Hanin Zoabi and Israel’s point of no return

Posted: January 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

Some more thoughts of the “death of democracy” scenario that might take place in the next elections

Susan Hattis Rolef has a piece in the Jerusalem Post dealing with the same issue I wrote about yesterday: the expected ban on MK Hanin Zoabi – and perhaps Balad and Raam-Taal parties as well – from participating in the next elections.

Hattis-Rolef seems to agree with me that this is a likely scenario, at least in the case of a personal disqualification of MK Zoabi.

There is no doubt that as elections for the 19th Knesset approach, right-wing parties will renew efforts to have Balad disqualified on the grounds that the party advocates turning Israel into “a state of all its citizens” – something they say essentially denies its existence as the state of the Jewish people. They also say Balad maintains contact with organizations that are defined in Israel as terrorist organizations.

In the past, the High Court of Justice has overturned Central Elections Committee decisions to disqualify Balad, but the last time the court ruled on this issue, it stated that Balad’s positions were problematic, implying that the party is walking on very thin legal ice. With the High Court’s more conservative makeup, and especially the approaching retirement of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, it is quite likely that next time the court will uphold a committee decision to disqualify Balad.

To that we can add that the 2009 ruling on Balad was a split decision, with Justice Levi arguing that the party should not be allowed to participate in the elections. It should also be noted that the law regarding these issues is very vague and broad, so if the court choses to do so, it could easily ban all Arab parties (and not just them). This is also from Hattis-Rolef:

According to The Immunity of Knesset Members, their Rights and Duties Law, MKs enjoy full immunity for any act they perform within the framework of their parliamentary work. There are four exceptions to this rule: the act involves denying the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People; it denies its nature as a democratic state; it incites to racism based on race or national-ethnic origin or supports the armed struggle of an enemy state or terrorist acts against the State of Israel, or for such acts against Jews or Arabs because they are Jews or Arabs, in Israel and abroad.

Incidentally these are also the four grounds for disqualifying parties from running for the Knesset.

Currently, three parties – Hadash, Balad and Raam-Taal – are calling for “a state for all its citizens” model in Israel, so essentially, they could be seen as violating the first article in the law (opposing the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People). One could also claim that some religious and rightwing MKs incite to racism or deny the democratic nature of the state. Yet it all comes down to the fact that the decision won’t be a legal but a political one, and since the right enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Knesset and the Supreme Court is more conservative than ever, the effort to limit the political representation of Arab citizens is highly likely to succeed.

If I had to bet on it, I would say that in the current atmosphere Zoabi is likely to be disqualified; the ruling on her party Balad, can go each way; and Raam-Taal will be banned by the Central Elections Committee but later allowed to run by the Court. Such rulings will also increase the court’s tendency to search for “middle grounds” that would please the Jewish elites.

[Needless to say, I personally find all of Balad's known positions and actions, including Zoabi's, perfectly legitimate, even if I don't agree or support them all.]

In such an event, we will be faced with the following dilemmas:

-    Should Balad participate in the elections if MK Zoabi is expelled from the Knesset?

-    Should other Arab or left parties participate in the elections if MK Zoabi or Balad are disqualified?

-    Should Arab citizens of Israel vote in elections in which their representatives – or at least some of them – are not allowed to participate for political reasons?

Since a general boycott of the elections by the Arabs would have grave consequences on the national conversation – it would surly help promote Lieberman’s plan to transfer the Palestinians to the future Palestinian “state” – and since there is no hope of ever forming a center-left coalition in Israel without a strong showing by the Arab parties, I believe that the Zoabi-Balad case might turn out to be one of Israel’s most critical moments of truth.


2012: The year democracy ends

Posted: January 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: elections, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

A not-so-crazy speculation for the new year: A date for new elections will be set; at least one major Arab party won’t be allowed to participate in them, resulting in a call for boycott in the Palestinian public and the Jewish left. With the Arabs out of the Knesset, the right will enjoy a much bigger majority, forever

If you leave out the West Bank, Israel is still a functioning democracy. New bills are threatening freedom of speech, minorities’ rights are not defended and specific laws targeting non-Jews effectively make them second class-citizens.

But still, the core elements of a functioning democracy – most notably political representation of all citizens – are still there.

Yet even this somewhat flawed system could disappear this year.

