+972 Magazine » Dahlia Scheindlin http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Tue, 21 Oct 2014 15:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 What Israelis really mean when we talk about the Left http://972mag.com/what-israelis-mean-when-we-talk-about-left/97619/ http://972mag.com/what-israelis-mean-when-we-talk-about-left/97619/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 21:34:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97619 It is a shameful lie to make opposition to 47-year military rule an issue of supporters or traitors of Israel.

Palestinian and Israeil flags (Activestills)

Palestinian and Israeil flags (Activestills)

The war in Gaza yielded a large crop of articles about Liberal Zionism. Suddenly numerous authors felt an urgent need to reject, redefine, defend or deconstruct a term that the vast majority of Israelis have never heard of.

However, Israelis are familiar with the same basic concept, except they call it the “Zionist Left,” or national left. They embrace the label “Zionism,” but unlike diaspora-based writers, don’t spend too much time trying to define it.  I can’t recall anything like the floodtide of English LibZi articles in the Hebrew press any time recently.

That doesn’t bother me; as I’ve written, the term Zionism in Israel today has become a shell gutted of meaning, intended primarily to delegimize anyone who is not one. Finance Minister Yair Lapid took this to new heights when, in reacting to a kerfuffle this week over the cost of Israel’s beloved junk-food chocolate pudding – labeled those who sparked the protest “post-Zionists” and “anti-Zionists.” He was reacting to the (literal? figurative?) name of their Facebook group “Move [lit., ‘make aliyah’ - ds] to Berlin!” where the price of a similar product is lower. I wonder if the authors of the English LibZi articles are aware of this particular iteration of the concept in modern Israel as they search their Zionist identities?

Therefore, what I find more troubling is not the meaning Zionism, but the lack of clarity about what it means to be on the left in Israel.

What do Israelis mean when they talk about the “Left”?

In a lengthy Haaretz feature article about the less-savory aspects of Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog’s political past, I noticed that Israel’s opposition leader was quoted discussing the constellation within Israel that supported Ehud Barak in the 1999 elections:  “This camp, the peace camp, which today they like to call Left…”

Whatever he was implying, I’ll take that as a step in the right direction. At least the person who is supposed to offer an alternative makes a rhetorical link between the Left and peace.

Otherwise, standing on a sidewalk in any given Israeli town, one might not know what many self-described left-wingers do stand for. Although about 15-16 percent of Jews describe themselves as left wing in surveys, the vast majority of Israelis supported the latest war in Gaza. At the height of the ground operation, only seven percent of the public (in a sample that included Arabs) supported a full ceasefire. Since the self-defined left is roughly 20 percent of the who Israeli public (not just Jews), apparently many of that group supported the war.

So how is the mainstream Zionist “Left” distinguished from the rest of Israel? This group commonly cites attitudes toward the conflict: support for a two-state solution, support dismantling West Bank settlements, and they say they would divide Jerusalem for the sake of peace.

But my general observation is that while many of them would dismantle outposts populated by wild-eyed settlers who beat Palestinians or burn their property, they are not prepared to touch Ariel, for example, if a two-state solution was riding on it.

Few are prepared to hear about compromises on the Palestinian refugee problem.

Some would consider dividing Jerusalem, but who wants to uproot over 200,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem now, many of whom dug in over the last 15 years?

Well, the Zionist Left would respond, we were out of power from the time Ariel Sharon became prime minister in 2001. We are against the huge settler population growth since then, but it wasn’t up to us.

But it doesn’t take much to know that Labor governments and ministers oversaw robust settlement expansion during their terms as well.

Those are the mistakes of political elites, says the self-defined mainstream Left. We did our part by voting. Anyway, the real reason that there’s no peace is that there is no partner. Barak and Olmert tried and the Palestinians responded with violence. Mainstream leftists repeat this many times a day, and conclude: we’ll just have to wait until the conditions are ripe, sometime in the future.

In frustration, some of them decide to take action. They say, blaming the Palestinians for all failures can’t be right – when in between rare genuine negotiation attempts, Israel perpetually expands its hold over Palestinian life and land. These people see the narrative of the mainstream Zionist Left as an excuse to do little; this subgroup wishes to break from sluggish defeatism and take action.

Four years ago, that subgroup joined others outraged after Cast Lead and contributed to a new wave of left-wing activity. The Right began frantically de-legitimizing such activists, calling them a bastardized version of the word “left.” Since that time, the Zionist Left became legitimate, the others were mukאsa, unkosher. Traitors who abandoned Israel. Post-Zionists and anti-Zionists.

Here again the label of Zionism is a red herring. It is a shameful lie to make opposition to 47-year military rule an issue of supporters or traitors of Israel.

The distinction I see is between the passive and active Left. Here is what Israelis mean when they talk about Left.

The passive Left uses the term Zionism as a litmus test for who’s acceptable. Although distinct from centrists by self-definition, their votes break down anywhere on the range from Kadima, Lapid, Livni, Labor or Meretz. Its members read Haaretz, cancel their subscription in wartime, and some revive it again later.  To be clear: those parties may also be supported by centrists or the activist Left; other kinds of people read Haaretz, too. I am broadly characterizing the group under question, not the newspaper readers.

The passive Left frequently recalls the glory days of 1992 when Labor and Meretz were in government under Rabin, sighing for the great liberal values that dominated the country and longing for the Left (in their view, the parties above) to regain electoral power. The romanticization of a less-than liberal past carries blunt overtones of Ashkenazi elitism.

Many are ordinary citizens: when there was peace, they were for peace, when there is war, they went (with apologies to Auden).

The activist Left is either post-, non-, anti-, crypto-, indifferent or agnostic Zionist; some may still cherish it as an identity but struggle and question whether the label is worth the grave policies committed in its name.

Some have served extensively in the army and now question it. Some always felt themselves to be outside the mainstream Israeli justifications for the conflict.

What unites them is the shared sense that I, personally, can’t be part of this. Doing nothing is what allowed the number of settlers to nearly double in the last 15 years; entrench Israel’s military rule over 60 percent of the West Bank (Area C), keep Gaza imprisoned, tear the two societies apart and never mind acquiescing to injustices inside the Green Line.

So they take action: they protest in Israel and sometimes in the West Bank, write articles, make films, establish magazines (not only ours), join human rights organizations, create new social initiatives, think about different models for political resolution beyond the classic two-state solution that seems impossible now, cultivate relations with Palestinians and spend time in the West Bank so at least they can’t be accused of not knowing.

When none of that works, those who feel they contribute directly to military control over Palestinians can refuse. Some reject reserve duty, even during war time.

Israeli society – and often, the passive Left – dismisses them as crazed radicals (“just like the radical Right” is a common refrain) while embracing legitimate causes: the Milkie-pudding struggle. The power of citizens is amazing: a few days of internet noise and two large supermarket chains dropped the cost of the crap to one shekel or less. Three years ago, half a million Israelis took to the streets to lower housing costs. They consciously rejected addressing the conflict, Israel re-elected Netanyahu and brought in hollow centrist Yair Lapid as the change guy. Rejection from the mainstream? We’re used to that.

