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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

Israeli BDS activist detained by internal security upon entering the country

Posted: December 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Matan Cohen was informed he is classified as ‘a suspect of hostile terrorist activity’; he was released after three hours

Israeli activist Matan Cohen was detained by Israel’s internal security agency (ISA, or ‘Shabak’ in Hebrew) at Israel’s international airport yesterday. According to Cohen, his belongings were searched, and he was informed by a policeman that he is considered “a suspect of hostile terrorist activity.” (מוחשד פח”ע)

Cohen, 22, lost his sight in one eye five years ago after being shot by soldiers in an unarmed demonstration against the Separation Wall. He is active in the BDS movement and was one of the four protesters who heckled PM Binyamin Netanyahu during a speech in New Orleans (a video of the incident can be seen here).

Yesterday, Cohen returned to Israeli for the winter vacation. According to his report, two security people waited for him outside the plane and escorted him to passport control. Later, he was taken by a policeman to a side room, where he was held for three hours. Cohen was told by police that his detention was an order from the ISA.

“I wasn’t interrogated and wasn’t charged with anything,” said Cohen in a phone conversation. “They searched my stuff and then asked me to sign a form, on which it was written that I am ‘a suspect of hostile terrorist activity.’” Cohen says that he was told that this sentence doesn’t relate to a specific charge, but rather is a permanent status, determined by the ISA.

“In the past, I’ve gone through special interrogations before boarding planes, but I was never detained upon entering Israel,” said Cohen. “I feel this has to do with my activity in the BDS. I know of international activists who were questioned or denied entry to Israel because of BDS activity. Perhaps it [the detention] had also to do with New Orleans.”

Related Stories:

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack might face 3-6 months in prison

Israel’s Security Agency holds warning talks with activists

Israel’s internal security service going after leftwing protesters

Posted: December 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Another activist received an invitation to a meeting with Shabak. After refusing, he was warned that it would be in his best interest to come

Yesterday, I reported here on two members of the leftwing group Anarchists against the Wall that were invited to a meetings with a Shabak (Israel’s internal security agency) operator calling herself “Rona”. Apparently, this was the same person who conducted a political interrogation of former IDF pilot Yonatan Shapira a few months ago.

Today (Tuesday), a third activist received a phone call from “Rona”, asking him to report to a meeting with her. The activist refused, demanding to be issued a formal subpoena. According to his report, “Rona” replied that she is aware of his actions, and that it would be in his best interest to come to the meeting. She ended the conversation by informing the activist that she would call him again next week.

The activist noted that the conversation was friendly.

According to the reports of Yonatan Shapira and another activist who attended a meeting with “Rona” last week, it seems that the purpose of these conversations is to send a warning message to leftwing protestors.

The Shabak has declared in the past before the Supreme Court that it follows the activities of foreign pro-Palestinian activists [Hebrew link]. The head of the organization also admitted that it is conducting surveillance activities on organizations that are seeking “to change the Jewish nature of the state” [Hebrew] even when those organizations are not suspected of doing any illegal activities.

The recent warning calls might mark another escalation in the Shabak’s supervision of political activity in Israel.

Two more leftwing activists summoned to a meeting with Israel’s General Security Service

Posted: December 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

One activist warned that his actions are known to the GSS; other chose to decline the invitation

Two Israeli activists that take part in protests in the West Bank have been summoned to informal investigations by Israel’s General Security Service, the Shabak (formally Shin Beit). According to the two, they received phone calls inviting them for what was described as “a talk” with a GSS investigator named Rona.

A few months ago, Yonatan Shapira, a former IDF pilot, was summoned for such a meeting in Tel Aviv with a female investigator calling herself Rona. According to an account Shapira published, the “talk” turned out to be a political interrogation, in which Shapira was asked about his participation in demonstrations in the West Bank and other activities, but was not accused of any illegal actions.

Last week, an activist in Anarchists against the Wall, a leftwing group whose members take part in unarmed demonstrations in the West Bank, was invited to a similar meeting in a police station on Dizengof Street, Tel Aviv. According to his account, he was told by “Rona” that his actions are known and are not considered illegal by the GSS. However, he was warned that “if they do turn illegal, we [the GSS] will be there.”