The common wisdom in the Israeli political system is that a new date for early elections – later this year or in the first half of 2013 – will be set in the coming months. Some claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like to hold general elections in Israel before November 2012, because the prospect of Barack Obama winning another term might hurt the Israeli premier in the polls. Others cite the police investigation against Avigdor Lieberman as a reason.

According to the Israeli system, the Central Elections Committee has the right to forbid parties who support terrorism, racism or oppose democracy from participating in the elections. But the committee is a political body, composed of Members of Knesset, and is currently controlled by the right. In the past, it has tried to use this article in the law for political purposes, but has failed. This time it may succeed.

It is very likely that the Central Elections Committee may ban the two major Arab parties, Balad and Raam-Taal, from participating in the elections. Given the public hostility to Balad, and especially to its MK Hanin Zoabi, letting Balad participate would be a huge surprise.

The Central Elections Committee has already disqualified Balad and Raam-Taal from participating in the last elections, when the public sphere was much more tolerant. In Balad’s case, even representatives of Labor supported the decision.

As expected, the Supreme Court overruled the Central Election Committee’s decision and allowed the two Arab parties to take part in the 2009 elections that brought Netanyahu into power (same thing happened in 2003). Balad won three seats and Raam-Taal four. One could even argue that members of the Knesset knew in advance what the Court’s ruling would be.

The public atmosphere in Israel has changed, and so has the Supreme Court, which is more conservative than it has been in the last couple of decades. If faced with a similar scenario in the next elections, I believe that is very likely that the court will not overrule a Knesset decision to disqualify Balad and perhaps even Raam-Taal.

The result would almost certainly be a call for all Palestinian citizens to boycott the elections. And to be honest, I am not sure that any Jewish progressive should participate in an election in which the ruling coalition bans opposition parties. Arab parties that would be allowed to run – if there are such – would be faced with a major problem, as would Jewish democrats – the few that are left.

Historically, the dilemma whether to boycott elections or leave the parliament in protest of anti-democratic laws has always been a major crossroad on the way to authoritarian regimes.

Low Arab turnout, and perhaps even full non-participation, would hand the right a landslide victory in the elections (the left has not won a majority in the Jewish public since 1973, and currently it is far from it, even with the Arab vote). Such events would surely benefit Avigdor Lieberman, by framing the elections around the Palestinian citizens. Lieberman’s racist proposals surrounding the issue could attract many new voters to his party.

The 19th Knesset will be much more rightwing then the current one. More importantly, Israel won’t be able to go on claiming that it respects minority rights after forcing their representatives out of the Knesset. The left will be torn apart and the Palestinian minority will be forever alienated.

And from there it will all go downhill.


High Court allows Israel to mine Palestinian Territories

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

In rejecting a petition regarding Israeli-owned quarries in the West Bank, the court rules that they benefit the Palestinians as well

Who owns and is allowed to use the sand and rocks of the West Bank? This question was at the center of a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice, submitted by Israeli human rights NGO Yesh Din in 2009. Yesh Din asked the court to stop the operations of eight quarries under Israeli ownership, claming that they take away valuable resources from the Palestinian people and from a future Palestinian state.

Some 94 percent of the materials produced in the Israeli quarries in the West Bank is transported to Israel, accounting for the needs of more than a quarter of the market.

The petition relied on an article in the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907, allowing an occupier to use the resources in the occupied land only for the needs and benefits of the occupied people.

Art. 55. The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct.

Yesterday (Monday) the Israeli High Court rejected the petition, allowing the quarries to continue their work.

Here is a link to the full ruling [Hebrew only]

Some of the arguments the court gives are very strange, if not entirely corrupt: The court accepts, for example, the claim that since Palestinians are employed in mining work for the Israeli companies who own the quarries, one could say that Israel is actually helping the local economy. It also notes the fact that the quarries pay (low) taxes to the army’s administrative authority in the West Bank, which uses the money for its daily operations in the area.

In other words, the quarries not only take advantage of the the Palestinians’ natural resources, they are also used to cover the expenses of maintaining the occupation, which makes them even more profitable for Israel.

The court also cites previous cases, in which it declared the circumstances of the Israeli occupation “unique,” in a way that demands certain “adjustments” to the rights and duties of the occupiers. What is the reason for this unique situation? Among other things, that the Israeli occupation has been going on for so long. Israel, the court says, “is responsible for the development and growth of the area, in various ways” (article 10 in the ruling). Only in the Orwellian language of the occupation can developing the area be interpreted to mean profits through the shipping of its natural resources to Israel.

