+972 Magazine » Analysis http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Mon, 30 May 2016 18:51:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Unraveling Netanyahu’s Sephardic spin http://972mag.com/unraveling-netanyahus-sephardic-spin/119667/ http://972mag.com/unraveling-netanyahus-sephardic-spin/119667/#comments Mon, 30 May 2016 16:01:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119667 Netanyahu knows that even in 2016, Mizrahim have the ability to kick him out of power.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu (right) during a Mimouna celebration. (photo: Activestills.org)

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu (right) during a Mimouna celebration. (photo: Activestills.org)

Benjamin Netanyahu has seen better weeks. Between being strong-armed by members of his cabinet over the confirmation of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister, and the fact that his wife, Sara, may soon be indicted over her unscrupulous handling of the prime minister’s households, the past few days have been rough. But amid the turbulence, Bibi was able to find a golden calf and, true to form, milk it for all its worth.


On paper the story seems both simple and innocuous: early last week Netanyahu announced that his brother, Ido, had taken a D.N.A. test, according to which the Netanyahu family can actually trace its roots back to Spain. Thus, Netanyahu implied, Israel finally had its own (at least partially) Sephardic prime minister.

Until that moment, Netanyahu was thought to be of Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) background, just like every single other prime minister who preceded him. This point cannot be overstated: whether they have come from the political right or left, Israel’s heads of state have all belonged to the same ethnic group (often referred to as “the white tribe”) — one which is credited with forging Israel’s founding myths, forming the political and military establishments, and dominating the country’s cultural life. In order to understand the significance of Netanyahu’s declaration, however, we need to understand how ethnicity became an essential component in Israel’s culture wars.

In the first years following the state’s formation, MAPAI (the precursor to today’s Labor Party) led by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, did just about everything it could to ensure that Mizrahim (Jews from Muslim or Arab countries, sometimes referred to as Sephardim, or Sephardic Jews) were materially and culturally marginalized. Contrary to the image of a free, democratic state that Israel peddled to the world, Mizrahim encountered an authoritarian state that sought to keep them ghettoized and politically impotent. North African immigrants were sprayed with DDT upon their arrival, hundreds of Yemenite babies were disappeared and sometimes given up for adoption to Ashkenazi families, Mizrahim were forced into exploitative, menial labor, large numbers were directed upon arrival to far-flung development towns that quickly became slums, and any attempts at revolt (and there were attempts) were brutally put down by the state.

Menachem Begin speaking in the Knesset (Photo from Government Press Office-Wikimedia Commons).

Menachem Begin speaking in the Knesset (Photo from Government Press Office-Wikimedia Commons).

In 1977 Likud leader Menachem Begin changed all that. Begin, who throughout the first years of the state led the opposition, was the first major Israeli leader to take seriously the plight of Mizrahim. An Ashkenazi who was until then considered the perpetual underdog of Israeli politics, Begin gave impassioned speeches against Labor’s corrupt, discriminatory policies — solidifying a Mizrahi voting bloc that now had a political home to beat back those who treated them as second-class citizens. That year Mizrahim catapulted Begin into the office of prime minister and have helped keep Likud in power for much of the last 40 years. (It should be made clear that Mizrahim vote for nearly all parties in Israel, yet Likud has historically been the major bastion of Mizrahi political activism).

Labor, on the other hand, did very little to atone for its transgressions, and continues to pay for it. In fact, for years to come the party only doubled down on its treatment of Mizrahim. During the 1981 elections Mordechai “Mottah” Gur, former IDF chief of staff, spoke to a seething crowd of Likud supporters who nearly overran what was supposed to be a Labor (then called “Alignment”) campaign rally in Beit Shemesh. Glaring from the podium at a crowd chanting “Begin! Begin!” Gur deployed his most patronizing tone and in one sentence inadvertently summarized the history of Israel’s Ashkenazi rule vis-a-vis the country’s minorities: “Just like yelling didn’t help them [the Arabs] and we screwed them; yelling won’t help you and we’ll screw you too.”

Mottah Gur’s speech at a campaign rally in 1981:

If anyone understands that Israel’s intra-Jewish ethnic conflict didn’t end in 1981, it’s Netanyahu. Israeli legend has it that many Mizrahim refused to believe Begin was not himself of Moroccan origin. Netanyahu is exploiting this trope at a time when Ashkenazi members of Labor are attacking one of the party’s sole Mizrahi voices for proposing a law that would do away with admissions committees, which accept or reject housing applicants based on their “social suitability” and whether they fit into the communities’ “social and cultural fabric” (activists have for years complained that these committees are being used as a legal mechanism to reject Mizrahim, Palestinian citizens, Ethiopians, and others from living in places such as kibbutzim, which have historically formed the basis of the Labor movement’s political power). More recently, in 2006, Labor voters chose Amir Peretz, who is of Moroccan origin, as their leader and candidate for prime minister. However his failure and eventual loss of control of the party seemed like an omen that Labor could never truly accept a change of identity.