Today, another Anarchists against the Wall activist received a phone call from “Rona” inviting him to talk to her. The activist asked if this would be a formal interrogation, and if so, said he would like to be summoned by an official subpoena, in writing. According to the activist, “Rona” answered that this was not the case, and the conversation ended.

Watch: Jewish protest against Netanyahu at New Orleans assembly

Posted: November 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, the US and us | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Netanyahu’s speech at the Jewish General Assembly in New Orleans. This act got considerable media coverage in Israel.

My favorite part is when the bearded guy hysterically tears up one of the protesters’ signs, to the cheers of the crowd (2:40 min).

Here is a report on the people behind the protest.

The political line of Israeli papers (a reader’s guide)

Posted: October 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth showing the same headline (photo: yossi gurvitz)Newspapers in Israel have always been of great importance. One of the first things early Zionists did in Palestine was to create their own Hebrew papers. Every major political faction had its own publication, usually a national daily. Even today, with the decline of printed journalism, papers are still widely read, especially among opinion makers.

The Hebrew papers raise issues and frame political questions; Knesset members often quote news items and op-eds during Knesset debates, and Knesset committees conduct debates on issues exposed by the printed media. It is worth noting that Israel has never had strong local daily papers, so the printed media always tended to deal with national questions of diplomacy, politics and security, and less with local issues such as crime and local policies. So if you want to understand Israeli society and Israeli politics, you need to understand Hebrew printed media.

The old party papers died over the last two decades or so, and today’s papers don’t have a certain partisan affiliation. Papers in Israel usually don’t endorse candidates or parties, but they do have a political line. In the cases of Haaretz and Yisrael Hayom this line is very clear. With Maariv – and especially with Yedioth – it tends to be more subtle, and has changed over the years.

Here is a short guide to the political lines taken by Israel’s newspapers these days. Remember that these assessments are subjective as well, and reflect my own views and knowledge. Disclaimer: I worked for Maariv and for Yedioth’s internet division in the past, and in the past six months I have written a few stories for Haaretz.

Yedioth Ahronoth

Market Share* (June 2010): 35 percent on weekdays, 43.7 on weekends.

Internet site: Ynet (English edition here).

Politics: After years of dominating the printed media market, Israel’s leading tabloid has met a fierce rival – the free paper Yisrael Hayom, launched three years ago by gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Many people believe that this is the reason for the sharp anti-Netanyahu tone Yedioth has taken over the past year. The paper is constantly publishing articles attacking the Prime Minister, his staff and even his wife. Star pundit Nahum Barnea is especially hostile to Netanyahu; in fact, I think there is only one columnist in Yedioth – Hanoch Daum – who is an open Netanyahu supporter and a proxy to the Netanyahu family.

Leaving Netanyahu aside, Yedioth is a fairly centrist paper. It tends to be conservative on military and security issues, but more open than other tabloids when it comes to dealing with civil rights issues. The campaign the paper launched against the State Prosecution and the Supreme Court for their intervention in policy issues and nominations of high ranking officials seems to have calmed down recently.

I think people outside Israel don’t pay enough attention to Yedioth. For years, the paper was known for its ability to capture the voice of the average middle class Israeli. The front page story of the papers’ weekend magazine always presented “the man of the moment”, or the story that would be discussed during the following week. Yedioth is not as strong today – but it is still the most important media organization in Israel. Yedioth’s internet site (Ynet) is by far the most popular news site in Israel.

Yair Lapid, channel 2 anchorman and a possible candidate in the next elections, has a widely read column in Yedioth.

The bottom line for Yedioth Ahronoth: Conservative on security and Supreme Court; critical of the government and Netanyahu himself; slightly more liberal than the two other tabloids.


Yisrael Hayom

Market Share (June 2010): 35 percent on weekdays, 25.7 on weekends.

Internet site: Yisrael Hayom (Hebrew, printed edition only).

Politics: According to most estimates, Sheldon Adelson’s free tabloid, which is circulated in 250,000 copies, is losing money. But Adelson’s intention in launching the paper was not to gain profits, but political influence.

