Last week, I was invited to a bloggers meeting with the heads of Meretz. The invitation stated that all three Meretz’s MK will be there, but only Haim “Jumas” Oron, the current head of the party, showed up, accompanied by former MK Moshe (Mossi) Raz (former chairman of Peace Now) and Yifat Solel of Meretz leadership.
The event itself turned out to be a sort of a roundtable. Haim Oron opened and said that Meretz is looking for ways to be more effective after the blow it suffered in the last elections. Meretz got an all-times low of three seats out of the Knesset’s 120. Now the party is looking for new members, and hopes to form new alliances with other political movements. More then getting their message through, said Oron, they wanted to listen.
I have been to several such leftist events in the past year, with political leaders and activists asking themselves what can be done now. The Meretz meeting was one of the more frustrating events I attended.
One blogger started by asking Meretz’s leaders whether the anti-left trends in Israel have to do with the economical and ideological trends in Europe. Then came the tired debate on the left and the poor, also know as “we work for them in the Knesset, and they vote for Bibi.” Some people complained that Meretz doesn’t have a woman in the Knesset, nor a Sephardic Jew or a religious one.
It’s almost twenty years that the Israeli Left is having this sort of discussions.
When my turn to talk came, I said that I feel that all these issues don’t matter now. Something has changed in Israel in the last year. An organized attack on civil liberties is taking place. It is aimed against the radical left and the Arabs, but this is only the beginning, and racism is on the rise. This is an explosive combination. It seems to me that Israel is on a very dangerous crossroad, perhaps even past it. And Meretz is acting as if it’s business as usual.
A few of the political bloggers present at the meeting joined me. Itamar Shaltiel and Yossi Gurvitz said that Meretz cannot limit its work to the Knesset. The real game today is in the public arena, and Meretz is not taking part in it. We argued that Meretz should lead the protests in Jerusalem Jaffa and other places. I said that it’s not enough to vote against the Nakba law, and that they should publicly challenge such bills. Extreme right activists march in Arab towns and neighborhoods. Meretz Knesset Members can use their immunity and lead the protesters in Sheikh Jarrah into the disputed part of the neighborhood, to which the police only allows the settlers.
Former Haaretz Editor David Landau recently wrote that if the “boycott law” is passed, we should boycott the Knesset. He invited the state to prosecute him for these words. This sort of tactic, of challenging anti-democratic legislation, is very common in civil rights campaigns. But for some reason, this thinking is alien to the Zionist Left in Israel. Meretz officials do come to the demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, but they never lead it. They vote against the Nakba law or the boycott low, but they would not defy them.
The problem is that voting is not that important right now. There is an overwhelming majority for these kinds of bills in the current Knesset. If an anti-democratic bill is not passed, it’s only because the government doesn’t want it to pass, usually out of concern for its image. Even if Meretz had six or seven seats instead of just three, it would not have change much. Not with eighty members of Knesset on the other side.
Haim Oron was very honest with us in his reply. “You are asking me to be a radical, and I’m not one,” he said. “I haven’t given up hope on the Knesset and on the Jewish public. My goal is to reach the twenty-something seats that used to vote for center-left parties. I haven’t given up on them.”
The debate went on, but both sides just repeated what was said. I did feel that Mossi Raz and Yifat Solel were closer to my way of thinking, but Meretz MKs are simply unreachable – two didn’t show up to the meeting and the third, which happens to head the party, simply views things differently. More then anything, it seems that Meretz is like a relic from a different age, holding on to ideas and tactics of the mid 90′s, drawing lines between them and the non-Zionist left and looking for support in the Israeli center, which has long gone to the right (at least Meretz is not moving with it, like Labor and Kadima do).
I don’t know if a different approach would get Meretz more votes. They might do nothing and still win some leftwing voters back from Kadima, or they might be wiped out completely if Channel 2 anchorman Yair Lapid decides to run to the Knesset and takes Meretz’s strongholds at Tel Aviv’s northern suburbs (the latter seems more likely). But this is not that important. What really matters is that right now, Meretz has no affect on the political reality in Israel.
Official blog of the Meretz campaign, with other accounts on last week’s bloggers meeting (Hebrew).
House Committee recommended revoking special privileges from Arab MK Hanin Zoabi. Other Arab MKs received threats from public and house members alike
Today, Israelis took their anger and frustration over the disastrous raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla on Arab Members of Knesset.