Addressing these arguments, Attorney Michael Sfard, legal advisor for Yes Din, said of the ruling, “Quarrying natural resources in an occupied territory for the economic benefit of the occupying state is pillage, and the court’s reasoning that a long-term occupation should be treated differently cannot legalize an economic activity that harms the local residents.”

Finally, the verdict also quotes the fact that in the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians agreed to let the quarries operate until the final agreement on the status of the land. The court fails to mention that the final agreement should have been signed, according to the Oslo Accords, by 1999. Still, this rationale demonstrates the destructive role the Palestinian Authority currently plays by allowing Israel to avoid the full legal implications and political consequences of its policies in the territories it occupied in 1967.

The Court concludes that the petition should be rejected for the reasons above, in addition to a few others. The head of the court, Dorit Beinisch, wrote the ruling herself. It was accepted unanimously by the two other justices hearing the case.

————

The Israeli High Court is often praised as a liberal institution and a unique model of judicial supervision in the toughest of circumstances. The Court has in fact registered some achievements in Israeli society and even with regards to the Arab minority of Israeli citizens, but in the West Bank and Gaza, it has done nothing but provide Israel with a cover of legitimacy for its activities.

The High Court’s track record is very clear: It never questions or stops Israeli policies. At best, it asks for some adjustments to be made.

In the late seventies, the High Court approved the settlements, only adding limits to the State’s ability to confiscate private land belonging to Palestinian individuals; a decade later, the court sanctioned torture (but also issued some vague rules over the circumstances in which it could be used); it allowed targeted assassinations; and it approved the construction of the separation wall deep inside Palestinian territory, only demanding it be moved it in a few cases.

In short, the High Court has never been a venue to challenge the occupation, but quite the opposite – it is one of the branches that institutionalized it, by setting rules and providing a legal cover to colonial policies, for political persecution and for oppression. One can only conclude that in the context of the West Bank, the High Court has been and still is a fundamental element in the construction and maintenance of what is, in essence, apartheid.


(Another) Knesset Speaker endorses one-state solution

Posted: December 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

Former Knesset Speaker Abrum Burg has an op-ed in Haaretz in which he not only endorses the one-state solution, but calls the entire left to do the same. Burg has flirted with the idea in the past, but he was never so explicit:

So enough of the illusions. There are no longer two states between the Jordan River and the sea… we [the left] must consider how we can enter into the new Israeli discourse. It has intriguing potential. The next diplomatic formula that will replace the “two states for two peoples” will be a civilian formula. All the people between the Jordan and the sea have the same right to equality, justice and freedom. In other words, there is a very reasonable chance that there will be only one state between the Jordan and the sea – neither ours nor theirs but a mutual one. It is likely to be a country with nationalist, racist and religious discrimination and one that is patently not democratic, like the one that exists today. But it could be something entirely different. An entity with a common basis for at least three players: an ideological right that is prepared to examine its feasibility; a left, part of which is starting to free itself of the illusions of “Jewish and democratic”; and a not inconsiderable part of the Palestinian intelligentsia.

The conceptual framework will be agreed upon – a democratic state that belongs to all of its citizens. The practicable substance could be fertile ground for arguments and creativity. This is an opportunity worth taking, despite our grand experience of missing every opportunity and accusing everyone else except ourselves.

The rest of the article is interesting as well; Burg writes against the habit of Jewish leftists to argue on behalf of the state and even the government abroad, thus helping the right carry out its policies undisturbed: “Let the right-wing MKs, the Katzes and the Elkins, travel around the world and show the beauty of their faces without the deceptive layer of makeup we  provided.”

A year ago, asked by +972 whether it’s time to move from a two-state vision to a one-state model, Burg said:

In Israel, there is a real fear of confrontation with the armed messianic forces living among us. Anyway our government policies are drawn from the power of the settler vision. It seems that the only way to balance this is an alternative suggestion of one state between the Jordan and the sea.  Secular, democratic, egalitarian and civilian.

It looks like recent developments and the expansionist policies of the current government have convinced Burg that it’s time to join the growing one state camp.

