+972 Magazine » Analysis http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sun, 01 May 2016 09:49:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 What the Left can learn about anti-Semitism from Ken Livingstone http://972mag.com/what-the-left-can-learn-about-anti-semitism-from-ken-livingstone/118964/ http://972mag.com/what-the-left-can-learn-about-anti-semitism-from-ken-livingstone/118964/#comments Sun, 01 May 2016 09:45:32 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118964 Why would the senior Labour member allow himself to be dragged into a debate about the Holocaust while his party is bending over backwards to fend off accusations that it is teeming with anti-Semites?

By Gilad Halpern

File photo of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone of the UK Labour Party. (Viktor Kovalenko / Shutterstock.com)

File photo of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone of the UK Labour Party. (Viktor Kovalenko / Shutterstock.com)

Ken Livingstone may not realize it, but he has done the progressive left a great service.

Livingstone, a veteran UK Labour Party politician and former mayor of London, was suspended from his party on Thursday for saying in a radio interview that Hitler was a Zionist. For his party, still reeling from a series of mini-scandals involving unsavory statements about Israel and the Jews, it was one borderline anti-Semitic remark too many.

Livingstone’s handling of the scandal that now bears his name is a textbook example of everything that’s wrong with the radical European left today. Because if you look at his initial comment, it was perhaps simplistic and crass, but not entirely mistaken.

“Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932,” he said, trying to defend fellow Labour MP Naz Shah who had herself been suspended for writing on Facebook that Israel should be relocated to the United States, “his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

This statement is riddled with inaccuracies: Hitler came to power in 1933, not 1932; Israel would not be established for another 16 years, and was then known as British-ruled Palestine; and most important, Hitler was already a murderous maniac in 1932. If he was ever sane, he went mad long before that.

But there’s an element of truth in what Livingstone said: although Hitler himself was most likely not a Zionist, the anti-Semitic European right of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Nazi regime in its early phase, saw eye to eye with Zionism on where Europe’s Jews belonged — not in Europe.

Edouard Drumont, the godfather of French anti-Semitism, congratulated Theodor Herzl in his 1891 book Jewish France and suggested that Jews should be “sent back to Palestine.” It became an instant bestseller. In 1933, the German government and the Zionist Organization signed an agreement that facilitated the immigration of 50,000 German Jews to Palestine. And in 1934, a delegation led by SS officer Leopold Von Mildenstein visited Palestine to assess the feasibility of resettling Germany’s Jews in it. The coordinator of the visit was Kurt Tuchler, the leader of the Zionist Federation of Germany, whose grandson Arnon Goldfinger made a fascinating documentary about it.

None of the above is meant to defend Livingstone’s jibe nor to criticize his suspension, which I view as fair and well-deserved, all the more so as he remains adamant in his refusal to apologize. The reason he came under so much fire was the subtext: assuming that issue had some relevance for 2016 Britain, he was talking about the present, not the past. It was his underlying intentions that were called into question. Why on earth would one evoke Hitler’s supposed warming to Zionism in a debate about contemporary politics, if it wasn’t to draw some sort of parallel, as awkward and far-fetched as it may have been, between Zionism and Nazism? And why would he allow himself to be dragged into a debate about the Holocaust at a time when his party is bending over backwards to fend off accusations that it is teeming with anti-Semites? Livingstone, an astute and experienced politician, took a plunge into an empty pool.

While all this might have been a slip of a tongue from a politician who’s no stranger to controversies, it is pitted against a dubious backdrop of his consistent effort to downplay positions within his party that could be branded, if not downright anti-Semitic, as bigoted and hateful.

He has repeatedly said that throughout his 47-year affiliation with the Labour Party, he has not once heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic. He continued to say that even as it emerged that party functionary Vicky Kirby tweeted that Jews had “big noses,” and that a local councilor called Hitler “the greatest man in history.” He himself said, in a hair-raisingly awkward attempt to defend his comrades – or perhaps himself — that a real anti-Semite hates Jews everywhere, not just those in Israel. Even in the off-chance that it doesn’t amount to anti-Semitism, an indiscriminate hatred for a group of people by virtue of their nationality sounds an awful lot like bigotry at its ugliest.

It seems that the fall from grace of a heavyweight of Livingstone’s caliber has convinced party leader Jeremy Corbyn that there’s more to Labor’s anti-Semitism problem than mudslinging by his Conservative rivals and centrist Labourites who have been unhappy to see their party taken over by a hardline socialist. Corbyn admitted that there is a problem – and as any addict would know, that’s the first step towards rehabilitation.

Yes, the vetting of old Facebook posts published by Labour representatives long before they dreamed of public office is disingenuous – let alone that only a year ago the leader of the party was the Jewish Ed Miliband. And as always, there’s a hefty amount of hypocrisy: on Saturday, as the scandal spiraled, the Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog called on his British counterparts to visit Yad Vashem. Strangely enough, he didn’t urge the Conservative Party leader to do the same when they struck down a proposal, tabled by a Kindertransport survivor, to accept 3,000 child refugees, in case anyone needed further proof who hasn’t learned the lessons of the Holocaust.

But the obsession of some people on the far-left with Israel that often boils over to outlandish conspiracy theories (of which “Israel and the Jews are running the world” is just one), is under much greater scrutiny. And that’s a good thing: sunlight, as they say, is the best disinfectant.

Gilad Halpern is a journalist and broadcaster, host of “The Tel Aviv Review – Ideas from Israel” podcast on TLV1 Radio.