The Knesset’s House Committee recommended revoking special privileges from Arab MK Hanin Zoabi, who was on the Mavi Marmara. Though it was never claimed that MK Zoabi had anything to do with the attack on the soldiers, and she definitely didn’t break any law by boarding the ship in Turkey, the decision against her was passed by a majority of seven to one, with only MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz opposing it.
During the debate, Committee Chairman Yariv Levin from Netanyahu’s Likud party expelled from the room Both MK Gilon and Hadash Jewish MK Dov Khenin who tried to defend Zoabi. Gilon later returned to take part in the vote (Khenin is not a committee member).
The Knesset committee recommended rescinding from Zuabi three key privileges usually granted to Knesset Members. One is the privilege to exit the country – which is supposed to prevent Zoabi from fleeing Israel if she commits a felony or has debts in Israel.
Another privilege is carrying a diplomatic passport, which according to the Knesset’s legal adviser, is a privilege that does not grant diplomatic immunity so revoking it would not make it more difficult for Zuabi to fulfill her duties.
The third privilege is the right to have the Knesset cover litigation fees of an MK if he or she is put on trial.
The revocation of Zuabi’s privileges is conditional on the approval of the Knesset plenum.
Zuabi has been receiving death threats in recent days, and there was even a Facebook group calling to execute her. She became the first MK to have bodyguards escorting her even inside the Knesset, after last week several Knesset members tried to prevent her from speaking, and came near to physically attacking her, as can be seen in this video:
UPDATE: Here the rest of MK Zoabi’s speech at the Knesset, this time with English subtitles. Notice the way Knesset chairman Rubi Rivlin (Likud) defended Zoabi (for most part); too bad he stood almost alone against so many house members. Rivlin also said today that the Knesset has reached an “intolerable low” this week.
Arab MK Ahmed Tibi also received death threats today. An anonymous called told his that “your days are numbered. If a beloved Prime Minister was murdered, what’s killing you compared to that?”. You can here the threats (in Hebrew) on the audio player in this report. Notice the comments to the article, many of them claiming Tibi “deserves it”. Arab MK Taleb el-Sana received today death threats by fax. There was also a Facebook group calling to burn him.
You don’t have to look far in order to find the people inciting the public against the Arab MKs. This morning, all Arab Knesset members received a letter from their colleague MK Michael Ben-Ari – a known racist and the student of the late Rabi Meir Kahana, whose movement, Kach, was outlawed both in Israel and in the US – informing them that:
“Tomorrow the Knesset committee will decide on revoking the immunity of the Knesset Members who are collaborating with the enemy. The first debate will be regarding your friend MK Zoabi, who led the terror flotilla to Gaza.
“After we deal with her your turn will come! The people had enough with the use of Israeli democracy to destroy the state. Tomorrow it will be Zoabi, and next week yourselves!”
● It seems that Israel will also appoint a legal inquiry committee into the flotilla, with international experts as observers. The panel won’t be able to collect testimonies from soldiers and officers, and will deal mainly with the legal aspects of the attack. Clearly, this is not the investigation the UN and European community demanded, and the question is whether the White House will accept it (I wrote here why it shouldn’t).
● Egypt authorities informed today that Gaza border will stay open indefinitely. This is a great victory for the flotilla, but Israel might benefit from this move as well, as it makes Gaza more of Cairo’s problem, something Egypt has been trying to avoid.
New York, NY – Staying in an apartment on Morningside Heights, Manhattan, I pass every day on my way to the Subway through Columbia University’s campus. Last Monday, as part of the Israel Apartheid Week, anti-occupation activists placed in the heart of the campus a small model of the separation wall, with some leaflets attached to it and a few Palestinian flags. In front of them, on the other side of the walkway crossing the campus, pro-Israel students had their own campaign going on, with their leaflets and posters, most of them detailing Israel’s security concerns.
From my point of view, the most surprising fact was that the “Israeli” campaign was launched by students who claimed to be pro-peace, under the title of Peace Week for Israelis and Palestinians. In Israel, peace is not a very popular notion right now, and human rights as well as peace groups are on the run, as the recent campaign against the NIF showed so well. But here in New York, and facing a Palestinian campaign, the pro-peace students seemed to be much more vocal than the Right wing people one would expect to find in such occasions.
