It’s all about real-estate: Understanding the tent protests

Posted: July 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

The protest that sprang up out of the blue against rising rent costs, not started by or backed by any political power, is now described as the greatest challenge PM Netanyahu faces on the home front

image: activestills

It happened almost overnight: Friday morning a week ago, walking near Habima Square in central Tel Aviv, I saw only a handful of tents, with no more than a few dozen Israelis who answered an internet call for an ongoing protest against rising rent costs. On Saturday evening the tents covered an entire block on Rothschild Boulevard, and protesters threw cottage cheese containers on the Likud HQ on nearby King George Street. A couple of days later, the tent protests came to dominate the news cycle.

Housing minister Ariel Attias (Shas) argued that the protesters were spoiled kids that refuse to leave the fashionable center of the country, but by Tuesday there were tents in Jerusalem, the southern city of Beer Sheva and as far north as Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanon border (see a map of all the protests here). By Wednesday protesters tried to break into empty apartments in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; the tents on Rothschild Boulevard stretched several blocks, all the way from Habimah Square to Shenkin Street, and marches and rallies were scheduled for the weekend. The Friday papers declared that Binyamin Netanyahu sees the tent protest as the greatest potential political threat to his governing coalition. Throughout the week the prime minister conducted ongoing meetings in attempts to bring the protest to an end.

So, what is this protest all about? Why now? And what could be its political implications? I will try to answers some of these questions in this piece.

A well-known method used to estimate real estate cost is to divide the price of an asset by the average monthly salary. Dr. Danny Ben Shahar of the Technion Institute for Science in Haifa, estimated that the median Israeli family had to spend 50 full salaries for an average Israeli apartment in 1989. Two decades later, this figure nearly doubled – in 2011, buying an average apartment would cost the same family 90 full salaries. According to Dr. Ben Shahar, An average apartment in Tel Aviv – just an average one – is too expensive for 90 percent of the population, even if they can spread their mortgage over 30 years.

Dr. Ben Shahar presented his findings in a panel at Tel Aviv University a few months ago. He told his listeners that the real estate market is “a social time-bomb.” I spoke with Dr. Ben Shahar a few days a go for a piece I did for an Israeli magazine; he admitted that he didn’t expect things to happen so fast. “If this problem isn’t taken care of, what you see now is just the beginning.”

The real estate crisis in Israel is entirely different from the one which led to the market crash in the United States. To put it simply: Apartments, especially in the cities, have become too expensive for most Israelis. Rent alone rose between 15 and 25 percent in all major cities in the last two years alone.

Readers from abroad who visited Tel Aviv or Jerusalem lately probably noticed that neither is a cheap city, and that they are becoming more expensive every year. Average rent in Tel Aviv is still lower than in Manhattan, San Francisco and London, but it’s already similar to the prices in Chicago, Atlanta and Barcelona, and it’s higher than in Berlin. The important figure is that salaries in Israel are much lower than in any of those cities. In relative terms, Israelis pay more for groceries, services and housing than in most countries in the West. Housing is the biggest expense of the average household, so that’s where the pressure is felt.

In the first half of the previous decade, Israel experienced a small scale economic crisis, a result of the second Intifada. The Finance Ministry, led by Silvan Shalom and later Binyamin Netanyahu (both from Likud) cut government expenses while lowering taxes for the more affluent Israelis. When the crisis ended, the best options for investment for those Israelis, and for money coming from abroad, were in the real estate market, especially in the cities.

Investors began buying apartments, driving prices up. Many of them were Jews – mostly from the United States and France. The richest of them didn’t even bother to rent out their assets to Israelis in their absence; they just wanted a house in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Such assets were considerably cheaper than in New York or Paris, and had special sentimental value for those Jews. The result is the now-infamous “ghost apartments,” occupied for only a few weeks each year. One luxury housing project in Jerusalem, overlooking the old city, is especially notorious for having no permanent tenants.

Young Israelis were angered by and resented this trend, and rants against “the rich Jews” became very common in the last few years. It was not surprising that a few days ago protesters in Jerusalem tried to break into some ghost apartments, ending up barricading themselves in the garden for a few hours.