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Mimouna, a Jewish-Muslim festival everywhere except Israel http://972mag.com/mimouna-a-jewish-muslim-festival-everywhere-except-israel/118960/ http://972mag.com/mimouna-a-jewish-muslim-festival-everywhere-except-israel/118960/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 18:55:57 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118960 Moroccan Jews have always celebrated Mimouna with their Muslim neighbors – and still do in Belgium, Italy and France. But in Israel, this charming custom fell prey to Zionism’s primeval instinct to divide and rule. 

The Mimouna Festival, marking the end of Passover, is celebrated in a special tent in Jerusalem, April 16, 1990. (photo: Alpert Nathan/GPO)

The Mimouna Festival, marking the end of Passover, is celebrated in a special tent in Jerusalem, April 16, 1990. (photo: Alpert Nathan/GPO)

Mimouna, the Jewish-Moroccan post-Passover festival, always offers an interesting glimpse into Ashkenazi-Mizrahi relations in Israel, by virtue of being the only Mizrahi custom that successfully acceded into the Israeli mainstream.

Fewer and fewer Ashkenazis come out of it unscathed: Those who look down on Moroccan customs as primitive and uncivilized get their share of abuse, as well as those who pay lip service to multiculturalism by taking part in this gluttonous fiesta, especially politicians who likewise hope to pander to an otherwise skeptical electorate.

But now, a new group of Mizrahi activists calling themselves The Golden Age have “named and shamed” Zehava Galon, the leader of the left-wing (and predominantly Ashkenazi) Meretz Party, for never having celebrated Mimouna. They invited her to their party so that the next day they could call her out on her hypocrisy.

What is the fuss all about, I asked myself, and as part-Moroccan, I decided to delve into the origins of Mimouna. I tried to figure out how a custom that developed in a faraway Muslim land made aliya as part of the Law of Return and immediately started simmering in Ben-Gurion’s melting pot.

I browsed Arabic websites in search of information about how Mimouna, the Jewish equivalent of the Muslim Ramadan, is celebrated in Morocco today. And it turns out that the Muslim neighbors play a central role in it: They keep the leavened bread during Passover, and as soon as the sun sets they show up at the Jews’ doors with basketfuls of sweets and pastries, and celebrate together until the wee hours. Moroccan Jews and Muslims in Belgium, Italy and France still celebrate it together, like they did in the old country.

In one video that I found, the Rabbi of Brussels addressed the mixed crowd and talked about the persecution of minorities in Europe, and asked who could better understand how Muslims feel in Europe today than the Jews. The Imam of Brussels, for his part, said in his speech that Muslims are bound by the Quran to maintain good relations with Ahal al Kitab, the People of the Book (i.e. Jews and Christians). It sounded too sweet to be true, and not because of the excessive amounts of honey!

It’s so unfortunate that this charming custom lost its charm the minute it arrived in Israel. This festival of spring, health, fertility and good neighborliness has turned into a Zionist self-affirmation, clad in a jellabiya and a turban, and the Arab Muslims – the natural partners for it – are left out.

We are not short on festivities, thank heavens, but it’s so frustrating that the destructiveness of Zionism runs so deep. We Palestinians witness it all the time, but even for other ethnicities and cultural groups, divide and rule is the name of the game. Zionism labors to efface the unique characteristics and rewrite and appropriate history to its own ends. The harmonious relationships between Jews and Muslims in the Arab countries are all but wiped out.

One should be careful not to idealize that period: There were plenty of difficulties and crises. But 50 years on, looking at the racism and hostility around me today, I can safely say that our ancestors did a better job.

I’ve never taken part in Mimouna celebrations. When the day comes, I hope for myself and my Jewish friends that I’ll do it for the right reasons: respect, friendship and good neighborliness.

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For most Israelis, Palestinian lives don’t matter http://972mag.com/for-most-israelis-palestinian-lives-simply-dont-matter/118945/ http://972mag.com/for-most-israelis-palestinian-lives-simply-dont-matter/118945/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 11:31:57 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118945 A 24-year-old Palestinian and her teenage brother were shot and killed by Israeli troops after allegedly trying to stab Border Police officers. The police’s version of the events doesn’t add up, but nobody in Israel, including the media, feels the need to ask questions. 

Qalandia checkpoint, where X and her 16-year-old brother Y were killed on Wednesday. (Activestills)

Qalandia checkpoint, where Maram Salih Hassan Abu Ismail and her 16-year-old brother Ibrahim Salah Taha were killed on Wednesday. (Activestills)

The facts are still unclear, in fact very unclear: the exact number of knives found, the number of bullets shot, the number of meters distance, why exactly they were there. But even if we accept Israel Police’s highly terse account of the events, we are still left with a bottom line: Two Palestinians, Maram Salih Hassan Abu Ismail, 24, and her younger brother Ibrahim Salah Taha, 16, were shot and killed on the spot by Israeli forces at the Qalandiya checkpoint on Wednesday, while posing no immediate threat to anyone. Even if we accept the police version that the woman attempted to stab them, there is still no justification for shooting the teenager, who the police themselves claim was not brandishing a weapon or close enough to present a threat.