Adelson’s paper is edited by a former proxy to Netanyahu, Amos Regev. Under Regev, Israel Hayom is extremely supportive of the Prime Minister, constantly pushing stories that present Netanyahu and his family in a positive way. Recently, the paper is taking on an even more nationalistic editorial line.

[A more detailed post about the ties between Yisrael Hayom and Netanyahu can be found here.]

Yisrael Hayom is very hostile to the Palestinians; it tends to emphasize security threats and to present a favorable coverage of some of the new Knesset bills which are aimed against the Arab minority, Arabs members of Knesset and leftwing NGO’s (though one could find in it from time to time an occasional op-ed expressing different views).

Yisrael Hayom is supportive of the State Prosecution and the Supreme Court, but only on corruption issues, not civil rights ones.

Yisrael Hayom doesn’t have its own publishing house, so the paper has outsourced its printing and distribution to Haaretz. There are rumors that this move saved Haaretz from bankruptcy.

The bottom line for Yisrael Hayom: Conservative on security, diplomacy and civil rights; highly supportive of Netanyahu.



Market Share (June 2010): 12.5 percent on weekdays, 16.1 on weekends.

Internet site: nrg (Hebrew only).

Politics: for years, Maariv was Yedioth’s greatest enemy (when I moved from Ynet to Maariv in 2003, I was told by one of the senior editors that I would never write for Yedioth again), but now both papers join hands in the battle against Yisrael Hayom.

Maariv ran into financial difficulties more than six years ago, and since then it has been changing its editors and CEO’s frequently. A new team of editors (Yoav Zur and Yoav Golan), and a new co-publisher (businessman Zachi Rachiv) seem to have stabilized the paper a bit recently.

Under its new editors, Maariv has taken a sharp turn to the right. The paper’s subtle criticism of Netanyahu could be a bit misleading. Maariv keeps a very nationalistic and conservative line. It was Maariv that launched the campaign against the New Israel Fund by publishing the Im Tirzu reports. The paper is extremely hostile to the Arab population and to human rights organizations, and recently, it shows a hospitable attitude to the settlement project (a recent double spread all but invited people to live in Tapuach, a settlement formally known as the stronghold of Kahane supporters). Among Israeli papers, Maariv is the most supportive of Avigdor Lieberman’s policies, and it usually presents a somewhat favorable coverage of the bills Israel Beitenu is trying to pass in the Knesset.

Rumors have it that it was a conscious decision by Maariv’s editors and managing board to take an editorial line that would exploit the current nationalistic trends in the Israeli society. The promotion of conservative contributors such as Kalman Livskind and Ben-Dror Yemini support this theory. Yemini is known for his campaigning against “lefty” influence in the Israel academia and media. He has repeatedly called to hold state funds from critical movies and from artists and professors who are “anti-Israeli”. Last week he published a double spread attacking Haaretz journalist Gidon Levi for an interview he gave to the Independent.

The bottom line for Maariv: Highly conservative on security; anti-civil rights, anti-Supreme Court; slightly critical of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.



Market Share (June 2010): 6.4 percent on weekdays, 7.4 on weekends.

Internet site: Haaretz (English site here).

Politics: Haaretz was Israel’s liberal paper for many years, and one could claim that it’s the only paper committed to supporting civil rights and promoting democratic values. By Israeli standards, Haaretz is very critical of the IDF, thought in the past few years the paper was criticized for pushing Palestinians’ civil right issues into its back pages. Many leftwing activists and politicians are also dismayed by the liberal line Haaretz tends to take on economical issues.

Haaretz’s editorial line is very critical of Netanyahu and Lieberman, though some important contributors, such as Ari Shavit and Yoel Marcus are less clear on the issue. Haaretz journalist Amira Hass is especially known for her work on Palestinian rights issues.

Haaretz’ circulation is not substantial – it’s almost similar to that of the unimportant free tabloid Israel Post – but it is widely read and discussed by public opinion makers, politicians, diplomats and the international press, so it has a more substantial weight than its numbers. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that very few Israelis actually read Haaretz.

The bottom line for Haaretz: liberal on security, civil rights and economy; supportive of the Supreme Court; very critical of Netanyahu’s government.