All of this could have been similar to what happened in other large cities around the world – prices going up, investors coming in, locals and young people gradually moving out – if it weren’t for some unique factors in Israel, which complicate the situation: First and most important, Israeli cities have no efficient public transportation systems. Tel Aviv’s old bus service is especially notorious, and the privatization of a few of the busiest lines a few years ago seemed only to make things worse. Furthermore, buses don’t run overnight, and due to an old arrangement with the religious parties, there is no service on weekends and holidays either (except in Haifa). As for owning a car, commuting in the Dan Metropolitan Area (Greater Tel Aviv) is a nightmare, and parking is nowhere to be found. Students and shift workers have no option but trying to rent in the city center, where they can ride a bike or a scooter, or simply walk to work.

These problems have been known for some time now, but Israel has been governed for many years by neo-liberal governments, who did not encourage the construction of affordable housing – except in the West Bank, and in some occasions, for the ultra orthodox – and refused to invest in mass transportation projects. In fact, Netanyahu’s coalition has struck down no less than four legislation attempts concerning rent control; the Finance Minister was able to kill a housing ministry’s plan for housing subsidies, and the Interior Minister, on the advice of the government’s attorney, stopped attempts by municipalities (including Tel Aviv’s and Jerusalem’s) to encourage affordable housing projects, claiming they lacked legal basis.

It’s been many years since Israel stopped being the welfare state its founding fathers dreamed of. While taxes remain much higher than in the America, government services have deteriorated and the cost of living continues to rise. Israel is at the top of the economical inequality index in the West, second only to the United States; Israelis work more hours than in most European economies, and they serve 2 to 3 years in the army, for which they don’t really get paid. In short, life is simply more difficult than in other places, and the safety nets Israel used to provide its citizens are disappearing. So while the government boasts about Israel’s excellent economic performance, more and more Israelis were finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

The middle class unrest over such issues has been felt for some time now, but it went largely unnoticed, also because financial issues rarely make it to front pages in Israel. But recently, things started to change. Around three months ago, there was an attempt to start “a petrol march” to protest the rising gas prices, which didn’t result in much. After that there was the cottage cheese boycott, when tens of thousands of Israelis stopped buying the country’s most popular soft cheese, until the three large dairies were forced to reduce their prices. And then came the tents.

The tent protest is different from all the others for a few reasons: First, it’s an issue for which the government will find it difficult to present quick solutions. Second, it’s an ongoing protest: people sit in tents the entire day, talk to each other, plan more activities and draw attention from the media and ordinary Israelis, who come to visit the Rothschild Avenue Settlement by the thousands. But the most important thing is that this is an issue almost any Israeli can relate to.

There have been tent protests over housing issues in the past, but those behind them were usually lower-income families, and occasionally, Palestinians. Those are groups that the authorities have no problem dealing with. This protest is different: it is led by young Israelis in their twenties, most of them from the middle class. By now, they also have the students associations behind them. Prime Minister Netanyahu must remember with horror the long student strike of 1998. Although it failed to rock his coalition, this event marked the beginning of his decline in his first term as prime minister. And now the students are protesting again.

So, what political effects will the tent protests have? Looking at the polls published every few weeks in the weekend papers, one would notice that oddly enough, it seems that nothing has changed in Israeli politics in the last couple of years. If elections were held today, according to pollster, the result would be the same as it was two years ago, give or take a few seats. Netanyahu’s approval ratings are very stable as well, always within a few points of the 50 percent line. Not long ago, I wrote that there is no threat to Netanyahu in the political system – from left or right. Not much has changed since.

But there are undercurrents in politics as well, and for some time, once could definitely sense a certain anxiety amongst Israelis. It’s not only about the economy, nor is it about the occupation – seems that Israelis couldn’t care less about this particular issue – or the exchange of threats with Iran. I guess it’s all the above and a bit more. It’s the sense that there is no future for “ordinary Israelis” here. This is something which is hard to distinguish from the usual rants about what Israelis call “the matzav” (the situation), but nevertheless, I think this mood is undeniable, at least in certain circles.

So far, this Zeitgeist has resulted in people withdrawing from interest in politics. In other cases, Prime Minister Netanyahu and other right wing politicians have been able to manipulate fears and anxieties in their favor. The last wave of protest seems set to change that. While the protesters are refusing endorsement from political powers – even calling themselves non-political – they are clearly anti-government. More than anything, they seem to resent the entire current political establishment, and while this does not mean that they support the opposition, such feelings are more dangerous to the ruling parties.