We also know that Israeli mainstream media barely covered the story, didn’t send any reporters to gather eyewitness testimonies and didn’t speak to any Palestinians. A Haaretz report mentions that Palestinians claim that “Israeli forces fired numerous bullets at the two and prevented medics from treating them.” Of course, whether and when medics were able to treat the victims shouldn’t be a matter of Palestinian claims. There are plenty of cameras at what is the busiest checkpoint in the West Bank, there is video footage, probably from several angles. The footage should clarify this, and other aspects that are not a matter of opinion. But Israel Police has not yet released any footage. According to a report in Local Call, police have in the past been quick to release video footage – when it corroborates their version of the events.

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According to Israel Police spokesperson Luba al-Samri, two suspects – a woman and a youth – approached the vehicular path (instead of the pedestrian path) leading through the military checkpoint and walked towards Border Police officers stationed there, the woman with her hand in her bag and the youth with his hands behind his back. Officers ordered them to halt several times and they began to turn back before the woman threw a knife at an officer. Police and security guards then shot the two, killing them both. The police didn’t specify this but most reports cite that the siblings were 20 meters away from the forces, and they were positioned inside a cement sentry box.

These events didn’t even make it into the evening news in Israel Wednesday night. Except for Joint List MK Dov Khenin, no Israeli politician has expressed dismay or called on the police to release the footage or open an investigation. There hasn’t been any questioning of what the hell happened there. Rather, there has been deafening silence. It’s almost as if it didn’t happen.

There have been numerous similar incidents over the last half a year where Israel has justified the shooting of Palestinian assailants or alleged assailants and Palestinians have insisted it was murder in cold blood.

But this incident, whose factual information still needs to be exposed and reported, strikes me as unique due particularly to the way it was (not) covered in Israeli media and the fact that it was such a brief story that just disappeared.

It’s no surprise that most Israelis generally take the authorities’ version of events at face value, but this time the version of the events isn’t even convincing. And yet no one feels the need to ask questions. No one cares that a 16-year-old kid was shot dead without cause. In the Israeli narrative, the facts don’t seem to make a difference anymore (maybe they never did).

As the incident of IDF soldier Elor Azaria executing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron demonstrated, even when there is clear documentation of a crime – in that case an execution in broad daylight – there is still a groundswell of Israeli support for the army and state authorities that finds a way around the facts. As Orly Noy pointed out at the time

The number of people who are willing to justify the murder without batting an eyelash is stunning. Our collective moral compass has become so fundamentally twisted that even the most decent of people, those who are not considered extremists, believe that there is nothing wrong with shooting a man as he lies dying on the ground, while finding any way to excuse the act — including claiming that the Palestinian may have been armed with a suicide belt.

In that case, the facts were played around with a little to justify the soldier’s actions, but in the case in Qalandiya on Wednesday, there doesn’t even seem to be a bending of the facts. There is no need to try and justify anything. It doesn’t even matter anymore what exactly happened. In the permanent situation of occupier and occupied, oppressor and resistant, it’s just par for the course.

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‘Partly free’? The real state of Israeli press freedom is much worse http://972mag.com/partly-free-the-real-state-of-israeli-press-freedom-is-much-worse/118928/ http://972mag.com/partly-free-the-real-state-of-israeli-press-freedom-is-much-worse/118928/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 21:25:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118928 Freedom House has downgraded its ranking of Israel’s media from ‘free’ to ‘partly free,’ citing closer ties to the government and a spike in paid media content. But it has one flagrant omission: Israel’s poor treatment of Palestinian journalists.

By Lisa Goldman

Israeli troops detain a Palestinian journalist at a protest against the illegal settlement outpost of Adei Ad in the northern West Bank, December 10, 2014. The journalist was later released. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli troops detain a Palestinian journalist at a protest against the illegal settlement outpost of Adei Ad in the northern West Bank, December 10, 2014. The journalist was later released. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Freedom House, the U.S.-based watchdog NGO that reports on the state of civil liberties around the world, has downgraded its ranking of Israel’s media from “free” to “partly free” in its 2016 Freedom of the Press Report. The authors of the report cite the influence of the free daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which is owned and subsidized at a huge loss by American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is an unabashed patron of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel Hayom pursues an editorial agenda that is overtly partisan toward Netanyahu, which is why it is often referred to as the “Bibiton,” a portmanteau of the Hebrew word for “newspaper” and the Israeli leader’s nickname, Bibi. The report also cites the “unchecked expansion” of paid media content, which is not always clearly identified. It notes that this paid content is sometimes funded by the government.

This is not the first time Israel’s ranking has been downgraded. In its 2013 report Freedom House based a downgrade on several factors, most prominently on the indictment of Uri Blau, an investigative reporter for Haaretz, for possession of state secrets in the IDF whistleblower Anat Kamm case. Nor is this the first time Freedom House has noted the  influence of Israel Hayom on Israel’s press freedom: The free daily was cited in the 2013 report as well, for having “threatened the sustainability of other papers and contributed to the collapse and buyout of the daily Maariv.”
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In 2014 Israel’s media was back up to “free” status, along with the perennial note that it has the freest media in the region, where not one country’s media is ranked “free.”

The free/partly free ranking is a matter of just a few points in their methodology, pointed out Freedom House’s Sarah Repucci, who heads up the publication of the annual Freedom of the Press Report. She added, “We use detailed methodology. Israel shifted only two points this year.”

There was some outrage in right-wing circles over the downgrade, with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin quoting a couple of DC-based neo-cons to support her claim that the report was an example of anti-Israel bias.