Netanyahu knows that even in 2016, what is often referred to as the “ethnic demon” is alive and well — that Mizrahim still have the power to decide elections, as they did back in 1977, and that it’s never a bad time to try shoring up his support among the voting bloc.

Why does this matter? Well, first of all it shouldn’t. Political leaders should be evaluated based on their performance, not where they come from. But in Israel, as in in other countries, the politics of ethnicity is bound up in an ongoing culture war between the new elites and those of yesteryear. The fact that the prime minister of Israel is now claiming Mizrahi/Sephardic identity is a sign of a sea change: if Mizrahi identity and politics were once scorned by the elite, today they carry with them a certain amount of political capital.

For Netanyahu, this might mean just another card to play as he focuses on what he does best: surviving yet another tumultuous political moment. For Mizrahim, however, it could mean the beginning of a political ascension that no longer depends on Ashkenazi benefactors, whether from the Left or from the Right.

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Israelis are no longer buying what Netanyahu is selling http://972mag.com/israelis-are-no-longer-buying-what-netanyahu-is-selling/119662/ http://972mag.com/israelis-are-no-longer-buying-what-netanyahu-is-selling/119662/#comments Mon, 30 May 2016 12:02:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119662 Never has a prime minister appointed a defense minister so far beyond the consensus. For the first time in a decade, it feels like fewer people truly buy into Bibi’s lies and theatrics.

By Alon Mizrahi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observes military drill in the occupied Golan Heights, April 11, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observes military drill in the occupied Golan Heights, April 11, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Throughout his years in the public spotlight, Netanyahu and his advisors have been successful at doing one thing: to completely control the story of the State of Israel.

It does not matter whether they were able to do so because they are talented at doing so, or because they use deeply-entrenched Jewish and Israeli motifs: victimhood; persecution; siege mentality; the Arabs as a representation of the devil incarnate and the heirs to the Wermacht; Judaism as a supreme category whose fate, near-annihilation by anti-Semitism — is different than the rest of humanity (a fate prevented only due to aerial bombings and God).


We know all this, and yet the left-wing, liberal camp has been sitting by helplessly for an entire generation, perhaps even longer. The Left has never been successful — or has even tried — to challenge this story. The Jewish public simply does not want a different story. Israeli Jews want to feel special and in danger, and every political movement that builds on these fears succeeds at becoming a dominant force. Every step taken under the guise of these fears is justified: the occupation itself, of course, justified but so are other acts of cruelty against non-Jews, as well as the arrogance vis-a-vis non-Jews abroad. That’s the story. Am Israel Chai — the nation of Israel lives thanks to miracles and unregulated use of force.

But something in this story is now falling apart. We are hearing people in the heart of the Israeli Right saying: wait. There are things we mustn’t do. Maybe this story is so wrong that it actually justifies strange and reckless behavior. Such as appointing Avigdor Liberman defense minister, for example.

If we understand things as such, the resignation of Avi Gabai (along with that of Yisrael Beiteinu’s Orly Levy and former Defense Minister Minister Moshe Ya’alon) from the Netanyahu-Bennett-Liberman government, is significant. It is the earthquake happening under Netanyahu’s rule.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Photo by Activestills.org)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Photo by Activestills.org)

It’s not just a change in the people running the country. It’s not just the fact that people no longer want to work with him, including diehard rightists. It is the fundamental psychological change taking place here over the past few weeks, which signals one thing: Netanyahu is no longer able to tell the story of Israel. His point of view, the story he is trying to sell — the Holocaust and the Mufti — are no longer the point of view of most Israelis. At least not entirely. This is a drastic change from the past few decades.

Things we must pay attention to: Netanyahu’s story of “widening the coalition” has turned into the story of Ya’alon’s resignation and the appointment of a defense minister whom nearly every Israeli (and non-Israeli) prefers didn’t get the job. If Israelis wanted Liberman as a top political leader, his party would not have just barely passed the election threshold. Never has a prime minister appointed a defuse minister so beyond the consensus, and the Israeli public understood this immediately. This is the most important failure in Bibi’s story. The story that an Arab attacked dozens of policemen in Tel Aviv didn’t work either: Israelis know that their police force is violent, and that appointing Roni Alsheikh to police commissioner was a poor choice.

And even at the end of last week, when Netanyahu tried to connect the “Left” and the “media” to a horrifying case of rape (this is the prime minister of Israel), Minister Avi Gabai, one of the most honest and respected people in the government, announced that he was resigning, explicitly saying it was due to the danger of appointing Liberman. Including those same “trends” that Deputy Chief of the General Staff Yair Golan warned against last month.

The story is everything. And Netanyahu can no longer tell the story like he could in the past. This is wonderful news; for the first time in a decade, there is a feeling that fewer and fewer people feel the need to protect him, while more people no longer believe his lies or theatrics. Honest rightists such as Moshe Ya’alon and Moseh Arens, Avi Gabai and Orly Levy are saying “enough is enough.” And I believe, perhaps, that we are closer to the end than it seems.