As if to illustrate this point, Netanyahu’s supporters and rightwing movement have gradually stepped up their hostility to the tent protest, accusing it of being a leftwing operation, initiated and funded by the New Israel Fund and various other lefty groups. A front page story in the pro-Netanyahu tabloid Yisrael Hayom—the most widely read daily in Israel—claimed that “the Zionist Left” movement is behind the real-estate protest. Rightwing group Im Tirzu, who tried to co-op the struggle earlier this week and even sent representatives to visit the tents in Rothschild Boulevard, withdrew its support from the protest, accusing it of being run by the NIF and “various anarchist groups.” In this weekend’s papers, almost all of the rightwing pundits wrote pieces against the protest.

So far, these attacks haven’t hurt the protest, but some real challenges are emerging in the next few days. A planned demonstration on Saturday evening will give some indication of the public support for the protesters. On Sunday, Jerusalem’s municipality’s deadline to evacuate the tents from the city center—sources in the municipality claimed that their presence would hurt tourism—will arrive. Other municipalities are bound to follow with attempts to evacuate the tents, and they will be assisted by the inevitable fatigue of the protesters and the unbearable summer heat.

To sum it up, while it is one of the most important internal events in Israel in the last couple of years, I don’t see this protest driving votes to the left or to Kadima in the short run. Over a longer period of time, it will probably help the opposition to Netanyahu, from both right and left. Plus, the feeling of alienation and resentment from the old political power will increase the likelihood of outsiders entering politics and drawing support.

The protest might also have some indirect effect on the geo-political game. As I said, protesters couldn’t care less about the occupation or Iran right now, but social crises have this funny effect on politicians – they make them more active. I don’t think that Netanyahu or Barak will go so far as to attack Iran, for example, to divert attention from their problems at home, as some people have speculated (I hope they are not that crazy, and there is still considerable opposition in the security establishment for such a move). Still if the protest continues for a prolonged period, we should expect some “bold” moves from what has been a very passive government so far, to say the least.

As history can teach us, economic crises and social unrest tend to increase the bets in politics. They hand ammunition to everyone – creating opportunities for political change and reform, but also preparing the ground for the rise of rightwing demagogues and warmongers. And one should never forget that in the Middle East, the stakes are always high.

As one of my editors used to say: In this country, it’s all about real-estate. Every political controversy has to do with land, every social battle, and obviously, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict itself. If you understand real estate here, you understand it all.


The Goldstone Report: more important than you think

Posted: January 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

With each passing day, the publication of the Goldstone Report seems like a key event in shaping the political and diplomatic trends that currently dominate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A new book – to which I contributed an article dealing with the Israeli reaction to the report – takes a fresh look at the findings and the political significance of the UNHRC fact-finding mission to Gaza

Justice Richard Goldstone's report ended up serving as the major evidance in the persecution of Israeli human rights organizations (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

Justice Richard Goldstone's report ended up serving as the major evidance in the persecution of Israeli human rights organizations (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

When I checked out the web page for the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (more popularly known as the Goldstone Report) for the first time, one thing bothered me immediately: the report was posted only in English.

Furthermore, the executive summary and the conclusion chapter, which were available in six languages (Chinese and Russian among them), were not translated to Hebrew. There was a media summary and a press release in Hebrew on the site, but I couldn’t get the documents opened. If the UN Human Rights Council wanted to communicate a message to the Israeli public, it failed on its very first step. As a result, while most people have a definite view on the report, very few have actually read it. It’s a shame, because the Goldstone Report not only makes for a fascinating reading, but is also one of the most important documents to be published on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years.

The Goldstone report was the first evidence in what has since become a pattern – the failure of the Israeli leadership to register diplomatic achievements following the use of military power. Israel had no troubles achieving its victory in Gaza. One could argue – as many Israelis do – that operation Cast Lead helped deter the Hamas from launching more missiles on Israeli towns. Yet it also made Israel more isolated than ever in the world. The military operation boosted the BDS movement, mobilized public opinion in support of the Palestinians, and led to the Gaza-bound flotilla last spring, which resulted in a partial lifting of the blockade on the Strip.

