeist is moving away from democracy, toward more racism and alienating it from the next generation of Jews in the Diaspora. The trend has been detected by influential, mainstream pro-Israel Jews like Peter Beinart and David Remnick and, more recently, the more hawkish (from the liberal side) Jeffrey Goldberg has expressed his own misgivings about Israel’s direction.
Perhaps this will prove to be a tipping point, and a critical mass of Israelis will realize they are jeopardizing their relationship, not only with other countries, but also with world Jewry. But this seems unlikely. More likely, most will believe what they have been told for so long: the Diaspora will support Israel no matter what it does. Certainly, that has been the historical message.
But if this is treated as a sort of anomalous incident which, once reversed, can be forgotten, Diaspora Jews, especially those of us in America are eventually going to have to confront the question of support for Israel.
If Israel persists in building its obstacles to peace with settlement expansion and draconian policies in the West Bank and its siege of Gaza; and, if it also continues to renounce its democratic mandate by fomenting discrimination against its Arab citizens and smothering the dissent of even its Jewish ones it will lose Diaspora support. The question will be what form that loss will take.
It may take the form a lot of it taking today: a sort of disgusted apathy, where young Jews (and some not so young ones as well) just aren’t interesting in Israel, prefer to stay away from the politics because they don’t like some of what Israel is doing, find it hard to balance their opposition to Israeli policies with their belief that Israel should continue to exist and don’t want to get into the ugliness and vile tactics employed by some so-called “pro-Israel” advocates.
In that case, most Jews will have abandoned Israel, but the political and financial support from the increasingly unrepresentative (on this issue) “mainstream Jewish peace groups” and the Christian Zionist organizations will continue to flow. Israel will become even more identified with the right than it is now. It will no longer be a democracy, and, really, it won’t be a Jewish state since it will be so alienated form most of the world’s Jews.
Or, we can work to avoid that future, and start to rebuild the Diaspora-Israel relationship.
In the Diaspora, we often shy away from telling Israel how to act. But we can certainly decide what we will or will not support. We can send the message that our love for Israel may be unconditional, but our support for Israel, while passionate and steadfast, is not. We can and must send Israel the message that a Jewish state that is not democratic and does not pursue a realistic peace agreement with vigor is not one we can support however much we may still love it.
Israel is a sovereign state, and ultimately its actions are and must be determined by its citizens (ALL its citizens, Jewish or otherwise). But it is also the Jewish state and its actions and policies do affect the rest of us. And it has always relied on material, political and moral support from the Diaspora and it continues to. As long as that is true, Israel owes us an ear, and we must use our voice. We can and must help those Israelis who are working so hard to preserve the democracy that is now under attack in their country.
Friday, January 07, 2011
The persecution of human and civil rights organizations has reached a new low. The move by [Avigdor] Lieberman and his MKs to set up a "parliamentary committee of inquiry" regarding the activity of organizations that "delegitimize Israel", as they would have it, is a disgrace to the Knesset.
This is political persecution through the use of a coalition majority, and funded by the Knesset budget, and under the dubious legal cover of an "investigative committee". There's also no doubt what the goal of this "investigative committee" is: Shutting mouths and silencing criticism.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
To survive, and to compete globally, Arab and Muslim societies need to embrace their cultural, religious and ethnic mosaics, and view their diversity as strength rather than weakness. They need to embrace a culture that values not only individual rights and foregrounds the role of the citizen in political and social life, but minority rights as well. The values of pluralism, peaceful resolution of disputes and inclusivity are the only effective antidote to the poison of extremism and extremist violence. Embracing these values will require a change in social and political culture, and for that, every Arab, and Arab and Muslim American, must take up their share of the responsibility. They must speak publicly and courageously for these values here and in the Middle East. The price of silence is prohibitive. The forces of fanaticism, violence and exclusion must not be allowed to prevail.
Monday, January 03, 2011
There is an important article depicting the complexities of the BDS issue: "Culture Group Rebuffs Bid To Condemn Boycotts: It features a photo and three paragraphs on the position of Theodore Bikel (not identified, alas, as the board chair of Meretz USA):