Leaving aside the all-but inevitable expressions of outrage from the Israel advocacy crowd over any criticism of Israeli policy or society, a more detached observer might note that there is no mention in the Freedom House report of Palestinian journalists. On the one hand this makes sense, since Palestinian residents of the occupied territories are not citizens of Israel. But on the other hand, Palestinian journalists work in territory that is controlled by Israel. And they do not have any of the legal protections afforded to their Israeli colleagues working in the same territory.

In tangible terms, this means that Palestinian journalists going about their jobs reporting in the field are regularly subjected to verbal harassment, physical assault and arrest without charge at the hands of Israeli soldiers. In these cases, they can technically file a complaint — but there has never been a case of an Israeli soldier seriously censured for assaulting a Palestinian journalist.

Nor has there been any serious diplomatic blowback for Israel having arrested and detained without charge Palestinian journalists for months on end. Mohammed al-Qiq is a particularly egregious recent example. The 33-year-old Ramallah-based journalist recently ended a 94-day hunger strike to protest his having been arrested and detained indefinitely without charge under the laws of administrative detention. Also, the Palestinian Authority recently stated that there are currently 19 Palestinian journalists in Israeli custody.

A more quotidian incident of assault and/or harassment of Palestinian journalists at the hands of the Israeli military includes an October 2015 incident, recorded on video, that shows an officer in the Border Police casually walking over to a group of cameramen recording a West Bank demonstration and spraying them directly in the face with pepper spray. A medic who tried to treat the pepper spray victims was also assaulted and so overcome that he himself had to be hospitalized.

A member of Israel's Border Police assaults journalists and medics assembled near Al Bireh, West Bank (credit: Fadi Arouri)

A member of Israel’s Border Police assaults journalists and medics assembled near Al Bireh, West Bank (credit: Fadi Arouri)

Incidents of these type occur quite regularly. In September 2015, soldiers assaulted two AFP reporters, including one Palestinian, who were covering a demonstration in a West Bank village. There are many videos on YouTube that show Israeli soldiers harassing Palestinian journalists for various media outlets, including female journalists, as they do live standups. In these cases there is absolutely nothing the victimized journalist can do. Complaining to the soldiers will almost certainly result in physical violence or arrest, with the soldiers accusing the Palestinian of instigating the assault. And if these cases do go to court they are tried in Israeli military court, where Palestinians are convicted at a rate of over 99 percent.

Israeli soldiers also frequently raid and shut down Palestinian media outlets, including the 2012 shut down of a Palestinian-Israeli initiative called Voice of Peace. And there have been many more recent incidents. In November 2015,  security forces raided and shut down a Ramallah radio station called Al Hurria. And in March 2016 another Ramallah-based radio station, Palestine Today, was raided and shut down on orders of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service. Ramallah is, of course, in Area A — which is, according to the now all-but-fictional Oslo Accords, under the sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority.

Looking at these incidents in the aggregate, one could argue that Freedom House actually pulled its punches in its report about the Israeli media. Because while it is true that journalists who are citizens of Israel do have legal protections when they’re dealing with soldiers in the field, Palestinian journalists do not. They are without rights or legal recourse. And while they are not citizens, they are indisputably under Israeli control.

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The single worst way the EU could combat anti-Semitism http://972mag.com/the-single-worst-way-the-eu-could-combat-anti-semitism/118924/ http://972mag.com/the-single-worst-way-the-eu-could-combat-anti-semitism/118924/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 16:47:11 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118924 The newly appointed European Commission Coordinator on Combating Anti-Semitism spoke at a Jerusalem conference that was a thinly veiled platform for bashing pro-Palestinian activists. Above all, it sent an alarming message about how she perceives her own role. 

By Ben White

A senior European official spoke last week at an Israeli government-hosted conference in Jerusalem where human rights defenders were denigrated and smeared as anti-Semitic.

The International Conference on Online Anti-Semitism was organized by the pro-Israel group Israeli Students Combating Anti-Semitism (ISCA). The group’s director, Ido Daniel, is a veteran hasbara activist who believes in “exact[ing] an economic and personal cost” from Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) activists.

The conference participants included Katharina von Schnurbein, appearing in her official capacity as European Commission Coordinator on Combating Anti-Semitism, a role created last December.

The second panel of the day was on the topic of “How the left was lost: Durban, online left-wing anti-Zionism, the BDS movement and the perversion of human rights.” Speakers on the panel, moderated by an official from the UK’s Community Security Trust, included Gerald Steinberg of Israel advocacy group NGO Monitor and London-based anti-BDS campaigner David Hirsh.

NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg speaking at the ISCA conference. (ISCA Facebook page)

NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg speaking at the ISCA conference. (ISCA Facebook page)

In a video of his talk, Steinberg can be seen denigrating and smearing a host of Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights defenders and NGOs. Those targeted included global anti-poverty charity Oxfam, Medical Aid for Palestinians, and Human Rights Watch, whose director Ken Roth was singled out for particular criticism.

The head of NGO Monitor also attacked Palestinian and Israeli groups such as Zochrot, Badil, and Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Steinberg even lashed out at Jewish Voice for Peace, a group with more than 200,000 online members and 60 chapters across the U.S.

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NGO Monitor’s role in the intensifying intimidation of human rights activists in Palestine/Israel is well-documented, including on this website. As Noam Sheizaf wrote last year, one of the goals of the group is “to attack what they see as the last political platform for anti-occupation activity inside Israeli society.” Steinberg himself has worked as a consultant to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

When I contacted von Schnurbein about the attacks on human rights defenders made during the conference, her office refused to comment, simply saying that she “does not comment on Israelis politics” [sic].

