Likud MK: Israeli hikers can help in identifying terrorists

Posted: January 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Tags: , , | Comments Off

The Knesset is outlawing Nazi references, but stupidity is still legal.

[Likud MK] Danny Danon – דני דנון
I held an emergency meeting in the Knesset on the Thailand travel warning for Israeli tourists. The Counter-Terrorism Bureau clarified that there are still high alerts. I decided to send a public letterthrough Chabad and other Israeli tourist connections, warning all Jews and Israelis traveling in Thailand. “Israeli hikers can help in identifing potential terrorists, and to asisst in this I distributed a sketch of the terrorist who is currently roaming freely in Thailand.”

 


Knesset bill would formalize second-class status for Arab citizens

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

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

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

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

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

Haaretz reports:

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

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

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

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

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

What will the hasbara army do then?


Everything you (never) wanted to know about Israel’s anti-boycott law

Posted: July 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A reader’s guide to democracy’s dark hour

knesset_bw

What does the law say?

Basically, the anti-boycott law allows all those who feel they have been harmed by a boycott, whether against Israel or an Israeli institution or territory (i.e. the settlements in the West Bank) to sue the person or organization who publicly called for it, for compensation. This definition is very broad—even a simple call not to visit a place falls under it—and most important, the prosecutor plaintiff doesn’t even have to prove damages.

You can read the full text of the law here (it’s not long). The important part is below (translation by ACRI):

Definition:

1. In this bill, “a boycott against the State of Israel” – deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage.

Boycott – a civil wrong:

A.     Knowingly publishing a public call for a boycott against the State of Israel will be considered a civil wrong to which the civil tort law [new version] applies, if according to the content and circumstances of the publication there is reasonable probability that the call will bring about a boycott and he who published the call was aware of this possibility.

B.     In regards to clause 62 [A] of the civil tort law [new version], he who causes a binding legal agreement to be breached by calling for a boycott against the State of Israel will not be viewed as someone who operated with sufficient justification.

C.     If the court will find that an wrong according to this law was deliberately carried out, it will be authorized to compel the person who did the wrongdoing to pay damages that are not dependent on the damage (in this clause – damages, for example); in calculating the sum of the damages for example, the court will take into consideration, among other things, the circumstances under which the wrong was carried out, its severity and its extent.

Check out Roi Maor’s analysis of the implications of this law and what it will mean:

[The boycott law] will have a significant and immediate practical effect. As of today, a wide range of people and groups who once called for a boycott will cease doing so. The space for debate and discussion in Israeli society will shrink right before our eyes.

How come this law passed three Knesset votes?

The key moments in the legislation process was a decision by Binyamin Netanyahu’s government (and by him personally, as hetold the Knesset on Wednesday) to have the entire coalition back the law. This means that the law will have the automatic support of most of the Knesset members, and that even coalition members who oppose it won’t be able to vote against it. Once the bill passed Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee—controlled by the right—it was clear for the two final votes, which took place Monday night.

So, how did Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak vote?

They didn’t. They avoided the vote. See the full roll-call from the Knesset vote.

When will the law take effect?

It already did. Starting yesterday (Tuesday), it is now illegal to call for a settlement boycott in Israel. The only part of the law which is not effective yet is article 4, which deals with the punishment of organizations that would support a boycott (they will be stripped of their special statutes). This article, which is seen as a backdoor way to persecute civil society and leftwing organizations (more on this issue here), will be made effective in 90 days.

Yesterday an Israeli Beitenu MK already threatened Arab MK Ahmed Tibi that he will be the first to feel the effect of the new law. “Whoever shows contempt for the law and stomps on it will be responsible for the outcome,” MK Miller told Tibi in the Knesset.

Is it really so bad? I heard there is a similar law in the US, and that in France, a court punished some group calling for boycott on Israel.

Those examples are very different from the Israeli law. The US legislation refers to boycott by foreign governments, and the French case had to do with a unique interpretation to a law concerning discrimination. In fact, a Knesset research report, prepared during the work on the boycott bill, concluded that it couldn’t find examples of similar laws in Western democracies, and resorted to citing examples from countries such as Venezuela, Eritrea and Ethiopia. As a result, the Knesset’s legal advisor filed an opinion stating that it would be very hard to defend this law in the High Court for Justice. The Government Attorney thinks it  is a “borderline case,” but he is willing to defend the law in court.