Alon Mizrahi is a writer and a blogger. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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What neoconservatives get wrong about U.S. Jews’ relationship with Israel http://972mag.com/what-neoconservatives-get-wrong-about-u-s-jews-relationship-with-israel/119642/ http://972mag.com/what-neoconservatives-get-wrong-about-u-s-jews-relationship-with-israel/119642/#comments Sat, 28 May 2016 13:37:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119642 As much as it chagrins the likes of Elliott Abrams, the increasing difficulty they are having with defending Israel’s policies is due to the policies they are working to defend. The longer the occupation continues, the less support it will find among Jews in the United States.

By Mitchell Plitnick

Elliott Abrams (Photo by Miller Center / CC 2.0, cropped)

Neoconservative pundit Elliott Abrams (Photo by Miller Center / CC 2.0, cropped)

Over the past few years, there has been a good deal of consternation in Israel and in the American Jewish community about the relationship between the two. That concern has grown as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consistently works to please his right flank with ever more controversial statements and actions amid a petrified peace process.

Neoconservative pundit Elliott Abrams reviewed two new books that document this phenomenon and try to explain it. Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel by Dov Waxman of Northeastern University and The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews by Michael Barnett of George Washington University both look at shifts in Israeli policy over the years and examine the effects of those policy shifts on Jews in the United States. Abrams sees both books as blaming Israel for the growing divide with the U.S. Jewish community, and he feels compelled to respond by laying the blame instead on Jews in the United States.


Waxman’s book focuses on the divided reaction of Jews in the United States to Israel’s nearly 50-year old occupation and the Netanyahu government’s policies that entrench and maintain it. Barnett examines the tension between the more tribalistic and nationalistic Israeli Jewish society and the liberal, cosmopolitan U.S. one. In both cases, the authors make the case that the differences between the Israeli and American Jewish communities are driving a wedge between them and pushing Jews in the United States farther away from Israel, politically and communally.

Channeling Kristol

Abrams’ review carries loud echoes of the neoconservative icon, Irving Kristol. Like Kristol, Abrams believes strongly that Israel and the Diaspora Jewish communities are inextricably linked and that Jewish survival in the long term depends on those Diaspora communities, especially in the United States, supporting Israel absolutely. Kristol did not believe that Diaspora Jews had to back all of Israel’s policies blindly. Indeed, most of Kristol’s work was written at a time when Israeli political discourse was far more liberal than it is today. He believed, therefore, that it was “tremendously important to translate the classics of Western political conservatism into Hebrew,” so that Israelis could benefit from the “genuine political wisdom” of the West.

It was important to Kristol, and still is to Abrams, to root out the liberal and universalist trends that had become the hallmarks of the American Jewish community (and were once, particularly in the 1990s, rapidly growing trends in Israel). These trends, both men correctly understood, are completely at odds with the sort of narrow, tribalistic, self-interested, and nationalistic politics that they believed to be the only political path to long-term Jewish security, in Israel as well as the Diaspora. As a result, Abrams is ideologically committed to opposing the very values that Waxman and Barnett contend are causing discomfort with Israel for Jews in the United States.

Abrams begins by dismissing Waxman’s contention that “American Jews … have ‘greater knowledge’ about Israel today than did their parents or grandparents.” He sarcastically asks, “Why would that be, and where did they acquire their balanced and penetrating insights—by reading the New York Times?” The comment implies a casual dismissal of the massive difference between the information that people around the world have access to today than in the past.

To begin with, for the past 25 years or so, people all over the world have had easy access to historical research that, even if one only reads Israeli, Jewish, and Zionist authors, tells a much more nuanced story of Israel’s history than was commonly available previously. Israeli writers such as Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev, and others caused a stir with their books in the 1980s and 1990s. More than that, they forced less controversial historians to broaden their own scopes in order to be academically credible. That discursive context was established just before the Internet age permanently altered the accessibility of news and analysis everywhere.

Clearly, The New York Times, whatever its value, is far from the only source of information people have about Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian people. Israeli news sources, as well as European, Arab, and other global sources, provide a far fuller picture of life for Palestinians, as well as the effects of nearly 50 years of occupation have had on Israel. In the past, Israeli peace and human rights groups, to the extent they existed, rarely tried to disseminate their materials in the United States and often did not even bother translating them to English. Now, human rights and other progressive groups in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and around the world report on conditions under Israeli occupation as well as the increasing ethnic tensions within Israel itself.

The advent of video on social media has also served to open the eyes of many to the inevitable nature of any military occupation, especially one that has gone on for so long. Surely, Abrams is well aware of all of this. But he inexplicably, and without substantiation, dismisses the notion that people today are better informed about Israel than they were in the past.

The views of liberal Jews

Participants in the Open Hillel Conference, Harvard University. (photo: Gili Getz)

Participants in the Open Hillel Conference, Harvard University. (photo: Gili Getz)

The thrust of Abrams’ point is that more assimilated and intermarried Jews, as Jews in the U.S. increasingly are, cannot have the required passionate attachment to Israel that will lead them to support it. Jews in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, he says, “tend to cast their votes for the political party that supports Israel, having switched allegiance in recent decades to help elect Australia’s Liberal party as well as leaders like Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Stephen Harper in Canada.” By contrast, Jews in the United States vote for more progressive candidates, prioritizing domestic issues over Israel.