Not only did the EU’s anti-Semitism envoy decline to condemn the conference’s branding of human rights defenders as purveyors of “hate speech,” but in a copy of speaking points provided by her office, von Schnurbein appears to legitimize Steinberg’s claims, stating: “We also recognize that anti-Semitism often hides behind anti-Zionism.”

It is disturbing that a European official would speak at, and give credence to, an Israeli government-hosted attack on NGOs and BDS campaigners, especially at a time when – as recently highlighted by Amnesty International – Israeli authorities are escalating repressive measures and threats against civil society activists.

It is also bodes ill for how exactly von Schnurbein conceives of her role, at a time when the Israeli government and its allies in North America and Europe are seeking to close down the spaces for Palestine solidarity activism in the guise of fighting a redefined anti-Semitism.

Ben White is the author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ and ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy’. His articles have been published by Middle East Monitor, Al Jazeera, Middle East Eye, Huffington Post, The Electronic Intifada, The Guardian’s Comment is Free, and others. He tweets at @benabyad.

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Israel’s most racist soccer club isn’t shouting ‘death to Arabs’ http://972mag.com/israels-most-racist-soccer-club-isnt-shouting-death-to-arabs/118893/ http://972mag.com/israels-most-racist-soccer-club-isnt-shouting-death-to-arabs/118893/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 16:18:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118893 Compared to the overt, oft-condemned and penalized racism of Beitar Jerusalem, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s racism is more mainstream. That makes it more dangerous.

Tal Ben Haim of Maccabi Tel Aviv warming up before a game, September 16, 2015. (Joshjdss CC BY 2.0)

Tal Ben Haim of Maccabi Tel Aviv warming up before a game, September 16, 2015. (Joshjdss CC BY 2.0)

An ugly brawl erupted on the soccer pitch on Tuesday at the end of a league match between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bnei Sakhnin, which is the most successful Palestinian club in Israel. It followed a bad-tempered encounter between the two sides last week for a cup semi-final, when Maccabi player Tal Ben Haim — a decent soccer player but a dreadful sportsperson — disregarded one of the unwritten sporting codes of the game.

While Sakhnin player Ali Ottman was lying on the ground injured, Ben Haim chose to keep playing rather than kicking the ball out of play so that Ottman could be treated, as is custom around the world. Passing the ball to a team-mate instead, Ben Haim went on to score an unsportsmanlike winning goal. The result stood.

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(As an illustration, when English team Arsenal scored a controversial winning goal in strikingly similar circumstances during a 1999 FA Cup game against underdogs Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger offered for the match to be replayed. The Football Association agreed.)

But anyone who thinks that the seeds of Tuesday’s scuffle were sown during last week’s match is mistaken. The tensions started much before that, and are a result of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s policies.

Aside from Beitar Jerusalem, which has never had an Arab player and is more readily associated with racism on Israel’s soccer scene, most of the biggest soccer clubs in the country — Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Beer Sheva and Hapoel Tel Aviv — all have four leading Arab players on their roster. At which club is not a single Arab to be found? Maccabi Tel Aviv. Surprising? No.

It’s worth comparing the two biggest and most supported teams in the land, Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv. At Haifa, a club whose all-time record goalscorer is Zahi Armeli (yes, an Arab), there are usually at least two Arab players in the starting line-up, with Palestinians sometimes making up half the team that runs out onto the pitch.

Maccabi Tel Aviv, however, takes care to smuggle in the Palestinian players who are prepared to play for them. Maccabi fans have consistently cursed at Arab players on their team, from star acquisitions to graduates of the club’s youth academy. They apply pressure on the club’s management, who for their part are quick to relieve themselves of the unnecessary “burden” by trading the players in question. Since the club was taken over in 2009 by Mitch Goldhar, a rich Canadian Zionist, the number of Arab players has steadily dwindled.

The racist chanting in the stands; the fact that Maccabi’s “ultras” make sure to display excessive numbers of Israeli flags when playing Sakhnin; the hounding of their Arab players in recent years; and the management’s acceptance of the fans’ racist behavior: all this has generated a culture of racism at Maccabi Tel Aviv, which in turn has created an unhealthy political tension between it and Sakhnin.

The racism at the club is further enabled by the fact that Maccabi flies under the Israeli media’s radar, which instead prefers to focus on the antics of Beitar Jerusalem fans, particularly “La Familia,” and the complete absence of Arab players in the club’s entire history. But the decision of Maccabi Tel Aviv players to wrap themselves in the Israeli flag following Tuesday’s match shouts out the subtext that Arabs have no place here. In other words, those Maccabi players are no less racist than members of “La Familia.”

This mainstream racism, as depicted by Maccabi Tel Aviv, usually hides behind the more overt and vocal racism of Beitar and its fans. But it is the real and more dangerous racism. It’s exactly the same as Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog enjoying mainstream legitimacy when he speaks about his imaginary unrequited love for Arabs, compared to when the Baruch Marzels, the Benzi Gopsteins and the rest of the wacky right utter the same pearls.

That’s exactly how it is with Maccabi Tel Aviv when compared to Beitar Jerusalem. Under the cover of Ashkenazi owners, as opposed to Beitar’s Yemenite boss, Maccabi is in fact no less racist a club than Beitar. But Maccabi enjoys its privileged status in the media, which will continue to anoint Beitar alone as the most racist football club in the country.

