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.

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

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


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.

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

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

Surprise from Mofaz: Israel should talk to Hamas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end of the road for Avigdor Liberman?

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

cross -posted with FPW.

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Liberman left out; Barak lobbying for settlements

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »


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.