Netanyahu was the one to stop Israeli-Palestinian talks

Posted: August 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

The Israeli media is reporting a high-level effort to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was brought to an end a couple of weeks ago at the Benjamin Netanyahu’s orders. The prime minister, meanwhile, continues to claim he has no partner.

Coming up to September and the UN bid by the Palestinian Authority, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claims that the Palestinians refuse to negotiate with his government, and therefore urges the world to oppose their diplomatic moves, “in the interest of peace.”

Many echo this talking point: It’s being voiced no not only by advocates for the Israeli right in America (here, here, here, and here) but also by critics of the current Israeli government, sources in the Obama administration and even an editorial in the New York Times.

I intend to write a separate post on the way Israel is manipulating the world’s public opinion by using the term “peace” when it actually means maintaining the status quo; I also have my doubts on the UN bid and the false notion of “Palestinian statehood” when in reality the occupation only deepens—a better idea might be to dismantle the PA altogether—but it is important to note that even on this very issue of negotiations, the Israeli prime minister and the people speaking in his name are far from telling the whole truth.

As various media outlets in Israel have revealed that in recent weeks, Israeli president Shimon Peres has had a secret negotiating channel with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. According to a report in the daily Maariv, Peres—who has  often acted as an unofficial envoy for the government, given the rivalry between Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the latter’s poor image in the world—has met with Abbas four times, discussing various details regarding the resumption of formal negotiations between the two parties. In-between these meetings, Peres also had a one-on-one with president Obama, which could be indicative of the importance attributed to these talks.

Netanyahu was aware of Peres’s moves, and according to the Israeli president’s closer circles, approved them. Yet a couple of weeks ago, Netanyahu surprisingly called off a meeting between Peres and Abu-Mazen, effectively closing the secret channel.

According to Maariv, the Palestinian president was already on his way to Amman, where the meeting was supposed to take place, when an aide to Peres notified him over the phone that the meeting was cancelled at the order of the Israeli PM. According  to Netanyahu’s associates, this wasn’t a good time for an understanding with the Palestinians, given the political circumstances in Israel, Ben Caspit reported.

According to Maariv, President Peres is now “completely exasperated” with Netanyahu.

My guess is that Netanyahu felt that Peres was getting closer to some understanding—anything—with Abbas, and this was against his goal of prolonging negotiations without offering concessions, as a way to get the international pressure off his back while keeping the Israeli consensus behind him (at least on this issue). In my opinion, there was little to no hope that that these talks would have led to anything, but still, it’s important to note that as soon as there was the slightest whiff of progress, even that informal channel became way too much for the Israeli prime minister.


Republican presidential candidate wants to destroy UN if it recognizes Palestine

Posted: August 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

In an op-ed published by the pro-Netanyahu tabloid Yisrael Hayom, Republican Newt Gingrich calls upon the United States to stop supporting the United Nations if it votes for Palestinian independence. “We don’t need to fund a corrupt institution to beat up on our allies,” says Gingrich.

Washington should make immediately clear that it has no tolerance for dangerous stunts that threaten Israel’s survival.

When the U.N. is set to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state and Israel is the only country in the world not even permitted to determine its own capital city, something is very wrong.

The time to stop this disaster is before it happens. Congress and Obama must detail the potential cost of a U.N. betrayal of Israel before the General Assembly meets.

I wonder what Michele Bachmann’s response will be. Surly, she can’t be left behind in the “who’s more pro Netanyahu” race. My guess is that nothing short of deploying the Marines in Paris would do.


The fault and the hope of J14

Posted: August 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Now that the entire Israeli public is listening, it’s time to open up the conversation

Protesters in Tel Aviv. Does Justice refer to Palestinians as well? (photo: Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Many people have rightly pointed out that the J14 protests, which mobilized Israelis to the country’s largest ever demonstration yesterday, refrains from dealing with questions regarding the status of Palestinians under Israeli control – issues such as equality under the law, access to resources and most notably, the occupation.

While I agree with those calls, I think they are missing some of the opportunities this movement presents. I was planning to write an article on these issues, but then saw that Palestinian activist Abir Kopty did a much better job than I could hope to do in dealing with these questions. Kopty describes her feelings following the time she spent at Tent 1948, a small Jewish-Palestinian compound at the heart of the Rothschild tent camp:

The existence of Tent 1948 in the encampment constitutes a challenge to people taking part in the July 14 movement. In the first few days, the tent was attacked by group of rightwing activists, who beat activists in the tent and broke down the Palestinian flag of the tent. Some of the leaders of the July 14 movement have said clearly that raising core issues related to Palestinian community in Israel or the occupation will make the struggle “lose momentum”. They often said the struggle is social, not political, as if there was a difference. They are afraid of losing supporters if they make Palestinian issues bold.