What about the High Court? I hear that it is likely to strike down the law as unconstitutional.

For that, Israel would need to have a constitution… But the answer is yes, many think that the court will kill the law or parts of it, and petitions on this issue has already been filed. Yet a verdict would take time, and more important, it might gravely hurt the Court’s own statues, as will be perceived as acting in against the will of the public (the right to override Knesset law is not formally granted to the Israeli high court, and therefore lies in the heart of a political controversy). Already, there are threats from leading politicians to the court not to intervene in this issue, or else they would limit the court’s power. This has become a true watershed moment for Israel.

Furthermore, there are those on the left who believe that going to the court would play into the hands of those who initiated the boycott law, and ultimately strengthen the ability of the right to introduce such pieces of legislation. Read this though-provoking piece from Yossi Gurvitz on this issue.

What about the Israeli public? Does it support this law?

Right now, yes. A poll found 52 percent of the public supporting the anti-boycott law, while only 31 opposes it.

Mike Asks: Is full boycott illigal as well?

Yes. for example, if an Israeli writes a letter to an foreign artist and suggests he cancel his gig in Tel Aviv as long as the occupation goes on, he could potentially be sued by the producer, and any other person who thinks this act hurts him. I guess that even by the bartender could sue – and they won’t have to prove damages. Calls for boycott of academic institutions are illegal too.

Alex asks regarding Foreign nationals in Israel – does the law include them too?

Yes. When in Israel, one needs to obey Israeli laws, including ones concerning damages. From what I understand from ACRI (Association of Civil Rights in Israel, which has been in the frontline of the struggle against the law), the anti-boycott law would include foreign nationals as well - as long as they make the boycott call while in Israel. One reservation is that it’s not a criminal law, so you need someone to actually sue you for damages, and the court needs to be able to collect them. My guess is that if this law remains active,  rightwing and settlers’ organizations will become serial prosecutors plaintiffs of boycotts in order to silence dissent, and, of coarse, make some money on the way.

The law doesn’t apply to foreign nationals in the West Bank, which is under military rule and not Israeli civilian law.

how about Israelis abroad?

The law should apply to Israelis everywhere in the world, so theoretically, if a Boycott from Within activist gives a lecture in London, he could be sued by a fellow citizen upon his return to Israel. Still, it seems that suing over offenses done abroad will be more complicated; check out Woody’s comment from 12:51PM for a discussion of some of the problems it raises. I could only add that with every new law–not just this one–it’s hard to predict the outcome of such borderline cases. We can only wait the rulings of Israeli courts to see how they interpret the law.

Is discussing or repealing the law legal?

Yes it is. Remember that it is not a criminal law but a tort one, so as long as you don’t advocate boycott while repealing the law, nobody has “a reason” to sue you.

—————–

This article was cross-posted with 972 Magazine. The answers are to questions posted there.


Poll: Israeli public supports boycott law

Posted: July 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Polls, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

The anti-boycott law is already considered the most controversial to come out of the current Knesset, but it seems that this controversy exists mostly in the media, and outside Israel.

A recent poll, done for the Knesset channel and posted on the rightwing Srugim site,  52 percent of the Israeli public supports the law, and only 31 oppose it – not very different from the majority the law received in the Knesset. In that sense, the Israeli Parliament members represent their voters perfectly.

Srugim didn’t provide the data for the poll or the original questions asked, so we should take these numbers with a grain of salt. Also, the polls was apparently done in the morning following the vote, so the results might change with time.

According to the poll 43 percent of the public think the law will hurt Israel’s image in the world.


Boycott bill rollcall: How did they vote?