The Goldstone report played a key role in these developments. Even though the report was rejected by Israel, the United States and for a brief moment, even by the Palestinian Authority (under Israeli-American pressure), it proved powerful enough to change regional politics. Some people claimed that operation Cast Lead cured the IDF from the effect of the unsuccessful confrontation with the Hezbollah in 2006, but Goldstone also caused Israel a diplomatic trauma. Now, when Israeli leaders consider sending their troops to another military operation against the Palestinians or in Lebanon, it’s Goldstone that they have in mind. The report served as an important lesson for the Palestinians as well: it proved that they can apply considerable pressure on Israel by bypassing Washington and taking their case to the international community and to international organizations. That strategy is echoed in president Abbas’ recent unilateral effort to gain international recognition of an independent Palestinian state in the 1967 borders.

The publication of the report also turned out to be a key moment for Israel’s limited democracy (I use the term “limited democracy” because of the absence of full political rights to Palestinians under Israeli control). The report itself was widely rejected in Israel, even as more and more events cited in it led to criminal investigations and in some cases, to prosecution of soldiers and officers. If anything, Goldstone made Israelis more hostile and suspicious of the international community.

Even more important was the use of the report in the persecution of human rights organizations and activists. A few months after it was made public, rightwing movement Im Tirzu spread the (false) claim that 92 percent of the evidence in the Goldstone report came from Israeli human rights organizations. Im Tirzu demanded to put legal limits on the activities of these organizations, and in some cases, even ban them completely. Lately, the Knesset has decided to answer this call by forming a special investigative committee that will look into the actions of leftwing NGOs. This might turn into a major showdown in Israeli politics, as all opposition parties decided not to cooperate with the Knesset’s probe.

In both cases, the Palestinian and the Israeli, we have yet to fully grasp the lasting political effect of the Goldstone Report.

I covered some of the initial reaction in Israel to the report in an article for the recently published “The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation” (Nation Books). The book, edited by Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner and Philp Weiss, features articles by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, Moshe Halbertal, Laila El-Haddad and others. Most importantly, it holds the report itself. As I said, even if you have already made up your mind to reject Goldstone’s finding, it’s a document worth reading.


NIF denies it will stop supporting Israeli organizations criticizing the Jewish character of the state

Posted: September 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 15 Comments »

The New Israel Fund denies that it will change its guidelines in ways that might end the support for organizations such as Mossawa Center and Adalah, who are openly calling for turning Israel into “a state for all its citizens” or a bi-national state.

The concern over the so-called new guidelines rose after an interview given by NIF director Daniel Sokatch to JTA. Sokatch was quoted saying that:

If we had an organization that made part of its project, part of its mission an effort to really, genuinely organize on behalf of creating a constitution that denied Israel as a sovereign vehicle for self-determination for the Jewish people, a Jewish homeland, if that became the focus of one of our organizations, we would not support that organization.

In recent months, the NIF was under pressure for its support of left wing and human rights organizations in Israel. A students group called Im Tirzu issued a report, claiming that the NIF-backed organizations were behind many of the allegations against Israel cited in the Goldstone Report. The allegations against the NIF were made public by Tabloids such as Maariv and Israel Hayom, and later repeated by members of the Knesset. Some of them are even trying to put limits on the political actions of the NIF.

Today, Maariv quoted Sokatch’s statement and speculated that the NIF has surrendered to the public campaign against it.

After the Yom Kippur holiday, I received an e-mail from an NIF spokesperson, asking to clarify the organization’s position on this issue. Later came an official statement:

The NIF shall continue to support, as it has done in the past, organizations protecting the rights of the State of Israel’s Arab citizens, such as Adalah and Mossawa – which the NIF even assisted to start…. Recent reports on changes in the NIF positions are wrong… The NIF was never a thought police, and it will never be one.

It sounds pretty straightforward, and I must admit that I never thought that the NIF will stop supporting an important organization like Adalah, which is something like the Israeli NAACP. I think that JTA rushed into conclusions here, and possibly even tried to push the NIF into a corner. Now the NIF must publicly declare that they would finance organizations that challenge the Jewish character of the state – something that wouldn’t look good with the Israeli public, and maybe even with their donors abroad – or abandon Mossawa and Adalah, which means betraying everything the NIF stands for. Everything they do could end up hurting them.

In the next few days, the NIF is expected to publish its new guidelines, and I guess that they will offer some more explanations for their future policy regarding the support of civil society organizations.