In other words, for Abrams, the problem is that Jews in the United States do not vote based on their connection to Israel but rather based on domestic concerns. Although true, it doesn’t follow that this means that Israel is not very important to Jews. The widespread political engagement on the issue is an obvious marker of Jewish attachment to the issue of Israel, but the numbers also don’t support Abrams’ view.

The few data points Abrams uses are not conclusive. In the recent election in Canada, for example, the Conservatives did not win a majority of the Jewish vote, as they had in 2011, despite Prime Minister Harper’s clear dedication to supporting Israeli policies. And, aside from the United States, the Jewish community outside of Israel is small and not particularly influential. Their size makes them more vulnerable to anti-Semitism, an issue which has been much more in the forefront in places like England and France. They also tend to be relatively affluent, which many observers note is at least as big a factor in the community’s shift toward more conservative voting.

And if Abrams is correct, how can he explain the rise of Jewish groups critical of Israel’s policies like J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)? To be sure, some Jewish groups of the past, such as New Jewish Agenda and Breira, have always objected to Israeli policies. But the widespread appeal, political influence, and sheer size of J Street and JVP are unprecedented.

Even staunchly pro-Israel groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are boasting much greater numbers at their annual conferences and a larger membership than they have in the past. It’s impossible to reconcile this level of engagement with Abrams’ statement that, “The American Jewish community is more distant from Israel than in past generations because it is changing, is in significant ways growing weaker, and is less inclined and indeed less able to feel and express solidarity with other Jews here and abroad.” Abrams is, of course, correct in saying that Jews in the United States are less connected to synagogues and Jewish communities in general than in the past. But are they less connected to Israel? A 2013 Pew poll found that 69 percent of American Jews were “very attached” or “somewhat attached” to Israel. That’s the same number as in a 2000-2001 poll that Pew conducted.

Moreover, Abrams bemoans the fact that “only about 40 percent of American Jews have bothered to visit (Israel) at all.” He might be surprised to learn that, according to a 1994 paper (presumably a time before U.S. Jews “abandoned” Israel in Abrams’ view, or at least before the problem was as pronounced as he would see it today) less than 30 percent of American Jews aged 26-64 had ever visited Israel. And, given the fact that tourism to Israel gradually rose from 1948-1995, when it experienced a huge leap, Jews were certainly not visiting Israel, a country that costs a great deal of money to visit, more frequently in the past.

So, although more Jews are intermarrying and disassociating themselves from the mainstream Jewish community in the United States, engagement with Israel has demonstrably not declined. In fact, a 2010 study from the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University showed a slow and gradual rise in the attachment of American Jews to Israel since 1986.

The salience of Israeli policies

Israeli Border Police officers man a checkpoint for Palestinians leaving the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, October 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli Border Police officers man a checkpoint at one of the only entry and exit points to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, October 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

What has changed is the nature of that engagement. Politically conservative Jews may be able to find common cause with an increasingly right-wing Israel. But the vast and liberal majority of American Jews, faced with the realities of Israel holding millions of people under military occupation for five decades and of the increasing and increasingly violent hatred of Arabs and fellow progressive Jews in Israel, have been forced to choose between supporting an Israel that doesn’t reflect their universalist values or speaking out in favor of those values.

Jews in the United States, like Jews everywhere, overwhelmingly support Israel’s existence. But many cannot ignore an Israel that has repeatedly killed and injured many civilians in Gaza, intentionally or otherwise, destroying the infrastructure there and causing massive poverty and misery. They can’t ignore the settlement expansion that cannot be reconciled with a two-state solution. They can’t ignore an Israeli government that brings out voters with racist scare tactics and that includes prominent figures who support annexing major parts of the West Bank. And they certainly can’t ignore an Israeli prime minister who blatantly interferes in U.S. politics in order to block an international agreement that Israel’s military leaders, and many others, uniformly agree would, and has, scored a huge victory in pushing back Iran’s potential for acquiring a nuclear weapon.

As much as it chagrins Abrams and other neoconservatives, the increasing difficulty they are having with defending Israel’s policies is due to the policies they are working to defend. The longer the occupation continues, the less support it will find among Jews in the United States.

That is not due to Abrams being wrong about the source of that reality. He’s actually quite correct. Occupation, the siege of Gaza, and the increasing violence against Israel’s Palestinian citizens are thoroughly incompatible with universalist, liberal values. A more tribal, nationalistic political outlook can accept or at the very least tolerate such things.

Indeed, what’s truly remarkable is how many otherwise liberal Jews have been, and still are, able to excuse the occupation. But until now, Jews who opposed the occupation had no voice. Now, with J Street on one end of the anti-occupation spectrum and Jewish Voice for Peace on the other, and a good number of groups in between, Jews who believe that Palestinians must have the same basic rights as Israelis have a voice. And, yes, this is an outgrowth of the long-held acceptance of universalist, liberal values among Jews. That trend shows no sign of slowing, much less being reversed. As a result, we can all, left and right, look forward to growing Jewish opposition to the occupation.