It’s interesting to note that the current Knesset Speaker, Reuven Rivlin (Likud), a rightwing hawk, also prefers a single state to two, arguing that “this land is not divisible.” Rivlin doesn’t support the “one person, one vote” model Burg is referring to, but mulls over what seems like a multi-national entity, possibly with two parliaments.

This is from an interview I did with Rivlin a year and a half ago:

“There is a conflict in the Middle East between two entities, and they’re both right, each in their own way. This is our only home, and therefore all kinds of solutions can be found. One could establish a system in one state in which Judea and Samaria are jointly held. The Jews would vote for a Jewish parliament and the Palestinians for an Arab parliament, and we would create a system in which life is shared. But these are things that will take time. Anyone who thinks that there are shortcuts is talking nonsense. As long as Islamic fundamentalism thinks that Jews are forbidden to settle in the Holy Land, we have a problem. It will not be resolved by an agreement, even if we obtain a promise from all the Arab states that it will be fine.

“So if people say to me: Decide − one state or division of the Land of Israel, I say that division is the bigger danger.

Who’s next in line?


The undeniable Palestinian right to resist occupation

Posted: December 21st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, unarmed protest | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off
Slingshot found on Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi (photo: IDF Spokesperson)

Following the killing of Mustafa Tamimi in his village Nabi Saleh, Spokesperson for the IDF presented pictures of a slingshot Tamimi had on him when he was brought to the hospital. This was to be the indicting evidence that the protester was taking part in hostile action against the army – i.e. throwing stones – and therefore responsible for his own death.

Only in the context of the occupation can throwing stones at a bullet-proof army jeep be seen as an offense deserving the death penalty, carried out on the spot (clearly, the soldiers weren’t acting in self-defense). Furthermore, as recent attacks by settlers on soldiers – including a brick thrown from close range on the IDF regional commander – demonstrated, the army’s treatment of Jews is very different (to be clear, I don’t call for shooting Jewish stone-throwers either). But there is a larger issue here, concerning the whole notion of “legitimate” resistance to the occupation.

Facts and context are important: Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza more than 44 years ago. Since then, the Palestinians have been under military occupation, which denies their basic human and civil rights. The Palestinians can’t vote. They are tried in military court, where the conviction rate is astonishing. They don’t enjoy due process. Their property rights are limited, and their lands – including private lands – are regularly seized by Israel. All this is well-known and well-documented.

As far as Israel is concerned, this situation can go on forever. Israel is not attempting to leave the West Bank – it actually strengthens its hold on the territory – and it doesn’t plan to give the Palestinians equal rights within the state of Israel.

The Palestinians therefore have a moral right to resist the occupation. It’s as simple as that.

——————

Asked how what form of protest against the occupation Israel can allow, Peter Lerner of the IDF spokesperson unit wrote this tweet:

To start, this is simply a lie. Israel doesn’t allow any form of protest in the West Bank (well, except for settler protest). Military law demands IDF permission for any demonstration of more than 10 people. The IDF regularly declares the villages of Nabi Saleh, Bil’in and Ni’lin, where protests take place, as Closed Military Zones, and it charges Israelis who attempt to join those demonstrations with violating of this order. Palestinian protest organizers are tried for long prison terms in military courts.

But more important, the kinds of protest Major Lerner is suggesting are effective under civilian authority, not under military control. Major Lerner is part of Israel’s media war for the hearts and minds of Westerners, and the answer he gives is something that people in democracies can identify with. But this is not the situation in the occupied territories: For all Israel cares the Palestinians can have sit-ins and rallies until second coming; it wouldn’t affect Israeli policy one bit. It is worth remembering that in the two decades following 1967, strikes, rallies and general assemblies were the main protest methods in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel used these years of relative calm to introduce its massive settlement project. The only thing that made Israelis notice the Palestinians and start seriously discussing their rights is the the first Intifada.

In recent years, it seems that the West’s favorite sport is to tell the Palestinians what constitutes a “legitimate” way to fight for their rights, and what doesn’t – as if the Palestinians were full members of society and not subject to a form of control that Amira Hass rightly calls “Israeli dictatorship.” Nobody would denounce Egyptian or Tibetan protesters for such acts, but reports of unarmed Palestinian resistance are usually met with Israel claiming evidence of Palestinian “violence” – mostly stones thrown at soldiers, with the occasional Molotov cocktail. As if those could justify the occupation, while in reality they are the reaction to it.