Posted: July 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The three most important ministers in the Israeli cabinet – Foreign Minister Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak and Prime Minister Netanyahu – didn’t bother to attend the deciding vote on the boycott bill

———————–

The anti-boycott law, perhaps the most important piece of legislation to come out of the Israeli parliament in recent years, passed with a 47-38 majority. This is how the Knesset members voted, followed by a few notes:

COALITION

Likud
Ofir Akunis – Yes
Ze`ev Binyamin Begin – Yes
Danny Danon – Yes
Yuli-Yoel Edelstein – Yes
Michael Eitan – Not present (*)
Zeev Elkin – Yes
Gilad Erdan – Not present
Gila Gamliel – Not present
Tzipi Hotovely – Yes
Moshe Kahlon – Yes
Ayoob Kara – Yes
Haim Katz – Yes
Yisrael Katz – Yes
Yariv Levin – Yes
Limor Livnat – Yes
Dan Meridor – Not present
Lea Nass – Not present
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – Not present (**)
Yossi Peled – Yes
Zion Pinyan – Yes
Miri Regev – Yes
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin – Didn’t vote
Education Minister Gideon Sa`ar – Not present
Silvan Shalom – Not present
Carmel Shama – Yes
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz – Yes
Deputy PM Moshe Ya`alon – Yes

Yisrael Beitenu
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch – Not present
Hamad Amar – Yes
Daniel Ayalon – Yes
Robert Ilatov – Not present
Fania Kirshenbaum – Yes
Uzi Landau – Yes
Sofa Landver – Yes
Orly Levi-Abekasis – Yes
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman – Not present
Moshe Mutz Matalon – Not present
Anastassia Michaeli – Yes
Alex Miller – Yes
Stas Misezhnikov – Yes
David Rotem – Not present
Lia Shemtov – Yes

Shas
Chaim Amsellem – Yes
Ariel Atias – Not present
David Azoulay – Yes
Amnon Cohen – Not present
Yitzhak Cohen – Yes
Yakov Margi – Yes
Avraham Michaeli – Yes
Meshulam Nahari – Yes
Yitzhak Vaknin – Yes
Interior Minister Eliyahu Yishai – Yes
Nissim Zeev – Not Present

Haatzma`ut (Labor faction) (***)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak – Not present
Orit Noked – Not present
Shalom Simhon – Not present
Matan Vilnai – Not present
Einat Wilf – Didn’t vote

United Torah Judaism
Israel Eichler – Not Present
Moshe Gafni – Yes
Yakov Litzman – Yes
Uri Maklev – Yes
Menachem Eliezer Moses – Yes

Habayit Hayehudi – New National Religious Party
Daniel Hershkowitz – Yes
Uri Orbach – Yes
Zevulun Orlev – Yes

OPPOSITION

Kadima
Nino Abesadze – No
Rachel Adatto – No
Eli Aflalo – No
Doron Avital – No
Ruhama Avraham Balila – No
Ronnie Bar-On – No
Arie Bibi – Not present
Zeev Bielski – No
Avi Dichter – No
Jacob Edery – Not present
Gideon Ezra – Not present
Israel Hasson – No
Yoel Hasson – Not present
Shai Hermesh – No
Dalia Itzik – No
Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni – No
Shaul Mofaz – No
Shlomo (Neguse) Molla – No
Yohanan Plesner – No
Otniel Schneller – Not present
Nachman Shai – Not present
Yulia Shamalov Berkovich – Not present
Meir Sheetrit – No
Marina Solodkin – No
Ronit Tirosh – No
Robert Tiviaev – No
Majallie Whbee – No
Orit Zuaretz – No

Ha`avoda (Labor)

Binyamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer – Not present
Daniel Ben Simon – No
Avishay Braverman – No
Eitan Cabel – No
Isaac Herzog – Not present
Raleb Majadele – No
Amir Peretz – No
Shelly Yacimovich – No

Hadash

Afou Agbaria – No
Mohammad Barakeh – No
Dov Khenin – No
Hanna Swaid – No

Ra`am-Ta`al
Talab El-Sana – Not present
Masud Ganaim – No
Ibrahim Sarsur – No
Ahmad Tibi – No

National Democratic Assembly (Balad)
Said Naffaa – Not present
Jamal Zahalka – No
Hanin Zoabi – No

New Movement – Meretz

Zahava Gal-On – No
Ilan Gilon – No
Nitzan Horowitz – No

Ichud Leumi    (****)

Uri Yehuda Ariel – Yes
Michael Ben Ari – Not present
Arieh Eldad – Yes
Yaakov (Katzeleh) Katz – Yes

(*) The custom in the Knesset is that opposition and coalition members who cannot attend a vote can agree to essentially cancel each other out. In major votes, parties tend to limit mutual cancellations as much as possible; therefore it is not always clear whether a Knesset member who didn’t come to the vote was cancelled out or chose to be absent for other reasons.