But still, nothing has worked and frustration drives the search for new approaches. If the idea grows among the activist Left that every Israeli must accept responsibility for the occupation, it will lead naturally to thoughts about civil resistance for all (among that group), not just soldiers.

Will it be a tax rebellion? Israelis calling for boycott? If civilians break the law, are they prepared to go to jail? Am I?

I’ll be very honest: I don’t know the answers. There is always the other option: the Israeli activist Left could fade back into the passive Left scenery.

The perennial dilemma of liberal Zionism
The many denials of liberal Zionism
Israeli peace activism: Same slogans for a different reality

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Israel’s Left forgot what dissent really means http://972mag.com/israels-left-forgot-what-dissent-really-means/97233/ http://972mag.com/israels-left-forgot-what-dissent-really-means/97233/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 21:01:03 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97233 Dissent means going against the majority when you believe the majority is wrong — and not just to be contrary. That means being unpopular almost by definition; the majority will never send us flowers.

Israel police arrest a left-wing protester during a demonstration against settlement in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (File photo by Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Israel police arrest a left-wing protester during a demonstration against settlement in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (File photo by Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

My colleague Mairav Zonszein has written an eloquent piece in The New York Times decrying the state of dissent in Israel, lamenting the persecutions and constraints on those who criticized the latest Gaza war from the left. She points to a number of disgraceful examples.

The article has generated debate, as observed here. However, much of it breaks down along disappointingly predictable lines: those further to the right, such as Tablet Magazine, attack her observations; those on the far left, like Mondoweiss, defend her. The Right rolls out the knee-jerk defense of everything Israeli: lumping the falsehood of the accusation that Israel stifles dissent right along with the falsehood of any culpability for Israel in the conflict at all.

The Left jumps to affirm any critique of Israel, as packaging all criticism together will serve the mission of proving Israel’s culpability in the conflict.

But freedom of expression is a separate issue, and Israelis should analyze it substantively, not as an automatic extension of their “left” or “right”-ness.

Read Mairav’s response to the criticism

No, Israel is not China, not Iran, and not even Azerbaijan. But the Right should take no comfort in that; the Right must not use such unsavory comparisons to justify or trivialize those terrible things that did happen.

But I think some on the Left have mis-characterized these real issues in a distracting way. If Israel was a society that completely controlled or stifled expression, censoring or shutting down websites, closing newspapers or arresting journalists, it would crush both criticism of and information about the conflict. There might be no protest against Israeli policy at all. Although existing criticism has not ended the occupation so far – at least we know that there is a vocal, organized and articulate community of Israelis searching for ways to change course.

Thus a left winger like Noah Efron, looking at it from a very sober perspective, pointed out in Haaretz that Israel is clearly not smothering dissent in ways described above.

But then, that’s the point: I watched, heard and read all these things. The criticisms reached me. The criticisms of the criticisms reached me. Discussion of the criticism and of the criticisms of the criticisms reached me.

Jumping to the convenient accusation that Israel as a state conspires to silence dissent, Efron argues in a point I take to heart, ignores the fact that anger against the Left during the war came largely from regular people. It’s an easy deflection of self-criticism: maybe the Left should think about why it has failed to make its case more convincingly about what’s wrong with Israeli policy.

Here are a few more problems. Citing the incident of violence at a demonstration ignores numerous other examples that I believe were more common.  After that one demonstration, the next week police were out in force, in a tight ring around several dozen frenzied right-wing counter-protestors who were jumping and screaming awful things across the street from the larger anti-war group. The riot police gave no quarter: they stood inches away from the right wingers and when one broke ranks and tried to cross the street, I watched three of them unceremoniously muscle him back far behind the lines with an aggression that I did not enjoy witnessing; but as a dissenter, I certainly felt protected. I see little value in neglecting this side of the situation, which recurred at several other demos I attended and were more of the norm.

Left-wing activists take part in a protest against the war on Gaza, in central Tel Aviv, July 19, 2014. Right-wing activists tried to attack the leftists during the protest; police arrested at least five right-wing protesters. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Left-wing activists take part in a protest against the war on Gaza, in central Tel Aviv, July 19, 2014. Right-wing activists tried to attack the leftists during the protest; police arrested at least five right-wing protesters. (Photo by Activestills.org)

My memory goes back to the second Intifada, those horrible days of shaking from suicide bombings by day and dreaming at night about what Israeli forces might or might not be doing in Jenin – waking in sweat and panic and tears.

I sought out demonstrations then too. They were silent, sad and small. I remember a few dozen people, not thousands or even hundreds, as during the recent war. Right wingers apparently didn’t feel much of a need to hold counter-protests, so silent and ineffective, or self-censored, was the pro-peace voice back then.

That silence stretched from 2000 to 2009 – practically a lost decade. Then Cast Lead happened and something snapped. Suddenly people were finding each other – groups, not individuals, ideas, initiatives. We started +972 Magazine because numerous people wanted to speak out with greater force and passion and (god help us) for no pay. The alarmism in Israel this summer about silencing dissent shows short memory of a deeper kind of silence in the recent past. In some ways, the anger shows the Left is more active and energetic and vocal than back then.

What is very worrying are reports that Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel have had jobs or positions threatened or lost due to political positions they have expressed. Mairav’s piece doesn’t mention this part, but the problem actually belongs to a long history of systemic discrimination against Arabs, finding new manifestations. Neglecting this problem in favor of the distasteful pushback against Jewish dissenters actually minimizes the real problem of intolerable inequality between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Real, state-sponsored limits on freedom of expression in fact have started by targeting Arabs. I speak of legislation such as the Nakba law. Together with the boycott law and the NGO law, these are truly dangerous systems established through state authorities, quietly, through boring technicalities easily dismissed in the general public. Call them the banality of eroding freedoms and they are in my opinion far more dangerous than a few frenzied thugs, precisely because they are forgettable.

Lamenting extreme incidents of individuals diverts attention from the more dangerous, far more permanent mechanisms that have been under construction for two years already.

Those laws are a dangerous harbinger, but still they haven’t yet truly stopped most of us from expressing opinions freely.

Beyond the law, what about the generally hateful, hard-line social environment? Don’t these constrain the Left through subtle social pressure, arguments with family and friends, angry messages on social media, quiet rejection? Possibly.

But what is dissent? It is going against the majority when you believe the majority is wrong (not just to be contrary). That means being unpopular almost by definition; the majority will never send us flowers.

If that’s enough to intimidate and silence you, well, maybe you’re just not up to the task. If we really believe what we say, we need to face the fire. My heroes are those who fought for their beliefs even at great personal cost, and they weren’t silenced.

I’m no hero –I prefer to avoid jail, and I don’t even want to lose friends or family, in the worst way. I cried one week during the war when three different friends were angry at me for my political beliefs. But there’s value in that too: it forces me to check myself and say, I’m paying a painful price for these beliefs – do I still stand by them? Could I be wrong? Sometimes I wish I was with the majority; it would be easier.

But if we test those beliefs and emerge standing by them, by god I’m willing to sacrifice some peace of mind for a greater peace.

We make the majority angry because we insist on self-criticism as much as, or more than, criticizing the so-called enemy. Most people would rather be proud.

