+972 Magazine » Larry Derfner http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Fri, 24 Oct 2014 16:05:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 ‘Klinghoffer’: New York’s Jewish right goes to the opera http://972mag.com/klinghoffer-new-yorks-jewish-right-goes-to-the-opera/97929/ http://972mag.com/klinghoffer-new-yorks-jewish-right-goes-to-the-opera/97929/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:36:02 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97929 Now that ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ has opened and people are learning what the opera is actually about, the outraged claims made against it are being exposed as hot air.    

Until Monday night, when the “The Death of Klinghoffer” opened at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, people knew it was being attacked by many Jews for supposedly being anti-Semitic and for defending terrorists, and they didn’t know if the accusations were true or false. But now that the opera has opened, and it’s been widely reviewed, and audience members have been interviewed, it’s becoming clear to the mainstream public that pays attention to such issues – and this controversy has attracted a lot of attention – that these claims are total bullshit.

And what should be clear, though it probably isn’t, is that the protest against the opera, the raging campaign to prevent it from being staged at the Met, was not made by “American Jews” or even “New York Jews,” but by the anti-Muslim, anti-liberal, pro-war American Jewish right based in New York – the same people whose word should never be taken for anything.

As the right-wing Orthodox Jewish Press noted helpfully in an article titled “For Grass Roots Klinghoffer Protest, Jewish Establishment MIA”:

Not one mainstream Jewish organization has lent its name or its resources to this effort. …

The mostly small, and some quite tiny pro-Israel organizations which have been working tirelessly to fight the Met’s decision to stage “Klinghoffer” are (this is all of them): Advocates for Israel, AMCHA, Americans for a Safe Israel, the Bridge Project, Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art, Catholic League, Christians’ Israel Public Action Campaign, Congregation Oheb Zedek, Congregaton Or Zarua, Endowment for Middle East Truth, Hasbara Fellowship, Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam, International Committee for the Land of Israel, Israel Forever Foundation, Israel’s Voice, JCCWatch.org, Jewish Action Alliance, Jewish Political Education Foundation, MERCL, Mothers Against Terrorism, One Israel Fund, Rambam Mesivta High School, Shalhevet High School for Girls, Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, Strength to Strength, Westchester Hebrew High School, Zionist Organization of America.

This is not to say, though, that it was entirely a fringe effort; a former New York governor and a few local politicians lent their names to the protest. Ronald Lauder, one of the biggest right-wing machers in the world, was on the podium at the rally across from Lincoln Center. Rudolph Giuliani, possibly this crowd’s single favorite gentile, was the guest of honor, and while he argued against forcing “Klinghoffer” to shut down and didn’t accuse it of anti-Semitism, he complained that it was guilty of “historical inaccuracy and historical damage.” In an article in the Daily Beast, he lamented that the opera, first staged in 1991, was partly responsible for the Oslo Accords.

But the giveaway that the attacks on “The Death of Klinghoffer” were the product of the most closed-minded, ultra-nationalistic, bigoted reaches of organized New York Jewry was that the emcee at Monday night’s protest rally was Jeffrey Weisenfeld. Weisenfeld came to fame a few years ago when he blocked a New York college from giving playwright Tony Kushner an honorary doctorate because Kushner wrote (correctly) that Israel carried out ethnic cleansing in the War of Independence. At the time Weisenfeld said, “My mother would call Tony Kushner a kapo.” He also said Palestinians were “not human” because they “worship death for their children.” A couple of years ago he told me in an interview that it wasn’t enough for Israel to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons, it had to destroy all its enemies’ conventional missiles, too. ”Israel can’t go on living with 200,000 missiles pointing at it,” he said.

Another star of the protest was, inevitably, “America’s rabbi,” Shmuley Boteach, scourge of Israel’s critics and sycophant to the rich and famous.

In retrospect, it should have been obvious from the names associated with the protest that the claims against the opera were nonsense. Furthermore, even Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman said the opera “is not anti-Semitic” (though he did harrumph that it is “highly problematic and has a strong anti-Israel bias …”) One just has to ask himself: Would New York’s Metropolitan Opera put on an anti-Semitic production? Would it glorify terrorism? And if anybody were going to glorify terrorism, would they do it by showing terrorists on a hijacked cruise ship shooting an old man in a wheelchair and throwing him overboard?

But again, nobody had seen the opera. People were not aware that this wasn’t American Jewry making accusations, this was hysterical right-wing American Jewry making accusations. And finally, the protest was given legitimacy by the moral leadership provided by Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters, Lisa and Ilsa. In a letter included in the playbill given to members of the audience, they wrote that the opera “presents false moral equivalencies without context, and offers no real insight into the historical reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew. It rationalizes, romanticizes and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father.”

Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer’s motives are pure; they’re acting out of personal anguish and whatever they say or do with regard to the opera is understandable and irreproachable. Not so at all for the protest’s rank and file, though, and unfortunately the Klinghoffer daughters’ immunity from criticism was transferred, to a large degree, to the protest itself. Whether or not the Klinghoffer daughters or the protesters intended it, the effect on the public watching the controversy play out was a kind of emotional blackmail: If the victim’s daughters say the opera glorifies terrorism, who am I to say it doesn’t, especially when I haven’t seen it?

But again, this changed after Monday night when the reviews came in, and when audience members who’d actually seen the play (unlike the protesters) began talking about it. Here’s Jordan Hoffman’s review in the Times of Israel, a centrist website:

The [protesters’] problem with the work … seemed to stem from the fact that the opera does not portray the hijackers as mindless bloodthirsty monsters, but dares to give the men and their cause a degree of backstory.

That it also shows these men shooting an innocent elderly man in cold blood and concludes with a heartbreaking aria from his widow didn’t seem to carry much weight with this bunch, nor did any discussion of whether representation in a work of fiction automatically means endorsement.

Here’s Adam Langer in The Forward, a liberal Zionist publication, after seeing a dress rehearsal:

Does the opera, as some protesters have contended, idealize terrorism or condone murder? Of course not. If anything, it seems to be an impassioned and perhaps naive plea for dialogue and mutual understanding.

That’s from the Times of Israel and the Forward, there’s no need to quote New York Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini’s dismissal of the protesters’ claims. But what the hell:

In the libretto, the murder takes place offstage. Here, it is depicted explicitly, which should silence detractors who charge that “Klinghoffer” explains away a vicious murder.

For the reactions of audience members, see here and here. The opening-night performance got “tremendous” ovations at the end, according to the Times. A lot of the people cheering – maybe even most of them – were New York Jews, which is important to remember.

Myself, I didn’t see the opera but I did read the libretto (the words), and I have to say that from that alone, I didn’t understand the opera’s message; the lines are written in lyric poetry, and most of it I couldn’t make heads or tails of. But there were some parts literal enough for me to understand, such as the “heartbreaking aria from [Klinghoffer’s] widow” that ends the opera, and the crudely anti-Semitic remarks spoken by a killer named “Rambo.” Plus, of course, I knew that the opera shows Palestinian terrorists murdering an old Jewish man in a wheelchair. So while I still don’t know what the opera’s message is, I damn sure know what it isn’t.

Related:
Anti-Semitism has no place in Palestine advocacy
A distorted portrait of Palestinian ‘anti-Semitism’

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World’s delayed reaction to Gaza war kicks in http://972mag.com/worlds-delayed-reaction-to-gaza-war-kicks-in/97678/ http://972mag.com/worlds-delayed-reaction-to-gaza-war-kicks-in/97678/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 13:23:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97678 A week of encouraging signs augurs revival of anti-occupation cause.

My view of the chances that the occupation will end someday fluctuates between pessimistic and despairing. Since the war in Gaza, I’ve felt the cause was effectively lost; I figured that if the monstrous devastation that Israel visited on the Strip and its people did not light a fire under the world’s ass, then the anti-occupation movement was on a slow boat to nowhere. But just in the last week there have been a number of delayed international reactions (and even one from Israel) to the Gaza war, and they add up to what I see as a critical mass of encouraging signs that is weighty enough, at least, to argue against despair.

The clearest one was the international donors’ pledge in Cairo of $5.4 billion for the reconstruction of Gaza. The Palestinian Authority had only asked for $4 billion; expectations had been for $1.5 billion. This is a serious investment by the world, and a strong demand for change.