(**) Many of the votes were those of backbenchers, and it seems that the leading ministers preferred not to be present at the vote, once it was clear that the law was going to pass. The three most important ministers in the government–Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—chose not to attend the vote. Some leadership Israel has.

(***) The entire Ha’atzmaut faction, until recently a part of the dovish Labor party, chose not to oppose the boycott law nor to support it.

(***) Officially, the extreme-right Ihud Leumi party is not part of the government, but it supports much of its policies and all rightwing legislation in the Knesset.

Update: in response to a reader’s question, an MK who appears as “not present” wasn’t at the assembly during the vote. “Didn’t vote” simply means abstained. As you can see, Knesset members prefer not to be seen on TV refraining from voting, so unless they really have to (like in the case of the Knesset’s speaker), they simply disappear when an unpleasant vote approaches.
Update II: In response to more comments – almost all pieces of legislation don’t require ”an absolute majority” of 61 members. Still, if the coalition needed it, there would have been no problem to get 61 hands for this vote.
Aryeh: I regret to say I that don’t share your (limited) optimism. I tend to think that this vote was seen as a very major one – with a long filibuster and 87 members present (normally only 30-40 come to vote), from all the house’s parties. Plus, two MKs were too ill to vote; one had buried his mom on Monday, and most important, I think that the members who failed to show up did it on purpose. We know of two Kadima members who supported the bill (Schneller and Shamalov-Berkovich) and will be “punished” by their party today; several Likud MK opposed the law: House Speaker Rivlin, Minister Meridor and probably Eithan. One surprise came from Benni Begin, the son of the legendary Likud leader, who used to be considered a defender of personal liberties, and voted Yes. And there is, of coarse, Ehud Barak’s party, who fled the battleground. We should remember that this was a government-backed bill, so any party that would have voted against the law was signaling its desire to leave the coalition – yet I believe that had Barak taken a stand, Neatnyahu would have thought twice before approving this particular piece of legislation. In that sense, Barak’s absence is somewhat of a support.

What’s the mysterious story behind the Ofer Brothers’ “Iran-gate”?

Posted: June 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The controversy surrounding business ties of shipping companies owned by Israeli tycoons to Iran took a surprising turn in the Knesset today, leading to a torrent of security-oriented rumors and hints of covert operations

this post was updated.

It’s been several days that the Israeli media is revealing information regarding alleged violations of the economical boycott on Iran by Israel’s richest business tycoons, Sammi and Yuli Ofer. The affair, which was first covered by the business sections of the papers, has come to dominate the news cycle in the last 24 hours, following a bizarre chain of events.

The Ofer Brothers made their fortune mainly in the shipping business. Since the 90′s, when Israel went through rapid privatization of public assets, the Ofer Brothers have become—through their holdings in Israel Corporation—the owners of some of the country’s largest companies, including the Haifa Chemical Plants and Zim, formally the national shipping company.

Today the Ofer Brothers own the world’s largest shipping company. They rank 79 in Fortunes’ list of world billionaires.

Their current troubles began when the US State Department announced it would impose sanctions on the Ofer Brothers Group, following sale of one of their ships (through a third company) to Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL). The Ofer Brothers claimed they didn’t know the tanker would end up in Iranian hands, but in the last few days, it was also revealed that no less than 13 of their ships—sailing under foreign flags—docked in Iranian ports.

While government ministers—including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu—kept quiet on this issue, the media hasn’t. Pundits and commentators claimed that the Ofer Brothers not only violated Israel’s own law, but more importantly, severely hurt Israel’s demand that the international community tighten sanctions on Tehran.