The same goes for those organizations and Israeli propaganda units specializing in the hunt for “Palestinian incitement.” Any suggestions of the Palestinians not  viewing IDF soldiers in a positive light is presented as proof of the fact that “they are not ready” to enjoy their rights to justice, freedom and dignity – as if those are someone’s to give. What is the meaning of the word “rights,” if they can be denied collectively for half a century? Is freedom a trophy you need to win from your oppressor? What do people expect of a prisoner to think of his or her guards? Good relations and understanding can be built after the resolution of the occupation – not in the midst of it. Yet Palestinians are expected by the world not only to live under Israeli military control, but also to like Israelis.

Strange as it may seem, even critics of Israel repeat such demands, or ask, “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?,” as though a failure to present one means that Palestinian demands are not to be taken seriously.

By the way, the Palestinians have their share of Gandhis - you can find them in Israeli prisons.

I oppose violence, in whatever form. More than anything, I oppose violence against civilians. I think that the Palestinian choice of unarmed resistance and of civil society campaigns against the occupation is both wise and heroic. But the real violence is the occupation, and all its victims are civilians.

It is not for Israel to tell Palestinians how to resist our occupation.


The strategic use of the “anti-Israeli” label in US politics

Posted: December 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Republicans recognize Israel as one of their most powerful tools in the coming elections. Liberals, and especially Jews, shouldn’t fall for this trap

No doubt, American election year is officially here. Two democratic organizations – Center for American Progress (CAP) and Media Matters – are under attack. The charge: anti-Semitism, no less. In a story on Politico, Ben Smith reported on “a rift in the Democratic Party” because of “anti-Israeli” positions expressed by some of CAP and Media Matters staffers. The Washington Post’s neo-con blogger Jenifer Rubin clarified: “These views are not merely anti-Israel, they are anti-Semitic.”

I don’t normally write on the beltway’s inside baseball on this blog, and I wouldn’t have addressed this issue if I didn’t personally know a couple of the people at the center of the Politico story. I consider Matt Duss and Ali Gharib of CAP friends, which would not be the case if they had any hint of anti-Semitism in them. In fact, in all my conversations with Matt and Ali – including those involving too many beers and therefore, less constraints – I don’t remember any one of them referring to the Jewish people in a generalizing political context. I also never heard from them any of those inflammatory statements about Israelis that one sometimes hears in progressive circles.

I haven’t read everything Matt or Ali wrote – they are both very productive people – but I always got the impression that their writing was about Israeli policies. I don’t remember hearing from them or reading anything they wrote that you couldn’t find in the political conversation inside Israel. But even the limited debate taking place in Israel seems rational and open-minded compared to what’s going on in Washington right now.

We should nevertheless remember the context of  the attacks on CAP and Media Matters. The Republicans have singled out Israel as an issue where they have an absolute advantage over the Democrats – all over the field.

For start, Israel is one of those few topics that can bring together the big business republicans, social conservatives and the neo-cons. Unquestioning support of Israeli policies is also a legitimate way to tap into the growing Islamophobia in American society; but most importantly, it splits the Democratic party into two, and hurts the president at the heart of his political base – Jewish liberals, who overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008. Hitting them with ridiculous talking points about the administration that “betrayed” Israel - when it’s clear that Obama’s policies are is no different then those of previous presidents - or spreading half-baked stories of progressives who are “supportive of Hamas” might not get those Jews to vote for Rick Perry, but it could sure drive away a lot of their political energy, and cast some doubts about “their guy” in the White House. In a close election, that might be all you need.

What troubles me the most right now is that Israel is not a foreign policy issue anymore, but an internal topic in the American culture war. Israel is the only spot on the political map where people like Abe Foxman or Elie Wiesel can find common language with evangelical politicians and neo-con writers – a fact that turns it into a powerful and dangerous tool. Even more than in the case of abortions or health care, the debate on Israel in the US is completely mythical, and has nothing to do with the facts on the ground. Sometimes the loudest “pro-Israeli” politicians are so ignorant of the situation here, that they make absurd statements (Herman Cain for a Palestinian Right of Return?); in other cases, they retreat from long-standing American principles – like the opposition to the settlements, including in East Jerusalem – and at times, conveniently forget their own actions and statements.