It was backed up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s speech at the conference, in which he blamed the war on the occupation. “We must not lose sight of the root causes of the recent hostilities: a restrictive occupation that has lasted almost half a century, the continued denial of Palestinian rights and the lack of tangible progress in peace negotiations,” Ban said. He followed it up the next day in Jerusalem by slamming Netanyahu’s diplomatic stonewalling and settlement-building in a joint news conference with the prime minister, who was not amused.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to the press alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, October 13, 2014. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to the press alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, October 13, 2014. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

There was also the speech at the donors’ conference by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi calling on Israel to accept the Arab Peace Initiative. Sissi is a brutal autocrat, he doesn’t yearn for justice for anyone, but his speech was a sign that he is not in Israel’s pocket as Israelis like to think, and that he may be thinking that championing the Palestinian cause will enhance his prestige and power in the Arab world, which would not be good for the Netanyahu government.

Then there was the vote by the British parliament to recognize a Palestinian state immediately. Prime Minister David Cameron opposed the motion and said it would not change his government’s policy, but again, it sent a message and, coming a week after the new Swedish prime minister, Stefan Lofven, announced that Sweden would recognize Palestine as a state, it was part of what appears to be a gathering momentum.

There were some powerful statements in the British parliament debate. From Tuesday’s New York Times:

Richard Ottaway, a Conservative lawmaker and chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said that he had “stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad,” but now realized “in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion.”

“Under normal circumstances,” he said, “I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behavior in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.”

The Times story also noted the new international atmosphere in which the British vote was held, and had some interesting quotes to illustrate it:

Romain Nadal, the French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Monday that France “will have to recognize Palestine,” but he did not specify when the official recognition would take place.

The last conflict in Gaza “has been a triggering factor,” Mr. Nadal said. “It made us realize that we had to change methods.”

The Times also quoted Avi Primor, a former Israeli ambassador to the European Union and now head of the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations, who had told the Times of Israel early in the Gaza war that he was “not particularly worried” about the world’s reaction to it. He explained to ToI in July that “nobody likes Hamas,” that everyone saw that Israel had shown restraint, and that European governments were put off by angry pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Yet here is the Times’ quote of Primor speaking after the vote in the British parliament:

“The problem is that we are drastically losing public opinion,” Avi Primor, the director of European studies at Tel Aviv University and a former Israeli ambassador to the European Union, told Israel Radio on Monday. “This has been going on for many years, and became particularly serious after the talks failed between us and the Palestinians after nine months of negotiations under Kerry, and even more so after Operation Protective Edge.”

And in Israel, a long list of prominent liberal Zionists urged the British parliament to pass the resolution to recognize Palestine, which meant these Israelis were siding with a foreign political entity against their country’s government, which is not the sort of thing Israeli liberals ordinarily do. To borrow from the French spokesman, the Gaza war had evidently been a “triggering factor” for these two-staters, making them “realize that [they] had to change methods.’”

So the shock of the Gaza war seems to be wearing off, and the anti-occupation movement may be escalating. There is reason again for guarded hope. But finally, it’s up to the Palestinians – and here, too, things seem to be moving. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has committed himself so deeply to pursuing statehood at the UN Security Council, and if that fails – which the U.S. will guarantee with a veto – to challenging the occupation at The Hague, that it seems impossible he will pull his punches again.

This is no time for optimism, God forbid. But it’s no time for despair, either.

Related:
Labour MPs: Vote yes on Palestinian statehood
Seven years later, Israel decides Gaza blockade is ineffective
A siege of inertia: Israel’s non-policy on Gaza

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The Kurds must not be abandoned again, this time to ISIS http://972mag.com/the-kurds-must-not-be-abandoned-again-this-time-to-isis/97499/ http://972mag.com/the-kurds-must-not-be-abandoned-again-this-time-to-isis/97499/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 14:39:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97499 If there are any people on earth who deserve the world’s protection from slaughter, it is the Kurds.

Despite the stereotype of Mizrahi Jews in Israel resenting Arabs because of the way they were treated in the old country, there are plenty of Mizrahim who have good memories of their relations with their former Muslim neighbors. However, there is no Mizrahi community in Israel that feels a kinship with their Muslim former countrymen like the Kurdish Jews do.

A fighter from the Islamic State. (photo: Islamic State)

A fighter from the Islamic State. (photo: Islamic State)

Today ISIS appears to be on the verge of slaughtering the people in the town of Kobani, the heart of a Syrian Kurdish area with a population of hundreds of thousands. Kurds are getting killed in riots in Turkey and protesting across Europe to try to prevent a catastrophe. So I’d like to recall what the head of the Association of Kurdish Jews in Israel, Yehuda Ben Yosef, told me in a radio interview on TLV1 on September 21, when the news of the day was that ISIS had taken over some 60 Kurdish villages near Kobani.

What’s happened to the Kurds in the last 100 years is terrible. The Kurds don’t have a minute of silence. What happened today – our heart is with them, and if we can help, medications or food or blankets, we do it. We do everything to help the Kurds in Turkey who ran away from Syria.

We have a good relationship all over the years. People from Kurdistan come to Israel these years and they are our guests and we keep in touch with the people there by telephone, Internet, Facebook. Today some Kurds from Norway are coming to be our guests, Muslims from Norway, coming to the Jewish community in Israel. In Syria we don’t have contact, but what we can do for people in [Iraqi Kurdistan], we do our best to help them.

In August, Ben Yosef led a demonstration of Kurdish Jews outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. I asked him what the message had been. The same as it is now, he said, only now it’s more urgent.

We think the U.S. must do more to help the Kurds. Give them guns, tanks, airplanes because I think [Iraqi Kurdistan] is the only country that can make fight with ISIS, it’s the only democratic place in this whole area. Iraq is not strong enough, the army is very weak, Syria has problem itself, we can only put our trust in the Kurds.

I don’t want to try to go into the geopolitical considerations of Turkey, Syria and the United States, but I do want to say that if there are any people on earth who deserve the world’s protection from slaughter, it is the Kurds. “What’s happened to the Kurds in the last 100 years” includes oppression by Syria, massacre by Turkey and genocide by Saddam Hussein. They are the bravest fighters, and in Iraqi Kurdistan they’ve created the best thing, if not the only dependably good thing, to come out of President Bush’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Their relationship to this day with Kurdish Jews in Israel says a great deal – and at the same time they have strong ties with the Palestinians. “You [Kurds] have been with us since the time of Salahaddin. And you have stood for the just cause of Palestine,” said Nadhmi Khudhouri, Palestinian Authority ambassador to Iraqi Kurdistan, when the PA opened its diplomatic office in Erbil in December 2011.

The fighting in Iraq and Syria is very confusing; the only thing everyone really understands is that ISIS is an army of monsters and the world cannot just let them rampage on unimpeded. At the same time there’s a very understandable reluctance to send in ground troops. But even the Americans admit now that the airstrikes are not going to save Kobani from ISIS.

Aside from the threat of ISIS, there should be one other thing, and this should be the main thing, that people understand about the fighting in Iraq and Syria: that the brave and good Kurdish people must not be abandoned to be murdered en masse again. The fight to destroy ISIS is an important one, but the fight to save the Kurds – to give them the chance to defend themselves, in which case they will chop ISIS to pieces – is the most urgent struggle on earth. It must be won by any means necessary.

Related:
Why Israel must help the Kurds in Iraq
No, Hamas isn’t ISIS, ISIS isn’t Hamas
PHOTOS: Protesters compare High Court to ISIS at anti-refugee rally

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Dissent in Israel: On the margins, yes, in the mainstream, no http://972mag.com/dissent-in-israel-on-the-margins-yes-in-the-mainstream-no/97282/ http://972mag.com/dissent-in-israel-on-the-margins-yes-in-the-mainstream-no/97282/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 12:21:41 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97282 Regarding the controversy over Mairav Zonszein’s ‘New York Times’ op-ed: An ongoing climate of fear and suspicion is not conducive to ‘vibrant democracy.’ It is unfriendly to left-wing protest over security matters.   