This week, following claims from representatives of the Ofer family that all their activities were known to Israeli authorities, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office told the media that the state had no knowledge of the docking of Ofer tankers in Iran.

Yesterday, however, the affair took a surprising turn. First, former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, said that the coverage of the Ofer Brothers issue has been “blown out of proportion.”

The daily Yedioth Ahronoth interpreted Dagan’s remarks as a “hint” to the media that the Ofer Brothers’ ships were traveling to Iran with the blessing of Israel’s security establishment. “Dagan’s hint” was the papers’ top headline today; under it a source in the Ofer holding group was quoted as saying: “Israel has used us for national interests more than once.”

Headline of Yedioth Ahronoth daily, May 30: “Dagan’s hint”

Later today, a debate in the Knesset’s economic committee on the activities of the Ofer Brothers was stopped abruptly by the committee’s chairman, Karmel Shama-Hacohen, a hawkish Likud Member, following a mysterious note that was slipped to him from an unknown source. Shama-Hacohen refused to disclose the content of the note, and just said the “it wasn’t political, nor business oriented.”

By this point, every other comment on the internet was some form of speculation about the covert operations of the Ofer family in Iran. In a few short hours, the Ofer family was about to go from villains to national heroes.

So, what was really in the note Shama-Hacohen got? Towards the evening, after several Knesset members demanded to know why the committee meeting was brought to an end in such an unorthodox way, Shama-Hacohen admitted the mysterious note had nothing to do with security (which leaves very few issues that it could have been related to), and the Army Censor issued a rare statement, declaring it had not nothing to do with shutting down the Knesset hearing.

So now, we are back in square one, and the Ofer family will have to come up with a better explanation regarding their activities than the vague hints of special operations. But once again, it was demonstrated how easy it is to spin the debate in Israel—to the point of stopping a formal Knesset hearing—once “national security” is mentioned.

UPDATE: Haaretz is reporting this morning (Wednesday) that the new National Security Advisor, Yaakov Amidror, worked for the Ofer Brothers at the time their alleged deals with Iran were made. Amidror left his job with Zim and Israel Corporate roughly two months ago, when he was appointed as the new NSA.


Following the storm: Netanyahu is at the mercy of Lieberman

Posted: January 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ehud Barak has ended his days as an independent politician, the peace process is officially over, and the fate of Netanyahu’s government is now at the hands of Israel Beitenu’s leader, Avigdor Lieberman. A few notes following the political earthquake at the Knesset

1. Ehud Barak. The former leader of Labor effectively joined the Likud today. He did register a new party called Atzmaut (Hebrew for “independence”) but nobody seriously thinks that Barak and the four backbenchers who left Labor with him would run on their own in the next elections. Barak is not a good campaigner, and even if he was, his public image is in an all-time low. Most pundits estimate that Barak already has a promise from Netnayhu to continue serving as Defense Minister if the Likud wins elections again. Whether or not it’s true, this is the end of the road for Ehud Barak as an independent politician; from now on, his political fate is at the hands of Netanyahu.

2. Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is seen by some as the day’s winner, but in fact, all he did was cut his losses. Netanyahu needed Labor in his government to balance its rightwing elements and most notably, Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu. Recently, the PM reached the conclusion that Labor won’t last in his coalition much longer, so he decided to keep a minimum of loyal supporters and not lose the entire party. Instead of the 13 seats Labor held (out of which 8-9 were loyal to the coalition), Netanyahu was left with five. Not enough to match Lieberman’s 15, but still, better than nothing.

Netanyahu will enjoy a more stable coalition now. Together with Barak and his 5 Knesset Members, he has 66 MKs behind him, and four more members of the radical rightwing Ihud Leumi party that could be made part of the government in case of political troubles. As long as Lieberman and his 15 votes are with him, Netanyahu is safe.

3. Avigdor Lieberman is now the strongest politician in Israel. He holds what was the traditional position of the Orthodox parties: The block between the coalition and the opposition. Lieberman knows that, and he will make Netanyahu’s life miserable. Eventually, he might even bring the government down in a maneuver that should have more Likud votes go his way in the next elections. Polls have him approaching 20 seats, but Lieberman wants more. The wild card is the General Prosecutor’s decision whether to press charges against Lieberman, expected to be given in a few weeks. Lieberman, it seems, has already launched his counter-attack, claiming in a weekend interview to Yedioth Ahronoth that he is the victim of political persecution. Even if Lieberman is forced to resign, the fate of the government would remain in his hands.