Maccabi’s behavior and attitude make for the consummate analogy to Zionism. It is a club that is convinced the entire world is against it, and as a result chooses to show contempt for the rules and do anything and everything in order to win — including breaking ethical codes. Matches against Sakhnin draw out the true colors of this dangerous club, which are essentially blue and white. At Tuesday’s game, Maccabi’s players showed just how much these colors suit them.

And what do we wish for Goldhar, Ben Haim and the rest of Maccabi’s players? That Tuesday’s match against Sakhnin, which finished in a draw, will end up costing them the championship, and that they will lose the cup final to a Haifa team featuring Yossi Benayoun and Taleb Tawatha. Because in football, we fight racism on the field.

A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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The making of a hasbara superstar, Israel’s new ambassador to the UK http://972mag.com/the-making-of-a-hasbara-superstar-israels-new-ambassador-to-the-uk/118860/ http://972mag.com/the-making-of-a-hasbara-superstar-israels-new-ambassador-to-the-uk/118860/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 14:31:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118860 For the past decade Mark Regev has become Israel’s preeminent government mouthpiece. Now, as the world prepares to mark 50 years of occupation, Netanyahu appoints a hasbara heavyweight to represent him in the UK.

By Yoni Mendel

I’m not sure Mark Regev is a name Israelis are too familiar with. But around the world he seems to be one of the people most closely identified with this country, and certainly with its recent governments. A Google News search for “Mark Regev” produces only 180 results in Hebrew, but roughly 12,000 in English. Pretty bizarre for a man who worked so closely with Israeli governments over the last decade, yet not too surprising considering the focus of his work.

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Regev began serving as a foreign media adviser to the prime minister in 2007 under Ehud Olmert. A year later he was already appearing all over international television. It was during Operation Cast Lead, which ended with 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed, that Regev gave interview after interview to all the international media outlets, managing to rationalize the horrible death toll while emphasizing that Israel did not use excessive force.

Regev was in effect Israel’s chief “hasbarist,” its executive spokesman to the world. When it came to anything regarding hasbara, propaganda, spin, conveying messages and everything in between – it seemed there was no one else better for the job, certainly not in English. In his countless interviews to the international media, Regev always kept his cool and did – at least as far as he was concerned – a credible job.

Time after time in the last decade – during which Israel provided plenty of fodder for criticism (i.e. the siege on Gaza, the offensives against it, and excessive use of force; the Mavi Marmara incident; shooting Palestinians in the occupied territories; home demolitions, continued settlement building, encouraging Jews to pray on the Temple Mount and changing the status quo there, and on and on) – through all this, Regev has gone in front of the cameras and calmly relayed his message. I’m not sure Regev succeeded at convincing the foreign journalists who interviewed him, but he said what Israelis wanted to hear, and he consistently managed to turn criticism of Israel around on the Palestinians.

I’m not sure if Regev should be seen as the designer of Israel’s hasbara line of last decade — Israel always just “responds” to Palestinian violence, it is a victim of course, the Palestinians don’t want peace, there is no siege on Gaza and the only kind of “occupation” happening is the employment of Palestinian laborers — or just its most talented mouthpiece. Regev excelled, and he did so in English.

I wouldn’t have needed such a long intro if Regev hadn’t just begun serving in what is probably the second-most important Israeli diplomatic posting — as ambassador to the UK. He was appointed after faithfully serving Netanyahu, a politician who also knows a thing or two about propaganda in general, and in English in particular. Netanyahu was apparently the first to identify that someone who was so good at hasbara work would also excel at deceiving hundreds and thousands of journalists around the world – and no one is more fitting for the role.

 

It would seem that Regev’s appointment is a response to increasing criticism in the UK of Israel’s occupation, criticism that Netanyahu knows will only grow next year — when all the countries in the world except for Israel will mark 50 years of military occupation in the West Bank. It is because of the challenging task awaiting all Israeli representatives abroad in 2017 that Regev skipped a few classes and was promoted from media adviser to ambassador.

As far as Netanyahu is concerned it is a genius move. Mr. Hasbara is now in the most important and possibly the most difficult diplomatic posting when it comes to criticism of Israel. On the other hand, the fact that Israel is working on the story it tells itself, honing its messaging, won’t change a thing about the facts on the ground. In short, words cannot change Israeli actions.

It seems like Israel’s foreign service has become a sophisticated hasbara machine that operates according to the prime minister’s whims and phobias. Take four recent important international postings: Washington, New York, Rome and London. In New York, former settler leader Dani Dayan was appointed consul general after Brazil refused to accept him as ambassador due to its opposition to Israel’s continued control of territories it never annexed, and the occupation. Not far from Israel’s consulate in New York, Danny Danon is representing Israel in the United Nations – he previously served as a minister and was fired as deputy defense minister for criticizing Netanyahu because the latter did not strike Gaza even harder.

In the U.S. capital, Netanyahu’s good friend and former senior adviser Ron Dermer is serving as ambassador to the U.S. despite American opposition. Meanwhile, the Italians are still trying to cope with the crisis over Israel’s decision to send an ambassador to Rome who less than a decade again was a member of parliament in Berlusconi’s party.

The March of Folly did not begin here. Israel is trying to find cures for its problems by concealing its disasters — it is doing everything except actually coping with and solving the political issues at hand.

For example, when criticism grew in Norway over, among other things, discrimination against Arabs in Israel, former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman was quick to pull a rabbit out of his hat: he sent a Druze ambassador there. Or when the UN grew increasingly critical of the siege on Gaza, Israel responded with cartoons of bombs and recordings of sirens and even 40 seconds of scolding silence. And now, the same in London. Netanyahu was quick to pull out Mark Regev, the superstar of Israeli hasbara.