I’d rather be proud too. But until that day, I’ll content myself with being tough. Left wingers in Israel should maximize the legal space Israel does by and large (still) leave for dissent, and suffer the social stigma of opposing occupation – with pride.

Silencing dissent in Israel – continued
Israel’s other war: Silencing Palestinian citizens

‘Unprecedented’ violence stalks anti-war demos across Israel

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All Israelis are implicated in the occupation http://972mag.com/all-israelis-are-implicated-in-the-occupation/96847/ http://972mag.com/all-israelis-are-implicated-in-the-occupation/96847/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 21:45:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96847 Rather than an army secret, the systems supporting the occupation include such normal institutions as taxation, infrastructure projects, the education system and, of course, army service.

The debate over refuseniks from IDF intelligence unit 8200 unleashed acrimonious debates all week. While I have already observed some of them, here are a few more that stand out.

Carolina Landsmann has one of the most powerful opinion pieces I’ve read in a long time, in Haaretz. It may yet appear in English, but for now the excerpts here are my translation. Like one former member of Unit 8200 who spoke to me, Landsmann says their act of refusal is a statement that intelligence work and the system of occupation are directly linked, cutting into the belief that only those who hold the guns are responsible.

She then takes this insight to its next logical step. In blunt language, she writes that the refuseniks point to a perspective built into Israeli thinking that is

key to understanding what allows the state to continue its control and oppression of millions of Palestinians for 47 years. The illusion that certain islands within Israeli society are disconnected from the military rule over the territories, and those lucky enough to fit themselves into one of them are free from the responsibility for its injustices, [that illusion] has anesthetized the conscience of those opposed to such control, and stops them from rising up against it.

All of Israeli society, writes Landsmann, supports this system. I find this one of the most essential and accurate observations of Israeli reality that is rarely understood.

Military rule… is not a secret system of the IDF – it is the largest, most visible project, with broader participation than any other endeavor in Israel.

Rather than an army secret, the systems supporting the occupation include such normal institutions as taxation, infrastructure projects, the education system and, of course, army service. She concludes with disturbing clarity, “No one can say ‘I have no part in it.’”

I don’t believe Landsmann means that all Israelis are evil, and I reject that idea myself. But the fact that all social and political structures of society support the occupation is true and must be internalized. Not in order to blame individuals; to help them know that stopping this means identifying their personal contribution, through whichever social system they belong, and changing it. The refusal letter, she hopes, may be the first steps of this profound mental shift.

The important thing is to break down the imaginary border-wall that separates the army from civil society, the one that distinguishes the residents of the state from those of the settlements in terms of their responsibility for Palestinians. In Israel, a democratic country, all citizens – soldiers and settlers – participate in injustices and bear the responsibility for them.

Ironically, the far right has said this repeatedly. They argue that settlers are unfairly demonized, when in fact all of Israel, people and government alike, supports settlements.

Once, at a Nakba commemoration event at Tel Aviv University, I spotted far-right Hebron settler leader Baruch Marzel wearing a T-shirt reading “Solidarity: Sheikh Munis,” the original Arabic name of the Palestinian village where the university now stands. For a fleeting instant I wondered if the world had turned upside down. But simultaneously I knew it was mockery, an extension of the slogan: “The fate of Hebron will be the fate of Tel Aviv!”

Baruch Marzel at Tel Aviv University, May 2012 (Photo: Dahlia Scheindlin)

Baruch Marzel at Tel Aviv University, May 2012 (photo: Dahlia Scheindlin)

Settlers in his camp believe it is hypocritical for Israel to make any distinction between its claim on Tel Aviv and Hebron. By that logic, there is also no distinction between Israelis who make life in Tel Aviv what it is today, and those responsible for making Hebron what it is today: a city divided by identity at the level of its sidewalks, by virtue of Israeli military law.

I believe the realization that regular Israelis are part of the occupation and regular Israelis must act to stop it, is at the heart of a bitter and deepening wedge between different types of “left” in Israel. The condemnation of IDF refusal by politicians considered center-left (primarily Labor, and primarily Shelley Yachimovich) infuriated some people not normally identified with the far left.

Uri Misgav, who has been writing at length about Unit 8200 all week, published a short piece today, so simple it hurt. What else can a person do?

He successfully conveyed the suffocating sense that no action opposing the occupation is legitimate or effective. His everyman citizen who rejects this policy has nowhere to turn. “Time after time he sees how the ‘left’ and ‘center’ strengthen coalitions of the right that entrench and perpetuate [the occupation].”

If Landsmann revealed that all Israelis are part of it, Misgav’s average citizen searches for some way not to be (my translation).

He just doesn’t want to contribute his part. He wants to live in peace…It seems absurd to finance [the occupation] with his taxes, but tax evasion is a criminal offense and a tax rebellion isn’t realistic. If he wants to boycott settlement products, they explain to him that boycott is an awful thing and who more than the Jews must remember that…If he joins a human rights group, they accuse him of damaging the image and reputation of the state. If he agitates for external support or international involvement, he becomes a Jew-boy doormat to the anti-Semitic goyim. Of course, he cannot fathom any sort of violence.

So, Misgav’s everyman against the occupation says, enough. I don’t know how to end it, but I just can’t take part. Switching to the first person and speaking for that everyman, Misgav writes:

I won’t bomb him from the air, raid his home in the dead of night, make his life miserable at checkpoints, spray rubber or sponge bullets at demonstrators, blackmail him to become a collaborator, and I won’t even gather intelligence that will enable all this to go on to the end of days.

Misgav then walks through the vile attacks that would be, that were, unleashed on such a person. The conclusion is a tragic plea.

He wants to live. Again, he wonders, what else there is to do? He doesn’t want to leave. He doesn’t want to commit suicide. He wants to live in peace with his conscience in the State of Israel, without supporting the project of occupation and settlements. Please help him, dear readers: is there a legitimate way to do this?

I might rephrase the end: is there a legitimate way to stop this?

Refusal by elite IDF reservists angrily dismissed as ‘political’
IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation
How can you tell that Israeli refuseniks are are scaring the system?

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Refusal by elite IDF reservists angrily dismissed as ‘political’ http://972mag.com/refusal-by-elite-idf-reservists-angrily-dismissed-as-political/96687/ http://972mag.com/refusal-by-elite-idf-reservists-angrily-dismissed-as-political/96687/#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 18:25:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96687 Following the public refusal of 43 reservists of the IDF’s 8200 intelligence unit, politicians and other veterans of the unit have openly denounced the reservists, viewing their refusal as an unacceptable politicization of their army service.

Political leaders both from the government and the opposition condemned 43 reservists from Israel’s prestigious 8200 intelligence unit who stated their refusal to take part in intelligence-gathering activities that, they claim, deepen Israel’s military rule over Palestinians. Unlike the issue of refusal during Protective Edge, which was hardly noticed or covered during the war, the 8200 letter grabbed headlines over the weekend, appeared on most major news Internet sites, and was one of the lead stories in television news.

Prime Minister Netanyahu encouraged the unit to continue its important work for the security of Israeli citizens. Haaretz reports that Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon called the letter “an attempt to harm the unit and its activities.” He said the move was a deplorable attempt to assist the “campaign of delegitimization” against Israel and the IDF.