4. Labor might split again, with some members deserting to Meretz or forming a new political party. Anyway, Kadima will continue to be the strong center-left force in the Knesset, with one or two more parties to its left.

5. The peace process is dead. In case anyone had any doubts, the day’s events made it clear that from now on, this government won’t be able to take even the tiniest step towards a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has used his political credit: The slightest indication that he is willing to consider concessions, and the rightwing elements in his party would have the government fall. The PM has no room to maneuver.

To renew direct negotiations the Kadima-Left block would need to come closer to 60 seats in the next elections (it has 50 now). It could happen if international pressure on Israel continues, and if the Obama Administration reveals Netanyahu’s refusal to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians. This type of pressure could be effective, much in the way the confrontation with George Bush’s administration hurt PM Yitzhak Shamir in 1992′s elections and paved the way to Oslo.


The myth of “Good Israel” vs. “Bad Israel”

Posted: January 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Some thoughts following Jeffrey Goldberg’s public doubts regarding the Israeli commitment to democratic values

“What If Israel Ceases to Be a Democracy?” asked the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg a couple of weeks ago. “Am I being apocalyptic? Yes. Am I exaggerating the depth of the problem? I certainly hope so,” he added.

Well, This week Goldberg got his answer from the Knesset: no, you are not exaggerating. As Roi Maor and Yossi Gurvits write, the decision to form a special committee which will look into the activities of human rights organizations is one big step away from the limited democracy Israel used to be. Where does it all lead? I honestly don’t know.

But I wanted to discuss something else. Reading his post, what struck me most was the way Goldberg analyzed the causes for the current political trends in Israel:

I will admit here that my assumption has usually been that Israelis, when they finally realize the choice before them (many have already, of course, but many more haven’t, it seems), will choose democracy, and somehow extract themselves from the management of the lives of West Bank Palestinians. But I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society. I’m speaking here of four groups, each ascendant to varying degrees: The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose community continues to grow at a rapid clip; the working-class religious Sephardim — Jews from Arab countries, mainly — whose interests are represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party; the settler movement, which still seems to get whatever it needs in order to grow; and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and leader of the “Israel is Our Home” party.

This is a return to the old “good Israel” vs. “Bad Israel” theory. According to this idea, there are the peace-loving, democratic and liberal Israeli Jews, who represent the “real” values on which the country was born, and there are the “bad”, Sephardic Jews, Ultra-orthodox and Russian immigrants, who are to blame for all the current hiccups what was a model democracy until not that long ago. Goldberg is actually angry with them for taking away “his” Israel. I think he represents many in saying that

the Israel that I see today is not the Israel I was introduced to more than twenty years ago. The rise to power of the four groups I mentioned above has changed, in some very serious ways (which I will write about later) the nature and character of the Jewish state.

Let’s not deal with what some see as latent racism in these assumptions (I don’t think this is the case with Goldberg), and talk politics instead. First, Shas, is actually weaker than at any point since the mid nineties. The party is going through an internal crisis (some say it will split once its spiritual leader, Ovadia Yosef, passes away). The other Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, has five seats – roughly the same number it always had. As for Avigdor Lieberman, the conventional wisdom is that only 60-something percent of his votes were from Russian immigrants and the rest came from ordinary middle class Jews. Pollsters claim that those middle class voters are the reason for Lieberman’s rise in the last elections (and probably, in the next ones).

We are left with Goldberg’s favorite target, the settlers. Contrary to the common belief, the settlers are also weaker than ever: the National Religious Party, which used to represent their interests, split into two, and the only real hard-core, rightwing party (The National Unity) has only four Knesset seats and was left out of the government by Netanyahu.

So, If the settlers and the orthodox might be so weak– or at least, not stronger than ever – how come we end up with the most racist, rightwing Knesset in the country’s history?