Mitchell Plitnick is the vice president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @MJPlitnick. This article was first published on LobeLog. It is reproduced here with permission. 

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Labor must take the security narrative back from Netanyahu http://972mag.com/labor-must-take-the-security-narrative-back-from-netanyahu/119635/ http://972mag.com/labor-must-take-the-security-narrative-back-from-netanyahu/119635/#comments Sat, 28 May 2016 10:55:13 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119635 The first step is to replace party leader Isaac Herzog, who has adopted the prime minister’s approach to the Palestinians and was willing to join his government.

By Nathan Hersh and Abe Silberstein

Labor chairman Isaac Herzog (Photo by Activestills.org)

Isaac Herzog, whose days as head of the Labor party are surely limited, recently adopted Netanyahu’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Activestills.org)

When Netanyahu abandoned the possibility of forming a coalition with Zionist Union by appointing Avigdor Liberman as defense minister, many on the Israeli center-left, including Labor chairman Isaac Herzog and liberal columnist Ari Shavit, were quick to self-flagellate. The truth is there was no missed opportunity, unless one is speaking of the chance to commit political suicide by linking up with a prime minister who had no intention of moderating his policies.


Herzog, whose days as head of the party are surely limited, will suffer the most from this turn of events. While his performance during the last election did much to bring the Labor party back to relevance, his leadership since then has backtracked on much of the progress made.

Since 2001, Labor party leaders have done little to confront the security narrative of the ruling Likud party and its partners. Indeed, as Edo Konrad wrote in these pages in February, it was Labor prime minister Ehud Barak’s team who, by pushing the dubious storyline of “no partner,” planted the seeds for the enfeebling of the peace camp. Subsequent Labor leaders have either offered unilateral alternatives to bilateral talks or attempted to shift the political agenda, always unsuccessfully, to kitchen table issues.

Still, Herzog’s January address to a Tel Aviv think tank — in which he adopted Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that peace is impossible at the moment, and calling for the completion of the security barrier around the settlement blocs — represented a particularly upsetting low.

If there was ever a time for the center-left to truly expose the Right’s absurd notion of security, it is now that one of the least experienced defense ministers in Israeli history assumes office. Liberman is taking the helm at the Defense Ministry just when the government’s rift with the defense establishment is at its widest, and his positions on some of the most divisive issues contributing to that rift will certainly not advance any reconciliation. Several former leaders in the defense establishment have been vocally critical of this government’s West Bank policies recently, and Netanyahu’s choice of Liberman can be read as a decision to double down on his position.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and presumptive defense minister Avigdor Liberman sign new coalition agreement, May 25, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Avigdor Liberman sign new coalition agreement in which Liberman is expected to become defense minister, May 25, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

One of the Right’s most common arguments against the evacuation of West Bank settlements is the idea that they protect Israel. This is not just an example of empty political pandering, it is also a dangerous and backward suggestion: civilian communities over the Green Line are most exposed to terror attacks; the porousness of the border to accommodate settlers’ travel between Israel and the West Bank is a threat in itself; and the most extreme settlers, emboldened by the government, often instigate violence against Palestinians. This is to say nothing of the duplicitous avoidance of final status negotiations at all costs, most recently evidenced by the government’s lonely opposition to the French peace initiative.

Unfortunately, Herzog tried to sell Netanyahu’s creeping annexation as his own, apparently without realizing that much of his own constituency does not envision annexation as a desirable endpoint. This approach — reaching into Netanyahu’s “pragmatic” center-right base — was the most pathetic attempt to achieve wider popularity in recent memory.

The political goal of the center-left should be to bolster alternatives to the prime minister, not emulate him. As Likud becomes increasingly populated by the most ideological of rightists, only the center-left will be able to provide an alternative to Netanyahu, one that can attract the centrist support necessary to build a coalition. To this end, there are three processes the next leader of the Labor Party should set in motion immediately.

First, begin talks with the left-wing Meretz party to create a single center-left list for the next election. This was an idea floated last year by Uri Avnery and should be seriously revisited given the current balance of political forces in Israel. A center-left list holding between 20 and 25 Knesset seats would be in a strong position to set the agenda of a centrist coalition. This is an eminently achievable goal.

Next, build relationships with political and diplomatic figures overseas. The recent saga of Herzog chasing fig leaf status contains one positive element: the Labor leadership was engaged in a complex effort that involved former Quartet representative Tony Blair and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Cultivating these relationships among the opposition will not only make a center-left list the most attractive choice for a coalition partner, it will also send a signal to those international partners that the era of “managing the conflict” ends with Netanyahu, and that a serious effort toward a two-state solution is worth investing time in.

