End of the wasted decade / slightly optimistic analysis of the current moment in Israeli politics

Posted: December 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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Almost two weeks of intense political maneuvering ended yesterday. Many people on the Left got worried by Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to split the opposition Kadima party or to have it join his coalition. Both options, it seemed, would have made the PM even stronger, and everything that’s good for Netanyahu is surly bad for the peace process. Or isn’t it?

While I write here regularly against the current Israeli policies, and consider myself to be a part of the Left, I think that the last year have moved us closer to the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, possibly also to the end of the siege on Gaza. The current political circumstances are pretty favorable, to the point that if I could have replaced Netanyahu with other Israeli leaders – say Livni or Barak – I probably wouldn’t go for it.

To understand why, we need to dive into the depth of the complex political dynamics in Israel.

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If left to do as he wishes, I have no doubt PM Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t make one step towards the end of the Israeli occupation. His ideological background is one that views the West Bank as part of the land of Israel; he believes that an independent Palestinian state would put Israel’s national security in danger; and his political base has always been on the Israeli right.

But political leaders have to consider political circumstances and limitations, and Netanyahu – unlike the two other PMs from Likud, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon – is extremely sensitive to outside pressure. And pressure came from the first moment Netanyahu entered his office.

First, there was the new approach from Washington. It’s not just Obama, but the whole backlash against the Middle East policy of the Bush administration. Furthermore, the world knew Netanyahu, and remembered him as the man who succeeded Yitzhak Rabin and almost single handedly buried the Oslo accord. And if somebody was ready to consider the idea of “a new Netanyahu”, along came the appointment of Avigdor Liberman to the Foreign Office and fixed the image of this government – quiet rightly, I must say – as the most extreme Israel ever had. Even Israel’s supporters are having troubles in the last year explaining the PM’s fondness for settling in the West Bank or defending the daily gaffe by the Foreign Minister.

And there was the war in Gaza. It’s hard to grasp how differently the international community and most Israelis view operation Cast Lead. Israelis see the war as a justified, even heroic, act against Hamas’ aggression – which was the Palestinian response to the good fate we showed in withdrawing from the Gaza strip – while most of the international community sees Cast Lead as a barbaric attack on (mostly) innocent civilians. And while the Goldstone report might never be adopted by the UN Security Council, the respond it initiated made it clear that in the near future – and unless something very dramatic happens and change everything (we always have to add this sentence in the post 11/9 world, don’t we?) – there won’t be another Cast Lead. The world won’t allow it.

All these elements – the change in Washington, the suspicious welcome the world gave Netanyahu and the respond to the war in Gaza – are forcing Netanyahu to do something he never planned to – at least with regards to the Palestinians: to act. That’s why he announced the settlement moratorium, and that’s why he is willing, according to today’s reports, to negotiate a Palestinian state on the 67′ borders, and even to talk about Jerusalem’s statues. And this is the man that won the 1996 elections after he accused Shimon Peres of agreeing to divide the Israeli capitol.

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Yes, I would have preferred a Hadash-Meretz government. But this isn’t, and won’t be an option in this generation. Right now, the political leaders with a shot at the PM office are Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, maybe Shaul Mofaz, and god forbid, Avigdor Liberman. Next in line after them are people with basically the same agenda.

I don’t trust Ehud Barak. I don’t know what drives him, I don’t think anyone understands what his views are, and I believe he has at least partial responsibility for the failure of the Camp David summit and the negotiations with the Syrians – and all that followed this failure.

With Kadima and Livni, it’s even worse. Under Ehud Olmert, this party brought to perfection the art of talking about peace and declaring wars. Read the rest of this entry »


Israeli segregation / The end of the road for the “Jewish AND Democratic” model?

Posted: December 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A new amendment into the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom might officially turn Israel into a democracy for Jews only.

Since it’s founding, Israel has claimed – and most of the time was regarded – to be both a Jewish state and a democratic one. In the Israelis’ views, the two elements don’t contradict, but rather complete each other. Criticism on this view has focused on the facts that (a) the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were never granted Israeli citizenship and the civil rights that come with it, and that (b) Israel’s “Law of Return” distinguishes between Jews and non-Jews, as it only allows the former to automatically become Israeli citizens.