The answer is as simple as it is unpleasant: it’s Israel’s “good guys” that turned bad – and maybe they weren’t that good in the first place. The Israeli middle class, the good ole’ boys, are the ones supporting the racist bills in the Knesset and the anti-democratic initiatives. In other words, we always had Rabbis like Shmuel Eliyahu and members of Knesset like Kahane’s student Michael Ben-Ari. The difference is that now, we have Kadima and Likud backing them.

Just like the settlements couldn’t have been built without the active support and participation of the Israeli center-left (including Labor party, which started the whole thing back in the 70′s), the current torrent of racist bills couldn’t have come without the help of Kadima, Labor and Likud members. And with all the ridiculous, xenophobic and undemocratic ideas they came up with, their public can’t get enough. When it comes to questions of human rights and democracy, there is no coalition and opposition in the Knesset: Almost everyone is on the same side.

Israel has always been a place that favored Jews over non-Jews. It was always a country that confiscated and colonized Arab land, on both sides of the 67′ borders. In the past, it was easier to avoid those issues, but today, faced with a choice between democracy and the “Jewishness” of the state, it’s clear what almost all Israelis – and not just the Russians and the Hassidic – prefer.

By now, any reasonable person can understand that the “good guys” won’t save the day. It’s more likely that they will vote again for Lieberman or Kadima – two parties that actually get along quite well ( some Kadima Knesset Members even joined the coalition on the shameful vote this week). Dennis Ross and others can spend another decade in efforts to create the political environment that would allow the peace camp in Israel to take the lead again – without real outside pressure, it simply won’t happen. With the exception of Rabin’s government, this country was led by conservative politicians, all of them but one from the Likud, since 1986. And people still don’t get it: Israel wasn’t hijacked by the right. It was there all along.


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.


Again

Posted: October 27th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: elections | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

So, it’s election time in Israel. Again.

As expected, Tzipi Livni informed president Peres today that she was unable to form a coalition, and though Peres may give another MK a chance to do so, it is more likely that we will have a general election in the beginning of 2009, probably in February.

The truth is Livni didn’t have a chance to begin with: she couldn’t form a left-center government because Shaul Mofaz and the right wing of Kadima would veto it, and a center government with Shas was just too expensive. Shas was asking for too much: expensive financial support for Hasidic families, and a veto on any negotiations with the Palestinians regarding Jerusalem. The reality is that Shas just didn’t want to form this government. Its leader, Eliy Yishay, would rather have an election now, because in less than a year Aryeh Deri, the former leader of the party who was indicted in court and banned from political life, will be able to run for office again.

But are the elections good news, and for whom? The right wing, both here and in the US, is celebrating. They feared a Livni government that would move forward in the peace process, possibly even on both fronts – Syria and the Palestinians. They also believe that with Netanyahu riding high in the polls, they have a fare chance of forming a stable center-right coalition. Netanyahu believes that together with Liberman the extreme “Ichud Leumi – Madal” party and the religious parties, he will have a block of more than 60 MK (which makes half of the parliament), and than he can force Kadima, and even Labor, into his government, giving it the necessary stability and international credibility.

However, it is not very likely that Netanyahu’s victory will be THAT big, and then he will be confronted with two options: a right wing government that will provoke international pressure, or a center government that would demand moving forward in the peace process. And then what? I really think Netanyahu doesn’t know. My impression is that he doesn’t have a serious idea as to what to do with the West Bank. Nobody in the right wing – with the possible exception of Liberman – has. Like Shamir, Sharon and even Netanyahu himself on his last visit to the PM office, if he does nothing, the world and the left will pressure him, and when he start negotiating, the right wing will get him.

In other words, there is no escaping two fundamental facts about our politics:

The first: the Palestinian problem is the basic element that shapes the political dynamics in Israel. It can not be avoided, and even confronting it won’t save you sometimes.

The second: the current political system does not allow the government to really rule. All the PM does, from his first day in office, is maintaining jobs for his coalition.

That’s why we had five general elections in ten years (including the 2001 special election and the upcoming 2009 election). I can’t see any reason for the fate of the new government to be any different from that of previous ones.