Yariv Levin, the Likud chairman of the governing coalition, repeated a common accusation from the Right equating opposition to the occupation with support for terrorism. In a comment likely to elicit guffaws from Palestinians living under Israeli military rule, Levin, a veteran of unit 8200, told Maariv, “One who refuses to assist in guarding his country crosses the border between those who support Israeli democracy and the freedom it represents, to the terror-supporting Palestinian side, and attacks the innocent citizens of Israel.”

Israeli army soldiers take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank town of Hebron. [File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli army soldiers take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank town of Hebron. [File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

However, the members of the opposition and people associated with the mainstream Left also clamored to decry the reservists’ refusal.

Both the current leader of the opposition Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog, also a 8200 veteran, and the former head of the Labor Party Shelly Yachimovich condemned the letter at length.

Herzog stated that he opposes refusal, and said that the citizens of Israel would pay a price for such calls. But Yachimovich went further, lashing out first of all at the signatories themselves. On her Facebook page she essentially argued that they were arrogant for writing as if they are superior in Israeli society based on the prestige of the unit. Noting that they gain invaluable skills and enjoy shining career possibilities, they ought to be grateful rather than critical, she wrote.

Yachimovich did not seem to consider that the reservists might have felt a responsibility precisely because they are privileged, to consider those less fortunate; or that they may resent building their promising careers on what they view as the destruction of another society.

The reactions from Labor highlight a growing chasm between those who consider themselves left wing on social issues and because they support a two-state solution, and those whose “leftism” is expressed by urgency and action.

Thus friends who often take critical liberal and left-wing perspectives, wrote emotional posts on social media explaining their disapproval. Often the main accusation was that this refusal is “political.” Indeed, the response of both the IDF spokesperson and that of fellow reservists in 8200 who are opposed to refusal, quoted in Walla, was that that refusing duty is an unacceptable politicization of their army service. The Unit 8200 reservists against refusal stated:

Political refusal has no place in the army and in our unit specifically. From the moment we reserve soldiers are called to the flag, we put aside our political opinions and orientations and we come to serve the state.


Notwithstanding the real concern of mutiny or anarchy should an army act independently of political will, there is something quixotic about dismissing an act of refusal because it is political.

That’s what an act of refusal is, unless it is purely personal or religious. Refusal in this case is a statement of something that is already abundantly clear: The IDF’s role in this conflict is deeply political. Israelis are drafted into service as soldier-citizens, it is impossible to extricate politics from service, or draw a phantom boundary between them.

The soldiers sought no personal gain, no political points. If they were a party, they would have lost all their votes (this is probably what terrifies Labor and accounts for the over-protestations). If their identities become known, since little is truly secret in Israel, the glamorous economic, high-tech and – as seen clearly through this incident – high-flying political paths open to them might easily be closed.

Essentially, they stood only to lose from withdrawing from a system they believe is destroying both sides.

The exhortations to keep politics to the realm of demonstrations and public discourse smack of insincerity. For those who truly, genuinely want to end the 47-year military rule over millions of Palestinians, one thing is clear: Nothing so far has worked. In that context, demanding that activists limit their activities to those with no impact is merely embracing the occupation itself.

*Correction Appended: A quote has been removed because it was mistakenly cited from a personal Facebook page in which the setting was private.

IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation
How can you tell that Israeli refuseniks are are scaring the system?
Israeli teens tell Netanyahu: We will not take part in occupation

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IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation http://972mag.com/idfs-start-up-nation-reservists-refuse-to-serve-the-occupation/96636/ http://972mag.com/idfs-start-up-nation-reservists-refuse-to-serve-the-occupation/96636/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 14:50:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96636 One of the most striking points in the unprecedented refusal letter is the forceful argument that Israel’s policies vis-a-vis Palestinians are simply unrelated to defense –and they are a matter of choice.

Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, June 18, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron take part in the search operation for the kidnappers of three Israeli teenagers, June 18, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Forty-three members of the IDF’s prestigious and secretive Unit 8200 have signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating their refusal to serve in reserve duty related to military governance over Palestinians. The document, made available by Ynet, expresses their opposition in blunt language (my translation):

We who came out of Unit 8200, men and women reservists past and present, declare that we refuse to take part in activities against Palestinians and refuse to continue serving as instruments to deepen the military rule over the occupied territories.

8200 is practically a legendary unit within the intelligence corps of the army. It is responsible for both internal and foreign signals intelligence-gathering, alongside the Mossad and Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. A large unit with various subdivisions, some members are known for their Arabic language skills, used to monitor life and media in the Arab and Palestinian world. Perhaps its strongest reputation is as Israel’s high-tech incubator, developing the cutting edge technology related to communications, focused on hacking, and encrypting, decoding and transmitting information.

As civilians, its highly educated and largely Ashkenazi graduates, particularly the men, have often leveraged their skills in Israel’s high-tech industry and are commonly thought of as the sparky, plucky drivers of the “start-up nation.”

+972 Magazine’s Haggai Matar, writing in Hebrew on Local Call and citing a Yedioth Ahronoth article, described the incidents that the reservists concluded were unjustified (all excerpts my translation):

The refuseniks of 8200 gave different examples of things they do on a routine basis as part of their army service, such as revealing the sexual preferences of Palestinians in order to blackmail them and thereby recruit them as collaborators. That, or by exploiting economic hardships or medical needs of Palestinians who need treatment in Israel. The other main examples deal with … assassinations and bombings of Gaza since Cast Lead, including targets that [the signatories] say were unjustified, caused unnecessary harm to innocents and didn’t contribute to the security of residents of Israel.

Haggai interviewed Daniel, one of the reservists who initiated the letter about one year ago – long before Protective Edge.

Some of [the things the unit does] are supposed to protect us from violence, but some of it is just destroying Palestinian society, preventing them from improving their lives in any way…We’re not saying this because we read it in some newspapers or blogs, but because that’s what we had to do in the framework of our roles.

Daniel also stressed to Haggai that these incidents are not aberrations:

They are not exceptions that happened to some of them once or twice – the opposite: in their testimony they were careful to choose examples that are structural aspects of service in the unit, with the knowledge and approval of the chain of command.

Collective refusal in this elite unit is unprecedented. Haggai notes that the last group refusal from any unit was a decade ago.

A former member of the unit who agreed to speak with +972 Magazine anonymously, although she was not a signatory (nor was she approached), felt that the move was significant in several ways.

On an operational level, she explained, the skills that 8200 members possess are not easily replaced. A reservist who refuses duty can’t be replaced as easily as a combat soldier.

She also saw it as a statement that intelligence – specifically human intelligence which is one of the unit’s major tasks – is equally responsibility for the situation on the ground. “Maybe in the past they thought, if we were combat soldiers, we would be refusing. But now they realize there’s no reason, just because they’re intelligence, that they don’t have responsibility. That’s what’s new here.” They may even play a greater role:

The fact that they provide the technology and information is a greater responsibility in a way, because it’s acknowledging that the gathering of information can’t be separated from what happens on the ground. Sitting in front of a screen is no different from dropping a bomb.