Israel’s answer to A is that the West Bank and Gaza are not officially part of the state, and that within the Green Line border, all Israelis, Jews and non-Jews, have full rights. The answer to article B is very similar: yes, we allow Jews into the state, but once someone becomes an Israeli citizen, he enjoys full rights, regardless of his ethnic origin, religious or sex.

A new legislation effort by Yisrael Beitenu (Liberman’s party) might put an end to all this reasoning. This legislation is about to make discrimination and racial segregation a part of the legal codex of Israel. If passed, it will make it very hard to view Israel as a democracy – at least in the common meaning of the term in the West – regardless of the situation in the West bank.

Here is a little background:

There are thousands of Israeli Arab Citizens who are married to non-Israeli Palestinians or Arabs from other states. On July 2003 the Knesset enacted the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), which prohibits the granting of any residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories who are married to Israeli citizens. In 2007 the law was also applied to Israeli citizens who marry residents of Lebanon, Syria, Iran or Iraq and/or any place defined by the Israeli security forces as where activity is occurring that is liable to endanger Israeli security.

The meaning of this legislation is that Arab citizens can’t enjoy their right to family life if they chose to marry a non-Israeli – as the non-Israeli partner does not receive an Israeli citizenship, or even the right to reside in Israel. In most cases, the couple is force either to leave the country or to live separately.

Officially, it were security concerns that led to the 2003 and 2007 bills; but this was probably just an excuse, since even before the new law was accepted the Ministry of Interior had the authority to refuse citizenship to any person which is suspected of presenting a security threat without a need to justify its decision. More likely that it was the demographic logic that led to the legislation, with the will to simply prevent Arabs from entering the state, and even forcing them to leave, playing the central part, and security issues only coming later. This assumption is supported by most of the public statements made during the debate on the law.

There is a point here which must be made clear: by refusing to allow a Palestinian woman who married an Israeli to immigrate to Israel, it is not the woman’s right who is violated, but the man’s. In all democracies, each citizen has the right to marry whoever he whishes to and to live with him or her on their own state. The new law takes this right away from the Arab population, while still granting it to the Jewish one. It distinguishes between the rights of citizens to family life based on their ethnicity.

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Since 2003, several human right groups are waging a legal campaign against the  Citizenship Law, claiming that it stands in contradiction to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom. “Basic Laws” are the closest thing Israel has to a constitution.

In a famous 6-5 split decision, the Supreme Court dismissed in 2006 the petitions against the Citizenship Law. However, the court harshly criticized the Law, with Justice Edmond Levi, who voted with the majority, writing that this is only a temporary approval, and that “a different arrangement” must be reached. The chief justice Aharon Barak voted with the minority against the Citizenship Law. The Supreme Court also allowed the petitioners to bring their case before it again in the future, and the common assumption is that it will eventually rule the Citizenship Law as unconstitutional.

And this is exactly what the current Knesset is trying to prevent. As Jonathan Liss reports in Haaretz, 44 MKs, among them members from the opposition party of Kadima, are backing an amendment proposed by Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, intended to bring it into line with the Citizenship Law. The coalition will decide this Sunday whether to back the amendment, thus promising it an automatic majority in the Knesset.

In other words, the Knesset will have the Israeli constitution include an article which distinguishes between the right to family life of Jews and Arabs. Read the rest of this entry »


Fire Ambassador Oren

Posted: December 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, believes that supporting a two states solution and a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, or opposing the war in Gaza, are illegitimate positions, which open the door for no less than the distraction of Israel. J street, the pro-peace lobbing group which advocates such ideas, is in Oren’s view “a unique problem”.

Forward reports:

Addressing a breakfast session at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s biennial convention December 7, Ambassador Michael Oren described J Street as “a unique problem in that it not only opposes one policy of one Israeli government, it opposes all policies of all Israeli governments. It’s significantly out of the mainstream.”

After a speech that touched on the spiritual basis for and the threats to the state of Israel, Oren issued an unscripted condemnation of J Street.

“This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion,” Oren said. “But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke.”