(*) Maariv and Israel Hayom are the only daily papers in Israel to disclose their circulation figures. The common way to measure papers’ share of the market – and the one used to determine advertising prices – is through the TGI poll, conducted twice a year by the independent company TNS-Telegal. The figures in this post relate to the June 2010 poll.

For daily updates on the leading stories in the Israel Hebrew press, check out the daily media roundup on +972 magazine.

Netanyahu’s government: from here it’s all downhill

Posted: October 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments »

The current Israeli government has reached the end of the road. Soon, Netanyahu will have to chose between changing his coalition to new elections

Benjamin Netanyahu returned to the Prime Minister office determined not to repeat the mistakes of his previous term, those that led to his premature downfall in 1999. This time, he enjoyed a better starting point: unlike in his first term, Netanyahu has a strong rightwing majority in the Knesset, and he was able to cover his left flank by pulling Labor into the government.

But things didn’t work out as Netanyahu expected, and people familiar enough with Israeli politics already estimate that the current government has reached the end of its road. Knesset speaker and Likud member Rubi Rivlin even predicted that by the end of the current Knesset session, six months from now, the date of the next elections will have been set.

The cracks in Netanyahu’s coalition are easy to spot. Netanyahu’s most important coalition partner, defense minister Ehud Barak, was quoted today In Israel’ leading tabloid, Yedioth Ahronoth, criticizing the Prime Minister for his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state now.

“We don’t need an aggressive Winston Churchill now, but a De Gaulle,” said Barak, according to Yedioth. Churchill is Netanyahu’s role model; De Gaulle is the President that ended French occupation in Algeria.

Barak is the weakest link in the coalition, and he is just about to break. He has been under pressure for supporting Netanyahu from the day he entered his government, and he can’t hold much longer. Haaretz editorial already called for the resignation of Labor ministers because of the Loyalty Oath bill, top labor officials have left Barak’s camp one after the other, and Maariv’s top story today was a declaration by MK Avishay Braverman that he will run for Labor’s leadership.

Barak feels the heat. He stopped defending Netanyahu in public a while ago, and it seems as if he is preparing the ground for his departure from government (the other option, that he would leave Labor and stick by Netanyahu, doesn’t seem very likely now).

Netanyahu’s senior partner on the Right, Avigdor Lieberman, smells the blood as well. When Lieberman was on Netanyahu’s side, he kept quiet and never doubted the peace process in public. Now he does it at the UN, much to the dismay of the Prime Minister. Lieberman might be forced to leave the government soon because of a police investigation on corruption charges, and he probably wants his exit to be noisy. Like Barak, he wants to show voters that he left power behind for ideological reasons.

There are other signs that the Prime Minister doesn’t enjoy the same respect within his coalition or even his party. Politicians have a great sense for weakness, and if Netanyahu wasn’t getting weaker, Knesset speaker Rivlin – who wants to succeed Peres as president and needs the Prime Minister’s support for that – would have never challenged him publicly. The game has changed: now Netanyahu needs Rivlin more than Rivlin needs Netanyahu.

What’s now?

One thing is clear: in the current Knesset, the only possible Prime Minister is Netanyahu. Tzipi Livni cannot have a majority without either Lieberman or Netanyahu himself as partners, and she probably won’t have any of them. Assuming there is no immediate breakthrough in the peace process (or a war…) and Labor does leave the government, we are left with the following scenarios:

A. New centrist government: Netanyahu declares he wants to move forward in the peace process, and invites Kadima to join him. Even if Livni agrees, such a deal won’t last for long, as Kadima might think that it’s in her interest to break the partnership sooner than later. Netanyahu knows that, so he hesitates on turning to Livni. UPDATE: as I’m writing this, Haaretz reports that Netanyahu is considering having Kadima join his government.

B. New extreme-right government: Labor leaves the coalition and Netanyahu relays on the right for staying in power. That would make him the most “lefty” element in his coalition – a very bad position for a PM. The settlers would make his life miserable, and the international pressure would become unbearable. Result: early elections.