English translation of the new anti human rights organizations Knesset bill

Posted: June 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Israeli legislators increase their efforts to put limits the work of human rights organizations, and even ban them altogether. Last month I reported here on a new Knesset bill which, if passes, will enable the state to shut down any association or organization which provides information that is used in prosecutions outside Israel against IDF officers. In other words, all watchdog groups which deal with Israel’s security forces – from Amnesty to The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel -  are in danger.

The bill was introduced after the extreme right-wing group Im Tirzu launched a smear campaign against the New Israel Fund, falsely claiming that the NIF is responsible for most of the anti-Israeli evidences in the Goldstone report.

Ironically, it was announced this week that a former IDF infantry soldier might be charged with manslaughter during operation Cast Lead. The soldier shot at a group of Palestinian civilians carrying white flags, killing two women. B’Tselem, an NIF sponsored human rights organization, conducted an independent investigation that led to the charges in this case, which was also cited on the Goldstone report. The Israeli army ceased to conduct its own investigations into the killing of Palestinian civilians, unless a clear evidence of wrongdoing is brought before it.

If the new bill is passed, B’Tselem won’t be able to investigate such cases anymore, as the evidences it collects might be used to prosecute Israeli generals and government ministers.

Here are the two changes that will be put into the law concerning associations in Israel if the new bill is passed, followed by the introduction to the bill, as it was submitted to the Knesset not long ago.

I thank Dena Shunra of Shunra Media, Inc. for translating the bill from Hebrew.

First: “No association will be formed if the Registrar has been persuaded that the association will be involved with or will convey to foreign elements information on the subject of law suits proceeding in instances operating outside of the Stated of Israel, against senior persosn in Israel or military officers, due to war crimes.”

Second [an addition to the close on shutting down associations]: “The association was involved in or will convey to foreign elements information in the subject of law suits being heard in instances operating outside of the State of Israel, against senior persons in Israel or military officers, due to war crimes.”

“Explanation:

As it stands today, the act prohibits the registration and activity of an association which denies the existence of the State of Israel or its democratic nature. Additionally, the association cannot be registered or would be stricken by force of an order by a District Court to the extent that its activity is unlawful.

In recent years the State of Israel has undergone upheaval which has not been easy, neither in terms of security nor in terms of statesmanship. Israel’s propaganda [hasbara] ability has been gravely damaged in light of the fierce and anti-Zionist opposition abroad to the defense actions by the state.

Palestinian propaganda has been influential in the public at large, and especially with youngsters and students at many academic institutes throughout Europe and the United States. Israel’s activity in the [occupied] territories, even if it is within the framework of a defensive military operation following attack and firing of missiles toward our state is perceived as not being legitimate.

The controversial and uni-dimensional United Nations report by Justice Goldstone about the actions of the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza in the course of Operation Cast Lead has brought Israel to an unprecedented nadir, in terms of propaganda.
In many countries, such as Britain, calls are growing stronger for the arrest of senior figures in the Israeli government and officers of the Israel Defense Forces, due to war crimes carried out against Palestinians.

The best leaders and officers find themselves anxious lest they be arrested in a foreign country, for crimes that did not occur and which are ascribed to them.

It is most regretful that especially in this era, when we ought to be united against those groundless accusations, we witness Israeli associations and organizations which act against Israel, below the surface.

These organizations provide assistance of one form or another to foreign organizations which wish to issue arrest warrants and indictments against senior Israeli figures. [punctuation sic] Be it by conveying information (which is mostly erroneous and also untruthful) to foreign elements who are our enemies, or be it by publicly agreeing or affirming that Israel is guilty of war crimes. They sometimes even provide substantial legal assistance in establishing the arguments.

The foundation for this proposed law is that this activity or any hint thereof must be outlawed (especially with regard to associations which receive much funding and some of which are also supported by the State), as they are in fact undermining the State and harming it, as though they had denied its existence.

For this reason, the proposed legislation proposes that the registration of an association about which there are reasonable grounds to suspect that it will act in a judiciary manner against senior figures in the government or in the Israel Defense Forces, in cooperation with foreign elements.

Additionally, it is proposed that any association whose activity is directed against senior figures in the government or in the Israel Defense Forces be dissolved. The dissolution will be in the manner set forth in the Associations Act 5740-1980, by way of expanding the causes of dissolving an association by court order, which would be filed by the Registrar of Associations or by the Attorney General.”