If I were one of Meretz or Labor’s member, or even Kadima’s, this would have been enough for me to demand for Dr. Oren to be sent back to Jerusalem. These parties hold some of J Street’s views (in Meretz’s case, probably all of them), so Oren is practically accusing them of “fooling around with the lives of 7 million people”. Even if he didn’t cross the line of talking about elected members of the Knesset, he got very close to it, considering the fact that Meretz, Labor and Kadima even sent representatives to the J Street convention.

James Besser touched this point on his blog at The Jewish Week site, when he wrote that “[according to the ambassador's approach], guys like Rabin and Ariel Sharon must have been secretly anti-Israel.”

It is no surprise that Oren is turning out to be the Likud’s ambassador to Washington, rather than Israel’s. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Oren was an associate researcher on the Shalem Center, the rightwing think tank and publishing house which is financed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s close friend, gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson (who is also the publisher of the free rightwing tabloid Israel Hayon). When Netanyhau returned to the PM office, he appointed people from the Shalem Center and Israel Hayom to senior positions in his administration. These are the hardcore ideologists behind Israel’s current policies. Read the rest of this entry »


Surprise from Mofaz: Israel should talk to Hamas

Posted: November 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

mofaz_shaulUnlike any other army I know of, IDF soldiers carry around and even go home with their guns. I don’t know the precise reason for this: some say it’s meant to create an additional unofficial security force in the streets; others claim that it makes soldiers take better care of their guns; I guess it also simplifies things logistically. The only problem is with the clip: You don’t want everyone carrying around loaded guns, so where exactly should a soldier keep the clip?

To solve this issue, all soldiers during the late 80s and early 90s were issued a small, strange-looking, plastic box. Every soldier was supposed to put the clip in the box, and than attach the box to his belt or put it in his pocket. The box was soon nicknamed Mofazit, after the senior officer who invented them, one Shaul Mofaz. Basically, it was the most useless thing in the world. The Mofazit was too big and uncomfortable, and it took too much time to take the clip out – so soldiers just went on placing the clips in their pockets (I’ve never seen anyone actually use the Mofazit), and the army went on issuing the plastic boxes, until one day somebody put an end to the whole business.

Shaul Mofaz was appointed chief of staff mainly to prevent Mathan Vilnaiy from getting the job; later on he zigzagged between Likud and Kadima, and didn’t leave much of an impression in both parties. His last term in the government, as Minister of Transportation, was marked by professional disasters and appointments of friends and political allies to senior positions. As a person who made a name for himself for his political ambition – and not much more – it was no surprise that since the general elections Mofaz has been doing his best to push Kadima into Netanyahu’ government, so he can get himself another cabinet post. This hurt his ratings with the public even further. So it is easy to figure out why when Mofaz said he was going to announce his new diplomatic plan for an agreement with the Palestinians, most people didn’t exactly hold their breath.

But Mofaz did come up with something new: breaking one of Israel’s Taboo’s, he suggests no less than talking to Hamas:

“At the moment that Hamas sit down at the negotiating table, assuming that Hamas are elected and want to talk, they accept the Quartet’s guidelines and are no longer a terrorist organization.”

To understand the context of this idea, it’s enough to remember that just recently Netanyahu (wrongly) accused Sweden of contacts with Hamas. Read the rest of this entry »


The end of the road for Avigdor Liberman?

Posted: July 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cross -posted with FPW.

liberman_avigdorThe Israeli daily papers got into some sort of a fight this week over the state of foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s criminal investigation. While Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that the police finished its work and the decision whether to file charges against Liberman is now at the hands of the legal counselor for the government, Meni Mazuz (who serves in Israel as the head of the prosecution as well), Maariv daily paper insisted that the investigation is not over yet. But both papers agree on the basic facts: according to sources in the police, substantial evidences of corruption was found, and a criminal charge against Liberman is all but inevitable.

Is the political career of the person labeled is “Israel’s Jorg Haider” is about to reach its end? It’s hard to tell. First, in a week marked by the return to politics of the star of the 90′s, Shas’ legendary leader, Aryeh Deri, one can only repeat the lesson given by Israel’s biggest comeback kid ever, Ariel Sharon: stay on the big wheel, because the ride never really ends (a somewhat ironic idea, considering Sharon’s years of coma, which have yet come to an end). Second, it is clear that Liberman won’t leave without a fight.