C. Elections: according to the Israeli law, when the government falls, new elections must be held in three months. In reality, when the government is about to fall, it sets up a date for new elections much further away (usually in six to eight months), so the prime Minister can remain in power and engage in a long campaign which is not dominated by a crisis atmosphere. If Netanyahu is cornered, he might go for elections, especially if he feels that there is not a powerful challenger around. Right now, there isn’t any one, but if Tel Aviv’s mayor ron huldai chooses to run, he might be the strongest candidate the Left had in years.

I think Netanyahu haven’t made up his mind regarding the choices he faces. He views the current coalition as the best one for him, so he would probably wait to see how the midterm elections in the US affect him and hope that the fault for the failure of the peace process would fall on the Palestinians (Israeli representatives in Washington are already working to make sure it does).

Eventually, and without some sort of external development that would save him, I think Netanyahu would prefer to change his coalition than to have early elections. If Kadima enters his government, we might have another round of meaningless talks with the Palestinians before things break up again.

If, however, Netanyahu turns to the Right, events might turn real crazy.

As Budrus opens in US, film hero is denied exit from West Bank

Posted: October 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Budrus, a documentary about the unarmed struggle of a Palestinian village against the confiscation of its land for the construction of Israel’s security barrier, is opening today in cinemas in the US and in Israel.

I watched Budrus twice, a few months ago in Israel and last night in NY, in a special screening attended by Queen Noor of Jordan. I found the film as inspiring and compelling as it was on the first time I saw it.

In 2003-2004, Budrus played a key role in what became, in my opinion, the most important grassroots effort of the decade: the emergence of a widespread unarmed campaign against the occupation, involving Palestinians, Israelis and international activists.

What started as local protests in a handful of Palestinian villages, became a new strategy for challenging the entire mechanism and political rational of the Israeli control over the West Bank. One might say that the unarmed struggle is bringing this conflict back to its basics: not a diplomatic issue, but rather a human rights one; not a question of peace and war, but one relating to the denial of personal or political rights for decades from million of people.

Budrus, the film, does not claim to present a history of the Palestinian unarmed struggle, nor of Israeli involvement in anti-occupation activities. But it tells a story, or a certain reading of a story, which demonstrates the unique power the joint unarmed struggle in the current political context. In a political world dominated by talks of “war on terror”, and with a Palestinian society fragmented and torn apart, the unarmed struggle can provide a platform that will bring different groups together and at the same time, won’t alienate the international community.

As director Julia Bacha, said after the screening, when she and producers Ronit Avni and Rula Salameh started working on the film, nobody knew the name Budrus, and very few people outside Israel and the Palestinian territories even heard of the unarmed struggle. I won’t claim that Bil’in is a household name by now – just the fact that Budrus is only 20 minutes ride from Tel Aviv came as a shock to the audience at yesterday’s screening – where exactly do people think the West bank is? – and yet, more and more people realize these days that Middle East politics don’t start or ends in the Oval Office, nor does it happen only during George Mitchel’s fruitless trips between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Ayed Morrar, the organizer of the popular struggle in Budrus and the leading character of the film, was supposed to attend the special screening yesterday in New York. But from what I hear, Morrar was denied entry to Jerusalem by Israel, so he couldn’t apply for a US Visa.

Beside the obvious lesson here for all those thinking that “Palestinians are running their own life”, this, for me, should be another reason for people to go and see Budrus, so at least they can meet another side of this person, labeled by Israel as too dangerous to travel.

And it’s also just a very nice film.


Budrus opened today in London and Tel Aviv. It opens Friday, October 8th, in New York and Boston. Details of shows in other cities and countries here.

The events described in Budrus happened seven years ago, but dozens of unarmed Palestinian-Israeli demonstrations happen every day in the Palestinian territories and in East Jerusalem. I report on them occasionally, but for a more detailed, on going, coverage check out reports and images and clips posted by my fellow +972 blogger Joseph Dana.

The joint anti-occupation struggle and sexual crimes: a cover up or a smear campaign?

Posted: September 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

protestors in Sheikh Jarrah (women in picture nothing to do with the issues discussed in the post. photo:

Recently, claims have been made public on blogs both in Israel [Hebrew] and outside it about sexual attacks against Israeli and international activists by Palestinians in Palestinian villages and at Sheikh Jarrah. It was further claimed that there is “a conspiracy of silence” surrounding this issue. To this, leftwing activists responded that these news items and posts were published for the sole purpose of delegitimizing the joint activity against the occupation, and that the writers do not have the women’s best interest in mind but rather, hostility to the left and to Palestinians.