Who cares if ending the occupation is the ultimate Israeli interest, and the only way to avoid a South African-style collapse? Nothing matters in the crazy rush to the right, which often ends with American politicians taking positions that are more hard-line than those of the government in Jerusalem, improbable as it that seem with Netanyahu and Lieberman running the show. Want to score some easy points? All you need to do is to throw around the code word “Israel”, dip it in a sauce of anti-Semitism, and watch as the liberals go at each other’s throats.

The solution to this problem is clear: instead of running for cover, Democrats should draw a line in the sand against the cynical use of those charges; otherwise they are likely to come up again and again, targeting more and more people. After all, it’s not a coincidence that some American conservatives and current Israeli legislators share an admiration for one Joseph MaCarthy.

The sad thing is that Jews fall for this trap too easily. Just like the misguided ad Elie Wiesel published after the administration criticized Israel for provocative construction projects in the Palestinian parts of Jerusalem, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which should be the first to worry about the widespread use of allegations of anti-Semitism as a political tool – something which in the longer run renders the term meaningless -  joined the charge on CAP.

Wiesel and the people at the Wiesenthal Center should know better. The rightwing bloggers or the republicans in Congress have no real interest in Israel. It’s just good politics for them. They all push for an attack in Iran, but I don’t think we will see them in the bomb shelters in Tel Aviv when missiles start falling. Just like we are yet to hear from Jenifer Rubin, who recently fell in love with the settlers, about her vision for a solution to the Palestinian issue – one that  extends beyond the ethnic cleansing that Mike Huckabee seems to advocate.

Unlike those political opportunists, Matt Duss and Ali Gahrib are extremely knowledgeable of the situation in the region, and of the dangers in maintaining the current status quo. Not only are they not “anti” – whatever such labels mean when discussing policies – they hold a genuine, deep concern for the future of this place and all those living in it. What I often hear from them is frustration – about the misguided actions of Israeli and American politicians, which might bring disaster on Israelis and Palestinians alike.

It is a feeling I share with them.


Jewish Student Union in Berkeley boycotts J Street

Posted: December 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

The isolation of J Street and other Jewish groups that are critical of Israeli policies is evidence of a growing moral crisis in the American Jewish community

This post was updated.

A couple of years ago, while spending some time in the States, I was invited to a dinner at a Jewish friend’s home. “Just one thing,” my friend, a smart liberal lefty, said. “Don’t mention Israel by the table. The inevitable argument will ruin the evening.”

This, and a few similar experiences, led me to offer my editors in Haaretz a story about the Jewish community’s “Israel problem,” i.e., the inability to engage in a serious discussion about Israel. The working title we gave the piece was “Israel – not at the dinner table.” It was published almost year ago, and since then, things seem to have gotten worse.

Last week, the University of Berkeley’s Jewish Student Union rejected a request by J Street to join. This was the first time a Jewish chapter was denied membership in the union. Jacob Lewis, one of the leaders of the opposition to J Street at the Student Union, told San Francisco’s J Weekly that he has been suspicious J Street ever since he attended an event in which the group hosted Assaf Sharon of the Sheikh Jarrah Movement as a speaker. Sharon said that “everything beyond the Green Line is a settlement,” and Lewis concluded that this was “a virulently hateful event about Israel.”

I wonder if Lewis is not that knowledgeable on politics, or if he has joined the war on reality that some advocates for Israel have recently declared. What would you call construction projects east of the Green Line if not “settlements?” And it’s not just Assaf Sharon stating this position, but also every U.S. Administration to date.

The fact is that by Israeli political standards – which have seen a dramatic shift to the right in recent years – J Street’s positions are part of the mainstream. But even the very limited debate that is taking place in Israel seems to be too “radical” for the taste of many Jewish Americans these days (And also for the taste of many Americans. Prime Minister Rabin used to say that the occupation fuels hatred for Israel and for Jews, but repeat this in Washington today and your career might be in danger.)

Still, how could we blame 20-year-old Lewis, if the leaders of his community are too afraid to engage in those questions? Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, executive director of Hillel Berkeley, which funds the Jewish Student Union, wasn’t present at the vote on J Street, and his comments on the matter to J Week were so careful that you need another Rabbi to explain what he meant:

“We have to be very careful in how we talk about Israel and how we define our tent, because the stability and strength of Israel’s future is dependent on the strength of our Jewish community, and by that I mean every facet of our community. We always have to be careful about who we include and exclude.”