This is one of those incidents that make the debate in the US so different from what’s going on in Israel. While the Israeli supporters of Meretz or Peace Now I know wouldn’t approve of Apartheid week, I don’t think any of them would take part in the Hasbara counter-attack either, especially not these days, and not with this Israeli government. Things are obviously different here, and I found myself wondering what to make of them. Is it a sign of maturity on the part of Israel’s supporters and an effort to handle the complexity of the situation, or simply another example of how out of touch they are with political reality?
Apartheid week in Columbia university
Judging from the material I was handed by these pro-Israel-pro-peace activists, they seemed to be more in line with Avigdor Liberman than with Meretz. To justify the construction of the separation wall, they cited Israeli statistics regarding the number of terror casualties before and after the separation barrier was constructed. The posters wondered if US citizens wouldn’t support building such a barrier had their life been threatened by their neighborhoods.
A leaflet signed by LionPac, the Pro-Israel Columbia student group, read that:
“The Israeli Security Barrier was constructed not to mistreat or dominate Palestinians, but rather to save Israeli civilian lives and prevent terrorists from entering Israeli cities…
“Palestinian property owners whose land has been used in building the security Barrier have been offered compensation by the Israeli government for the use of their land and for damage to their trees.”
Naturally, all these claims could have been taken seriously had Israel built the security barrier on its own land, or on the Green line. but Israel chose to build it’s fence/wall deep into the west Bank, cutting through Palestinian villages and neighborhoods, separating people from their relatives, children from their schools, farmers from their land. If the US felt threatened by its neighbors it might have build such a barrier on its northern or southern border, but it wouldn’t dream building it in the heart of Canada or Mexico, and that makes all the difference.
As for the claim that Palestinians were compensate, this is something between a gross exaggeration to a blunt lie: not only that the IDF or the government never had the Palestinians’ rights in their minds while building the barrier, even now they are violating our own Supreme Court rulings regarding parts of the fence that needs to be moved west.
Another item distributed by the pro-peace students was a “Pocket Facts” booklet produced by the pro-Israeli organization Stand With Us. After recycling some historical myths, and just before stating that “Israel has enacted affirmative action policies to help minority citizens achieve full social and economic equality” (I would love to get examples), these booklets actually have two pages titled “Israeli Communities beyond the Green Line”, which make a case for the legitimacy of the settlements!
“Israel built settlements to ensure its security, and Israelis resettled land their families owned in the West Bank” [the truth is first settlements had nothing to do with security, but with return to so called holy sites; and in all but a handful of cases, they were built on either private or public Palestinian land]… Most Palestinians in the West bank live in built-up cities and towns… With peaceful negotiations, [80 percent of the settlements] can be incorporated into Israel with some minor border modifications and do not impact Palestinian population centers.”
I’m beginning to wonder what kind of peace the people of Stand with Us and LionPac have in mind.
I won’t go to more details regarding the rest of the stuff on the leaflets and the Stand With Us booklets, but rest assure that it suffers from the same poor arguments or distortion of facts. My point is that this sort of reasoning explains why many people view today the peace process as a tool to legitimize the Israeli occupation. What these pro-peace students saw as peace had to do only with the security concerns and with the anxieties of Jews, and nothing with the rights of the Palestinians. They failed to address the two key issues raised by the pro-Palestinian side: that the separation wall is not (only) a security barrier, since it was built deep into the Palestinians territory; and that the ethnic separation regime used under the military occupation in the West Bank could be labeled as a de-facto Apartheid (as oppose to a de-jure one), now that it has been going on from more than 40 years.
But what saddened me most, and not for the first time, was the total lack of empathy towards the Palestinians that I sensed from these pro-Israeli students. And while I can understand why Israelis can be so blind to the realities of the occupation, considering the very real (if not always justified) existential threat they feel – something Israel’s critic fail again and again to grasp – I don’t see what prevents a Liberal American student from imagining, even for a moment, what it’s like to live almost two generations under military rule.
In all the “pro-peace” material I found in Columbia, I never saw any mention of the restrictions on freedom of travel and of freedom of speech on all Palestinians; of the fact that Palestinians are tried in military courts and not allowed due process for more than forty years now; and of course, of the fact that they are the only people in the world who hold no citizenship. On occasions I tried to raise these issues, I was met with indifference, even some hostility. In short, people wouldn’t even listen. It seemed that for these Columbia students, “peace” was desirable only as a mean to serve one party’s interest. To them, it is as if one should support “peace” not because it might end an unjustified occupation or promote the values we supposedly share, but just because it might be good for Israelis.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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 »
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.