Finally, the next Labor head must advocate for leaders in the defense establishment to determine the best course for security, and speak against the heavy-handedness of Netanyahu’s leadership. He or she must work toward ending the rift between the political establishment and the military by earning the defense establishment’s support early on. It is clear that Netanyahu’s approach to national security is different from that of many military and intelligence leaders; unless Labor can prove that own its national security goals are in sync with those of leaders in the field, Netanyahu will continue to maintain a monopoly over security in the eyes of the electorate.

New leadership and blood at the top of the opposition offers an opportunity to redefine the center-left’s place in Israeli politics. Just as Herzog was able to reverse the fortunes of a Labor party after two underwhelming election results, so too can new leadership revitalize the party now. It will be the task of Labor’s next leader to chart a different path. Whoever the next Labor leader is, he or she must challenge the current government’s position on the future of the territories.

Nathan Hersh served in a combat unit of the IDF from 2009 to 2011 and has an MA in Conflict Resolution from Tel Aviv University. Abe Silberstein writes on Israeli politics and US-Israel relations from New York.

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When your own Jewish father calls you a Nazi http://972mag.com/when-your-own-jewish-father-calls-you-a-nazi/119627/ http://972mag.com/when-your-own-jewish-father-calls-you-a-nazi/119627/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 15:44:13 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119627 Once upon a time you could vote for Netanyahu or Meretz and move on with your life. Today even a conversation about the occupation can end relationships between loved ones.

By Su*

Like the very best of internet trolls, today my father banished me to Berlin with the non-Jewish son I never had. In the middle of Tel Aviv’s popular Azrieli Mall, on the second floor, at the cafe where the tables are placed too close to one another. Yarmulka-wearing Israelis sat behind us, while at the next table over two women with Zara shopping bags who ate salads tried their best to pretend they weren’t listening to what was happening at our table.


Once upon a time one was able to make a distinction between conversations about politics and conversations about life. Once, that was 10 years ago. Today the tension can be felt in the air. One can no longer make the distinction. Once upon a time you could vote for Netanyahu or Meretz, the left-wing party, to vote and go on with your life. Once upon a time you could live in the West Bank settlement Ariel and vote for Labor. Strange, perhaps, but it only seems strange today, looking back. Back then it was a matter of political opinion, life itself was what mattered, when one’s character wasn’t determined by the occupation.

What happened over the years that turn these definitions into rigid, violent, and influential? Maybe I just grew up and it was always like this? Maybe, but I look around, even at those older than me, and I just don’t think that’s it. A good friend of mine went on a date a few months ago, she said he was wonderful, funny, good looking. “But?” I asked. “But he votes for Liberman.” That summed up the conversation. There was no need to ask if they continued to meet.

Did Facebook, the press, and the media radicalize the people, or was it the opposite way around? What caused us to turn our political beliefs into unbending self-definitions? For years I told people, “I’m not a leftist, I am sane.”

More than that, even today I know it does not matter how we define ourselves — what side of the political spectrum we are on — everyone wants peace, everyone was quiet, no one wants to endanger more children.

But the fear. Today I saw it more than ever. In my father’s eyes, telling me that everyone wants to kill me. Everyone. The German people who must disappear because of what they did; that there is no Palestinian people; “one state, one nation” is a great motto. And it all came from fear, everything was filtered through headlines — they want to harm us, it doesn’t matter who they are — whoever isn’t us. My father has become more extreme throughout his life, or perhaps throughout the conversation, to the point that he almost never travels abroad. Life is good at home, no one wants to kill me here.

And our argument? It started from a totally different subject, about life. About work and apartments and mortgages. About flying abroad for the summer. It has been two years, I said, there will be another war, there is no other way, people are beginning to forget to be afraid. And at the end, as we were yelling at each other, all I tried to do was to get him to admit that there is an occupation. It doesn’t matter if he believes that it is good or bad for us, or that without it we would be annihilated. Just say it, Dad. Say that there is an occupation, that we’re controlling another nation. Say that 18 year-olds are being sent into the heart of a civilian population to face horrible situations. No. There is no such thing! He yelled at me with his eyes wide, banging on the table. “You are talking like the Nazis. You want to annihilate us. There is no occupation and there never was.”

I was left speechless, the gulf that emerged between us at that very moment caught me off guard. His opinions were always far from mine, but we always loved each other, like father and daughter. And today I felt that a different hand, foreign and violent, encroached on our tiny space and succeeded in destroying another piece of land that doesn’t belong to it.

I got up, placing the bag of lemons that he picked for me in the moshav on the table. I left. At the parking lot two floors underground I sent my father a text message: “Are you still at the mall? I don’t want to fight.” He didn’t respond.

*Su is a pseudonym. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Is the Israeli media responding to pressure on underrepresentation of Arabs? http://972mag.com/is-the-israeli-media-responding-to-pressure-on-underrepresentation-of-arabs/119447/ http://972mag.com/is-the-israeli-media-responding-to-pressure-on-underrepresentation-of-arabs/119447/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 12:46:34 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119447 A new campaign is pushing major media outlets to invite Arab experts to speak on their area of expertise. It seems the media landscape is responding — for the better.