Last week, 20 lawmakers introduced another bill, that would  make it illegal for Israelis to take part in calls to boycott Israeli products or institutions. Both bills, whose intention is to limit the possibility to protest or fight government policy, received support from most Knesset parties, including members of dovish opposition party Kadima.


Knesset moves to outlaw human rights organizations in Israel

Posted: April 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Left | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Something very troubling is happening to “the only democracy in the Middle East”

More than 20 MKs, including members of opposition party Kadima, proposed a new bill which will make it possible to outlaw the important human rights groups in Israel. Among the organizations mentioned in the proposed bill are Doctors for Human rights, The Coalition of Woman for Peace, The Public Committee against Torture in Israel, and Adalah: the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights. All these organizations receive funds from the New Israeli fund.

According to a report in Maariv, the new bill will outlaw any organization “which is involved in activity intended to lead to the prosecution or arrest of IDF officers and government officials for war crimes.”  the word “involved” makes it a very broad definition.

Two weeks ago, an article by Maariv’s Ben Caspit suggested that NIF sponsored organizations that are linked to an international effort to investigate and prosecute senior IDF officers for war crimes.

The introduction to the new bill declares that:

“… “Those organizations help foreign organizations that seek to issue arrest warrants and indictments against senior Israeli officials, either by means of providing information—the preponderance of which is erroneous and even mendacious—to foreign groups, or by publicly agreeing and lending credence to the accusation that Israel is guilty of war crimes.”

More than 20 MK’s signed the offer. Among them are known parliament members from Tzipi Livni’s opposition party Kadima, former head of Shin Beit Avi Dichter and members from Likud and NRP.

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From all the anti-democratic measures I’ve been writing about here, this is by far the most extreme. Even if a mild version of this law passes, defending human rights in Israel – a difficult task as is – will become practically impossible. Merely proposing this bill will harm grassroots efforts and freedom of speech, as both the media and the public are becoming more and more hostile to people and groups who are portrayed as unpatriotic or anti-Israeli.

Much of “the case for Israel” is based on the notion that this is a democracy – the only one in a hostile environment. But Israel is changing. This is not something that you see on a one week vacation in Jerusalem or from the Tel Aviv beach, but if you pay close attention to the news, you can easily notice it.

Read the rest of this entry »


Delegitimization and censorship continue: Jpost stop publishing Naomi Chazan’s articles

Posted: February 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Haaretz reveals today that following the rightwing campaign against the New Israel Fund, Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief David Horovitz informed president of the NIF Naomi Chazan that the paper will stop publishing her op-eds. The story, by Jonathan Lis and Dimi Reider, appears in the front page of today’s English Edition.

Yesterday Chazan received an e-mail from Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz, informing her the newspaper would cease publishing her column.

Chazan had provided the daily with one of its few leftist voices in recent years. Horovitz declined to respond to questions from Haaretz last night.

This is just one of several recent cases of self-censorship in the Israeli media: Both Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth, two of the leading tabloids in Israel, have decided recently not to publish major articles which were critical of Israel and the IDF.

Meanwhile Chazan, who was the target of a Der-Strumer style ads in the Israeli media, commented on her personal feelings following the rightwing Im Tirzu movement’s campaign against her:

“I don’t know why they chose me – I can think of plenty of human rights supporters they could pick on. But I’m ever so proud to be a symbol of Israeli democracy. No doubt about it.”

Earlier this week it was published that the Jewish community in Melbourne canceled a scheduled event with Chazan.

This is just one of several recent cases of self-censorship in the Israeli media. As I wrote here before, Both Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth, two of the leading tabloids in Israel, have decided recently not to publish major articles which were critical of Israel and the IDF.

Chazan, who was the target of a Der-Strumer style ads in the Israeli media, commented for the first time on her personal feelings following the rightwing IM Tirzu movement’s campaign against her:


Following Im Tirzu’s campaign: first Knesset steps against NIF

Posted: February 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, Polls, racism, The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

We should see the attack on the New Israel Fund in context: this was no isolated event, but part of a widespread campaign against human rights and peace activists

The Knesset committee for legislation has decided today to look into foreign donations to non-profit organizations operating in Israel, and among them, those received and handed by the New Israel Fund. The investigation will be led by the head of the legislation committee, MK David Rotem (Israel Beitenu) and a special subcommittee, to be formed immediately. Meanwhile, MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) is pushing for a special Knesset investigation aimed against all Israeli human rights organizations which testified before the Goldstone committee.