The fact that they are reservists who have served in this unit for years means they cannot be written off as newcomers who may have started out as radical left-wingers; further, the signatories state that they do not intend to refuse tasks related to foreign intelligence.

Indeed, one of the most striking points in the letter is the forceful argument that Israel’s policies with relation to Palestinians are simply unrelated to defense –and they are a matter of choice.

Millions of Palestinians are living under Israeli military rule for 47 years already. This regime negates their basic rights and takes away large portions of land in order to settle Jews who are subject to a different system of laws, justice and enforcement. This reality is not the inevitable result of the state’s efforts to defend itself, but rather it is the result of choice. Settlement expansion has nothing to do with self defense, and the same goes for the limitations on construction and development, economic exploitation of West Bank lands, collective punishment of the residents of Gaza and the route of the separation fence.

How can you tell that Israeli refuseniks are scaring the system?
Israeli teens tell Netanyahu: We will not take part in occupation
Egyptian, Israeli activists make joint call to free conscientious objectors

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One or two states, Israelis and Palestinians are bound together http://972mag.com/one-or-two-states-israelis-and-palestinians-are-bound-together/96533/ http://972mag.com/one-or-two-states-israelis-and-palestinians-are-bound-together/96533/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 18:48:35 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96533 Whether the conflict here is resolved through one, two, three or ten states, Israel will still never be homogenous. Ethnic homogeneity is a nasty and dangerous sham.

As the referendum over the future of Scotland approaches, poll numbers for the “YES” (pro-independence) have suddenly spiked. Many Brits are now panicking that Scots may really decide they are not “Better Together,” as the cheerful “NO” (or polite, “No, thanks”) campaign has tried to portray.

I am reminded of the ubiquitous OXI (NO) posters that blanketed the Greek side of Cyprus prior to the ill-fated 2004 referendum to reunite the island. Although the Annan Plan envisioned two largely separate communities under the principles of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, they would have been more united than before. But three-quarters of Greek Cypriots rejected the plan. Many were simply not convinced they were ready to live (more) together – even in a limited way.

Last week I attended a workshop about the two-decade-long unresolved conflict between  Armenians and Azerbaijanis over Nagorno-Karabakh. The predominant working assumption among some participants – self-defined as advocates of a peaceful solution – was that the sides should seek the greatest possible separation, as living together is bound to cause trouble.

The conviction that separation is more natural for different groups in society runs down to the level of individuals in daily life. Can police be trusted to protect the “other”? Serbs in northern Kosovo think not and the people of Ferguson, Missouri are sure they cannot. Is it okay for people to marry the “other”? Many Israelis and Palestinians say no, and some Israelis even won the right in court to protest such a wedding recently.

Lately I find myself asking, who in the world is this mythical ‘other’? After years of engagement with dialogue and co-existence programs, this summer I suddenly couldn’t tolerate the word “other” at all. Each initiative means well, but they feel so artificial – usually I don’t have many disagreements with the participants. Often, I know them all, sometimes for years. Lightning bolt: they aren’t the other!

Is the “other” my friends in Gaza, who like me, wish to live openly and freely, in peace and constructive, creative human endeavor? Is my “self,” my “in-group” my national representative Moshe Feiglin, who wishes for ethnic cleansing; my foreign minister who calls to boycott Arab shops in Israel? Is the “self” my dear Jewish friends in the Galil who disagree with many of my political views and live in a closed Jewish community, but one that is nestled between two major Arab towns, eating, drinking, celebrating, working, shopping, schooling and playing with Arab co-nationals as equals more than most Tel Avivis? It is my Arab colleague from Haifa, who teases me for being a “lefty,” or is it the Jewish Israelis who killed Mohammed Abu Khdeir?

Palestinian and Jewish men speak at protest against settler violence in Jaffa. December 5, 2008 (Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Palestinian and Jewish men speak at protest against settler violence in Jaffa. December 5, 2008 (Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

The whole self-other question clashes with the New Yorker in me. I was one of two or three Jews in my grade-school class. My best friends were tow-headed, Chinese, Hispanic, Italian and Palestinian – add a hyphenated “American” after each. We used to sit around braiding each other’s hair and having sleepover parties. No people-to-people initiative, just good old-fashioned New York City public schooling.

But this isn’t a cry for a naïve vision of a single bi-national state or American and Canadian civic identity-based Israel.

It is a reminder that whether the conflict here is resolved through one, two, three or ten states, Israel will still never be homogenous. Nor will other states, anywhere, which are fighting for exclusivity of identity. Ethnic homogeneity is a nasty and dangerous sham.

Israel has Jews, and Arabs both Christian and Muslim. There are Arab Jews and European Jews, and Christians who are neither Arabs nor Jews. There are Jews and non-Jews from Africa, there are people from the Philippines and Thailand and Scandinavia. Israel is a better place for it, if we would only treat them as the “self.”

More people are on the move than ever before, and no nation’s borders overlap with the spread of its ethnic group. Countries can continue to fight losing battles against diversity through bad policies, or admit that it is here to stay, and generate the best possible system to nurture all people equally. The same principles should guide Israel and Palestine under any future political system.

For those who say the Left is never proud of Israel, I am: When I see Haredi and Arab children playing together on the beachfront playgrounds, as I jog by in shorts while the heat wanes and the evening descends. Despite deep systemic inequalities, in that moment, I feel we are better together.

So who is really the other? In Georgia last week I told a new colleague what citizenships I held but he wanted to know my ethnicity. In Russian, he asked the interpreter: “He’s Azerbaijani, I’m Armenian – what is she?” Slightly stumped, I recalled that in the U.S., I would mark the box for “Caucasian.” As the interpreter translated my colleague roared with laughter, so I did too.

I hope we laughed because we realized that the label of the “self” – the in-group – doesn’t mean much. We had enough in common although I don’t look remotely like what he considered Caucasian: Our in-group comprises those who wish to end conflicts through diplomacy and political frameworks and respectful human interaction rather than violence.

I would like that group to go further and consider that diversity contributes to creative thinking even if it comes from sometimes painful tension. That seeing and knowing people from a range of cultures helps us to define a healthy sense of identity,  clarify our positions, weigh alternate approaches and question our presuppositions, cultivate critical thinking.

It would be hubris for me to tell Scots that they’re wrong about independence economically or politically. But the broader idea that separation is the ultimate human experience can’t be right. The only “other” is those who don’t see humanity in their neighbors. We don’t need to dehumanize them; they do that very well for themselves. But a real self-other dialogue means reaching out to them, not only to our “selves.”

Israel’s other war: Silencing Palestinian citizens
There’s still room for optimism: A letter to Sayed Kashua

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A Palestinian ultimatum to end occupation? http://972mag.com/a-palestinian-ultimatum-to-end-occupation/96141/ http://972mag.com/a-palestinian-ultimatum-to-end-occupation/96141/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 18:43:41 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96141 In a diplomatic surprise, the Palestinians have threatened to turn to the International Criminal Court if no date is set for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders – a move that +972 writers predicted more than a year ago.