Joint List's Ahmad Tibi is seen at campaign headquarters on election night, Nazareth, Israel, March 17, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Joint List’s Ahmad Tibi is seen at campaign headquarters on election night, Nazareth, Israel, March 17, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

By Oren Persico

New data reveals that leading Israeli news stations are inviting more Arab experts on news programs, following growing pressure by leading Israeli NGOs.


According to The Seventh Eye website’s “Representation Index,” around 40 Arabs were invited to speak about their area of expertise on the five leading Israeli media outlets during the month of April. This was a decrease from March, yet an increase from January and February when the index was launched.

The Representation Index provides quantitative and qualitative analysis of Arab citizens of Israel who are interviewed on leading news and current affairs programs on three major Israeli television channels (1, 2 and 10), and on radio stations IDF Radio (Galei Tzahal) and Reshet Bet. Each week, The Seventh Eye publishes data about the number and ratio of Arab interviewees during the previous week on the five channels and the 19 main news programs broadcasted in Israel.

In addition The Seventh Eye publishes more in-depth findings once a month, assessing which of the interviewees were interviewed simply because they were Arabs and which were interviewed because their area of expertise was relevant to the issue at hand.

According to April’s statistics, 38 Arab experts took part in news programs on Channels 1, 2, and 10, along with Reshet Bet and Army Radio. For the third month running, Reshet Bet is at the top of the list with 15 different experts appearing on various programs. In second place is Channel 10 (11 experts), followed by Army Radio, Channel 1, and Channel 2 (6, 4, and 2 experts respectively).

The distinction between non-expert and expert is based on the idea that Arabs who are invited to speak on programs due to their expertise are viewed in a positive light. Those who are invited to speak solely because they are Arabs are usually covered in a negative light.

Arab politicians, who are the most commonly featured in the Israeli media, are not defined as experts. For example, in April MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) was interviewed 40 times due to controversial statements he made that month. This was higher than the total number of appearances by all the other Arab experts in the media.

The ratio of Arab experts compared to non-experts shows that only Channel 10 maintained its rate of Arab guests, with 21 percent (the same as March). That number decreased on every other station, albeit only slightly in the case of Army Radio and Channel 2. Channel 1, the only station in March with a decrease in the ratio of Arab experts, continued this trend in April as well.

In terms of the expert/non-expert ratio, Channel 10 has remained in first place since the index launched in January, followed by Reshet Bet, Army Radio, Channel 1 and Channel 2.

The decrease in the number of Arab experts in April should also be compared to the general increase in the number of Arab experts. Since January, in which there were many security-related incidents, 373 Arab interviewees took part in news programs on the five major media stations. There was a decrease to 26 in February, yet there since then we have been seeing a general increase. In March 291 Arabs were interviewed, with the number going up to 335 in April.

In this respect, the biggest achievement of the last month goes to Reshet Bet. Not only was the number of Arab experts in April the largest of all the outlets (89) — and not only was this the highest number since the beginning of the research in January — but the station also succeeded in maintaining its high rate of Arab experts compared to non-experts (17 percent).

One of the explanations for this is found in the schedule in the last month, in which two senior figures in Reshet Bet interviewed four Arab experts each.

In first place is Channel 10′s London & Kirschenbaum with five Arab experts — 42 percent of the total number of Arab interviewees. The number of Arab interviewees on the other programs was negligible.

Seventh Eye’s “Representation Index” is a project in partnership with Sikkuy and the Berl Katznelson Foundation, supported by the New Israel Fund. Research and analysis is carried out by Ifat Media Research Ltd.

The Arab Representation Index is translated to English with the support of the New Israel Fund.

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Working toward a nuclear weapons free Mideast http://972mag.com/working-toward-a-nuclear-weapons-free-mideast/119585/ http://972mag.com/working-toward-a-nuclear-weapons-free-mideast/119585/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 14:01:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119585 Can temporary or sub-regional agreements lay the trust and groundwork necessary for building off the momentum of the Iran JCPOA? Can Israel be convinced? A Track 2 initiative tries to figure it out.

By Shemuel Meir

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz Stand With Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Vice President of Iran for Atomic Energy Salehi Before Meeting in Switzerland, March 16, 2015. (State Dept. photo)

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz Stand With Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Vice President of Iran for Atomic Energy Salehi Before Meeting in Switzerland, March 16, 2015. (State Dept. photo)

Earlier this month, I attended an international conference in Berlin which brought together diplomats, former military officers, academic researchers and think tank analysts from the Middle East and Europe. The conference took place within the framework of the “Academic Peace Orchestra Middle East” of the Peace Research Institute Franfkfurt (PRIF).


The “orchestra” is composed of experts on the Middle East, from within and outside the region, who meet to discuss ideas and parameters for promoting the diplomatic process in the Middle East in parallel to the official communications and meetings between the countries concerned in a classical Track 2 initiative. When the official meetings between the countries of the region are as tension filled as those of our region are stuck and on the brink of collapse – Track 2 meetings are the only game in town.