If this is all the Rabbi has to say to his students in one of their most important political decisions ever, why do you need a Rabbi at Hillel? And if students are not encouraged to deal with new – and even “radical” – positions when they are in their early twenties, what hope there is of developing a new generation of sensitive, smart and sophisticated leaders?

The debate regarding Israel is probably the greatest moral challenge this generation of Jews will face, and so far, things don’t look very good. In my last visit to the States, I got the sense that many Jews, especially from the liberal side, prefer to walk away from this problem altogether (something which is in direct contradiction to the growing interest non-Jewish liberals find in the Middle East, and in Israel/Palestine in particular). I was repeatedly told of Rabbis who wouldn’t host events on Israel, fearing that the internal debate they would spark would get out of control to a point that would endanger their own position.

The question of J Street in Berkeley is not very important for future political developments in Israel and Palestine. The resistance to the occupation will continue and the pressure on Israel is likely to grow – not because of J Street or anything else American Jews will or won’t do, but due to the simple fact that Palestinians will continue to fight for their rights as long as Israel denies them. What’s at stake in Berkeley – and in many other places all across America – is the moral integrity of the Jewish community, and its ability to examine conflicting values.

I am not a big fan of some of J street’s latest positions (which I have criticized) and still, one has to admit that J Street is trying to offer a space to engage with those issues in a way that goes beyond echoing Israeli talking points. The isolation of J Street, and other progressive Jewish groups is further evidence of the spiritual and moral crisis into which the Jewish community is sinking.

UPDATE: It seems that some people in Berkeley Hillel, including Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, regret not voicing a stronger opinion before the vote on J Street at the JSU. Rabbi Naftalin-Kelman and Barbara Davis, President of the Board of Directors of Berkeley Hillel, have sent this letter to the J Weekly (it is yet to be published):

Dear Editor

Berkeley Hillel is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State with secure and recognized borders and as a member of the family of free nations.  Berkeley Hillel supports a range of student groups whose activities advance our mission.  The JStreetU chapter adheres to our Israel policy and Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines and will receive the support of Berkeley Hillel as do the broad spectrum of other Israel-focused groups working with Berkeley Hillel including, Bears for Israel (AIPAC group), Tikvah: Students for Israel,  Israel Action Committee, Tamid, and Kesher Enoshi.

We respect the right of the Jewish Student Union, an organization sponsored by UC Berkeley student government, to make its own decisions, but we encourage JSU to reconsider its vote and include JStreetU as a member.

Berkeley Hillel is committed to creating a pluralistic community that embraces the diversity of our Jewish tradition.  In honoring the spirit of college students, we work to guide, mentor, and facilitate their unique Jewish expression. At a time when Jewish students are seeking community, we are careful not to exclude Jewish students, and we embrace the wisdom of our namesake Hillel by embodying the value of an inclusive community.

Barbara Davis
Board President on Behalf of the Board of Directors of Berkeley Hillel
Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman
Executive Director

As I said, I have a feeling we will witness many more such cases in the months and years to come.

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Further reading on this issue:
Bradley Burston in Haaretz: When Jews in Berkeley vote to cut support for Israel


France calls jailed Palestinian activist ‘human rights defender’

Posted: December 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, unarmed protest | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

In a letter to the French-Palestine Solidarity Association, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé slams Israel for arresting and trying Bassem Tamimi in military court. Mr. Juppé states that “an official demarche has recently been delivered on his behalf to the Israeli authorities by the chief representative of the European Union delegation in Tel Aviv”

Bassem Tamimi at Ofer military court, West Bank (image: activestills.org)

Palestinian protest organizer Bassem Tamimi was arrested by the Israeli army last March, and has been in prison ever since. Tamimi, a father of four from Nabi Saleh, has been the target of the Israeli security forces since the beginning of the unarmed protest in his village a couple of years ago. The Palestinians in Nabi Saleh are demanding the return of the lands that were taken from them by the army and settlers of nearby Halamish. The regular protests erupted after the settlers took over a pond used by the village’s people. you can read more about the protest in Nabi Saleh here.

Last week, Alain Juppé, the French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, sent a letter to the French-Palestine Solidarity Association, in which he expressed his deep concern over the indictment and incarceration of Bassem Tamimi.

“Tamimi’s situation is just as much of a concern to me as it is to you,” Mr. Juppé wrote, “The European Union has taken this case and considers Mr. Tamimi a human rights defender and a non-violent demonstrator.”