Rechavia Berman, editor in chief of the Youpost citizens’ news portal, is the first blogger to attempt an investigation of the reported cases and to try and understand if attacks actually took place, how many attacks actually occurred, and what came of the alleged “conspiracy of silence”.

The gravity of the accusations and the loud echoes of the case made me decide to publish Berman’s piece in full, adapted slightly for the English speaking audience (Hebrew original here). I am grateful to Rechavia for permission to use his text. The translation is courtesy of Dena Shunra.


Youpost investigates: a lefty betrayal or rightwing lies?

Rechavia Berman, Sep 22, 2010

The blogosphere was up in arms yesterday after a column published in First Class News site claimed [Hebrew] that “the left” – and more specifically, that part of the left that regularly demonstrates against the crimes of the separation wall and other land grabs and misappropriations in Jerusalem and the West Bank – was leaving its women activists exposed to sexual harassment on the part of the Palestinians in those villages and neighborhoods where the protests occurred. The article also stated that victims of such harassment were pressed to refrain from filing complaints.

In short, this column, written by attorney Roni Aloni-Sedovnik, claimed that the rights and well-being of the activists were sacrificed on the altar of the fight  against the occupation.

This is not the first time this issue has come up. Several months ago, similar concerns were made public, but at the time they were raised by the leftwing organizations themselves, when they published a post on Indymedia site, concerning a workshop dedicated to handling this problem. The wording in this post led many people to suspect that the purpose of this workshop was not to preempt the phenomenon nor to empower the victims but rather to teach them “how to live with harassment.” Many bloggers, including many leftwing ones, condemned this approach. The activists who organized the demonstrations – Anarchists Against the Wall and Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity – already claimed at the time that the accusations were untrue and had ulterior motives.

Adv. Sedovnik’s column at the First Class News inflamed the issue again, not least due to her aggressive writing style and to allegations of new cases “which had been silenced”. Many commenters followed the tone of the article and accused the entire left of hypocrisy.

Careful examination of the facts, however, demonstrates that the column by Adv. Sedovnik – who provides legal advice to victims of sexual assault and who describes her work as “feminist legalism” – is full of gross and tendentious factual errors, and demonstrates a deep hostility to the left and to Palestinians. (Here is just an example: “the peace activists who are afraid that handling the issue would hurt the feelings of Palestinians and their cultural heritage, which sees woman as sexual objects.”)

That said, the problem of sexual harassment of women peace activists does indeed exist, a fact which is not denied by the activists themselves. We have chosen to examine here Adv. Sedovnik’s allegations and the way the entire matter is handled in leftwing organization.

Hijab and Burka? Not exactly

First, in contrast to what Adv. Sedovnik said, the American peace activist who was attack in the village of Umm Salmona, was not raped. It was – most fortunately – an attempted rape. This is, of course, a most serious crime, but the facts should be carefully reported. Additionally, it is not true that the victim of this crime had been asked not to file a complaint. A complaint was filed with the Palestinian Police, which the demonstrators see as the appropriate authority for handling events that occur in the Occupied Territories. The perpetrator was arrested by the Palestinian police and spent some time in jail, even if his release was much quicker than we would have wanted.

Onward: in contrast with the statements made both in the Sedovnik column and in other places, no one demanded that demonstrators come to the Occupied Territories or to Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood wearing “hijab, burka, or head covering.” The truth is this: some people in Sheikh Jarrah requested some of the Israeli activists to show consideration for local customs, just as visitors are asked to do in ultra-orthodox neighborhoods in Bnei Brak and in Me’a Shearim.

The request was that they come to demonstrations in what was defined as “appropriate attire” – which consists of regular short sleeved shirts rather than “wife beater” tops. The request was circulated among the various activists and published on websites identified with the demonstrators. Some demonstrators took the request into practice, many others did not, and continued coming to demonstrations in the heat of summer in their skivvies, and as those who were present at the scene can verify, no one said anything to them. As stated, the request was for consideration – no sanctions were imposed, and in any event most of the demonstrators came to Jerusalem attired as per their preferences.