The truth is that this is the truth.

The truth is, this is exactly what might help Netanyahu, if he presses the button of fear, recreates the ‘enemy’ and reproduce the ‘security threat’, he might be able to silence this movement. The problem is not with Netanyahu, he is not the first Israeli leader to rely on this. The main problem is that Israelis are not ready yet to see beyond the walls surrounding them.

Yet, one has to admit, something is happening, Israelis are awakening. There is a process; people are coming together, discussing issues. The General Assembly of the encampment decided on Friday that it will not accept any racist messages among its participants. Even to Tent 1948 many Israelis arrived, read the flyers, listened to what Tent 1948 represent and discussed calmly. Perhaps if I was a Jewish Israeli I will be proud of the July 14 movement. But, I am not a Jew, I am not Zionist, I am Palestinian.

Well, I am a Jew, and I share Abir Kopty’s call for Israelis to take the opportunity of the July 14 movement not just to speak of market economy and social welfare, but to examine the entire nature of the social order in this country – and with it, the relation between Jews and Arabs.

When I visited the tent camp at Rothschild Boulevard I saw people examining the signs and reading the leaflets around tent 1948. I heard that after the rally last night a group of Hassidic Jews stopped there. At the same time, “equality tent” was built at the site of the camp that some extreme rightwing settlers tried to built, before being forced out by leftwing protesters [UPDATE: I just came back from the tents, the settlers are back, and there are constant verbal confrontations and even a bit of pushing and shoving between them and other protesters] . One should also note that among the speakers in the Tel Aviv rally was Palestinian author Udah Basharat, who spoke of land confiscation & discrimination, and mentioned the ongoing campaign against the village El-Araqib.

The J14 movement can go many ways – it can even bring Israel further to the right; it certainly won’t be the first time in history in which social unrest led to the rise of rightwing demagoguery – but right now, it is creating a space for a new conversation. Limited as this space may be, it’s so much more than we had just a month ago.


Between euphoria and anarchy: Tel Aviv’s revolutionary festival

Posted: August 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

A midnight walk through the Rothschild Boulevard protest camp

Tel Aviv – On the corner of Allenby Street and Rothschild Boulevard, a Jewish supremacists’ group is conducting fierce arguments with several bystanders. I am spotting former Kahane men, Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben Gvir, accompanied by “hilltop youth,” the radical settler teens, notorious for harassing Palestinians, who are now standing across the street from the busy pubs and food places, a bit bewildered, wearing tee-shirts saying “Tel Aviv is for Jews.” Rumors are that a couple of their tents were burned by leftists. While the older kids argue, the younger ones are standing in the back, staring at the night traffic at one of the city’s busiest junctions.

It is almost midnight. This part of the city is always packed on weekends, but right now it’s so crowded it’s practically impossible to walk. Around 400 tents are scattered along the boulevard. Hundreds of young Israelis are lying between them on mattresses and old furniture, drinking, smoking, playing music, talking with “tourists”—the unofficial name for the visitors to Israel’s first and largest social protest camp site—and mostly arguing about politics.

A hundred yards up, the boulevard is blocked by a large white structure made of plastic bars and fabric. A sign on it declares “revolution of love.” Inside a DJ playing loud trance music. Several dozen people are dancing around. Further up, the Divorced Fathers’ party is beginning their routine march. A short, emotional speaker calls into a megaphone: “I want to see my daughter. I want to take her to Rothschild Boulevard. She is calling to me “Daddy!’” as he screams the last word, the crown answers “Daddy!”

On the corner of Nahmani Street, I meet Yuval Ben Ami, Daniela Cheslow and a girl I don’t know, sitting on a bench.  Yuval is holding an acoustic guitar. He says he has never seen anything like it, admits that the atmosphere is too intense for him to even write about right now. He invites me to sit with them, but I prefer to continue. As I say my goodbyes, an elderly woman, dressed in black, approaches Yuval and asks him to play a song by Bob Dylan.