Maariv reports that in a heated debate at the Knesset legislation committee, MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP) accused the NIF, Meretz party and the Israeli left of no less than treason:

“…NIF sponsors elements which are hostile to the state, and [by doing so] it causes us an unimaginable damage, not unlike our worse enemies… Meretz party has crossed the lines… former MK Naomi Hazan, which heads the NIF, has also crossed the lines.”

MK Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich from opposition party Kadima joined the attack on the NIF in saying that:

“We must say to all Israel-haters that enough is enough. We won’t sit quietly when our enemies from home try to lead an undemocratic revolution here, encouraging boycott, desertion and pacifistic refusal to serve in the IDF, based on lies and distortions. We must draw our lines and tell the traitors to our people that this is enough.”

Im Tirzu, a right-wing nonprofit organization, has launched last week a campaign against the NIF, claiming it sponsors organizations that support Hamas. In a front page story in Maariv, senior political correspondent Ben Caspit quoted a “research” by Im Tirzu, which supposedly showed how the NIF was responsible for 92 percent of the anti-Israeli evidence in the Goldstone report. Caspit went even further, and raised the notion the all the NIF activities in Israel – the fund aids more than 300 grassroots and social justice organizations – are a cover for anti-Israeli subversion.

Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) which represented the government in the Knesset debate, praised Im Tirzu: “it is a Zionist organization, which is doing a very important and positive work.” During the debate, minister Erdan referred to judge Goldstone as “this liar”.

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One of the contributors to the progressive Jewschool blog asked yesterday how this campaign against the NIF and other nonprofits different from the smear campaigns we have seen against the left in the past.

While it is true that the Right has been attacking human rights organizations for as long as they existed in Israel, things have changed in the last few months, and those who care about Israeli politics should be aware of those changes.

For start, the nature and the intensity of the attack changed. The Im Tirzu ads against the NIF shocked many American Jews – they reminded almost everyone of anti-Semitic cartoons – but in Israel they were considered legitimate. The tabloids had no problem publishing them, and you can still catch them as banners on popular news sites as Ynet.co.il and nrg.co.il. In fact, I don’t know of a paper or site that refused to run this ad. What’s even more important is the personalized nature of the attack – specifically targeting the head of the NIF, Naomi Hazan. We haven’t seen such viscous personal attacks since the assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin.

Second, and unlike the attack on left wing politicians during the Oslo days, this time it is not only the political right that goes after human rights activists. And it’s not just smears. We are talking official government and Knesset policies, and real measures being taken. When minister Erdan praised Im Tirzu in the Knesset, he did so as the official representative of the government to the committee. This government includes even the labor party (though some labor MK’s came out in the NIF’s defense). In fact, some of the dominant figures in the campaign against the NIF are MK’s from opposition party Kadima, which under Tzipi Livni claim to represent the pro-peace alternative to Netanyahu’s Likud! Kadima’s official website even posted Im Tirzu’s accusations against the NIF. Read the rest of this entry »


Israeli media goes after New Israel Fund: “responsible for Goldstone Report”

Posted: January 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, media, Polls, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments »
the anti NIF add from Sunday's Jpost

the anti NIF add from Sunday's Jpost

The New Israel Fund (NIF), the American based progressive organization that sponsors social justice projects in Israel, is the victim of a new smear campaign launched by the right-wing movement “Im Tirzu” (אם תרצו) and picked up by Israeli media. Im Tirzu, together with right-wing MK’s and even IDF and Shin Beit seniors, are demanding Knesset and government actions that will prevent the NIF from transferring funds to Israeli human rights and peace organizations – and possibly even ban the organization altogether.

Im Tirzu’s campaign against NIF started in the cover story of Maariv’s political section this weekend. An article by Maariv’s senior political correspondent, Ben Caspit, quoted a claim put forward by Im Tirzu, according to which human rights and peace groups are responsible to more than 90 percent of the evidence against Israel in the Goldstone report. This was a gross misrepresentation of the facts to begin with, because as even Im Tirzu’s representatives admit, the Goldstone report was based mainly on evidence collected form Palestinians and international sources. From the data provided by Israeli sources, 42 percent came form human rights groups.  It didn’t bother Mr. Caspit to make it sound like it was Israeli NGO’s who were behind the entire report.