The PLO will demand that the UN Security Council announce a deadline for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, to the 1967 ceasefire lines, reported Haaretz today. Ma’an News Agency writes that Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah figure and veteran negotiator, has said the bid will be submitted on September 15, 2014. If it is not accepted, he told Ma’an that the PLO will continue with long-rumored plans to pursue accession to the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), so that it can bring claims against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

With every other attempt to shake off Israel’s military rule proving futile, the idea of a simple ultimatum for withdrawal – with or without an agreement – ought not to come as a surprise. In fact, Noam Sheizaf and I not only predicted it, we advocated it over a year ago.

Netanyahu and Abbas in Washington, September 15, 2010 (State Dept. Photo)

Netanyahu and Abbas in Washington, September 15, 2010 (State Dept. Photo)

The move marks the third time in four years that the Palestinians have undertaken a major diplomatic effort for statehood in the 1967 territory. In 2011 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for UN membership, and submitted a bid to the General Assembly, but a vote was never held due to the certainty of a Security Council veto. In late 2012 a vote was finally held in the General Assembly. It passed, granting Palestine the status of non-member observer state in the UN, but made little difference on the ground.

Two further diplomatic attempts to achieve statehood and recognition happened before and after those: In 1988 the PLO first declared its independence along the 1967 ceasefire lines. That marked a major shift away from Fatah rhetoric, which up to then called for a single state from the river to the sea. Most recently, as the Kerry-led negotiations were falling apart, Abbas advanced applications and acceded to a number of international treaties and organizations to make statehood more meaningful on the international level.

The current move is, therefore, an extension of decades of Palestinian diplomatic action to end Israeli military rule. It may be partly designed to remind the world that the Palestinians have employed, and continue to draw on, numerous non-violent, as opposed to military strategies – including diplomacy, but also grassroots demonstrations and boycotts.

It is also a sign to the Palestinian people that Fatah still distinguishes itself from Hamas as the party of political rather than military means. Fatah may be hoping to capitalize on any Palestinian anger at Hamas for the destruction caused by the Gaza war, though it’s not clear how much there is.

Such action also speaks directly to Israel. It implies that joining the ICC and seeking indictments for top Israeli officials is not inevitable. Rather, Fatah is using the idea in an agenda-setting way: accept a deadline, and we will take away the stick of international court proceedings. It is a clever strategy: Either option advances the Palestinian cause; either one will be a painful blow – even if they remain headlines more than reality – to Israel.

Fatah is also taking a risk. The 2011 UN bid was underwhelming for the Palestinian people; even back then some thought the UN route was Fatah’s “last chance” for credibility at home. The second in 2012 was a happy moment but failed to make a dent in the occupation. Another such bust could lose what little residual faith Palestinians still have in Fatah.

However, Hamas is reportedly already considering backing the Fatah-led attempt to join the ICC. Should Hamas back the demand for a UN-decreed deadline, it could put Fatah back in a significant leadership role – at home, and abroad.

Giving the occupation an expiration date
What Palestinian statehood means for ICC jurisdiction over Israeli crimes

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As violence rises, Muslim moderates must do more http://972mag.com/as-violence-rises-muslim-moderates-must-do-more/95941/ http://972mag.com/as-violence-rises-muslim-moderates-must-do-more/95941/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 19:36:17 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95941 My colleagues at ‘Let Us Build Pakistan’ and I have discovered various overlapping interests on certain issues and we occasionally cross-post material that we think our audiences would find relevant. Here is one such article I found interesting.

Against the background of a fresh wave of violence in the Middle East, a Muslim writer calls for introspection.

By Asif Zaidi

The following book review in The Telegraph addresses two recently published books mainly defending British Muslims. A friend sent me the article, hoping that it will help me “see the light.” But I believe the review downplays some significant problems.

[A book by Arun Kundnani ] dispels myths, pointing out that “there is no Islamic doctrine of ‘kill the unbelievers’ as anti-Islam propagandists often maintain. Islam, like other religions, provides a broad moral framework for thinking about questions of violence.” Again and again this book challenges your assumptions. It is worth reading for its examination of the word “extremism” alone. Martin Luther King, Kundnani points out, was denounced in this way.

Bowen’s book is at bottom gentle and optimistic. She suggests that over time there is no fundamental contradiction between Islam and the modern Western state…”

In fact, most members of most religious communities in Britain are patriotic and law-abiding but it is only Muslims who require constant reassurances like those in the review above. Why? The answer is simple: because most radicals have been Muslims and people like Anjem Choudary get their mug all over the television. To me, rather than constantly looking for reassurances, Muslims in Britain should be arguing against the likes of Choudary and protesting against incendiary pronouncements and actions. It is normal that in the absence of such posturing, suspicion grows. Not all Catholic priests are pedophiles. But hasn’t the fact that many cardinals turned a blind eye to those who are has drawn more opprobrium than the pedophiles themselves?

ISIS fighters ride through the Syrian city of Al-Raqqa. (photo: Islamic State)

ISIS fighters ride through the Syrian city of Al-Raqqa. (photo: Islamic State)

The silence or acquiescence of the so-called Muslim ‘moderate’ majority reinforces the perception of Muslims as a group of people who cannot, or will not, control their extremist fringes. I think this is an accurate reflection of the reality and see no problem with it. To claim that not all Muslims are terrorists, jihadists, or extremists sounds hollow. Not all men are misogynists or violent towards women, either, but we incessantly reiterate that men have a duty to stand up to sexism and misogyny. In the 1940s most Germans were not Nazis. Similarly, most Hutus did not participate in the killings of Tutsis. But the peaceful majority are irrelevant when a minority are hell bent on waging violence and imposing itself.

We don’t need huge numbers to inflict huge damage. On 9/11, less than a dozen people, in no position of power or authority, caused enough damage to change the entire world for ever. The genocide of the Native Americans or the slaughter of slave ships might be from a different era but the dark heart in mankind beats on and it is the duty of Muslims not to allow it to function under the cloak of Islam.

So to say that “not all Muslims are radical” is a misplaced assertion. The real question is what they are going to do about the ones who are radical. In recent years many Muslims have tended to describe those criticizing Islam as being “Islamophobic.” This is utterly dishonest. Non-Muslims have every right to question the teachings of Islam just as Muslims have every right to scrutinize and question the tenets of other religions. This is an inalienable right and a practice as old as the religion itself. This kind of reaction from Muslims turns lack of knowledge about Islam into a genuine fear of it. Many people question Islam because they support things which are, in truth, incompatible with Islam: abortion, gay rights, and sex before marriage. That does not mean that they do not approve of Muslims. They have also subjected their own religions to the same criticism.

Where is the uproar among the Muslims in the West against the intolerance of minorities in many Muslim countries, the murder of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, denial of education to girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, denial of careers to women in Saudi Arabia, death sentences for supposed adulterers in Sudan, executions of homosexuals in Iran, and “honor” killings and forced marriages just about anywhere? These, naturally, are the things that get reported. Should the media report on Muslims going to the mosque, working at the office, having dinner, and enjoying family time on the weekend? These same Muslims who refuse to murmur on these atrocities turn up by the thousands to protest against Google because Google owns YouTube and someone somewhere has posted a video that they feel insults Islam. It does not matter that the video has nothing to do with the U.S., UK, YouTube or Google – their honor has been slighted and, therefore, they must rally to the chant of the Ummah.