Since my colleague Mairav Zonszein published her ballbuster op-ed “How Israel Silences Dissent” in the New York Times several days ago, there’s been – what a surprise – a backlash. There was one substantive counterpoint to the article, though, by self-described leftist Noah Efron in Haaretz, who wrote that the instances mentioned by Zonszein of threats, sanctions and violence against opponents of the Gaza war also disturbed him deeply, then he added:

But 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. No one was silenced. The week after thugs punched three demonstrators, there was another demonstration, this one larger, and protected by more police. The actress [Gila Almagor], the comedian [Orna Banai] and the journalist [Gideon Levy] received hours of airtime and hundreds of column inches.

Good point. So what’s the story – does Israel silence dissent or not?

It does. Not all dissent, of course, and Zonszein never argued such a thing, but what Israel does is prevent dissent from reaching the mainstream. The government in Jerusalem doesn’t do it directly – it doesn’t have to. The deed is done mainly by mainstream economic entities and the mainstream media acting on behalf of their customers, the Israeli Jewish public, which supports every last thing the government does in the name of security, such as Operation Protective Edge.

Read Zonszein’s response: Silencing dissent in Israel – continued

To illustrate: On August 22, a week before the war ended, “7 Nights,” the weekend entertainment magazine in Israel’s leading newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, ran a cover story titled “Prisoners of War” about the same subject Zonszein wrote about, but as a long feature article based on interviews, and with a lot more examples of silencing. An anonymous “senior figure in the [Israeli] entertainment world” said:

“Whoever understands marketing in the Israeli music business knows that today the big money comes from [contracts to perform for] municipalities, state-owned companies, cultural bodies funded by the government and by Mifal Hapayis [the national lottery] whose director is identified with the government. Any expression that is extreme or that contradicts the government’s official position is liable to lead to the cancellation of dozens of performances a year – at cultural events, municipal festivals, Independence Day celebrations, summer concerts and so on. …

Whoever understands is afraid, and whoever doesn’t understand – his managers are afraid. The people around the performer don’t leave him on his own – they brief him: which messages to put across when you’re a guest on [talk shows hosted by] Yael Dan or Dan Shilon, what to say when you’re doing an appearance at a hospital [for wounded soldiers or civilians], or when you perform for the soldiers. The general atmosphere is one of, ’We take you into our hearts and we’re not going to express our opinions now, and probably won’t express them ever.’

Here was a recent cover story in a very widely-read publication talking about how Israeli entertainers are pressured economically into toeing the government line, especially during wartime, as described by a source who spoke off the record obviously because he’s under the same pressure. So the silencing of dissent is being exposed for all to see – but does that mean the silencing doesn’t go on? It damn sure does, exposure or not.

What’s allowed and what isn’t

As Efron wrote, the mainstream Israeli media do report, and report critically, on violence and threats of violence against left-wing protesters, and on economic sanctions leveled against outspoken celebrities. Furthermore, as he also wrote, Haaretz, +972 and other relatively small left-wing media, as well as commenters on Facebook (except a few radical Israeli Arabs), are free to oppose the government and its wars to their heart’s content. So in these two ways, Israel does not silence dissent.

The way it does, though, is by prohibiting powerful moral criticism of the government’s “security” policy from reaching the mainstream. Gideon Levy got death threats and was hounded wherever he went not because of his columns in Haaretz, but because of his interview on the Channel 2 news while standing on a street in Ashkelon, where bystanders starting yelling at him on camera while one of the guest panelists in the TV studio threatened to walk out. Levy can slam away in Haaretz and live a peaceful life, but once he spoke his mind on Channel 2, the king of Israeli TV, he needed a bodyguard.

'Haaretz' journalist Gideon Levy (Photo by Yossi Gurvitz)

‘Haaretz’ journalist Gideon Levy (Photo by Yossi Gurvitz)

Watching Channel 2 news during the war was like watching “Salute to the IDF,” with the forlorn, muted exception of one regular panelist, leftist Amnon Abramovitch. Still, Abramovitch’s milder-than-usual sarcasm was too much for the right-wingers who shouted “terrorist” and “traitor” at him one night at the entrance of Channel 2’s studio, until a police officer put him in the car and drove him out of there.

It was the same experience listening to the radio, or reading Yedioth Ahronoth, not to mention the newspapers to its right (which is every newspaper but Haaretz). There were occasional, cautious voices against the extent of Israel’s bombing and the civilian casualties in Gaza, but there were none I’m aware of, except for that one abortive appearance by Levy, who were saying or even suggesting that the war was wrong, immoral, from its inception. And if there was such a voice I’m not aware of, or even two or three, I can almost guarantee that the host made it clear to his or her listeners that the speaker’s message was ridiculous if not disgraceful.

‘Leftists’ Yonit Levy and Shlomo Artzi

All this, of course, didn’t start with Operation Protective Edge. For some reason, right-wingers think Yonit Levy, Channel 2’s star anchor, is a leftist; during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza at the turn of 2009, she caught a lot of flak for supposedly doing something with her eyebrows that signaled disloyalty. I never saw it; what I did see, a year and a half later, was Yonit Levy wincing in unmistakable disapproval when thanking Judge Richard Goldstone for coming on the show to answer her questions about his just-released report.

I also remember driving back from the Gaza border during Cast Lead and hearing somebody on the radio giving a monologue about how the whole world was against Israel for defending itself, etc. etc. The voice sounded like that of hugely popular singer Shlomo Artzi, Mr. Sensitive Israeli Male, a noted mourner of the Rabin assassination. I checked, and it was Shlomo Artzi alright.

You can criticize Netanyahu, you can criticize the settlements, but when the cannons are roaring and you’re talking to Mr. and Mrs. Israeli Consensus, you don’t criticize, you endorse, or you will pay a price, as the few Israeli public figures who’ve challenged that rule have found out.

So yes, Israel silences dissent. The United States did the same thing in the years after 9/11, until the war in Iraq went bad. In mid-2004, country-rock singer Linda Ronstadt lauded Michael Moore’s anti-war, anti-Bush film “Fahrenheit 9/11” during a show in Las Vegas, and people in the audience started booing, throwing glasses and tearing up her posters, and in the end the owner kicked Ronstadt out of the hotel for “spoil[ing] a wonderful evening for our guests.” During that same time, Elton John said:

There’s an atmosphere of fear in America right now that is deadly. Everyone is too career-conscious. … There was a moment about a year ago when you couldn’t say a word about anything in this country for fear of your career being shot down by people saying you are un-American.

Things have changed a lot in America since then. But in Israel, the 9/11 atmosphere has become a more or less continuous thing, with wars every couple of years and a lengthening parade of so-called existential threats in between. An ongoing climate of fear and suspicion is not conducive to “vibrant democracy.” It is unfriendly to protest. In Israel, the political climate keeps protest safely on the margins.

And if any more proof is needed, remember the celebrated “town square test” conceived by national hero Natan Sharansky:

If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a ‘fear society’ has finally won their freedom.

Think of Gideon Levy, Orna Banai or Amnon Abramovitch, think of most of the writers at Haaretz and all of us at +972, think of Ahmed Tibi, Haneen Zoabi or Richard Goldstone walking into a public square in this country and expressing his or her views, and ask yourself if, according to Sharansky’s celebrated standard, Israel is a free society or a fear society. Ask yourself if Israel silences dissent.

Related:
Silencing dissent in Israel – continued
Israel’s Left forgot what dissent really means

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Accusing Israel of ‘genocide’: Major fail http://972mag.com/accusing-israel-of-genocide-major-fail/97099/ http://972mag.com/accusing-israel-of-genocide-major-fail/97099/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 12:23:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97099 And deservedly so, because it’s a false accusation. This is not how to fight the occupation, this is how to help strengthen it.

Mahmoud Abbas’ speech last Friday at the United Nations General Assembly gave the highest-profile-ever exposure to the accusation, popular among anti-Zionists, that Israel practices “genocide” against the Palestinians, and that the war in Gaza was a genocidal one. That’s the highlight of the speech that was picked for the headline in any number of major international news outlets; in Israel the speech is already known, and will be forever, as Abbas’ “genocide speech.” That one word seems to have overshadowed everything else he said at the UN podium, which is a pity, because his basic message – that 21 years of internationally-sponsored peace negotiations have screwed the Palestinians, and they will stand for no more – is right and true, and must be heard, in exactly the furious, combative tone he adopted.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UNGA during the general debate, September 26, 2014. (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UNGA during the general debate, September 26, 2014. (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

If his use of the term “genocide” to describe the occupation and the war in Gaza were truthful but “impolitic,” that would be one thing. But it’s not true – it’s plain false. And on top of that, it’s impolitic in the extreme – it’s politically suicidal, precisely because it’s so clearly false. It’s an Achilles heel in the argument against the occupation. It allows the right wing to sweep aside everything else, in this case every true thing that Abbas said at the UN, and zero in on that one blatant falsehood. It stamps the anti-occupation cause with fanaticism, with reckless disregard for the truth, with hysterical hatred for Israel. That one stupid word.

Using it against Israel may work well to “energize the base” in closed, anti-Zionist circles; it may also get some  college kids to join a protest. But now that Abbas has, for the first time, put the term out in the mainstream, it is so painfully obvious that accusing Israel of genocide is to shoot oneself in the foot, if not the head.

When you accuse Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians, you are accusing it of deliberately, systematically executing them en masse, hundreds of thousands or millions of them. You’re accusing Israel of an attempt to exterminate an entire people, like the Nazis did the Jews, like the Ottoman Turks did the Armenians, like the Hutus did the Tutsis in Rwanda. That’s what people think of when they hear the word “genocide.”

That was not the war in Gaza, and that’s not the occupation.

But many anti-Zionists disregard the common understanding of the word, and instead point to the “official” definition adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, and still used at The Hague:

[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (f) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

As Mitchell Plitnick just wrote, “Now, it is easy to state that Israel would love to see the Palestinians gone. But have their actions been motivated by the ‘intent to destroy’ them? If so, they’ve done a lousy job of it as the Palestinian population has grown significantly and consistently over the years.”

And if the UN definition of genocide does fit Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, or the war in Gaza, then what unjust rule of one nation by another, or what unjust, one-sided, devastating  war, was not genocide?

No, the term, either in its colloquial or UN-approved meaning, misses the truth by a great distance.

It seems “genocide” has entered the far Left’s vocabulary for no other reason than to satisfy its own rising fury at Israel. Sorry, the rising fury is absolutely justified, but it’s still not an excuse to talk bullshit. Especially when there are so many harsh terms that can be applied to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that are indeed accurate. The ones I use – sparingly, though, because otherwise they lose their effect – are “military dictatorship” and “colonialism” (for the West Bank), along with “tyranny” and “oppression” (for the Palestinians as a whole).

One of the other terms Abbas used in his speech was “ethnic cleansing.” It hurts me as an Israeli to hear it, but I have to admit it’s a true characterization of the Nakba. And while current Israeli policies toward Palestinians in East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank’s Area C don’t fit the popular image of “ethnic cleansing,” they do fit the literal meaning.

And let’s not forget “apartheid.” I don’t use the term because it’s based on racial supremacism, while the occupation is based on national supremacism, and this is a major difference. But the most significant feature of apartheid – that of one people officially, as a matter of policy, keeping another people down by force – is the most significant feature of the occupation, too, so the comparison is certainly more true than false. Besides, good Zionists like Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon and star newspaper columnist Nahum Barnea have made the comparison, so it can’t be dismissed as another exercise in slanderous Israel-bashing by the “loony Left.”

Not so with “genocide.” Using it puts you an inch away from equating Israel with Nazi Germany. This sort of rhetoric will not stand the light of day. When Abbas used it in his UN speech, he might as well have put a “kick me” sign on his back as he left the podium. And I’m just dreading to hear Bibi take him up on that inadvertent offer when he makes his own speech at the UN later Monday.

Related:
Israel, Armenians and the question of genocide
Abbas’ generous offer to Israel
The Israel-apartheid debate

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Another Israeli act of military madness in Syria http://972mag.com/another-israeli-act-of-military-madness/96959/ http://972mag.com/another-israeli-act-of-military-madness/96959/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 13:32:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96959 On Tuesday morning the Air Force shot down a Syrian fighter jet for no good reason on earth.

For the first time in 30 years, a Syrian fighter jet on Tuesday morning strayed over the border with Israel – or rather, over the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which rightfully belongs to Syria. Israeli military officials reportedly think it was an accident. They also think the Syrian jet was on its way to bomb Al-Nusra jihadists on the Syrian side of the border.

The incursion of the Syrian plane lasted two seconds. It got about 800 meters onto the Israeli-occupied side of the border. Then the pilots turned the jet back toward Syria.

So what did Israel do then? What else? It blew the Syrian jet out of the sky. The crippled plane landed on the Syrian side of the border. Thankfully, the Syrian pilots ejected safely.

All the details of the incident point to an Israeli act of incredible recklessness and stupidity.

Yedioth Ahronoth reports that “the IDF thinks the jet crossed into Israel by accident en route to attacking rebel positions on the Golan.” Same story: “According to a military source, the jet entered Israel for a couple of seconds, penetrating a few hundred meters before turning back (bold italics added), at which point it was hit by the Patriot missile.”

A Patriot missile is launched during a test. (File photo by IAF)

A Patriot missile is launched during a test. (File photo by IAF)

But then a few paragraphs later, an IDF officer tells Yedioth: “We identified the Syrian jet at a height of 10-14,000 feet. That’s a height considered comfortable for an attack run. A fighter jet can reach the Sea of Galilee in less than a minute and everywhere else in five.”

Yeah. The Syrian jet is looking to bomb Al-Nusra jihadists on the Syrian side of the border, it strays accidentally onto the Israeli-controlled side for two goddamn seconds, then it turns back toward Syria – and it was a threat to Israel.

The Haaretz story presents the IDF version of the incident a lot more simply: “Although Israel did not see any threat of attack on its own territory from that plane, its policy stipulates that any plane that breaches its territorial authority must be downed to avoid security risk.”

What security risk? That the jet was going to spy on Israel? Israel has been sending spy jets over Lebanon a few times a week for many years – is it okay, from Israel’s point of view, for Lebanon to shoot down those planes? Israel has just given Hezbollah a great precedent for doing so.

From Times of Israel:

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday in response to the incident that the Syrian plane approached Israeli territory in a “threatening manner” and crossed the border.

“We’ve clarified this in the past and we’re emphasizing it again now: We won’t allow anybody, whether it’s a state or a terrorist organization, to threaten our security and violate our sovereignty,” the defense minister and former IDF chief of staff said. “We will respond forcefully to all attempts of this kind, whether it’s an accident or intentional.”

Ever since the war in Gaza ended, people here have been saying another war is coming on the northern border. And what I’ve been dreading is that Israel, given this expectation, will interpret every little move on the other side of the border as proof of intent to attack, and “preempt” it by attacking first.

And that’s what happened today. Will this incident start a war with Syria? Most likely not. But eventually I believe Israel will set off a war with Hezbollah or Syria or Iran or somebody, because its limitless fear produces limitless aggression. No one likes to live in fear, and the best way to lose that fear is to strike first. That, in a nutshell, is Israel’s military policy, reiterated this morning over the Syrian border.

Related:
Israeli aggression in Syria is provoking a war
Israel’s ‘war between wars’ backfires
With Egypt strike, Israel violates two borders in three days

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Against spy revelations, Israel doth protest too much http://972mag.com/against-spy-revelations-israel-doth-protest-too-much/96781/ http://972mag.com/against-spy-revelations-israel-doth-protest-too-much/96781/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 18:18:40 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96781 The nation’s establishment has called the whistle-blowers of Unit 8200 every bad name, but it has no answer to their charge that information deliberately gathered on innocent Palestinians is used to blackmail them into collaborating.

Illustrative photo of digital surveillance. (Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of digital surveillance. (Shutterstock.com)

The 43 refuseniks in Unit 8200, Israel’s legendary high-tech snoops, are this week’s Gideon Levys, this week’s Haneen Zoabis – the focus of patriotic hatred in the land. “Baseless slander” is what Netanyahu called their letter, published Friday in Yedioth Ahronoth, in which they declared they would no longer spy for the occupation.

Aside from being called traitors, the 43 reservists have been called cowards, spoiled brats, cynical political operatives and, as mentioned, baseless slanderers. But neither Netanyahu nor any of the other accusers have answered the whistle-blowers’ most incendiary revelation: that Unit 8200 not only spies on the phones, emails and other devices of militants, but on those of completely innocent Palestinians, hoping to find out their secrets so the Shin Bet can use the information to blackmail them into becoming collaborators.

Interviewing six of the letter’s signatories, Yedioth’s Elior Levy wrote (in Hebrew), “According to them, the Israeli public believes that intelligence is gathered only against those involved in terror. They want to publicize the fact that a substantial portion of the targets they follow are innocent people who are not connected in any way to military activity against Israel, and who interest the intelligence branches for other reasons.”

According to “N.” one of the six dissidents interviewed, “At the base they told us that if we turn up some ‘juicy’ detail, this is something important to document. For instance, economic hardship, sexual orientation, a severe illness that they or someone in their family has, or medical treatments they need.”

“N.” continued:

If you’re a homosexual who knows someone who knows a wanted man – Israel will turn your life into a misery. If you need urgent medical treatment in Israel, the West Bank or overseas – we’re on your tail. The State of Israel will let you die before it lets you go for medical treatment without your first giving information about your cousin, the wanted man. Every time we hook an innocent person who can be blackmailed for information, or to conscript him as a collaborator, that’s like gold for us and for the entire Israeli intelligence community. In a training course we actually learned and memorized the different Arabic words for homosexual.

The army spokesman’s response to these and other specific accusations goes as follows: “The concrete claims made in the report are unknown in the Intelligence Directorate.”

In an interview on TLV1 radio, I asked Noa Levy, a former draft resister who now defends others taking that route, what she thought of the army spokesman’s response. She gave a derisive laugh and said,

That is quite ridiculous, which I can say from my experience as a human rights lawyer. There are many cases of LGBT people from the Palestinian territories who get to Israel and try to get refuge after the Shin Bet blackmailed them, and they get to the point when they are known to Palestinian society as homosexuals or traitors, and [Palestinians] presume they’re informers. This phenomenon was known for a long time, but it was thought to be marginal. What these soldiers allow us to say is that it’s a general thing … a general policy. [Unit 8200]  gathers information on [Palestinian] homosexuals and uses it to turn them against family members or friends.

In Yedioth, Israel’s leading print journalist, Nahum Barnea, fully defended the truthfulness (though not the judgment) of the dissidents:

One would have expected the military to respond to this claim [of spying on innocent Palestinians to blackmail them into collaborating] with a commitment to examine it and correct any failings. Instead we got a wholesale denial – a denial that brought a cynical grin to the face of everyone who is familiar with the reality of the [intelligence-gathering] system. …

The occupation corrupts, say the refuseniks of 8200, and they’re telling the truth. In the best case, the information they pick up prevents terror; in many other cases it serves the malice, arbitrariness and stupidity of the occupation, or it provides a presentable wrapping for some deceitful government policy.

To balance out Noa Levy on the radio program, I asked Eitan Meirsdorf, a reserve Israeli soldier and head of the far-right Im Tirtzu organization at Bar-Ilan University, what he thought of Unit 8200 spying on Palestinian innocents for the purpose of blackmail. Meirsdorf, at least, was candid enough to say what the Israeli establishment is not: that he has no problem with it:

This is not specific to Israel – every single intelligence unit in the world does it. [Unit 8200] is trying to catch terrorists, and at the end of the day, as an Israeli citizen, if there’s a chance that a terrorist is going to blow up my house, my family, then yeah, I would try to do everything I could to stop them. For them to pass up a chance to catch a terrorist and then that terrorist kills Israelis – that doesn’t seem very moral to me.

In other words, in the name of Israeli security, anything and anybody goes.

As for the refuseniks’ charge that medical information on innocent Palestinians is also leveraged by the Shin Bet, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel said, “The testimony PHR gathered from [Palestinian] patients matches the description given by the reservists in Unit 8200. [Palestinian patients] tell of direct and implied blackmail, the latter being in the nature of ‘Help us and we’ll help you.’”

Read PHR’s full report on the practice

Faced with the dissidents’ revelations, official Israel has tried to change the subject, to make the dissidents themselves the subject. The army accuses them of running to the media with their complaints before going to their commanders, which sounds far-fetched, and which some of the reservists have flatly denied, saying they complained first to their commanders, but were rebuffed. The army also claims that only 10 of the 43 signatories, the officers in the group, were part of the “circle of control” in intelligence-gathering on Palestinians. The refuseniks say they were all involved in the work.

The army’s complaints seem beside the point – but that is the point: to distract attention from what these honorable young men and women are saying, because neither the army nor any other part of official Israel has any honorable answer to it.  So they lie, throw mud, threaten and rage – because when it comes to its treatment of Palestinians, Israel can’t handle the truth.

More on the 8200 refusal letter:
Resource: How the Shin Bet holds Gazans’ health ransom
IDF’s ‘start-up nation’ reservists refuse to serve the occupation
Refusal by elite IDF reservists angrily dismissed as ‘political’

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Israel’s watershed moment that wasn’t http://972mag.com/israels-watershed-moment-that-wasnt/96582/ http://972mag.com/israels-watershed-moment-that-wasnt/96582/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 09:05:33 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96582 Liberals abroad seem to think that for Israel, Operation Protective Edge was a turning point — a wake-up call telling this country that it couldn’t keep going on like this, from war to war to war with no chance for peace. +972 speaks to a number of powerful figures in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inner circle, past and present, to hear their vision of where Israel is headed following the latest Gaza war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. (Photo by Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. (Photo by Haim Zach / GPO)

On the first weekend after Operation Protective Edge ended in a cease-fire, I drove down to Sderot, the original rocket-plagued Gaza-border town and a stronghold of the ruling Right, to hear what people had to say. The idea was to try to gauge Israel’s postwar direction in its conflict with the Palestinians. And since the right-wing calls the shots in this country, the thing to do was listen to right-wingers – on the street, in the media, in the think tanks, in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The car radio was tuned to the Friday morning talk show hosted by Judy Nir Mozes Shalom, wife of Likud cabinet minister Silvan Shalom and a rich, self-satisfied, often-caricatured socialite. She was talking to Boaz Bismuth, deputy editor of Sheldon Adelson’s pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom about his recent trip to Turkey.

“Why did you go to Turkey? It sounds vile,” said Shalom, what with Erdogan and all the anti-Semitism. “I had to get permission to visit the main synagogue in Istanbul,” said Bismuth. “What?!” said Shalom, who seemed to think Jews in Istanbul now needed permission from the government to go to synagogue. No, Bismuth explained, he needed permission from a Jewish communal organization to make sure he wasn’t a security threat. And what about that Jewish couple who got murdered? “Purely criminal,” Bismuth explained; they’d evidently been killed by their housecleaners over money, there seemed to be no anti-Semitic motive. “But the atmosphere is tense. The atmosphere is anti-Israeli, which is anti-Semitic,” said Bismuth. “Why don’t the Jews there move to Israel, dammit,” said Shalom. “I hope everyone wakes up in time.”

In the center of Sderot, none of the people I talk to expect the cease-fire to last. They all supported the war as one of no-choice. They all express sympathy for the civilians killed in Gaza, but blame the deaths and destruction on Hamas. Most want peace negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas but don’t expect anything to come of them. They say many of the people they know shifted to the right during the war. “We don’t believe in a long-term arrangement with Gaza. We also don’t believe in Bibi. I was in the Likud Central Committee. My whole family was for Bibi, but now a lot of them are going to Liberman, to Bennett,” said Jacky Azran, owner of the Tovaleh restaurant.

On the drive home, I listen to the Friday afternoon musings of Yehoram Gaon, one of Israel’s most beloved entertainers and a household name for 50 years, a former Laborite who has grown cranky and conservative in this post-Oslo century. His monologue is thick with sarcasm. “When Africans are slaughtering Africans or Muslims are slaughtering Muslims, the UN doesn’t care. But when Israel fires in self defense – oh no. … Now they’re threatening us with The Hague. What about Boko Haram, maybe the UN should give them a little Hague, no? Syria, 200,000 dead, Islamic State, they cut off heads. How about a little UN debate about that?”

I’m not being selective here: This was the sequence of what I heard that Friday, August 29, three days after the cease-fire. Besides one voice of relative moderation – the owner of the Sderot minimarket, who supports Tzipi Livni and speaks of Abbas as “our only partner” – it was solid right wing, in person and on the air.

And it didn’t stop with Yehoram Gaon. The next host on the program, culture journalist Haim Adar, said the war had reminded Israelis that “we are a people that dwelleth alone, fighting for its life,” and that while Europe rebukes Israel without let-up, “it doesn’t pay any attention to Islamic State cutting off people’s heads.” That night on the Channel 2 news, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon waved off the possibility of negotiating peace with Abbas, saying, “Without the activity of the IDF and the Shin Bet, Abbas would not have survived.” On the news show’s studio panel, Amnon Abramovitch, the leftist in an otherwise completely pro-government quintet of war commentators, finally caved in, giving Netanyahu and Ya’alon a backhanded compliment for “showing restraint” in Gaza.

And that’s the way it was, as Walter Cronkite used to say.

‘Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Liberals abroad seem to think that for Israel, Operation Protective Edge was a turning point, a wake-up call telling this country that it couldn’t keep going on like this, from war to war to war with no chance for peace – Israelis couldn’t stand it, the Palestinians couldn’t stand it, and the world couldn’t stand it anymore. The recent years of Israeli security and prosperity had been an illusion, and it had just popped. Things have to change, the constructive critics have been saying, and now is the time.

That’s not the dominant strain of thinking in Israel, though, not from what I heard. The “national camp,” the Right, led by Netanyahu, is going on just like it did before the war – expanding West Bank settlements, stonewalling the Palestinians diplomatically, crushing any sign of resistance, and blowing off the world’s complaints, notably those from the Obama administration. In terms of policy, nothing has changed.

What has changed, though – and this is always at least half the game for Netanyahu – is the hasbara, the spin, the international selling job he and the rest of the right wing do for the policy of endlessly entrenching the status quo. This new information campaign can be summed up in Bibi’s now-famous saying, “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas.” As military affairs analyst Yoav Limor wrote in a postmortem on the war in Israel Hayom:

The event that was most helpful to Israel in its public relations battle that it waged alongside the military battle in Gaza took place thousands of kilometers from here – the execution of American journalist James Foley. … The Islamic State group is giving us a rare opportunity to tell an attentive audience in the West something that it has thus far refused to hear: Israel is not the problem, but the solution.

Another talking point in the postwar hasbara campaign is the upsurge in anti-Semitism, especially in Europe, that coincided with Operation Protective Edge. That it was Israel’s actions which rattled so many anti-Semites out of the woodwork goes unacknowledged and unmentioned.

One other change in the Right’s postwar approach, one that’s part hasbara and part genuine strategy, is what Netanyahu calls the “new diplomatic horizon.” He and his allies think Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other “moderate” Arab states now see Israel as the “enemy of their enemy,” their primary enemy being radical Islam, including Hamas, and that this could strengthen Israel’s position against Gaza. They also see it as a good argument against the West’s criticisms of Israeli overkill during the war: If your Arab allies are happy – privately if not publicly – why are you complaining?

So the national camp doesn’t see the war with Gaza as the occupation’s last stand, not by any means; it sees the war not only as a military success but as a political advance, too, one that leaves this country freer to pursue its prewar policy toward the Palestinians, which is, as noted, the entrenchment of the status quo.

The destroyed mosque and water reservoir seen in the village of Khuza'a, East of Gaza Strip, September 9, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq / Activestills.org)

The destroyed mosque and water reservoir seen in the village of Khuza’a, East of Gaza Strip, September 9, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq / Activestills.org)

They’re not worried about all the dangers that liberals, foreign and domestic, warn Israel about: losing U.S. and European support, being tried for war crimes at The Hague, getting hit with more and more boycotts, sanctions and divestment (BDS).

At most, they pay lip service to the old, repeated-to-death danger posed by the occupation somewhere down the line – that it will cost Israel either its democracy or its Jewish character. This “threat” isn’t pressing on the national consciousness any more urgently than global warming.

The danger to the economy posed by the current policy, though, is taken seriously; the cost of the fighting in Gaza was enormous, and people here will soon feel it in the deep budget cuts to education, health and every other civilian sector needed to pay for the war, and possibly in higher taxes and recession, too. Yet the Israeli economy has proven resilient after recent wars, at least for the rich and the solidly middle class, while the lower middle class and poor don’t have much of a say. At any rate, everyone understands that wars cost money, so people have to tighten their belts – and people here are not in much of a position to complain, when 95 percent of them, according to Israel Democracy Institute polls, supported Operation Protective Edge.

As for the loss of hope in peace, and the nation’s resigning itself to a future of one war after another – that didn’t begin with this last campaign in Gaza.

“No one believes the cease-fire is going to last, the rockets will start again in another month, another year, another few years. It never ends. We always try to make peace with the Palestinians, and they always choose terror,” said Shai Sofferman, a customer at the Sderot mini-market. “I thought Bibi did a good job during the operation,” he added.

What Operation Protective Edge did was to take Israelis’ apathy and fatalism and deepen it, which is another gain for Netanyahu and the Right. What could be more comfortable for a national leadership going from war to war than a public that no longer expects anything else?

The same way forward

On the night of 9/11, Netanyahu, then out of office, was asked by The New York Times what he thought the attack would mean for Israeli-U.S. relations. “It’s very good,” he said. Then, according to the Times, he “edited himself” and added, ”Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.”

It’s not fair to suggest that Netanyahu was “happy” over 9/11, but he knew, like seemingly all Israelis knew, that it was a godsend for the cause of an embattled Israel. Similarly, there’s no reason to think Netanyahu is pleased by Islamic State’s nightmarish exploits, notably its decapitation of two American journalists, but he knows that they serve his purposes.

In speech after interview after statement, he lumps Hamas together with Islamic State as violent Islamist movements, throwing in Al-Nusra in Syria, Hezbollah, Al-Qaida and Iran – and voila, the slaughter in Gaza was a holy cause, one that all decent people share. On September 1 he told a pair of visiting U.S. congressmen:

What we see is that al-Nusra, Hamas, Hezbollah – backed by Iran, al-Qaeda and these other terrorists groups are basically defying all international norms, breaking them whether in Lebanon, in Syria or in Gaza. … I know that this is part of your common position and I welcome it. It helps that Israel, the United States and the other civilized countries stand together against this grave threat to our future.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY). (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY). (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

The next day he told a different pair of congressmen:

We’re fighting not just Israel’s war, but I think a common battle against enemies of mankind – Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, ISIS, supported many of them by regimes that propel terrorism to the front, like Iran. I think this is a challenge to all civilized nations. Israel and the United States stand together …”

And who’s going to argue with him? Who’s going to point out that Hamas, violent, tyrannical Islamist organization though it is, represents 1.8 million Gazans who have lived under Israeli military control since 1967, and that the other half of their country, the West Bank, remains under full Israeli military dictatorship? Who’s going to suggest that this gives Hamas, frightful as it may be, a legitimacy that the marauders of Islamic State, Al-Qaida and Al-Nusra obviously lack?

In the Western mainstream, which is Israel’s world, not many.

This is the national camp’s postwar defense of those horrific scenes in Gaza, and of its continuation of the policy that led up to them. And since the uproar over the war has largely ended with the cease fire, and the world seems more than happy to forget about Gaza, and even the largest takeover of Palestinian land for West Bank settlements in 30 years, which the government pulled off last week, elicited no more than the usual U.S. whine of “counterproductive,” the national camp’s defense seems to be working.

“The situation in the Middle East and, I don’t like to say it, but what’s happening with ISIS and so on, strengthens our point of view,” Zalman Shoval, a long-time Netanyahu ally and former ambassador to the United States, told me. Asked if he thought the ISIS-equals-Hamas argument was being accepted by the democratic world, Shoval said, “Not sufficiently yet, but that’s the direction it’s going in because if you look at Hamas, the only difference between them and the more extreme Islamist groups is that Hamas wants to work in stages – first is the destruction of Israel, but afterward it has the same goal for the world as ISIS and the others.”

One would never guess that it is Gaza which is actually lying in ruins, and not from the bombs of Hamas or ISIS.

A destroyed quarter in At-Tuffah district of Gaza city, which was heavily attacked during last Israeli offensive, Gaza city, September 5, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq / Activestills.org)

A destroyed quarter in At-Tuffah district of Gaza city, which was heavily attacked during last Israeli offensive, Gaza city, September 5, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq / Activestills.org)

Netanyahu and the Right also believe that having Hamas as an enemy not only gives them a very strong hasbara card, but strengthens Israel in the Middle East by offering it the prospect of an alliance of convenience with Arab states threatened by Islamic militancy – mainly Egypt, but also Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This is Netanyahu’s “new diplomatic horizon.” He said in an August 30 interview with Channel 2:

There are not a few [Middle Eastern] countries that see Israel facing the same threats that they face, and that view Israel not as an enemy but as a potential ally. … The Middle East is changing, mainly for the worse, [but] we have to see if we can go hand in hand with [the changes for] the better.

The anti-Hamas alliance with Egypt’s military regime has already paid off very nicely for Israel; before the Gaza war, Egypt destroyed Hamas’ tunnels leading from Sinai into the Gaza Strip, and the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that ended the war was tailored to Israel’s specifications.

“Egypt is basically on Israel’s side,” said Shoval.

“I don’t know if it’s practical to try to demilitarize Gaza, but it is practical to stop Hamas from getting [additional] weapons, and as long as we’re sitting with Egypt on Gaza’s borders, we can prevent it – even without an agreement,” said Prof. Ephraim Inbar, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, the most prominent of Israel’s think tanks aligned with the Right.

How far such an alliance between Israel and the anti-Hamas Arab states can go is up in the air; there is a price to pay on the Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi “street” for siding with Israel against Palestinians. But Netanyahu and the Right believe Middle East politics is breaking their way, and that this will strengthen their hand against Hamas and Gaza. And as no one has ever gone broke overestimating the Machiavellian capacities of Arab dictators, Netanyahu and Co. may be right.

‘What boycott?’

If there’s one thing the world (and the Israeli opposition) is pleading with Netanyahu to do, it’s to try to make peace with Abbas (Abu Mazen). Netanyahu was asked his plans regarding Abbas in that August 29 interview with Channel 2. “Abu Mazen has to choose,” he replied. Between what? Between “Hamas and peace,” said Netanyahu.

This is what the ruling Right believes – that Abbas, whose troops have been fighting violence in the West Bank alongside the IDF and Shin Bet for 10 solid years, and who has little to show for it but humiliation, has not yet proven his commitment to peace.

And so they brush off all of Abbas’ long-standing demands – that Israel freeze settlements, agree to a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with land swaps and with East Jerusalem as its capital – as well as his new demand, that the stalling end and the deal be essentially done in a matter of months. Instead of taking even a step toward Abbas, the most you’ll hear from right-wingers is that the Palestinian leader has to climb down from his “inflexible” stance in the Kerry-sponsored, nine-month peace talks that ended in failure in April, and accept small, incremental deals that wouldn’t solve the conflict, but might, in their view, defuse it.

Inbar, of Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center, doesn’t bother with such notions. Asked if he thinks Netanyahu should be more forthcoming to Abbas than he was before the war, he tells me, “No, I think Israelis in general don’t see the Palestinians as partners for peace, and that we have to continue the policy we had before. We shouldn’t offer the Palestinians any more than we did.”

His prescription for how Israel should deal with Abbas: “Keep playing the game even though we know there’s no solution.”

Abbas’ threat to take Israel to The Hague, the International Criminal Court, doesn’t worry Israel’s powers that be, either. An official in Jerusalem who’s familiar with Netanyahu’s thinking told me, “I think we would know how to respond. Netanyahu talks about the ‘double war’ crime committed by Hamas in Gaza. If Abbas is in a unity government with these people, he’s in control of them, so for him, going to The Hague would be a double-edged sword.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands before a meeting in Paris, France, on February 19, 2014. (State Department photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands before a meeting in Paris, France, on February 19, 2014. (State Department photo)

This complacency might be surprising seeing as how Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch argued even before the Gaza war that the occupation was highly vulnerable to a Palestinian challenge at The Hague. Maybe it’s not so surprising, though, because Israel, the United States and Europe are reportedly threatening Abbas with severe punishment if he dares such a move, which is evidently why he hasn’t made good on his threats yet, and why he may never do so. Here again, on the possibility of war crimes trials, the Right’s blithe attitude toward the supposed pitfalls of their policy toward the Palestinians may be based on a clear-eyed reading of the political map.

Neither does the prospect of a postwar spread of the BDS movement scare the national camp. Yaakov Amidror, formerly Netanyahu’s national security adviser, told me, “The BDS movement exists only on the radical margins. These people are already against Israel, the fact that we hurt civilian infrastructure and civilians in Gaza just gives them one more incentive to attack.”

Added Inbar: “What boycott? Business people buy the best product for the lowest price – politics doesn’t interest them. We’re selling more and more to India, to China. We give too much importance to the reactions of the Europeans.”

And who can say that they’re wrong? Before the war, I was one of those who had high hopes for the BDS movement. But then Israel went and committed such a high-profile, long-running outrage, made itself look so brutal in the eyes of hundreds of millions if not billions of people, and … nothing. For all the anguished statements, no foreign government or powerful entity of any sort has sought to make this country or its leaders pay any price for Operation Protective Edge. Gaza and its people have been trampled, and Israel has gotten off scot-free.

So why should the Israeli political establishment and the broad public that identifies with it feel any need to change?

There is of course a price to the nation for taking this direction, beyond the economic price, beyond the unacknowledged moral price, and that is the periodic rounds of death and injury to Israelis, the anxiety, the darkening hopelessness. But Israelis are ready to pay it, or certainly the ruling right-wing Jewish majority is, because they see no other way this country can survive.

The idea that the Palestinians would stop fighting if Israel took its knee out of their spine, or that Israel’s interlocutor in the West Bank has long since stopped fighting, or that the Palestinians, like every other Middle Eastern nation, would be deterred by Israel’s terrible military might if they, like every other Middle Eastern nation, didn’t have Israel’s knee in their spine – such an idea is swatted like a fly by the national camp.

I asked Yoaz Hendel, a Yedioth Ahronoth columnist and Netanyahu’s former communications director, if he thought this was a sustainable future for Israel, if the country could go on fighting the Palestinians indefinitely.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Hendel said. “As long as the Palestinian leadership doesn’t educate its population to democracy, it won’t be a free society but a fear society, as Natan Sharansky put it. And we will find ourselves in conflict because it’s not in our hands. … I don’t see how there won’t be military conflicts with the Palestinians as long as they embrace Islamic fundamentalism.”

No, Israel’s direction hasn’t changed since Operation Protective Edge, only the hasbara is different. The world’s policy toward Israel hasn’t changed, either. And that’s the way it is. And as Edward R. Murrow used to say, good night and good luck.

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Fight occupation, anti-Semitism, Islamic State at the same time http://972mag.com/fight-occupation-anti-semitism-islamic-state-at-the-same-time/96294/ http://972mag.com/fight-occupation-anti-semitism-islamic-state-at-the-same-time/96294/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 09:52:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96294 The first cause must not be a rival, or a left-wing alternative, to the latter two.

From what I read and hear, it seems to me the Left is talking about Israel’s occupation and onslaught in Gaza – but not about rising anti-Semitism in Europe or about Islamic State (IS) and jihadism, or at least not about how to combat them. My impression is that leftists see this as a zero-sum game: the more outrage about anti-Semitism or IS, the less about the occupation and Gaza, and since the occupation and Gaza is their main concern (mine too), they pay no more than lip service to anti-Semitism, often to say it’s being exaggerated by the Right. And though they deplore IS and jihadism, they’re also against any Western military response to it, often blaming Western military action in the Middle East for creating the problem in the first place, or at least for amplifying it.

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 an armored personnel carrier. (photo: Islamic State)

The Right, on the other hand, is talking only about anti-Semitism, IS and jihadism, hoping that it will take people’s minds off the occupation and Gaza, or, better yet, convince them that it justifies Israel’s violent domination of the Palestinians, or, best of all, show them that Israel’s violent domination of the Palestinians is an integral part of the world’s fight against IS and jihadism.

I don’t have much to say to right wingers about this. People who think Israel is doing the best it can with the Palestinians, who think Israel was innocent of all the killing and destruction in Gaza – I have no interest in trying to convince them otherwise; by now it’s futile.