Israel’s image is at an all-times low. International pressure is mounting, and with it the calls for boycott. All this was fueled by the Goldstone report, which was in itself fueled by Israeli sources. The funding for these sources is provided by, amongst others, the NIF. The question is whether the New Israeli Fund is indeed for Israel.

Caspit mentions 300 grassroots and social organizations receiving funds through the NIF, and asks: “is all this activity just intended to serve as a front for radical subversive activity, acting against the very foundations of the state?”

Caspit never bothered to call anyone in the INF or other NGO’s to discuss this story. The fund was only given a few words of official comment at the bottom of the article, and the notion that “more than 90 percent of the Goldstone report is based on Israeli sources” has become a “fact” used by the mainstream media.

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During the weekend, Im Tirzu activists demonstrated in front of the house of former MK and the chairman of the NIF, Naomi Hazan. They were dressed with Kafia’s and carried signs saying “I hate the IDF, and I support Naomi Hazan.”

Today (Sunday), the popular host of channel 2 news, Avri Gilad, interviewed on his morning show one of the heads of Im Tirzu, and while doing so, referred to this demonstration as a left wing one against the IDF. “The signs say it all,” Gilad said. “They hate the IDF.” Had channel 2 bothered to check the clip before airing it, or to host in their studio someone from the NIF, they would have found out immediately that this is a right wing hoax. But Gilad was in such a rush to denounce the left, such details never bothered him, and he even repeated his mistake on his radio show on the IDF station.

You can watch the interview here. The protest comes after 4:40 min.

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Today, Im Tirzu wrapped things up in a Der Strumer-style add at the Jerusalem post aimed against Naomi Hazan and the NIF (shown above). Meanwhile, in Maariv, Ben Caspit reported that the Knesset will discuss “the involvement of the NIF in the Goldstone report”. MK Yisrael Hasson  (from opposition party Kadima!) called to investigate all NGO’s “which aid Hamas with their activities.”

As Didi Remez pointed on Coteret blog, Maariv’s story this morning reveals that even IDF and Shin Beit officials are involved for sometime in efforts to introduce measures against Israeli human rights organizations:

Now it turns out that the materials exposed on the weekend are familiar to the IDF authorities and the legal authorities in Israel. Some of them were given half a year ago to the Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit.

He checked the material and gave it to the Atty. Gen., with a recommendation to open an official investigation. No such investigation has been made so far. The Israel Security Agency [Shin Bet; GSS] is also familiar with the material and the sensitive issue. Taking action against this is not simple because NIF is a registered association in the US. Also, it is noteworthy that a large part of the fund’s activities in Israel are devoted to social and public issues of the first order.

At the time of writing, following Maariv, other right wing media organizations in Israel are joining the campaign, and even the Examiner is now claiming NIF and Naomi Hazan (“former Member of Knesset for the semi-Marxist Meretz Party”, as they refer to her) are in fact front men for Hamas.

I will report more on this issue in the next few days.


What is Neo-Zionism?

Posted: September 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about the relations between the Arab citizens of Israel and the Jewish majority. I think it is the most important issue on the agenda today, and the one that will determine the nature of this state in the years to come.

As the price of holding on to the West Bank is growing, more and more Israelis are coming to accept the idea of an Israeli withdrawal. However, on the same time they demand the state to go on favoring Jews, both on the symbolic level (meaning that state symbols, such as the flag and the anthem, will be Jewish ones) and on the practical level, meaning that Jews will enjoy a better position in the citizenship acquiring process, or with regards to ownership over land, etc.  And something else is happening: racism is on the rise, contrary to what happened during the first round of the peace process, in the 90′s.

I’ve been referring here to those people who want to strengthen the exclusive Jewish nature of the state as “neo-Zionists”, as oppose to the “post-Zionists”, who emphasized the liberal-democratic (and sometimes multi-cultural) nature of the state. Post-Zionism was on the rise during the 90′s; neo-Zionism is the dominant intellectual and political force of the past decade, and it hasn’t even reached its full potential. Read the rest of this entry »