This is no longer about housing. The papers are discussing economical figures and social plans, but something very different is taking place on Rothschild Boulevard. It seems that everyone who has something to say came here, put up a tent and started shouting. The euphoria of the first few days of the struggle is still present, but the tension is rapidly building. People still play music and discuss politics, but many fear violence. I am told that the original group that started the protest doesn’t sleep in this tent camp anymore, after receiving threats to their lives.

Yet the camp seems to grow by the day. There are tents everywhere, and in between them stands and people handing leaflets in the middle of the night. There are tents for animals rights, for drafting the ultra-orthodox to the IDF (would you like to sign the petition?), tents built by the Communist party, tents for settling the north of Israel with Jews, a joint Jewish-Arab camp named “Tent 1948,” a tent of social workers dealing with disadvantaged youth (their services have been privatized, and they demand the state give them a formal contract), tents representing art students, a new-age circle of tents with the inevitable girl explaining about the power of inner peace to heal society, a small camp populated by physiology interns, and more, much more. In between, dozens of signs: “Bibi has sold us out”; “The market is free. Are you?”; “Tahrir, corner of Rothschild”; “we are non-political”; “Lock your doors, billionaires.”

What does it all mean? With every day that I visit this place, it seems less calling for political analysis and more for a novelist, or a Gonzo-style journo.

All around the country, the social protest goes on. Just today, there have been more demonstrations in Tel Aviv than in an average month. A parents’ march for free pre-school education; cab drivers blocked a major road in protest of the rising petrol prices; farmers protested against lowering the tariffs on dairy products; several thousands union people had a rally in front of their headquarter. There is a tent camp in almost every city; some of them are yet to be discovered by the media, like the Ethiopian Jews’ tent camp, half an hour from Tel Aviv. Someone visited them and tweeted: “They ask for water tanks, signs and a singer with a guitar.”

Some of these protest echo things we have seen before, and the main novelty is that they come all at once. But in some places, and most of all on Rothschild Boulevard, something else is going on. Over here, the political festival is getting wilder every evening. A couple of nights ago, Channel 2′s live panel from the Boulevard was heckled so badly, they had to cut the broadcast after half an hour. They will not be broadcasting from here anymore. Yesterday, Army Radio, which has been here for a week or so, was chased away. No policemen are in sight. Freedom is exciting, and scary.

“The donation box has been stolen!” someone is shouting over loud speakers. A small gathering of young students is discussing Saturday’s planned rally, while next to them a dozen hipsters are playing old songs on a laptop and dancing between two tents. Temperature is over 80 degrees Farenheit, and it’s incredibly humid. August is always a wild month in the city.

A couple of old men with long gray hair are sitting on a bench, smoking and smiling. There is a large Indian tent on the corner of Sheinkin Street. Next to it, a group of Breslov Hasidim are singing Hanukah songs to a tribal rhythm, and a large crowd joins them. On the other side, the divorced fathers are making their return tour; and right at the junction itself, on the road, a homeless junkie has turned a large garbage bin upside down and is looking through the trash for cigarettes while the cars honk as they maneuver around him. “I want to take my daughter to Rothschild Boulevard,” calls the leader of the divorced fathers’ march. “I want to show her how to build a tent. ‘Daddy!!!

The homeless guy lifts an empty water bottle in the air. “Daddy!” he answers.


J Post apologizes for editorial following Norway attack

Posted: August 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Right | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

It took them almost two weeks, but the Jerusalem Post finally apologized for the crazy editorial in which the paper called upon its readers to use the opportunity created by Anders Brievik’s terror attack to discuss Europe’s immigration policies.

Perhaps Brievik’s inexcusable act of vicious terror should serve not only as a warning that there may be more elements on the extreme Right willing to use violence to further their goals, but also as an opportunity to seriously reevaluate policies for immigrant integration in Norway and elsewhere.

Better late than never, I guess. Still, even in this apology there is an interesting passage in which the Post struggle to deal with Brievik’s passionate endorsement of Zionism, and of some of the radical rightwing positions expressed by the Post’s own writers (He even cited deputy-editor Caroline Glick):

As Senior Contributing Editor Caroline B. Glick suggested in her column last Friday, the fact that Breivik’s warped mind cited a group of conservative thinkers including herself as having influenced his thinking in no way reflects on them.