But the sleazy talk, eye rolling and deflecting blame will not help Israel; it will only further entrench the illusion the government is trying to sell us. The well-oiled hasbara machine, the tricks and shticks, only achieve one thing: they distance Israel from being able to cope with reality, and increase the gap between real life and the imagined one that public officials sell us.

Yoni Mendel is the projects manager of the Mediterranean Unit at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, and co-editor of the book review section of the Journal of Levantine Studies (JLS). This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is a blogger. Read it here.

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Hebron shooter’s indictment is an exception that proves the rule http://972mag.com/hebron-shooters-indictment-is-an-exception-that-proves-the-rule/118837/ http://972mag.com/hebron-shooters-indictment-is-an-exception-that-proves-the-rule/118837/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:18:33 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118837 When Sgt. Elor Azaria was caught on camera finishing off a wounded Palestinian knifeman and indicted for manslaughter, the IDF said rogue soldiers would always be brought to justice. The case of Bassem Abu Rahme, an unarmed protester who was fatally shot by an unknown soldier in 2009, shows that when given an opportunity to be lenient, the army will seize it. 

By Yesh Din (written by Yossi Gurvitz)

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who has been charged with manslaughter for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian stabbing suspect in Hebron, is seen in a military court, March 29, 2016. (Pool photo/AFP)

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who has been charged with manslaughter for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian stabbing suspect in Hebron, is seen in a military court, March 29, 2016. (Pool photo/AFP)

 

On April 17th 2009, Bassem Abu Rahme was demonstrating against the separation wall in his West Bank village, Bil’in. After Israeli troops fired crowd-dispersal weapons and one demonstrator was hit, Abu Rahme shouted at the soldiers and Border Policemen that the person was wounded. Seconds later, a person in Israeli uniform (it is unclear whether he or she was an IDF soldier or a Border Police officer) fired a tear gas canister directly into Abu Rahme’s chest; the wound was fatal, and within hours Abu Rahme succumbed.

Until recently, these were uncontested facts. Even so, almost seven years after his death, no one has been held responsible for Abu Rahme’s death. Seven years of foot-dragging and investigation ducking (read more here and here.)

This is what happens when a member of the security forces shoots an unarmed man — who everyone agrees posed no danger — and the three cameras that documented the event are not aimed directly at the shooter.

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We do not know who shot Abu Rahme and what unit he or she belonged to. We do, however, have forensic evidence pointing to where the shooter stood. The IDF carried out a ballistics examination that concluded that “the only possibility of this sort of armament hitting the target is only by direct fire and using a flat angle – no more than three or four degrees.” The examination effectively ruled out the possibility of Abu Rahme being hit by a canister shot according to the IDF’s regulations and hitting him by mistake; even if the canister ricocheted off a fence, it would still be fired directly, in defiance of the regulations.

In 2013, the head of the IDF’s Photo Reconnaissance Unit told the Military Police’s Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID) that direct fire of tear gas canisters is forbidden and that it should hold a lineup to determine where each of the shooters stood. The MPCID has yet to do so.

Last week, Israel’s Supreme Court heard an appeal by Yesh Din and human rights NGO B’Tselem, in which we demanded that the shooter be indicted, or at least that the army indict his commander. The hearing was held ex parte because the prosecution was striking. We suspect that the respondents would have argued that the shooters cannot be identified; what’s more, they would have probably played down the fact that for no less than 15 months, the MPCID and the military prosecution did their utmost to refrain from investigating the case, until being forced to in the wake of our first petition to the High Court of Justice. The government is likely to claim that the canister that hit Abu Rahme’s chest ricocheted off something – and will play down the fact that even if it did, its own ballistic diagnosis ruled that the firing was against the army’s own rules of engagement.

The government is further likely to argue that it has no clue as to whom it should prosecute, hoping the judges will not assign too much importance to the fact that it stifled the investigation for years. Our demand is simple: even if there is no chance to indict the shooters themselves, and we contend this claim since the MPCID’s failure to investigate rendered the case no longer investigable, the commanders should still bear responsibility.

So far, none of this has happened. The justices decided to rescind the petition, since, in the wake of the Turkel Commission report, a decision of the military prosecution can be appealed to the Attorney General – a provision that did not exist when we first submitted our appeal. Justice, it seems, will have to wait.

Unarmed, Abu Rahme posed a danger to no-one. It is important to emphasize this fact time and again. He was protesting an injustice in his village – an injustice recognized as such by the High Court of Justice itself. And yet, an Israeli security officer, perhaps more than one, fired at a demonstrator in a life-threatening manner and caused his death. We note that one of the suspects said in his interrogation that he never received proper training with the weapon he was using. The commanders of these warriors, who are responsible for their actions, continue to dodge their responsibility to this day.

Last month’s murder of a Palestinian by an Israeli soldier in Hebron, which was caught on camera, has been labeled exceptional, unrepresentative, and isolated by all. Every person of conscience should wonder whether this is so; whether the decisive statement in the case was not made of by Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, but rather by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who phoned the shooter’s father and told him (Hebrew) to “trust the IDF investigation.”