The rape that did not happen

As to the issue of sexual assaults: as stated, in Umm Salmona there was an attempted rape, not a rape. The handling of this involved the collaboration of the Israeli activists and the village popular council. It included removing the attacker from any activity in the village, not only activities involving Israelis and internationals.

According to Tal Shapira, a prominent activist who is at the core of the activists’ attempt to cope with the issue of harassments, and according to testimony by other activists, in that case and in other cases, the activists demand immediate handling of the case by the local community, and made this a condition for further cooperation. This demand was met in full, and for this reason there was no boycotting of the protest, which seems to be what Adv. Sedovnik (and others) demanded.

As to the claim that the demonstrators should have filed a complaint with the police, Shapira says, “right. We’re anarchists. Is it really surprising that we choose to take actions that do not involve the authorities? And I should state that I care about the Palestinian Authority about as much as I do the Israeli government. Instead, we make our foundation work inside our community and the community we work with. This is what we believe in, and this is how we operate.”

Shapira states that the handling of the attempted rape at Umm Salmona, was done throughout with the knowledge and approval of the victim. The girl did eventually exercise her prerogative of filing a complaint with the Palestinian police, and the attacker was apprehended and spent several months in prison. Haaretz newspaper reported that he was released from his imprisonment after he had agreed “to apologize” (The shunning of the attacker by the village is reported here for the first time).

Shapira further states that the victim, who has since returned to her home in the United States, still retains a warm relationship with the activist community and that she had also thanked them in writing for their handling of the matter.

The column that ignited the internet storm mentioned another case of rape in Sheikh Jarrah. Following several communications by activists with the First Class News site, the phrasing was changed to “grievous sexual attack.” It should be noted that no one from the activist community is familiar with this case. Thus, it would be wrong to claim that a campaign of silencing had occurred about it. Despite repeated attempts by various people, no details have been revealed about this case, which no one had heard of prior to the publication of the column. The column itself gave no details about it, and the fact that the allegation has been removed from the site makes it possible that it could have been no more than a rumor.

All of the activists we spoke with were of the opinion that the nature of Adv. Sedovnik’s column reveles and intention to hurt the Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. The artice included a general attack against the women demonstrating against the occupation, regarding what she see as their failure to protest anti-feminist laws of the Hamas. The notion that this should be part of their responsibility as well, say the activists, indicates the true purpose of the piece.

“If anyone even looks at me funny, I don’t keep silent”

Tal Shapira, who is one of the coordinators of the education and handling of this issue, says that there is no silencing about sexual harassment, certainly not in activities run by Anarchists Against The Wall at many villages along the route of the wall. In fact, says Shapira, “the very fact that everyone is suddenly talking about it and that cases are being reported is a direct result of our response to the issue. We are holding educational sessions and workshops, both inside the activist community and in the joint activities with the residents of the villages and communities we demonstrate alongside.

“Five months ago, when a woman wanted to complain she did not have all the tools or the specific avenues for complaint that we have developed in the intervening months. Nowadays, when we are on the bus to the demonstration, we read the first response and first aid instructions in case anyone is hurt, and at the same time we also say what to do in case of being sexually attacked in any way whatsoever, and we point out the specific people on the ground who handle this issue, so that they will know exactly who to talk to.”

[It should be noted that in the Bil’in demonstrations that I attended this spring and summer, this briefing was indeed delivered – N.S.]

“The claim that we are accommodating or somehow blurring the matter is simply incorrect. If anyone even looks at me funny, or at any other woman demonstrating with me, I won’t be silent. If anyone harasses anyone else, the harasser will be expelled from the demonstrations and handled by his community – and I want to state that in all cases that we came across, we have been impressed with the immediacy and firmness of the local popular councils. There was no whitewashing nor sweeping under carpets; quite to the contrary, they saw it as being just as serious a violation as we did. There was another serious case in another struggle zone (not in Sheikh Jarrah – R.B.) and there, too, the assaulter was expelled and handled, in consultation with the victim and while giving her needs top priority. As stated – after that it is still possible to go and file a complaint.”