“As a rule, liberal democracies reject the resort to violence as a means of winning an argument. This is why, for liberal democracies, terrorism in all forms is absolutely unacceptable,” she wrote. “Whether or not one agrees with the ideological self-justifications of a terrorist, as a member of a liberal democratic society, one is expected to abhor his act of terrorism. Because by resorting to violence to achieve his aims, the terrorist is acting in a manner that fundamentally undermines the liberal democratic order.”

It later emerged that Breivik, a Christian radical, had posted on the Internet an extremely anti-Muslim manifesto that supported far-right nationalism and Zionism.

He apparently feared that a “Muslim colonization” of Europe would destroy Norway.

As Always, wise words from Glick. I am sure she applies the same standards when it’s necessary to separate Islam, for example, from the positions endorsed by certain terrorists. Or to tell the difference between support for the people of Gaza from endorsement of military actions taken by Hamas.   I am positive that in such cases Glick shows the same restraint she now preaches for.


Knesset bill would formalize second-class status for Arab citizens

Posted: August 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

New Knesset bill aims to have “Jewish nature” of state preferred over democracy, cancel official status of Arabic, and have Jewish law “guide” courts’ rulings

There is one talking point repeated in every hasbara (the Hebrew term for state sponsored propaganda) talk given by an Israeli representative, or in every booklet your campus’ Jewish Agency representative might hand you. It has to do with “the full rights” of Palestinian citizens in Israel, including the status of Arabic as an official language, and the equality of all Israeli citizens under the law. This is the heart of “the only democracy in the Middle East” claim.

Those who are familiar with Israeli society, know that Arab citizens are discriminated against in many ways: Some of these ways are formal—like the new bill allowing segregated communities; the law against family unification of Arab citizens; the absentees’ property laws, and more—while other are a matter of practice, such as the fact that some government agencies won”t hire Arabs, or the that the courts mete out harsher sentences to Arab citizens convicted of the same crimes as Jewish citizens.

Yet a new bill, signed by members of opposition and coalition alike, aims to strip Israel even of the appearance of democracy. If passed (it has a fair chance), this law will determine that in any case of contradiction between democratic values and the Jewish nature of the state, the Jewish element will prevail. More specifically, the bill aims to cancel the status of Arabic as  one of Israel’s two official languages; it orders the state to develop communities for Jews only; and in a passage that seems to be taken from the Iranian constitution, declares that when there is no law referring to a certain case, courts should rule in the spirit of halakha, or Jewish religious jurisprudence.

Haaretz reports:

The bill, initiated by MKs Avi Dichter (Kadima ), Zeev Elkin (Likud ) and David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), and supported by 20 of the 28 Kadima MKs, would make democratic rule subservient to the state’s definition as “the national home for the Jewish people.”

The legislation, a private member’s bill, won support from Labor, Atzamaut, Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union lawmakers.

Sources at the Knesset say the law currently has broad support, and they believe it will be passed during the Knesset’s winter session.

The bill is meant to pass a “basic law”—Israel’s substitute for a constitution—and will require a special majority to change it in the future.

People were concerned about the Boycott Law, which aimed to eliminate one of the most well known methods of opposition to the occupation, or by the Nakba Law, which prohibits certain institutions from marking the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. But this new bill takes the game to a whole new level, by formally making 20 percent of Israel’s citizens—a native population that predates the state—as second class  citizens. They won’t be segregated in the way blacks were in the South or in South Africa (yet?), but Israel won’t even pretend to be their state anymore, and they will have even fewer rights than Jewish citizens. Israel will truly become, to use a phrase by Ahmad Tibi, “a Jewish democracy: Democracy for Jews and a Jewish state for everyone else.”

What will the hasbara army do then?


Tent protest in polls: One big unhappy middle class

Posted: August 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Recently published polls regarding the social protest reveal potential for major political changes in Israel, though not necessarily immediate ones

The Tent Protest has been dominating the news cycle in Israel for two weeks, and now there are also a couple of interesting polls regarding its possible political impact.

While it would be unwise to try and predict what sort of effect these unprecedented demonstrations will have on Israeli politics, the polls do confirm some of the hunches we had in the last three weeks, and most notably, a potential for far-reaching changes in the political system in the years to come.

-    The support for the protest crosses sectors and party lines. According to Channel 10′s poll conducted on Monday, 88 percent of Israelis support the protest. The middle class parties lead the way: 98 percent of Kadima voters (!), 95 percent of Labor’s and even 85 percent of Netanyahu’s Likud voters find the protest just. Even if these figures dropped in the last couple of days—which had some fractions and public disputes in the protest movement—they are still exceptionally high.