A fighter from the Islamic State stands in front of a tank. (photo: Islamic State)

A fighter from the Islamic State stands in front of a tank. (photo: Islamic State)

The author of the book review above fails to point out the total indifference among the British Muslim community towards the innocent Muslims being slaughtered by ISIS in Iraq. Are the nearly 200,000 killed and millions displaced from Syria worth less attention than a supposed slur posted on YouTube?

There is a reason that much of the world feels that the Muslim community is not concerned with justice, peace or progress – it is concerned with honor and with the past. And that means that they don’t care how many people die (Muslim or non-Muslim) in wars and jihads and intifadas, as long as Muslim pride is restored. If that means rioting when someone records a film, so be it. If that means murdering your daughter because she’s got a non-Muslim girlfriend, so be it. And if that means keeping Palestinians in refugee camps for three generations in rich Muslim client states of the West then so be it. It is this attitude, and no imaginary Islamophobia, that is responsible for a number of young westerners, fueled by dreams of Jihad, flying off to Syria and holy war. Of course not every Muslim is a jihadist, but it is also a fact that for every young Muslim guy who actually makes it out to the front in Syria or Iraq, it seems there are many more who sympathize with them.

According to a reliable study Muslim extremism claims 38 times more Muslim lives than non-Muslims, without accounting for Muslim wars (Iran-Iraq) and major uprisings. ISIS has crucified a number of moderate Syrian rebels – and pro-Assad fighters. As always, the terrorists are Saudi-inspired and are far more of a menace to Muslims than the West is. Therefore, to say “the West is far more responsible for Muslim terrorism than they are” shows a lamentable lack of knowledge of the history of Islam and its relations with surrounding civilizations.

In every Western or non-Muslim country where I have been, most people show no signs of animus against Muslims in general. I don’t think Muslims in the West need the reassurances that the Telegraph article and the books reviewed seek to provide. On the contrary, I think it is a shame that much-needed discussions about radical Islam immediately turn into people shouting “not all Muslims are like that” and drowning out genuine concerns.

I can express my disgust for abuse in the Catholic Church in any setting, and it is correctly assumed that I am not rebuking Christians in general. I can voice concerns about Zionism and Israeli occupation, and it is – or should be – understood that I am not rebuking Jews in general. So when others talk about the dangers of radical Islam, it should be obvious that they are not rebuking Muslims in general without explanations.

Grow up and do something about your own state of affairs. To begin with, get out of the victimhood you enjoy so much. Shut down the Salafist and the Wahabbi factories of extremism paid for by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and encourage your people to stop kids who are being radicalized. Come out in droves and condemn all female genital manipulation, all forced marriages, all tribal laws, all Jihadist militancy, all sectarianism, and all discrimination against women.

Asif Zaidi is a regular writer on the Pakistani blog Let Us Build Pakistan, where a version of this post originally appeared.

No, Hamas isn’t ISIS, ISIS isn’t Hamas
Moderate Islam meets Auschwitz

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Wedding crashers: Do anti-miscegenation protesters hate or love Judaism? http://972mag.com/wedding-crashers-do-anti-miscegenation-protesters-hate-or-love-judaism/95680/ http://972mag.com/wedding-crashers-do-anti-miscegenation-protesters-hate-or-love-judaism/95680/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:29:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95680 With chants of “Death to Arabs” and “Mohammed is dead” in the background, the 30-something couple spoke earnestly, their faces worried. “As far as I’m concerned,” said the woman, an economist who didn’t want to be named, “I came to a funeral. The father is in mourning. I’m here to support the family in their pain with our presence.”

They have come to a grimy parking lot outside a tacky mall in Rishon LeZion, deep in the center of Israel, to protest the wedding of an Arab Muslim Israeli and an Israeli woman born Jewish, who converted to Islam. The wedding is in a hall about 200 meters away from the protest, as per a court order. About 200 protestors have gathered in the thick, hot air. The couple talking to me come from Rishon; they say they are secular.

Right-wing activists from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding ceremony of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman in Rishon LeZion. (photo: Activestills.org)

Right-wing activists from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava protest outside the wedding ceremony of a Muslim man and a Jewish woman in Rishon LeZion. (photo: Activestills.org)

The band of youth who have been chanting close by start jumping, in formation, screaming: “There are no classes in Gaza/because there are no kids in Gaza!” – referring to the hundreds of children killed by Israeli forces during Operation Protective Edge – and “Jews have souls; Arabs are sons of bitches!” The secular husband gestures towards them. “I don’t agree with that ‘death to Arab’ stuff. It’s too bad this has become a platform for extremism.” He bounces a giggling, pigtailed toddler. “We are here to give the bride’s family hope, to remind them: it’s reversible.”

The ingredients are all there for an explosion. Large placards with elaborate slogans, such as “what future can there be for someone who forgot her past?” are spread on the ground for participants who might want one. A 15-year old girl in a long skirt holds a huge canvas sign speaking of shame. The core of the protest is a group of wild-eyed teenage boys, dotted with far-right stalwarts such as former MK Michael Ben Ari and Kahanist Hebron settler Baruch Marzel. A left-wing counter-protest in support of the wedding is taking place across the way; one of them murmurs that the anti-wedding group is from La Familia, the thuggish sports fans widely thought to have been behind the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, in July.

Mahmoud Mansour celebrates in Jaffa before heading to out to his wedding reception. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Mahmoud Mansour celebrates in Jaffa before heading to out to his wedding reception. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Many of the protestors are wrapped in Israeli flags, draped over black T-shirts of “Lehava: The Jewish honor guard.” Lehava is a self-anointed “anti-assimilation” movement. The previous week, the group posted Mahmoud and Morel’s wedding invitation on the Internet, exhorting followers to come demonstrate. Mahmoud and Morel sought a court injunction.

Emotions rose: On the day of the wedding, the court ruled that the demonstration would be permitted at a distance of 200 meters from the hall, and the activists would not be allowed to communicate with the couple for 90 days. President Reuven Rivlin condemned the demonstration as racist incitement, and writing on his Faceboook page, gave the couple his blessing.

Fearing violence, earlier reports said the couple was forced to hire 33 security guards at their own expense – for NIS 15,000 (over $4,000). In addition, the parking lot is full of police who push the demonstrators back when they try to get closer to the wedding hall. Still they advance; within an hour, Lehava activists are just across the street from the entrance. An angry counter-protestor demands that a policeman enforce the 200-meter distance. The policeman responds that he does not have a copy of the court order on him, although it has been widely reported in the press.

The counter-protest supporting the couple is a gaggle of barely 50 people holding motley clusters of flowers, raggedly cut. They dangle small construction-paper signs saying “Freedom of Love!” decorated with hearts. What they lack in organization, they make up for in joy: they are singing a robust unaccompanied version of “The Flower in my Garden,” an iconic, fast-paced love song played at nearly every (Jewish) wedding in Israel. Whenever a wedding guest walks by, they cheer and clap “Mazal Tov!!” The guests, with women in high heels, head coverings and glitzy jewellery, smile with slight embarrassment and hurry toward a group of burly security men waiting to search them at the door.

