The myth of good Israel vs. bad Israel (II)

Posted: January 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Where was “the peace camp” when the Knesset decided to probe human rights NGOs?

As the Knesset is passing one undemocratic law after the other, many people ask themselves where is the famous Israeli Left. I have long argued that supporting the two-states solution (as many Israelis say they do) doesn’t necessarily relate to support of human rights, freedom, equality before the law and other democratic values. Only a small minority in Israel is still fighting for those issues.

Outsiders, especially from the Jewish-Liberal camp, tend to exaggerate the role the left plays in Israeli politics, and to downplay the racist and anti-democratic tendencies in the Israeli center. I guess it makes it easier for them to continue seeing in Israel the model Jewish democracy they dream of. But the truth is that until now, Labor and Kadima members didn’t try to stand up to the torrent of laws and racist moves initiated by the extreme right. At best, they gave some fable remarks to the media or issued condemnation, but they failed to engage in meaningful political action, probably because they felt that their public never demanded it.

Last week, the Israeli Knesset decided – in an overwhelming majority and with the support of Netanyahu and his government – to initiate an investigation of the funding and activities of human rights organizations (or as Roi Maor rightly called it, Knesset Committee on un-Israeli activities).

In the days leading to the Knesset debate on this issue, there was a considerable media build-up. Writers and pundits warned of the damaging effect this decision might have on the Israeli democracy. Yet when the vote came, most Kadima and Labor members failed to show up.

The following members of Knesset – all of them considered among Israel’s “pragmatists” – where among those who had other issues to attend to during what could turn out to be one of the most crucial moments in the history of the Israeli parliament:

Labor: Ehud Barak, Daniel Ben-Simon, Avishay Braverman, Amir Peretz, Eithan Cabel, Einat Wilf, Matan Vilnai, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, Orit Noked. Kadima: Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, Shay Hermesh, Dalia Itzik, Ze’ev Bielski, Avi Dichter, And that’s just a partial list.

Many of these Knesset Members had official reasons for their absence, but as we all know, they would have showed up if they felt strongly enough about this issue. Politicians don’t miss political events which are important for their constituency. To Livni’s credit, she issued yesterday an explanation for her absence from the vote. She also declared that Kadima would try to challenge the decision in future votes, and still, from the leader of the opposition and the so called “peace camp”, we can expect more, much more.


The only democracy? Israeli lawmakers seek to criminalize boycott, supervise “political bias” in academia

Posted: June 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

A new Knesset bill submitted by 25 Knesset members this week would make it illegal, if passed, for Israeli citizens to support or aid boycott on Israel or on Israeli products. Israelis who would initiate or help such boycotts – even if they deal only with the settlements – could be fined and forced to pay compensations to those hurt by the boycott.

The bill was initiated by Likud party members and supported by senior members of Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party, including party whip Dalia Itzik and Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tsachi Hanegbi.

This is from the report on Ynet:

As to individuals who are not citizens or residents of Israel, their right to enter the country will be deprived for at least 10 years should they be involved in a boycott. Another measure would ban foreign entities or anyone on their behalf from engaging in any actions using Israeli bank accounts, Israeli stocks, or Israeli land.

The bill’s initiators say the move aims to “protect the State of Israel in general and its citizens in particular against academic, economic, and other boycotts.”

Addressing the Palestinian boycott, MK Itzik said: “The Palestinians are causing harm with this attitude…issues of this type should be resolve at the negotiating table.”

The Hebrew version of the article cites MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), who innitiated the bill, explaining that the new law will specifically target Israeli professors who support academic boycott. But the problem with this bill goes far beyond the question of boycott. This is yet another attempt to limit political action in Israel and to prevent none-violent resistance to the occupation.

A few months ago Israel passed a law against mentioning the Nakba – the Palestinian disaster of 1948 – attacking the very core of freedom of speech, which is the right to hold one’s own historical narrative; now Israel is looking to forbid a universally accepted form of political action.

Most troubling is the fact that these measures enjoy the support of both coalition and opposition parties. It seems that there is an automatic majority in the Knesset for any bill that would criminalize ideas which are not well within the political consensus (and the public is only too happy to support these initiatives). Israel is becoming one of these democracies in which you are allowed to hold and express any sort of idea, as long as it’s the right one.

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Israeli lawmakers are looking to apply political supervision even on what was considered the symbol of Israeli freedom of speech. a few weeks ago, the Knesset Education Committee ordered the Committee for Academic Education (the supervising body on all Israeli universities) to look into “the anti-Zionist political bias” of courses in history and Political Science in Israeli Universities. Here is a link to the protocol of the Education committee’s meeting (Hebrew). No immediate measures were applied, but just having such a debate – the committee members are actually debating how to force professors to put more Zionist material on their students’ reading lists – is dangerous enough, especially in a country in which academic education is sponsored by the state. And as we saw in the case of the Nakba bill, those kinds of debates tend to lead to legislative action.

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Israel was never a democracy when it came too the Palestinians in the West bank and Gaza, who are subject to a separate legal system and have very limited civil rights. Now we are witnessing rapid erosion in the political rights of Israeli citizens as well. Personally, I get the feeling that Israel is following the steps of South Africa in the 80′s, where opposing Apartheid was considered as opposing South Africa itself, and dealt with accordingly. When an act like asking people not to buy settlements product becomes a criminal offense; and when even some of the stuff posted on this blog might be considered illegal, referring to Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East would look like a bad joke.

The real irony is that with every such measure, Israeli lawmakers are further justifying the very acts they want to ban.