Tamimi doesn’t stand a real chance in court: The conviction rate for Palestinians in Israeli military courts is a stunning 99.74 percent, and previous unarmed protest organizers – like those from the villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin – have been sentenced to long prison terms, despite international protest.

Here is Mr. Juppé’s letter (translation from a press release by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee; French original can be read here).

MINISTRY
OF FOREIGN  AND
EUROPEAN AFFAIRS
REPUBLIC OF FRANCE

Paris, November 25th, 2011 – 010286CM

The Minister of State

Mister President [of AFPS],

You have brought to my attention the case of Mr. Bassem Tamimi, coordinator of the popular committee of Nabi Saleh, for which I thank you.

Mr. Tamimi who was arrested on March 24th has been charged of five offenses. Three of these charges are based on a military edict which amounts to a denial of the right to demonstrate of all Palestinians under military occupation, a right which is nevertheless universally recognized.

Tamimi’s situation is just as much of a concern to me as it is to you.  The European Union has taken this case and considers Mr. Tamimi a human rights defender and a non-violent demonstrator. An official demarche has recently been delivered on his behalf to the Israeli authorities by the chief representative of the European Union delegation in Tel Aviv.  The aforementioned intervention also denoted  the European support for the right to demonstrate non-violently in the Palestinian territories.

Regarding the issue of colonization, that Mr. Tamimi denounces, I remind you the firm position that France has taken in condemning this type enterprise, which we have recently qualified as “provocation”. Colonization is contrary to international law and is an impediment to peace.

I thank you, Mr. President, and you have my deepest consideration.

Alain JUPPÉ

It is worth reading Bassem Tamimi’s statement before the military court (here).

More on this issue:
Palestinian protest organizer stands no chance in army court
Conviction rate for Palestinians in Israel’s military courts: 99.74%
UN special rapporteur on torture to address Nabi Saleh trial
Nabi Saleh: A tiny village’s struggle againt the occupation


EXCLUSIVE: Report on politics department at Ben Gurion University

Posted: November 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Last week, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth broke a story about a draft report by an evaluation committee commissioned by Israel’s Council for Higher Education (CHE), recommending closing the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University if changes are not made, including to the perceived political leaning of the department. The department has been the target of a campaign by the radical rightwing movement Im Tirzu for its “lefty” political leaning.

Despite pleas from dozens of academics that protested this attempt to supervise the political opinions raised in classrooms, the Council for Higher Education voted to adopt the report yesterday.

Haaretz has revealed that before the committee was formed, one of its members was replaced with a rightwing professor. Furthermore, committee member Prof. Galia Golan refused to sign the report, claiming it was politically-motivated. Instead, Golan  wrote a Minority Opinion (can be read at the end of the report below), in which she wrote that the demand “for a balance (of views) in the classroom… runs directly counter to the principle of academic freedom.”

Here is the full report, made public for the first time:

 

BGU Report


Conviction rate for Palestinians in Israel’s military courts: 99.74%

Posted: November 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, unarmed protest | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Unlike Jews, Palestinians under Israeli control in the West Bank are tried in military courts, where the rights of defendants rights are minimal, and the prosecution enjoys a low burden of proof and – most importantly – wears the same uniforms as the judges – IDF uniforms. In a military court, the testimony of a soldier who arrested a Palestinian can be enough to send a minor to prison. The results are staggering: Palestinians have no chance to walk free from an Israeli trial.

A new internal IDF document revealed today by Haaretz shows that in 2010, 99.74 percent of the trials of Palestinians  in Israeli military courts ended in convictions. That’s 25 acquittals, out of 9,542 cases.

It seems that the system is getting better: In 2006, a report by Human Rights NGO Yesh Din showed that 99.71 percent of Palestinian defendants in Israeli military courts were convicted. That’s 26 acquittals out of 8,854.

Between 2005-2010, 835 Palestinian minors were accused of stone-throwing in Israeli military courts. One was acquitted.

Military justice is to justice as military music is to music, the saying goes. The system that Israel employs to arrest, prosecute and punish Palestinians over the last almost half century is the best proof of that.

Read more on the Israeli military court system:
Hope ends here: The children’s court at Ofer Military Prison
In the West Bank, there is no justice, even for children
New film tackles military justice system in the West Bank