-    The attempts to discredit the protest have mostly failed. Government spokesperson and rightwing organizations tried to tie the protest to left wing movements, claiming that it is a politically-motivated move aimed personally against PM Netanyahu. Still, 74 percent of the public think that the protest is a genuine one, and only 22 percent find it to be politically motivated.

-    The hard right is the only group not identifying with the protest. Half of Shas’ voters and most of those voting for the settlers’ parties think the protest is politically motivated. Voters of those parties are more inclined to oppose the protest than any other group. I believe that these groups sense that the protest might challenge the dominant political arrangements in Israel – ones with benefit the settlers and the religious parties.

-   The protesters reject the major opposition and the coalition parties alike. I wouldn’t take the headline of the Globes-Jerusalem Post’s poll—about a possible social party winning 20 seats in the coming elections—too seriously. There is a long time until the elections and it’s impossible to know which issues will dominate the campaign. Still, it’s very interesting to see where these 20 seats (roughly 16 percent of the votes) come from: 4-5 seats from Kadima, 2-3 seats from Likud, 2-3 seats from Labor, and some more votes from Meretz and undecided voters. The Arab parties and the extreme right are not hurt by the protest.

Those figures match the Channel 10 poll – it’s the middle class the supports the protest more than any other group, and it’s the parties on the center and left of the political map which voters are unhappy with. This is good news for those (like me) who think that Kadima and Labor cannot promote progressive agenda. It seems that many of those parties’ voters are giving up hope on them as well.

-    The best option for the government is to negotiate with protesters and possibly try to co-opt them. According to the Jerusalem Post, 45 percent of the public thinks that the protesters should negotiate with the government to try to obtain their demands, 29 percent said the demonstrations should go on in their current format. If the government looks serious enough, it could cut the popular support for the demonstrations by two thirds.

To sum it up, all figures point to a unique phenomenon: the secular middle class – usually the backbone of society—is unsatisfied with the political and economical trends, and more important, with the entire political system (usually it’s the other way around – the more you move to the edges of the system, the less satisfied people there are). Under these circumstances, the potential for major political changes—though not necessarily immediate ones—is enormous.


The real importance of the tent protest

Posted: July 31st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Last week, my colleagues Joseph Dana and Mairav Zonszein reported about the harsh treatment some of protesters got from the hand of the police following the previous social justice rally in Tel Aviv. While I don’t ignore the importance of such incidents, they might make one miss the essence of the tent protest.

Unlike in Syria or Libya, where dictators slaughter their own citizens by the hundreds, it was never oppression that held the social order in Israel together, as far as the Jewish society was concerned. It was indoctrination – a dominant ideology, to use a term preferred by critical theorists. And it was this cultural order that was dented in this round of protests. For the first time, a major part of the Jewish middle class—it’s too early to estimate how large is this group—recognized their problem not with other Israelis, or with the Arabs, or with a certain politician, but with the entire social order. With the entire system. In this sense, it’s a unique event in Israel’s history.

This is why this protest has such tremendous potential. This is also the reason that we shouldn’t just watch for the immediate political fallout—I don’t think we will see the government fall any time soon—but for the long term consequences, the undercurrent, which is sure to arrive.


Jerusalem Post “clarifies” crazy Sunday editorial

Posted: July 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Comments Off

Have you ever seen an editor in-chief attempt to explain what his newspaper actually meant in its editorial? After calling readers to use Andreas Behring Brievik’s horrific terror attack as an opportunity to discuss the failure of multiculturalism and integration, the Jerusalem Post added the following paragraph to the online version of the text:

The editor-in-chief adds: As a newspaper, The Jerusalem Post strongly denounces all acts of violence against innocent civilians. This editorial is not aimed at deflecting attention from the horrific massacre perpetuated in Norway, nor the need to take greater precautions against extremists from all sides.

Oh, that’s what you meant. For a minute there we thought…


Brievik couldn’t have said it better: Jpost wants us to use Oslo attack to reevaluate immigration policy

Posted: July 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

Is it only me that find this quote particularity sick? This is from the Jerusalem Post’s editorial, no less (my bold):

Perhaps Brievik’s inexcusable act of vicious terror should serve not only as a warning that there may be more elements on the extreme Right willing to use violence to further their goals, but also as an opportunity to seriously reevaluate policies for immigrant integration in Norway and elsewhere.

If you can stand it, read the rest here.