Q: But there is a problem of sexual harassment, right? You do not deny that.

“Sexual harassment happens everywhere. I am sexually harassed in downtown Tel Aviv, people make comments and whistle at me, and in crowded places people try to touch me.”

Q: Yes, but in Tel Aviv the hood who says a word or touches you is not one you are dedicating time, effort, and danger to join for a struggle for his rights.

“Yes, there is a phenomenon and that is why we started handling it. The vast majority is verbal harassment. I know of three cases where there was an actual assault involving touch. The rest involves inappropriate comments or ‘the unduly long handshake’, which many of the activists are familiar with. The problem is primarily with the young boys in the villages, who – like young men everywhere – sometimes do not understand the boundaries. And, as I have already said, the young boys in Israel, ones who are used to seeing girls in bikinis, are no angels, either. We are working at all levels – in letting the activists know what they should do, and that they should not tolerate it, and in working with the community of the assaulter, in cases when someone harasses or assaults, and also in attempts to prevent problematic situations, such as having activists sleep in the villages.”

“If there is no whitewash, what are they afraid of?”

Hanna Beit Halachmi, a well-known activists and feminist blogger, does not find that sufficient. “There is a systematic phenomenon of explicit violations of the law, and there is a legal response, set forth in the law, and that is what should be done,” says Beit Halachmi.

Beit Halachmi, who consider herself a leftwing person and critical of the occupation (but who doesn’t take part herself in the demonstrations), recently mentioned enraged responses that she and others received after they “dared” discuss the phenomenon. These included demands and even threats to avoid the issue. “That, more than anything else, makes them suspicious. What is so frightening that makes them burst out, so?” She is not persuaded by what Tal Shapira says about the handling of the matter having started as an initiative of the activists, and claims that “they tried to silence it and I foresaw that it would blow up in their faces.”

Beit Halachmi specifically accuses a Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity activists named Avner of having called her, shouted at her, and threatened her, demanding that she stop publishing articles about the issue. Avner denies this. He says that he called Beit Halachmi, had a very short conversation with her, which was relaxed and conducted in a civilized tone, due to the fact that Attorney Roni Aloni-Sedovnik, who wrote the column that started the uproar, claimed in an email to him that she had received the specifics about a rape having occurred in Sheikh Jarrah from Beit Halahmi.

Beit Halachmi told Youpost that she does not have any information about specific cases of sexual assault, and that Aloni-Sedovnik is the one who claimed that she has the name of the alleged rape victim. All tempts to locate the source of the information about the alleged rape or assault in Sheikh Jarrah came to nothing.


That was the Youpost article. I would like to add that Beit Halachmi and sever others still argue that the joint Israeli-Palestinian protest should stop, at least for now. Blogger and +972 magazine contributor Yossi Gurvits wrote in his Hebrew blog that while he believes the joint activity should go on, he “would find it hard to invite new friends to join it.”

I disagree. Hannah Beit Halachmi’s and Roni Aloni-Sedovnik’s claim was that on group (women) was scarified in the struggle for the rights of another one. Even if you believe their accusations, wouldn’t stopping the protest be just the same, with this time the Palestinians scarified in the name of the battle for Jewish women’s rights? Demonstrations should go on, and sexual crimes should be reported, exposed and dealt with.

Finally, I wish to quote another paragraph here, from a post written by two Anarchists Against the Wall and Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity activists, which makes a point not mentioned in Berman’s piece.

Lihi Rothschiled and Silan Dalal write [Hebrew]:

“Sexual violence occurring in political activism comes not only from our Palestinian partners or even from the Israeli ones, for that matter. In many cases, the violence is imposed by the Israeli security forces, in all its guises. As activists working both in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, we are repeatedly exposed to sexual harassment on the part of policemen, soldiers, and border patrol forces, and our repeated complaints about these cases are neither investigated nor handled. This fact was entirely omitted from Ms. Sedovnik’s column. Apparently, she feels that this information is less attractive, or perhaps it does not serve quite as effectively the slanderous goals of the column itself.”


note: the Sheikh Jarrah protesters in the above photo have nothing to do with the issues discussed in the post, and are not mentioned in it or linked to it in anyway (photo: