+972 Magazine » Roee Ruttenberg http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:54:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Spotted in Istanbul: Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak http://972mag.com/spotted-in-istanbul-former-israeli-defense-minister-ehud-barak/70433/ http://972mag.com/spotted-in-istanbul-former-israeli-defense-minister-ehud-barak/70433/#comments Sat, 04 May 2013 07:16:53 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=70433

Ehud Barak and his wife in Istanbul, May 4, 2013 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was spotted at an Istanbul airport this morning (Saturday). Barak was accompanied by his wife and a security guard. The trio was in transit and spent four hours in an airline lounge.

Barak served as defense minister during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 and the 2010 flotilla offensive, in which nine Turkish nationals were killed by Israeli commandos onboard the Mavi Marmara. Both events led to a severe deterioration in Israeli-Turkish relations, which were partly mended recently when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the incident. Negotiations over compensation for the families of the deceased are currently taking place.

Israeli officials, ministers and high ranking officers have avoided Turkey in recent years, also due to legal proceedings against those involved in the attack on the Flotilla.

Ehud Barak didn’t take part in the last Israeli elections and holds no official position in today. It is not clear whether his landing was coordinated with Turkish authorities. In the past, when Israeli officials or senior officers feared arrests during layovers, they preferred to stay on the plane.

Ehud Barak, his wife and a security guard in Istanbul, May 4, 2013 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

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Confessions of a voting virgin http://972mag.com/confessions-of-a-voting-virgin/64368/ http://972mag.com/confessions-of-a-voting-virgin/64368/#comments Tue, 22 Jan 2013 08:05:32 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=64368 ‘I cast my first vote ever today. It was in the Israeli elections where one vote really makes a difference, and I truly cherished this moment.’

Casting my first vote in the Israeli elections, Tel Aviv, January 22, 2013 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Casting my first vote in the Israeli elections, Tel Aviv, January 22, 2013 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

I’m in my mid-30s and I’m embarrassed to say I had never voted. For me, voting in the U.S. – where I spent much of my time – had sadly and frustratingly proven to be inconvenient and lacking of potential for impact. Make no mistake about it, I’m not an apathetic person and I treasure the value of the vote, especially after having seen first-hand, places where people don’t have it and what not having it actually means. So let me explain.

In the U.S., one is required to know in advance where one will be on election day, which as a traveling journalist – especially a journalist who usually worked on election day itself – wasn’t always possible. Hence, the inconvenience. Second, in the U.S., I had only ever been eligible to vote in two places: California and Washington, DC. California – even without my one vote – always went (and will continue to go) to the Democrats, thanks to the electoral college system that is based on a state-by-state winner-takes-all calculation. Thus, I could say with quite certainty that my one vote wouldn’t have changed the outcome. The same can be said about Washington, DC, a non-state district that lacks voting rights in the U.S. Congress but is still allocated an electoral college vote. Washingtonians vote for Democratic candidates by a whopping 20:1 margin. Again, my vote would not have changed much.

That said, on Tuesday, January 22, 2013, I cast my first vote ever. It was in the Israeli elections. It’s a country-wide vote without district representation. One vote really makes a difference and I truly cherished this moment.

But in the days leading to the vote, I had been unsure for whom – or for which party – to cast my ballot.

In the U.S., I and others often mock the undecided voter. He or she is usually wooed by Republicans and Democrats all trying to get these kingmakers to put them over the top, most notably in so-called “swing states,” where those votes can make or break a candidate. A comedy sketch show, days ahead of the last American election, even mocked them in a skit. “Who are these undecided voters?” the sketch pondered. “We went out to find them.” Then you see “Molly” sitting at a dinner table, bug-eyed and confused. “I just don’t know if to use the big fork? Or the little fork?” Molly asks. The joke, I guess, was that undecided voters are by nature undecided people. But that’s not me. I’m a very decisive person. You ask me, “1 or 2?” I pick 1. Brown or Blue? I pick blue. But give me dozens of parties to choose from and it becomes a little more overwhelming.

A polling station in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 22, 2013 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

A polling station in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 22, 2013 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Like everything itself in Israel, it seemed that voting requires active participation, strategy and tactical maneuvering. So I had to consider a few options:

Would I vote my conscience, for a party that shares my values at its core? Or, would I vote for the party that I think should lead the government? Or, would I vote for a party that I think has the best chance to pull the coalition as close as possible to my views? (Some people don’t like voting for the opposition, my genius brother pointed out to me. They like voting for the government. So, if they are a politically left-leaning voter, they calculate which party – among those likely be in the coalition – can best pull the coalition to the “left,” and they vote in the hopes of trying to strengthen that party.)

Israelis head to the polls in Tel Aviv amid a sea of campaign posters, January 2013 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Israelis head to the polls in Tel Aviv amid a sea of campaign posters, January 2013 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

The process itself proved exhausting, and I had been going back and forth for weeks.

And then it hit me…

In the last few days, I read about a small, online campaign encouraging Israeli voters to give their vote to a Palestinian who can’t vote. The idea was that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank who – vis-à-vis the occupation – are directly affected by the results of the Israeli elections, but who don’t have Israeli citizenship and thus don’t have the right to vote, would get a chance to do so. There is indeed a lot one could do with one’s vote, and transferring it appears to be just as powerful of a statement as picking someone on the ballot. So the initiative could be described as activist altruism.

In truth, I found it admirable. But I wasn’t prepared to give away my vote – my first vote – to a Palestinian. As a believer in the two-state solution, the end-goal as I see it is to have Palestinians vote in their own state, and that’s the aim toward which I will work. But it lead me to my own initiative.

Casting my first vote in the Israeli elections, Tel Aviv, January 22, 2013 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Casting my first vote in the Israeli elections, Tel Aviv, January 22, 2013 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

I decided to give my vote to an Israeli abroad. Someone who loves this country. Someone who bleeds blue and white. Someone who has risked his life defending the only home he knows. Someone who follows the country’s daily joys and struggles. Someone who cries its tears from a distance. Someone who has read everything about this election inside-and-out. Someone with whom I have frequently argued politics. Someone who is clearly affected by the outcome. Someone who is aching to vote … but isn’t here.

As an Israeli abroad, he can’t vote. But as a citizen of Israel, he has the right to. So this time, he will.

A vote is a statement, and this is mine.

You know who you are. I know who you want. And this vote – my vote, my first vote – was yours.

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Palestinian MK Zoabi: Voting in Israeli elections is part of the struggle http://972mag.com/palestinian-mk-zoabi-voting-in-israeli-elections-is-part-of-the-struggle/64259/ http://972mag.com/palestinian-mk-zoabi-voting-in-israeli-elections-is-part-of-the-struggle/64259/#comments Mon, 21 Jan 2013 07:57:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=64259 The Arab League has called on Palestinian citizens of Israel to vote in Tuesday’s parliamentary elections. The unprecedented move by the multi-national Arab group, which in the past supported the Saudi Peace Initiative with Israel, comes as a voter turnout among the Palestinian citizens of Israel – roughly 20% of the Israeli population – is expected to drop yet again.

A billboard to the Israeli-Arab party, Balad, in Nazareth, January 2013 (photo: GS)

A billboard for the Israeli-Arab party, Balad, in Nazareth, January 2013. Zoabi is a familiar face, though not the party’s head. (photo: GS)

Volunteer from one of the Arab parties canvasing potential voters in Nazareth, Israel, January 2013 (photo: GS)

Volunteer from one of the Arab parties canvasing potential voters in Nazareth, Israel, January 2013. Israel’s Arab who do vote usually split their votes among three parties. (photo: GS)

A decade ago three-quarters of Arab-Israelis voted. In the last election, only half did. The majority voted for Arab parties, which are historically excluded – and their voices with it – from coalition-formed governments. Some Arabs end up voting for the Jewish parties, and a few Arabs secure seats on their lists. (Several of the Zionist parties include Arab candidates.)

But the Arab parties themselves are split, most notably into Islamist, communist and nationalist camps. Parliamentarian Hanin Zoabi (Balad) comes from the last group. On Saturday, I caught up with Zoabi as she addressed supporters in Kufar Manda, near Nazareth.

MK Hanin Zoabi addressing supporters in Kufar Manda, Israel, standing behind a Palestinian flag, January 2013 (photo: GS)

MK Hanin Zoabi addressing supporters in Kufar Manda, Israel, standing behind a Palestinian flag, January 2013. Many Jewish-Israelis question the loyalty that Palestinian citizens of Israel have to the Jewish State. (photo: GS)

Speaking to young Arab voters from a stage draped in a Palestinian flag, I could not help but think of the accusation often made by Israel’s Jewish nationalist camps that these citizens aren’t loyal to the State. For a number of reasons, including most notably her participation in the deadly Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 – Zoabi is considered to be among the leaders of the “disloyal pack.” But Israel’s Arabs are twice as likely to be unemployed as its Jews, and two-thirds of their children are deemed poor. That’s triple  the rate compared to the country’s Jewish population. So I wondered: how loyal has the State been to them?

Young Palestinian children in Kufar Manda, Israel hold sign supporting Zoabi's party, January 2013 (photo: GS)

Young Palestinian children in Kufar Manda, Israel hold sign supporting Zoabi’s party, January 2013. Compared to Jewish-Israeli children, Arab-Israeli children are three times more likely to be poor. (photo: GS)

To the dismay of some of my Israeli friends, I will admit that I have developed a certain respect for Zoabi. It’s not because I agree with everything she says – I don’t. But I admire someone who challenges the system. All too often, successful politicians are those who use their position of power to impose their will on the weak. That’s cheap and easy. Zoabi is the type of person who speaks out for the silenced in the face of those who silence her. And that, in my opinion, is commendable. And she is perhaps as unpopular among Jewish-Israelis as she is popular among Arab-Israelis (one possibly being a direct consequence of the other).

The following is my interview with MK Zoabi in Kufar Manda, shortly after she addressed her supporters.

MK Hanin Zoabi featured on a campaign post in a busy Nazareth street, January 2013 (photo: GS)

MK Hanin Zoabi featured on a campaign post in a busy Nazareth street, January 2013. Though unpopular among many Jewish-Israelis, Zoabi has become an equally popular figure for Arab-Israelis. (photo: GS)

Ruttenberg: Ms. Zoabi, why is it important for Palestinian-Israelis, Arab-Israelis, Palestinian citizens of Israel – whatever the terminology may be – to vote on election day?

MK Zoabi: First of all, just 50 percent of the Palestinians in Israel vote. For me, it’s important to vote because it’s our voice, it’s our struggle. I know that the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) is not the tool of struggle; we have also other tools which we must use. For example, demonstrations, to raise awareness, are even more important that being in the Knesset. But in the Knesset, I must first of all struggle against racism, I must represent my people, I must represent the rights of my people. I must say to the Jewish system – to the Israeli system – that I am here, I am a native, this is my homeland, I have rights, I don’t agree with racist policies, I don’t agree with racist laws, I don’t agree to turn[ing] me into a second-class or third-class citizen, or even to treat me as a stranger in my homeland. Because I know that I have only two ways: either to give up my rights or to struggle. I believe that every person that has his will and is well-organized, and who [has] empowered himself, he must just represent his rights and represent his position, and we must do that as natives here.

Ruttenberg: You’ve seen in recent years the number of Palestinian-Israeli voters dropping in their percentages. So you are sort of fighting an uphill battle in encouraging people to go out and vote. Why is that? Why are the numbers falling?

MK Zoabi: I can understand… I do understand why the percentages fell, because the Palestinians lost their confidence in the Israeli tools of democracy. We know that Israel hasn’t been a democracy, never. But they also don’t believe that we can make any difference while we are inside the Knesset. It is also an indication of a lack of confidence in ourselves. It is also an indication of our daily struggle for our food, for our basic services and basic rights. People are also losing their confidence in the system but also losing their confidence in themselves. And my message is not that we must be confident about the willingness of Israel to change. No, this is not my message. My message is that we must be strong enough to struggle, that we must have confidence in ourselves, and that we cannot convince Israel while we are weak, while we are disempowered. We must empower ourselves. And this is one – just one – tool of empowering ourselves.

Ruttenberg: The Arab parties themselves are split. You have three popular parties presenting the Arab vote, which are actually splitting the Arab vote. Is that a problem for you, that there’s not a united Arab front?

MK Zoabi: Yes, for my party, the National Democratic Assembly, we also try to unify between the parties. We know that we lose at least five seats when we run as three separate parties than one unified party. We can be 16 seats according to polls and public opinion. And as a national party, we believe that we must be unified, also in our work – both inside and outside the Knesset. But the communist party – which doesn’t define itself as an Arab party but rather as a Jewish-Arab party, even though 87% of its voters are Arabs – says, yes, I can give up five seats, I can give up 150,000 voters, because this is part of my ideology – to be a Jewish and Arab party.

Ruttenberg: How do you personally feel when Palestinian-Israelis vote for the Zionist parties, or the Jewish parties, or when some of them even run on their lists?

MK Zoabi: I think this is a natural phenomenon. I think every oppressed people sometimes lacks also the confidence… the oppressor succeeded to have the impression and feeling that we are disempowered, that we cannot represent ourselves, that we need strong parties in order to make some changes from [the] inside, and I think this is natural in any society. And this is the strategy which Israel uses in order to re-define our identiy, to adapt us to say that ‘you don’t have the power and ability or power to make any change, because you are a minority, you will still be a minority.’ So maybe, by just agreeing with the Zionist system, maybe by not changing the basic lines of the State, you can reach some benefits here and there and you can make some changes. Of course, we don’t agree with this and we are sure that the only way to have our rights is to struggle for our rights, not to be a part of the system but to challenge the system. If you are a racist, I cannot just agree with your racism and hope that sometime, maybe somehow, you will just give up some of your privileges to me. But now I think the percentage of those who will vote for the Zionist parties will be 20-22 percent. This is also part of our struggle to convince the people that you cannot make changes by adopting the racism, by admiring even those who are racist against you. Again, this is part of the strategy of empowering the people.

Ruttenberg: You’ve become quite a well-known figure, but you are also quite divisive, not just to Jewish-Israelis, but even some Palestinian-Israelis who say that the elected Arab officials often prioritize the national interests of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza before worrying about the domestic concerns of the Arab population in Israel. How do you respond to that sort of concern?

MK Zoabi: This is not a concern of the people, I think. This is not an independent thinking of the people themselves. This is Israeli propaganda, [which] these weakened people have adopted. This is lack of political awareness because the Israeli media doesn’t cover, for example, my daily work in the parliament. They don’t cover, for example, that I succeeded in a program which guarantees 3,000 Palestinian women loans to develop businesses. I worked very hard to raise the percentage of Palestinian working women, and one my small successes was to make the Labor Ministry agree to this program. No one… the Israeli media didn’t talk about that. So the Palestinians don’t know about that. Also, there was (a report put out) about the most active MKs (Members of Knesset) who raise issues (regarding) women. And who was the most active MK who raised the issues of women regarding employment, regarding education, regarding violence against women? It was Hanin Zoabi.

Ruttenberg: Of all women?

MK Zoabi: It was (a poll) about all women in general, but of course I concentrated more on Palestinian women. But it was me among the 120 (Knesset members). The Israeli media didn’t say anything, the Israeli media (didn’t) cover it, except for one article in Haaretz’s The Marker. So it’s lack of awareness, lack of information. And again, it is the claims of the Israeli MKs, it’s the claims of the Zionist parties, which some of our people just repeat without thinking or without really following what we are doing in the Knesset. And part of our work is also to raise awareness about how we work inside the Knesset and what we do.

Ruttenberg: Like it or not, you are a citizen of the State of Israel, and you are a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Are you proud of that?

MK Zoabi: I’m proud that I represent my people. I am proud that in front of incitement – in front of three years of incitement – I didn’t hesitate once, I didn’t change my attitudes, I didn’t adapt my discourse to satisfy the Israelis consensus. (I’m proud of) representing my people with pride, of representing my identity as a native, as a Palestinian. I am proud of that.

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Abbas’ Fatah holds anniversary rally in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip http://972mag.com/abbas-fatah-holds-anniversary-rally-in-hamas-controlled-gaza-strip/63369/ http://972mag.com/abbas-fatah-holds-anniversary-rally-in-hamas-controlled-gaza-strip/63369/#comments Sat, 05 Jan 2013 09:06:04 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=63369 Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement turned out for an anniversary rally in the Gaza Strip. It is the first such celebration that Hamas officials in Gaza have allowed since the two factions split nearly six years ago.  

It was a sea of yellow in the streets of Gaza City, as thousands upon thousands of Palestinian supporters of Fatah came out to mark the organization’s 48th anniversary. And, for the first time in more than half a decade, were allowed to display that support publicly.

Fatah’s yellow flags are a rarity in Gaza nowadays. Its activities in the Hamas-controlled coastal strip have been banned since 2007, following a violent split between the two factions. Even the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – who is also the head of the secularist Fatah – hasn’t been to visit since. Despite various promises to do so, Fatah officials insist that his security cannot be guaranteed.

Abbas’ presence was noticeably missing from the crowd in Gaza, despite the myriad of posters featuring him and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, the late founder and leader of Fatah. Abbas instead addressed the crowd via a pre-recorded message.

God-willing, we’ll meet you in Gaza very soon, in a strong Gaza…. Soon, we will regain our unity.

Earlier in the week, Abbas lead a similar event in Ramallah, where Hamas’ green flags have similarly been banned for the last several years. Still, last month, Hamas’ supporters were allowed to mark their party’s anniversary there – a quid pro quo that was not lost on Fatah supporters in Gaza. One Fatah supporter who came out to the demonstration called the rally a “big national celebration – Fatah giving Hamas the opportunity to celebrate in the West Bank and Fatah getting the opportunity to celebrate in Gaza. This is the start of a new era for reconciliation.”

Hamas authorities estimated Friday’s turnout to be around 200,000 people, while organizers from Fatah put that number closer to half a million. It was unclear even a week ago whether Fatah’s Gaza celebrations would happen at all. Hamas had rejected Fatah’s request to hold the rally in the same square where Hamas held its celebration, citing security reasons. Fatah supporters suspected Hamas leaders feared a large turnout, and a public display of support for Fatah in the Gaza Strip.

The celebrations may bring the Palestinians one step closer to reconciliation, but it is unclear how much closer it will bring them to their final goal: an independent state. Fatah has established relations – and off-and-on negotiations – with Israel. Hamas does not, and still believes armed resistance is the best approach to liberation. But among polled Palestinians, Islamist Hamas appears to be more popular, which could further complicate a peace deal with Israel. On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a Hamas takeover of the Palestinian Authority.

Zakaria Agha, Fatah’s top official in Gaza, insists the rally shows Israel and Hamas that his party is still a player.

To our enemies, we say: this is the people of Palestine. This is the people who you thought were finished. This is Fatah, that everyone thought was was getting old.

Indeed, an aging Fatah guard has been heavily criticized. Hamas officials have made known their preference for younger Fatah leaders, many of whom are sitting in Israeli jails. Meanwhile, Abbas and the so-called old guard have done little to get them out. Some say that that very division, disguised amid talks of unity and celebrations, is the real setback.

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WATCH: UNRWA chief says donor commitment to Gaza needs to continue http://972mag.com/watch-unrwa-chief-says-donor-commitment-to-gaza-needs-to-continue/60668/ http://972mag.com/watch-unrwa-chief-says-donor-commitment-to-gaza-needs-to-continue/60668/#comments Fri, 23 Nov 2012 15:21:29 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=60668 The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, provides “assistance, protection and advocacy for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, pending a solution to their plight.”

UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi calls for continued donor support for Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, November 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi calls for continued donor support for Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, November 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi speaking with journalist Roee Ruttenberg in Jerusalem, November 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi speaking with journalist Roee Ruttenberg in Jerusalem, November 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

The UN agency is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from the global body’s member states.  UNRWA’s chief, Filippo Grandi, says the international community and donors must continue in their commitment to Palestinians and, in particular, to the people of Gaza.

WATCH: ROEE RUTTENBERG INTERVIEW’S UNRWA CHIEF FILIPPO GRANDI

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WATCH: Palestinian journalists protest attacks on Gaza media buildings http://972mag.com/watch-palestinian-journalists-protest-attacks-on-gaza-media-buildings/60422/ http://972mag.com/watch-palestinian-journalists-protest-attacks-on-gaza-media-buildings/60422/#comments Mon, 19 Nov 2012 21:45:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=60422 Members of the Palestinian Union of Journalists and their supporters gathered in Ramallah’s Al-Manara Square on Sunday to demonstrate against an Israeli attack on two media buildings in Gaza.  

Ramallah, West Bank – Dozens of Palestinians in the West Bank – territorially separated from the Gaza Strip – protested in the territory’s administrative center Ramallah on Sunday, accusing Israel of directly targeting journalists in an attempt to stifle the flow of information out of Gaza.

Media NGOs, including Reporters Without Borders, have condemned the strike, which wounded six Palestinian journalists and damaged the equipment of foreign media covering the nearly week-long escalation of violence. One journalist lost his leg in the attack.

Palestinian journalists protest against Israeli attack on Gaza media buildings, Ramallah, 18 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Palestinian journalists protest against Israeli attack on Gaza media buildings, Ramallah, 18 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

The Committee to Protect Journalist‘s Deputy Director, Robert Mahoney, also condemned the strike:

Journalists are civilians and are protected under international law in military conflict. Israel knows this and should cease targeting facilities housing media organizations and journalists immediately.

Israel says it was targeting the antenna of al-Quds TV, which it considers the media propoganda wing of Hamas. Imad Efranji, al-Quds TV’s Gaza director, told Al Arabiya news that the attack was “a new crime against the media.”

WATCH ROEE RUTTENBERG REPORTING FROM RAMALLAH RALLY

 

 

 

Click here for more +972 coverage on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

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Israeli MK incites violence against leftists, Palestinians http://972mag.com/israeli-mk-incites-violence-against-leftists-and-palestinians/60250/ http://972mag.com/israeli-mk-incites-violence-against-leftists-and-palestinians/60250/#comments Mon, 19 Nov 2012 00:16:44 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=60250 It is reassuring to know that in Israel everyone can have their voice heard. Thus, an Israeli anti-war demonstration held last Thursday was countered by a rally supporting the military operation in Gaza by Israeli forces. But there should be a limit on free speech, especially when some of those voices are calling for violence against others.

In developed societies, incitement to violence is a punishable offense. Israel’s standards should be no different.

During Thursday’s rally, right-wing Israeli member of Knesset Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) is seen encouraging the chanting crowd with phrases like, “leftist traitors,” and “leftists out.” He then asks:

Why is it only 200 flights and 15 killed? We want 15 flights and 2,000 killed!

Watch: Right-wing demonstrators call for expulsion of leftists

When I posted this video on my personal facebook account earlier today, it had only 300 views, and I noted that, in my opinion, MK Ben-Ari should be arrested. (I still believe that to be the case, and I hope the authorities are reading this.) I got a number of responses from Israeli Jews noting, with some embarrassment, that the clip is disgusting and that Ben-Ari does not represent Jews or Israel or them:

No no no – This is NOT representative of me or Torah or Israel … We’re taught that when we’re angry, part of our neshama [soul or spirit] is chased away.

I advise this friend (a religious Jewish female, raised in the U.S. but now living in Israel) to write about the issues from her perspective, and to not allow the likes of Ben-Ari to hijack the voice of religious Jews. Meanwhile, another friend – a secular Israeli living in the North, noted:

[A]s a Jew, Israeli and Zionist, I am ashamed in each and every single person in this movie. The damage they cause us as a nation is far beyond any missile coming from the Gaza Strip.

The sentiments are reassuring. And indeed, politically, Ben Ari – a self-declared supporter of the slain Rabbi Meir Kahane and a former member of the outlawed group Kahane Chai – has very few followers in Israel, though enough to get him and his party elected. Some of them are seen in the video with him, chanting “Gaza is a graveyard.”

But for me, perhaps more alarming than Ben-Ari and his supporters are the following:

First, that sentiment – even if not as violent in tone – is creeping into Israeli society and institutions, and it is doing so unchecked. Crackdowns on leftists are often spearheaded by the government itself. Few, except for on the Left, have spoken out against this witchhunt. And comments like “we have to get rid of all of the Arabs” can now be overheard in cafes in “liberal” Tel Aviv.

Second, more and more so, these views – and incitement to violence – are being tolerated in Israeli society, rather than purged with the greatest of efforts.

It is not enough to hide in embarrassment. One must do something to counter these calls for violence, spoken through and shielded by an exploitation of democracy and freedom of speech. MK Ben-Ari does not want dialogue. He wants war, domestically and beyond Israel’s border, and is calling for as much using taxpayer money.

Democracy is complicated. Yes, it includes free speech. But democracy also has responsibilities, which include the safeguarding of rights, including life, for everyone. Israelis and their supporters should raise their voices not just to drain out Ben-Ari and his followers, but to defend the very values their claim to cherish.

Click here for more +972 coverage on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

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WATCH: Spanish protesters join European demonstrations against austerity http://972mag.com/watch-spanish-protesters-join-european-demonstrations-against-austerity/59895/ http://972mag.com/watch-spanish-protesters-join-european-demonstrations-against-austerity/59895/#comments Thu, 15 Nov 2012 02:07:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=59895 Madrid, Spain – Thousands of demonstrators took the streets of nearly a dozen Spanish cities on Wednesday, protesting against government plans to cut spending in ways they say unfairly target the poor and working classes. 

WATCH Roee Ruttenberg reporting from Madrid.

Police block the main street leading to the Spanish parliament in Madrid, 14 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Police block the main street leading to the Spanish parliament in Madrid, 14 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Supporters of Spain's two biggest unions participate in Madrid's anti-austerity demonstration, 14 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Supporters of Spain’s two biggest unions participate in Madrid’s anti-austerity demonstration, 14 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Spanish demonstrators to NO to spending cuts, Madrid, 14 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Spanish demonstrators to NO to spending cuts, Madrid, 14 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Anti-Merkel and anti-Rajoy poster on display during Madrid demonstration, 14 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Anti-Merkel and anti-Rajoy poster on display during Madrid demonstration, 14 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Madrid street after police cleared protesters, 14 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Madrid street after police cleared protesters, 14 Nov 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

 

 

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U.S. elections: The majority voting on the rights of the minority http://972mag.com/the-u-s-election-the-majority-voting-on-the-rights-of-the-minority/59192/ http://972mag.com/the-u-s-election-the-majority-voting-on-the-rights-of-the-minority/59192/#comments Tue, 06 Nov 2012 14:31:28 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=59192 On Election Day in the United States, Americans are choosing between two different visions for the future of their country. And some are being asked to sacrifice their rights for the sake of one of those visions.

Boca Raton, FL and Los Angeles, CA – Every four years, around this time, people begin criticizing the Electoral College in the U.S., and its role in determining the next American president. The system, which sees a certain number of delegates giving their collective vote to the candidate who secures the highest percentage of votes in their respective state, results in certain states having more influence during the election season, and thus becoming more significant to the contestants.

The system was originally designed as a compromise between the other options: the U.S. Congress picking the President versus a single majority vote. It was feared that in the latter form – one large nationwide contest – candidates would likely spend most of their resources in densely populated areas. (If you only have 4 hours to campaign, one would – in theory – do so in a state with tens of millions of people, and thus potential votes, rather than in smaller less populated ones.)

The majority of states usually go one way or another. California and New York, for example, are considered to be liberal meccas. They will always remain “blue states,” meaning the democratic candidate can count those states and their delegates among his “safe states” count.  Other states, like Ohio and Florida, are what are known as “swing states,” meaning it is unclear which candidate will emerge with the highest percentage of votes. In election, that might go “red” – for the Republican, while in others they might go “blue” for the Democrats.

But there are even “safe” parts within a state. In Ohio, the metropolitan area of Cleveland is solidly “blue,” while other areas – like the conservative Hamilton County with the city of Cincinnati – tend to vote Republican. Ohio thus becomes one of those “every vote counts” states, which will see voter turnout reaching 80 percent.

Today, on Election Day, I am in Los Angeles. California usually has a voter turnout which is around 55 percent, with many people thinking their vote does not count, as the big contest – the presidency – is already determined in their state. (Many still vote regardless of the presidential race, as the ballot has other local, county and state races, and can often include a number of state-initiatives on everything from education to mandatory condom use in the filming of pornographic movies.)

When one evaluates the “popular vote” – i.e. the collective total number of votes the presidential candidates actually receive on Election Day – one must remember the reasons why people turnout to vote in one state while they do not do so in others. The figures can be misleading, as many people simply do not vote due to the very nature of the Electoral College system.

It is this same system that allows for the prominent re-emergence of so-called “social value” issues every four years, as Conservative candidates try to encourage social conservatives to vote.

Not so scary: twin siblings dress up in Boca Raton, Florida as pirates. Their mother is angry that Conservatives are trying to restrict reproductive rights, Oct 31, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Not so scary: twin siblings dress up in Boca Raton, Florida as pirates. Their mother is angry that Conservatives are trying to restrict reproductive rights, Oct 31, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Yesterday, on the eve of  the election – and for the past week – I was in Florida. What a difference a few thousand miles and a different coast can make. On Halloween, I walked around a neighborhood “trick-or-treating” with my friend, her husband and their twins. At age 2-and-a-half, they are so cute that there was no way their pirate costumes could scare anyone. And naturally, for someone used to left-leaning pro-democrat circles, the scariest site was a neighborhood full of Romney signs propped up in residential lawns. This was Boca Raton, where a single Obama sign – which one could occasionally spot – stuck out like a sore thumb. (In Fort Lauderdale, 30 minutes south, the situation is nearly the opposite.)

Scary: Romney/Ryan signs decorate many of the residential lawns in Boca Raton, Florida, Oct 31, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Scary: Romney/Ryan signs decorate many of the residential lawns in Boca Raton, Florida, Oct 31, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

That’s left Obama supporters in Boca Raton feeling besieged. My friend angrily said to me she does not understand how people, let alone women, could vote for someone who she believes would setback women’s reproductive rights. She was referring to the  positions on abortion of Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican Presidential Candidate, and – perhaps more worrying – those of his Wisconsin Congressman running-mate, Paul Ryan, who, in defending his position that abortion should be prohibited even in the case of rape, told a Virginia news reporter:

I’m very proud of my pro-life record, and I’ve always adopted the idea that, the position that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life. But let’s remember, I’m joining the Romney-Ryan ticket. And the president makes policy…. And the president, in this case the future President Mitt Romney, has exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother, which is a vast improvement of where we are right now.

(As a sidenote, I have never understood why the Republican party seems obsessed with saving the life of an unborn baby, but then promotes policy that effectively abandon the baby once it is born. That baby shouldn’t depend on the government, they would argue, and should be able to stand on its own two feet…and eventually borrow money from her or his parents to go to college. And as a second sidenote, why is the focus on the rights of the victim, rather than curbing the rights of the perpetrator? I’m reminded of Golda Meir’s leadership in Israel, when a rise in incidents of rape prompted some to suggest that a curfew be imposed on women, for their safety. Meir responded that it is the men who are committing the rape, and thus, they should be the ones forced to stay at home. It seems like Ryan should focus more of his time on harsher rape convictions and sentencing, and less on new ways to elongate the suffering of the victim.)

Another friend in Republicanland (a.k.a Boca Raton) told me this vote is critical, and people there are trying to take away his rights. We were in his condo in a country club, sitting on the couch with his husband (like him, age 30), and their two 5-month old children. Yes, once again, same-sex rights are on the ballot.

It all seems quite undemocratic … that people should be allowed a vote on limiting the rights of other people. (I was always taught that your rights end at the tip of my nose.) And the process appears equally undemocratic. In Florida – the notorious “swing state” famed for the “hanging chad” episode of 2000 that led to the U.S. Supreme Court effectively picking George W. Bush as President – the Republican state government has changed the law on early-voting (whereby people can cast their ballots ahead of time), shortening the early-voting period from two weeks to one week, knowing full-well that Democrats perform better in such a system.

Meanwhile, in the race to the finish line, in such states, millions has been spent on advertising, often by corporations – uncapped in their contributions – which stand to gain a lot from the selection of one candidate over another. When I arrived in Florida the day before Halloween, I drove to my friend’s house and along the way saw a billboard picture of Obama bowing to a Saudi King, and two petrol pumps showing “then” and “now” prices. After arriving at my friend’s home, I turned on the television and every ad – yes, every commercial – was anti-Obama.  So I turned off the TV and decided to go on my computer instead. I started playing some clips on Youtube, and – to my surprise – had to sit through a 30-second ad, you guessed it, supporting Romney.

Some advertisements talked about the economy, while others focused on these very core social issues.

A Republican friend of mine in Colorado – another swing state – told me that, while he supports equality for all…

To me, when the economy is on the verge of collapsing, social issues take a back seat.

But to me, that seems like a hard sell: forcing some people to give up their rights in order to save a fluctuating dollar. Naturally, it is easier to do so when you are not one of the “some people.”

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As national resentment grows in Ukraine, far-right party gains support http://972mag.com/as-national-resentment-grows-in-ukraine-far-right-party-gains-support/58682/ http://972mag.com/as-national-resentment-grows-in-ukraine-far-right-party-gains-support/58682/#comments Mon, 29 Oct 2012 17:00:12 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=58682 Although it has been accused of anti-Semitism in the past, the Svoboda nationalist party’s newfound success has more to do with a growing number of people who are disillusioned by mainstream politics and disappointed by a sluggish economy, than with people harboring genuine hatred of Jews. 

KIEV, UKRAINE – On Sunday, millions of Ukrainians cast their ballots in thousands of polling stations across the country in the parliamentary elections. Some did so in Eastern Ukraine, where a love for the Russian language and (often) a longing for them-good-ole-Soviet days still prevails. There, particularly in densely populated cities and towns, the ruling “Party of Regions” does particularly well. (It is those places which also report their results first, giving those that are strong there a slight public relations advantage when it comes to exit polls and preliminary results.)

Party of Regions rally in Kyiv, Oct 26, 2012 (photo: DS)

Party of Regions rally in Kyiv, Oct 26, 2012 (photo: DS)

Some cast their ballots in Western Ukraine, where many do not speak Russian and stick to their national language, Ukrainian. It is there that many are frustrated with the government’s handling of affairs, its love of the Russian language, its closeness to Moscow, its growing distance from Brussels, and its general distaste – they would argue – for European ways.

It is in the Eastern part of Ukraine that those opposing the government of President Viktor Tymoshchenko – his own position not up for re-election until 2015, though his parliamentary party was – showed this lack of faith at the ballot box. They chose parties they know are unlikely to join forces with the ruling Party of Regions. One of those parties, the “United Opposition” is not actually a party, but rather an umbrella of eight different parties all united to defeat – or damage – the ruling party. The party’s leader, the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshchenko, is currently serving a seven-year prison term (ironically for a deal she signed with Russia), though she is still very much a figure in the elections. In her absence, the United Opposition rides off of her image, failing to harvest a strong personality as its leader. (The de facto leader is Artseniy Yatcheyuk. He is a former Foreign Minister, but when I met him, he came across a bit like an accountant.)

Banner for former Ukrainian Prime Minister and Opposition figure Yulia Tymoshchenko at Kyiv rally, Oct 26, 2012 (photo: DS)

Banner for former Ukrainian Prime Minister and Opposition figure Yulia Tymoshchenko at Kyiv rally, Oct 26, 2012 (photo: DS)

Among the other parties not included in the “United Opposition” are eighty or so small parties, most of which did not pass the 5 percent parliamentary threshold. But two of them are worth mentioning.  (As a sidebar, a third – the Communists – would be worth mentioning as well. However, they are not part of the opposition. They will join the ruling party to help solidify its majority.)

One is UDAR, or “punch,” lead by the World Boxing Champion Vitali Klitshchko. His party drew votes based on him and him alone, and it performed surprisingly well (though not as well as some had imagined it would). Klitshchko had indicated he would never join-up with the ruling government. His position is very pro-Europe.

Ukrainian nationalist party "Svoboda" logo, reinvented in 2004. Prior to the new logo and new name, the logo resembled a swastika.

Ukrainian nationalist party “Svoboda” logo, reinvented in 2004. Prior to the new logo and new name, the logo resembled a swastika.

The second is Svoboda. A nationalist party, with it’s name meaning “freedom,” it has been dismissed by many, its supporters called far-right extremists. In 2004, Svoboda, which had been the National-Social Party of Ukraine, dropped the “socialist” part of its name so as to distance itself from Nazi associations. It immediately started doing better.  Its leader, Oleh Tyahnbyok, dimisses as name-calling accusations that Svoboda is an extremist party. In 2011, he told a Ukrainian newspaper:

In reality, countries like modern Japan and Israel are fully nationalistic states, but nobody accuses the Japanese of being extremists.

And its difficult to suggest that all of Svoboda’s supporters are extremists, either. As of 1530 GMT on Monday, the results – with 61 percent of the polls counted – showed that Svodoba was the smallest of the parties to make it into the parliament, with 9 percent of the vote. The Party of Regions secured 34 percent, the United Opposition had 23 percent, UDAR came in third with 15 percent, and the Communists followed with 13 percent. (You can view the latest results in Russian by clicking here.)

World boxing champion Vitali Klitskchko addresses supporters at rally in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct 25, 2012 (photo: DS)

World boxing champion Vitali Klitskchko addresses supporters at rally in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct 25, 2012 (photo: DS)

Suggestions of Svoboda’s future strength in parliament, based on these figures, are premature. Tyahnybok has been accused in the past of inciting anti-Semitism. But his party’s newfound success in, in all likeliness, has more to do with a growing number of people who a disillusioned by mainstream politics and politicians and disappointed by a sluggish economy, than it does with people harboring genuine anti-Semitic feelings. The numbers suggest a growing resentment of the political establishment and status quo, more than they show a rise in extremist ideology.

And even at 9 percent, Svoboda is unlikely to make much of a dent in a system that purports the ruling party. In order to understand why I say that, one needs to understand the parliament’s structure. The above percentages (which will change slightly once more voters are counted in the sparsely populated Western part of the country) account for only half of the Rada (Ukrainian parliament). The other half – 225 seats – are determined in first-past-the-post races in 225 single-mandate districts. Assuming Svoboda stays at 9 percent, it won’t necessarily get 9 percent of the seats in the parliament. Instead, it’ll get 9 percent of half of the seats in the parliament.

The reason Ukraine’s new parliament will be interesting to watch is because those single-mandate deputies can switch their support at any time. They have no specific party allegiance. Most are businessman who are popular in a specific district, and have something to gain – often, personally gain – by cozying up to the ruling party. For now, that means they will likely side on most issues with the Party of Regions. But if, in the near future, Tymoshchenko is released from prison (the European Court of Human Rights is reviewing her case and its decision could force the government to free), her re-entrance into parliament could signal her strong chances of becoming president in 2015, and those single-mandate deputies will find themselves switching alliances.

The system of Ukraine’s parliament, perhaps rather undemocratically, strengthens the larger parties at the expense of the smaller ones. So Svoboda’s influence will not be a large – or as linear – as some are suggesting.

For more on the voting and the results, watch below.

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