Read the rest of this entry »


Occupation is fun!

Posted: July 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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I posted here yesterday the new Cellcom commercial, which I believe breaks some records in bad taste, even by Israeli standards. I would like to add now one more thought about the way this commercial represents the current moment in Israel.

I agree with Dimi Reider who writes in his blog that:

Ads aimed at the general market, like this one, are invaluable time capsules, representing public mood much more faithfully than any art. They can’t afford to affront and lose a single customer – and thus they document not just what a society really is, but what it really thinks itself to be, which can be just as decisive as facts and figures. 

This goes even further: this commercial was done by McCann Erickson Israel, the largest advertising company in Israel, for what is probably their biggest client – Cellcom, Israel’s leading cell phone provider. So one can assume that many people were involved in writing and approving the commercial, including McCann Erickson’s top directors and managers. In that sense, the commercial is no “mistake” by some low level copywriter.

Now, I would like to offer an assumption: I bet the people who wrote this commercial are not right-wing people (it is not such a radical though – according to the socio-economical profile of the people in the advertising business, they are likely to be voting for Kadima, Labor and even Meretz). What I mean is that although some people in Israel find this commercial to be in bad taste, even offending, the Israeli mainstream sees nothing wrong with it – in fact, some comments on the internet even regarded it as one that advocates peace, since instead of fighting, the soldiers and the (unseen) Palestinians are having fun playing soccer.

Read the rest of this entry »


Liberman left out; Barak lobbying for settlements

Posted: July 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The control over the relations with the US was a source of tension between Israeli PMs and their foreign ministers throughout the years. Whenever the Prime Minister assumed control over the dialogue with Washington (and being the most important element in Israeli foreign policy, this usually happened very quickly), the foreign minister would start feeling he was cut out, and behave accordingly. The fact that the foreign ministers are usually political rivals of the PM – whether in his own party or as leaders of a senior coalition partner – didn’t help either.

But yesterday we saw something new: Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman, graciously (and publicly) accepting the fact that Ehud Barak, the defense minister, has taken over the negotiations with the US special envoy, George Mitchell:

“Our relations with the United States are more important even than the dignity of the foreign minister,” Lieberman continued. “I don’t want people to say that a settler put our relations with the U.S. at risk.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Racism on the train (part IV)

Posted: April 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Israel Railways, the national train company, announced last week that it will no longer demand Army experience for the post of railways lookouts.

We have been following this story for about a month, ever since the train company tried to fire almost all of its Arab lookouts, on the pretext that it prefers to hire Army veterans for the job, i.e. Jews. The issue has reached Israel’s Labor Court, and Israel Railways’ lawyers have finally understood that they are going to lose this one.

Victory? Not so fast.

Read the rest of this entry »


Someone Blinked?

Posted: March 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: culture | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Israel’s public Radio, “Kol Israel”, just reported that Kadima and the Likud have resumed negotiations. Yossi Verter reports similar things in Haaretz:

…    sources in Kadima and Likud say there is ongoing, active underground channel between her and Netanyahu. The two don’t speak directly, but emissaries convey messages; for example, from Kadima ministers who are unhappy about their imminent forced exile from the government, or Likud officials appalled at the government that’s taking shape.

Are we going to have a national unity government after all? I’m not sure. More likely they are discussing how to build the government in a way that will enable Kadima to join it in the future.


It’s Going to Get Ugly

Posted: March 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

As I wrote here before, I believe that a Right-wing narrow government is a better option now than a “national unity government” with Netanyahu as PM and Kadima and possibly Labor joining in. But make no mistake -  there will be a dear price to pay for the return of the extreme-right to power.

Professor Zeev Sternhell – who was injured recently in an assassination attempt on his life, probably by an extreme-right terror group – touches this issue in Haaretz today:

The danger in such a government is far graver with regard to domestic issues than to issues of war and peace – because in foreign policy, including the Iranian issue, the power to make the crucial decisions is in any case in the hands of the United States and the European Union. Israel is not going to arrive at any agreement with the Arabs without American sanctions. However, no one is going to intervene if the Israelis decide to destroy the rule of law for themselves, devour human rights to the bone, establish their own rules of ethics and their own legal norms…

No doubt, it’s going to get very ugly.