What ought an Israeli security officer to understand from the prime minister’s remarks? A reasonable interpretation would be: “Don’t worry, our investigation will find you acted properly.” This, after all, is the unwritten contract between the government and its soldiers: We send you to do the dirty work of oppressing a civilian population, and in return we will turn a blind eye if you sometimes overstep the mark – unless you are caught red-handed, that is. Let the investigation charade begin.

Yesh Din is a volunteer organization working to defend the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation.

]]> http://972mag.com/hebron-shooters-indictment-is-an-exception-that-proves-the-rule/118837/feed/ 1 WATCH: Is BDS a feminist movement? http://972mag.com/watch-is-bds-a-feminist-movement/118825/ http://972mag.com/watch-is-bds-a-feminist-movement/118825/#comments Sun, 24 Apr 2016 11:45:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118825 Nonviolent tools of resistance tend to be more accessible to women, and the leaders of revolutionary struggles often become the political leaders of tomorrow. Can the Palestinian call for BDS be a feminist movement? Can it be a tool for the empowerment of women? ‘Woman to Woman’ sets out to answer those questions and more.

Read more:
In Israel, BDS is winning
The right to boycott is non-negotiable
The American Jews prying open the conversation on the occupation

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Indignity, grief and mourning on the Gaza border http://972mag.com/indignity-grief-and-mourning-on-the-gaza-border/118745/ http://972mag.com/indignity-grief-and-mourning-on-the-gaza-border/118745/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 07:20:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118745 A woman from Gaza is told during a visit to Israel that she must terminate her advanced pregnancy. The Israeli army and courts effectively refuse to allow her to mourn with her husband by her side.

By Nomi Heger

Illustrative photo of a woman in mourning. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of a woman in mourning. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Over the last two weeks, while everyone in Israel was talking about the segregation between Palestinian and Jewish women in post-natal care, we here at Gisha (an organization that promotes the freedom of movement of Gaza residents) provided legal assistance to one pregnant woman, who just happens to be Palestinian and could not care less who was lying next to her, where that woman was from or what sort of partying her hospital room mates would be doing. These privileges were the last thing on her mind. She wanted one thing and one thing only – which to us seems self-evident – she wanted to hold her spouse’s hand while the doctors induced her fetus’ demise.

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The woman in question entered Israel from Gaza, with a permit, to visit family. She was in week 28 of her pregnancy. Because health care services in Israel are more advanced than in Gaza, she went to get a second opinion about her pregnancy while in the country – something any of us wold do when it comes to a major medical decision. The doctors recommended an abortion immediately due to fetal defects. An abortion this far into the pregnancy is, in fact, a birth, performed as a C-section, at the end of which the fetus is injected with a substance that stops its heart.

Due to the urgency, we contacted the Israeli military unit in charge of issuing permits to exit Gaza, the DCO, on that same day, a Wednesday, asking them to let the woman’s spouse enter Israel immediately, to be by her side during these difficult moments. We knew he was under some vague security exclusion, barring him from entering Israel but the details were never explained and he never had a chance to counter whatever it was. We thought that the situation was humanitarian enough that he would be allowed to enter.

The border between Gaza and Israel. (Activestills.org)

The border between Gaza and Israel. (Activestills.org)

We were wrong. The army had lots of time to consider the request, but they were in no hurry to answer, so on Sunday, we filed an urgent petition to the Beer Sheva District Court, which hears cases of Gaza residents wishing to enter Israel. We discovered, to our surprise, that the court was in no hurry either. On the contrary, the judge chose a late date for the hearing, too late, eight days after the petition was filed, when the woman, by now in mourning, desperately needs her husband by her side, now, to face the hardship together, and to take care of the burial. Our request to move up the hearing was to no avail.

We found the indifference shown by the District Court particularly astounding, especially given that last month, when we petitioned the High Court of Justice on behalf of a Palestinian woman from the Gaza Strip who was denied travel to the West Bank to attend her father’s funeral, for security reasons, the High Court, which is the instance that handles requests for travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, called us in for an urgent hearing on the very same day, in Jerusalem. That was on a Thursday afternoon, when the court had already emptied, when all hearings had ended, and still, three Supreme Court justices made the effort to hold the hearing because they thought the case was worthy enough and urgent enough to hear it at the end of a busy work week. Ultimately, despite the negative position taken by security officials, the justices ruled the woman must be allowed to enter the West Bank and mourn her father with the rest of the family.

This comparison between the two instances doesn’t necessarily indicate what the final outcome would have been. It might be that, at the end of the hearing at the Beer Sheva court, the petitioner’s spouse would still have been denied entry, but at least he would have had the chance to have a say about what happens to him in court. Instead, the judge made the petition irrelevant. The woman could not stay in Israel on her own and wait for the hearing for eight days. She rose from mourning, despite her physical and mental state, and returned to Gaza before the hearing took place. Since there was no longer a need to hear the case; we had to withdraw the petition.

So what have we learned from this sad tale? That Palestinian mourning is worth less in this country, that apparently it is acceptable to disrespect the grief of a mother who carries a child for 28 weeks, delivers it and then says goodbye forever; that it is also apparently acceptable to disrespect the grief of a father, and deny him entry into Israel to be by his partner’s side. They do have three other children in the Gaza Strip after all, and those ones are alive. Perhaps the main lesson here is that we still don’t know how much more suffering Palestinians will have to endure before the Israeli authorities recognize their basic rights, like the right to mourn the death of an unborn child.

Attorney Dr. Nomi Heger is the director of the legal department at Gisha, an NGO that promotes civilian and commercial freedom of movement into and out of Gaza. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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