Counter-demonstrators show their support for Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka on their wedding day. (photo: Activestills.org)

Counter-demonstrators show their support for Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka on their wedding day. (photo: Activestills.org)

Something about the situation has struck a nerve. Many of these counter-protestors tell me that they are not political and generally don’t go to demonstrations. I run into my neighbor, a 34-year-old man named Uriel who grew up in a Haredi family in Kfar Habad. About a decade ago, he defected from his community and became secular. He says this is his first demonstration ever. Nir, also 34, works for the appliance company Tadiran and says he is usually not an activist, but Lehava’s protest made his blood boil. “Next time it could be against people for the color of their eyes.” Meirav and Assaf, a young couple from Tel Aviv, echo the sentiment. Next, they say, it could be against Ashkenazi and Mizrahi marriages.

Lehava’s theme of “anti-assimilation” appears to be a sanitized label to win legitimacy for an organization known mainly for harassing people. One woman at the counter-protest has a partner from Darfur. She says she has been shoved and hit by Lehava members. When they threatened her with further violence on the Internet, she says she went to the police, who told her there was nothing they could do – she should hire a lawyer.

Those protesting the wedding are concerned about more than assimilation. Some say that the bride herself doesn’t realize her awful mistake. “Somewhere deep in her heart, she knows it is wrong,” says Simcha, a 51-year-old religious woman who immigrated from France in 1981. “You can’t convert to Islam – you’re born a Jew, you have a Jewish soul.” Others tell me that Jewish women have been manipulated, brainwashed or otherwise trapped into converting to be with Muslim men. Simcha says that Muslim men beat women and drag them by the hair.

The bride, Morel Malka, takes part in pre-wedding festivities in Jaffa. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The bride, Morel Malka, takes part in pre-wedding festivities in Jaffa. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Another resounding theme is that the bride’s children, Jewish according to Jewish law, will be raised Arab. That makes them potential terrorists. One sign says: “You wanted a grandchild? You got a Shahid!” (martyr). The wife in an older religious couple from Kochav Yair, a well-heeled suburb in central Israel says, “The children could all turn out to be Hamas! They might be Jews killing Jews, and they wouldn’t even know it.”

What about the idea that a woman has a right to choose, that it’s the couple’s private business? Tiferet, the 15-year-old from Beit Shemesh carrying a sign, is shy but firm. “Just because someone jumps off a roof doesn’t mean I’ll let her. She’s not only hurting herself. She’s hurting all of Am Yisrael.”

And there at the heart of the summer circus lies the core: a struggle to define, re-define, own or appropriate Judaism in the state of Israel today. Uriel, the formerly ultra-orthodox man, explains that Judaism is fundamentally racist, while a fellow pro-wedding protester chants “Judaism is not racism.” A Lehava activist shouts at cars looking for parking. “Whoever goes to the wedding is destroying Am Yisrael!” while others insist that assimilation is more dangerous than physical persecution.

Legal scholar Aeyal Gross, in an excellent Haaretz article, argues that the state itself set the stage for such attitudes by denying legal frameworks for religious intermarriage in Israel. Yair Ettinger, also in Haaretz, writes that the real problem in Israel is assimilation through alienation or apathy, not intermarriage. How many Israelis simply detest Judaism for all it has come to represent socially and politically here? In my experience, Uriel, now a sworn atheist, represents many secular people with less dramatic stories.

But last night what might have been a healthy debate looked for all the world like anti-miscegenation activities from some of the ugliest days of American not-so-distant history. Gross writes that the very fact of a public discussion about such a wedding is shameful. Meanwhile, one protestor said, “We want the bride to have a pinch in her heart. We want her to know that she’s missing something.” What? Membership in the community of Lehava?

Deep in their own hearts, the protestors, too, know about secular Israeli alienation from Judaism; but they may not know or recognize their culpability. One older religious woman referenced the “Sh’ma” as she spoke to me, perhaps the most important prayer in the Jewish canon. She paused and said “do you know that sentence?”

Court to allow anti-Arab protest outside Jewish-Palestinian wedding
Palestinian-Jewish couple hires wedding security for fear of anti-miscegenation group
Jewish anti-miscegenation groups distribute racist, sexist flyers

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IDF reservist sentenced to military prison for refusing draft http://972mag.com/idf-reservist-sentenced-to-military-prison-for-refusing-draft/95227/ http://972mag.com/idf-reservist-sentenced-to-military-prison-for-refusing-draft/95227/#comments Sat, 09 Aug 2014 12:39:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95227 Update: The reservist has since decided to expose his identity. He is Gilad Halpern; the name has been updated here.

An IDF reservist was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport Wednesday upon returning to Israel after fleeing call-up orders to serve in Operation Protective Edge. He was later sentenced to 21 days in military prison.

Gilad Halpern, one of three reservists who spoke to +972 Magazine recently for an article about refusal (before he left the country), spent 15 days abroad following a military order to appear for active duty. When he received the order, just as the ground operation was starting, he communicated with his superiors for several days about his intention to refuse on ideological grounds. But the army insisted he report to his unit, and finally told him he must appear within the hour. Instead, he left the country. An IDF representative came to his house just after he had left the country.

An Israeli artillery fires a shell towards the Gaza Strip from a position near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Augost 1, 2014 after the proposed three-day truce that began at 0500 GMT collapsed amid a deadly new wave of bloodshed and the apparent capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli artillery fires a shell towards the Gaza Strip from a position near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on August 1, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

Gilad stayed with friends in the Netherlands, then traveled to France where his family, including his wife and two-year old son, met him. When he returned on Wednesday he was stopped at passport control. Along with the border guards who actually arrested him was a “deserter catcher” – a permanent role within the IDF. It was the same person who had come to his apartment the day he had left.

Because Gilad had communicated his intention to refuse by fax rather than reporting to his unit in person, and then left the country, he was considered AWOL rather than a soldier refusing an order. Gilad says he didn’t realize that the means of communication mattered, and he now believes that had he formally reported and then declared his ideological refusal, the army would have been less likely to give him a severe punishment. He is not an officer, and the IDF might prefer to avoid publicity about incidents of refusal, especially from those in the lower ranks.

From the airport Gilad’s guards took him to a military base in the south. The officers considered transferring his case to a military tribunal, but in the end he was tried the following day by a colonel. Gilad explained that a brief length of desertion warrants a less formal military procedure. Longtime deserters – upwards of a few months – face a full military court proceeding, with an indictment and harsher penalties.

Gilad was sentenced to 21 days out of a maximum of 28, which he will serve in Israel’s Military Prison 4 beginning on Sunday. He told +972 Magazine by phone from the base where he is being held near Beersheva:

The verdict is pretty much what I expected, so I was relieved. I have done this as an act of solidarity with the people who really suffered in Gaza and lost a lot, including loved ones, but also with the other reservists. This is my service. They had to leave their lives and families from one day to the next and go down south and spend weeks here, so I’m doing just the same. I’m not just a ‘mishtamet [a deeply pejorative term implying dropout or deadbeat, usually in the context of military service - ds]. This is my service to society.

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