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.
Journalist Dimi Reider came across this Israeli Facebook group called “Death to Arabs” (UPDATE: the group has been deleted, probably by Facebook). Take a look (click on the picture to see it in full size):
The messages posted on the group’s homepage are calling for the killing of Arabs and Leftists. There is a debate amongst the group members, on whether all Arabs should be killed, or only some, while the rest should be deported. The photos uploaded to the group show the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahana and a small Meretz demonstration.
The important thing here is not that there are some several hundred racists in Israel, who wish to see the Arabs gone. We always had those – Kahana followers, transfer supporters, etc. The thing is that these people are not just scribbling graffiti in the dark anymore. They are registered to a public group, with their name and their picture, where all their friends can see them (for those of you who don’t use Facebook – when someone joins a group on the site, all his friends get notified. In this case, they will all see some sort of statues line, declaring that “X has joined the group ‘Death to Arabs’”). The people on this group don’t think that they need to hide. They don’t think that there is anything wrong with racism, hate-talk or incitement. In fact, they are rather proud of it.
The group looks as though it is five months old. It currently has 2,165 members. It seems that most of them are minors – your normal Israeli teens. Soon they will join the army.
UPDATE II: I believe in tough moderating: in Facebook, news sites, and here as well. I’ve been getting some extreme comments to this post. Please respect my discussion policy.
This blog is written from the Left. I try to describe events in the most objective way, but I don’t hide my views. I believe that our first political obligations as Israelis is to do all that we can to end the forty two years old occupation of the West Bank, and to stop the siege on Gaza, which is another form of occupation. I also think that racism is becoming a major problem in Israeli society, and that we must do everything in our power to fight it. These are the principles I see in front of me when I consider which government is best for Israel.
The options range between bad and worse. The parties that advocate a full withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and who are truly committed to democratic values, got three percent of the Jewish vote in the last elections. Three.
The final results of the general elections were published on Thursday evening. Here they are, together with the polls’ average I posted here and my own projection.
Everyone missed out on the big surprise of the election – Kadima passing the Likud and becoming the biggest party again. The reason is simple: a new law prevents publishing polls in the last 4 days before an election. In the days leading to the elections, there was a significant move of voters from left-wing parties to Kadima, probably in order to stop Netanyahu. Meretz and Labor lost 3-4 MKs to Kadima in the 72 hours prior to the elections.
2:15 AM. As I write this post, around 25 percent of the votes have been counted, and one thing is clear: Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s next Prime minister
Don’t let Kadima’s narrow advantage in the exit polls fool you. These results are going to change as more votes come in, but even if Kadima maintains its lead, the Right wing will have a clear majority in the Knesset. That means that Tzipi Livni won’t be able to form a government, or to stop Netanyahu from forming one. The game is over.
2:40 AM: Ynet reports that after counting 83 percent of the polls, Kadima leads with 29 MKs, while the Likud has 27. Meretz suffered the biggest blow: Israel’s liberal party has only 3 MKs. The Right maintains its lead, with 64 MKs out of 120.
3:00 AM. Final results will only be published in a couple of days, but as things look now, we will have a Right-Center coalition, probably with Netanyahu as PM. He will try to have Livni and Kadima as his senior partners. Yes, all the leftists who voted for Livni in order to stop Netanyahu will discover that they actually helped him build a more stable coalition.
If for some reason Kadima will refuse to join Netanyahu’s government, he will have the option to form a coalition with the Extreme-Right and Orthodox parties.
3:05 AM. The “good” news: Liberman with 15 seats for now. He might get to 16 when the soldiers votes are added. It is still too much for the populist and racist politician he is, but far from the 20 MKs his supporters were hoping for.
3:30 AM. More than 90 percent of the votes are in. Kdima has 29 seats, Likud 27, Israel Beitenu 15, Labor 13, Shas 11, Yahadut Hatorah 4, Hadash 4, Raam 4, Ihud Leumi 4, Meretz 3, Balad 3, Habait Hayehudi 3. There will be some minor changes when the soldiers’ votes are counted, and all seat allocation rules applied.