But I do have something to say to the Left, to the people who know the occupation is immoral and that Operative Protective Edge was a monstrous crime: anti-Semitism in Europe is a real and growing problem, and so are IS and other jihadi groups in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and since you don’t like anti-Semitism or jihadism one bit, you should say so. Insistently. It should be clear to the public that the fight against the occupation is not in any way a rival, or a left-wing alternative to the fight against anti-Semitism and IS, but that all three are on the agenda together, even while for the Left the fight against the occupation is at the top. (If for no other reason than that the fight against anti-Semitism and IS is very well-staffed by the Right and the mainstream, while no one in the West is standing against Israeli tyranny over the Palestinians, except the Left.)

The reason the Left should start speaking out on these issues is not to win votes or support, or even credibility. I have no idea how this would play in Peoria, and I don’t particularly care. Instead, there are two reasons why the Left should speak out against anti-Semitism and jihadism: one, because they are both vile and lethal phenomena, and every leftist worth the name knows it. Two, because there seems to be more synergy now – despite the Left’s intentions – between the anti-occupation movement on the one hand, and anti-Semitism and jihadism on the other.

The scenes and stories from the war in Gaza not only cranked up legitimate antagonism to Israel, they also brought a lot of anti-Semites out of the woodwork, especially among young, disaffected Muslims in Western Europe. And while the rise in jihadism seems to be happening independent of what Israel does or doesn’t do, thousands of European Muslims have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq along with a small number of American Muslims (there are more where they came from), and the veterans who survive the wars will be coming home.

All of these people, anti-Semites and jihadists in the West, feed on verbal attacks against Israel’s violent abuse of the Palestinians – and I don’t want to feed them. Yet, I don’t want to soften my attacks on Israel’s violent abuse of the Palestinians, because that is a vile and lethal phenomenon committed by my country and it must be fought as hard as possible.

So, the answer, I believe, is to go on speaking out with full force against the occupation – and start speaking out more often and more forcefully against anti-Semitism and jihadism. The movement that grows out of the pro-Gaza demonstrations during the war should explicitly take up these two issues as well. That would separate the sheep from the goats. That would purify the ranks, which need purifying.

Actually, on second thought, I think the Left’s joining the fight against anti-Semitism and IS might gain support for the anti-occupation movement. To quote from an August 10 editorial in Britain’s The Observer (the Sunday edition of The Guardian):

Israel’s leaders complain of Western double standards discriminating against their country. But it works both ways. It is clear that more and more people across the world – justifiably or not – are asking why Western governments may assert a moral and legal right to mount air strikes in defence of embattled women and children dying in the mountains of northern Iraq, but should simultaneously ignore the plight of those buried under rubble in Gaza. With Israel’s latest, often indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, that question gets harder and harder to answer.

If the Left was to support those air strikes in northern Iraq – which I do – while also raising its voice against attacks on Jews, I think it would be in a much stronger position to challenge the world’s tolerance for the subjugation of Palestinians. But even if the world, in its cowardice and hypocrisy, continued to tolerate the occupation, the fight against anti-Semitism and jihadism would be no less important – for everyone who stands for justice and decency, which is what the Left should always stand for, everywhere.

Related:
Anti-semitism has no place in Palestine advocacy
No, Hamas isn’t ISIS, ISIS isn’t Hamas

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No, Hamas isn’t ISIS, ISIS isn’t Hamas http://972mag.com/no-hamas-isnt-isis-isis-isnt-hamas/95957/ http://972mag.com/no-hamas-isnt-isis-isis-isnt-hamas/95957/#comments Sun, 24 Aug 2014 11:52:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95957 But equating the two is Netanyahu’s latest way of hypnotizing people into supporting the Gaza war. He gets away with it because people are afraid that if they challenge this idiotic slogan, they’ll be accused of ‘defending Hamas.’

Anybody who isn’t a shill for Israel can see through Netanyahu’s new slogan, “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas.” It’s such a crude attempt to brainwash people, to put the most horrifying image in their minds and associate it with Gaza, thereby cleansing Israel of those images of Gaza’s agony. Like he’s been doing his whole career, Netanyahu is insulting people’s intelligence, treating them like children, selling them the war with a short little singsong slogan they can all remember.

And he gets away with it, because people won’t challenge this idiocy for fear they’ll be accused of “defending Hamas.” Well, if anybody accuses me of defending Hamas in what I’m about to write, I accuse them in turn of supporting the war in Gaza because they enjoy seeing Palestinian children killed. One claim is as fair as the other.

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)

Just to be clear, I know very well that Hamas is a brutal, dictatorial organization; the term “Islamofascist” is indeed descriptive of its character. So in that limited sense, it’s the same as ISIS.

But the difference between Hamas and ISIS in the degree of their brutality, and in their strength, is so great as to be a qualitative difference.

Hamas is not slaughtering and beheading and crucifying people by the thousands, it’s not committing gang rape, it’s not massacring people because they practice a different religion, or a different variant of their own religion, or because they belong to a different ethnic group.

“Hamas, like ISIS, is persecuting minorities,” Netanyahu said over the weekend. But there are churches in Gaza, Christians attend them freely, there is a seat in the Gazan legislature reserved for a Christian – that’s night and day from the way ISIS treats Christians, isn’t it?

About Hamas’ executions in recent days of some 25 suspected collaborators, it’s a sickening reminder of this organization’s ruthlessness – but the fact is that the prestate Zionist underground organization Lehi, whose military leader was Yitzhak Shamir,  executed many suspected Jewish collaborators. Both Lehi and Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, also deliberately bombed crowds of civilians, hid behind their own civilian population, and had maximalist territorial goals. The Irgun and Lehi, the progenitors of Likud, practiced what could be called “Judeofascism,” and, minus the religious fundamentalism, could be compared to Hamas. But like Hamas, they could not be compared to ISIS.

A fighter from the Islamic State. (photo: Islamic State(

A fighter from the Islamic State. (photo: Islamic State(

If Netanyahu really believed Hamas is ISIS, would he have sent a delegation to negotiate with Hamas and offer it concessions in Cairo? Would he have reached a ceasefire agreement with Hamas after Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012? If Hamas is ISIS, would a “senior Israel Defense Forces officer” have told this to Britain’s Financial Times in March:

Today we can describe Hamas as a much more restrained, much more responsible organisation than it used to be a decade or two decades ago – this all in light of their statehood experience. This has made them much more responsible, much more cautious.

And if Netanyahu thought Hamas is ISIS, would his goal in the current war, at least until now, have been leaving Hamas severely weakened – but still strong enough to go on running Gaza and keeping it out of the hands of ISIS’s global jihadist allies?

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrate in solidarity with the Gaza Strip, Nablus, West Bank, August 15, 2014. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrate in solidarity with the Gaza Strip, Nablus, West Bank, August 15, 2014. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

But for all those differences, the decisive one between Hamas and ISIS, of course, is that Hamas represents a nation under foreign rule, which means Hamas is fighting a war of self-defense against Israel. ISIS is trying to take over a nation, or nations, that are beset by civil war, so ISIS, being the most murderous, totalitarian and feared of any of the factions, is fighting a war of aggression.

Compare: ISIS is a threat to take over all of Iraq (and maybe later Syria); Hamas isn’t a threat to take over a blade of grass in Israel.

And there’s one more answer to Netanyahu’s attempt to justify the war by equating Hamas with ISIS – is the Palestinian Authority ISIS, too? Is Mahmoud Abbas also ISIS? If Netanyahu can’t deal with Hamas, why couldn’t he deal with the PA? If Hamas is the problem, why does Israel maintain a military dictatorship over the West Bank, where the PA has worked with the IDF and Shin Bet for the last decade to shut Hamas down?

For Netanyahu, ISIS is a red herring, and so is Hamas – Netanyahu is fighting in Gaza to defend the occupation, and he would fight to defend it against any Palestinian challenger. Yes, Hamas is an organization of brutal, ruthless fascists, but so were any number of national liberation movements – that didn’t make the foreign occupation of their countries and the wars fought to maintain those occupations any more just. The slogan “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas” is just another cynical ploy by Netanyahu to blind some people to what Israel is doing in Gaza, and to intimidate those who see the horror into keeping quiet about it.

Related:
Netanyahu tweets Foley execution shot to score points against Hamas
Hamas executes 18 suspected collaborators

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