And indeed, the meeting in Berlin was intended to discuss ideas and to create a new momentum for preventing the proliferation of weapons on mass destruction in the Middle East following the failure of the NPT Review Conference in May 2015, which concluded in a dead end without reaching a common agreement because of the inability of the U.S. to bridge the gaps between Egypt and Israel regarding the establishment of a zone in the Middle East that would be free of weapons of mass destruction (ME – WMD Free Zone) with an emphasis on the nuclear. Since the 1995 renewal of the NPT, unlimited in time, the issue of a Middle East nuclear free zone has formed a central pillar of the Treaty alongside the pillars on non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful nuclear energy. The U.S., which in the spring of 2015 set as a high priority the achievement of the Iranian nuclear agreement, preferred at that time not to enter into a collision course with Israel on the nuclear issue. The failure of the U.S. mediation effort between Egypt and Israel (in spite of the secret mission of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State) prevented the achievement of a non-proliferation common action plan and ended, for the time being, the efforts to convene the conference on a Middle East WMD Free Zone (the Helsinki process led by the Finns) which had been decided on at the previous Review Conference in 2010.

It is possible that Israel breathed a sigh of relief following the pause in the Helsinki process. But this pause is likely to be short lived. The international community is already preparing for the next Review Conference which will take place in 2020 and will be celebratory in nature since it marks the 50th anniversary of the NPT. Preparatory NPT conferences are planned to begin in the spring of 2017. The Berlin conference was intended to launch Track 2 in anticipation of the preparatory meetings and to serve as platform for ideas and plans for exiting the dead end.

The point of departure for our discussion was to try to understand exactly what happened at the May 2015 Review Conference and the reasons for the failure in reaching a common agreement (a difficult task since the discussions between the U.S. and the sides took place in closed rooms), to identify the mistakes of the Helsinki process for a Middle East nuclear free zone and whether it is possible to formulate ideas and draw conclusions from similar processes in other parts of the world.

The success in reaching the JCPOA on the Iranian nuclear program in Vienna in July 2015 was a milestone in international non-proliferation diplomacy. The agreement blocked the potential tracks for a nuclear weapon equipped Iran. So the question is whether it is possible to build on the JCPOA’s positive momentum and to adopt some of the limitations and prohibitions imposed on Iran as well as the intrusive monitoring system in other parts of the world. It is worth noting in this regard the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif’s public invitation in The Guardian to the P5+1 on the day following the agreement: “Iran has signed a historic nuclear deal – now it is Israel’s turn.” The Iranians appear to see this as a process that will take years and not a demand for an immediate symmetry.

One of the ideas that was examined in this context at the Berlin conference was an attempt to promote a Middle East nuclear free zone in stages through the establishment of sub regional nuclear free zone that would include the Gulf States and Iran. The establishment of a sub-regional nuclear free zone in the Persian Gulf could act as a pilot to be later expanded to include the Middle East (the Arab League countries plus Iran and Israel). The idea would be to create an interim stage in the establishment of a Middle East NWFZ in which Egypt and the North African countries would be under the umbrella of the Pelindaba Treaty for an African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (bordering Israel up to the Rafah – Eilat line) and in the Arab East (without Syria and Iraq at this stage) in the framework of a Gulf WMD Free Zone.

In spite of the distrust and hostility between the Saudis and the Iranians, it is worth discussing this sub zonal concept. From the Saudi and Gulf country point of view, the agreement with Iran put an end to the domino theory of Middle East nuclearization. One of the Iran deal’s important achievements is the prevention of the appearance of new nuclear states in the Middle East and the cessation of the nuclear arms race in the region which could have developed following a nuclear weapons equipped Iran. From the Iranian point of view, the JCPOA showed its willingness to become part of the international non-proliferation efforts to the extent that it signed an agreement outside the framework of the NPT. Iran also proclaimed the importance that it sees in the improvement of its relations with its neighbors in the Gulf. From this point of view, a Gulf MWD Free Zone could serve as a confidence building measure.

It would appear that at this early stage, Iran and Egypt are not enthusiastic about the idea of the Gulf as a sub region. Egypt in particular who would point to the absence of Israel and ask what the point of the zone would be when all the Arab countries and Iran are signatories of the NPT and under IAEA supervision – comparable to looking for the proverbial penny under the lamplight. Egypt is also likely to see a sub-regional Gulf zone as an additional attempt to “downgrade” its leading position in the nuclear free zone issue in favor of the new player, Iran.

An additional idea discussed for getting out of the dead end was the establishment of a zone that would prohibit nuclear tests in the Middle East as a first step and confidence building measure for a NWFZ. Israel, Iran and Egypt are among the eight countries required to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in order for the Treaty to enter into force. But already as countries that have signed the Treaty, they are obliged to carry out in good faith the Treaty requirements and not carry out nuclear tests. In this context, the ratification of the CTBT by Iran, Israel and Egypt could standardize once and for all and in an obligatory manner the ban on nuclear testing in their borders. The ratification by the countries in the region and the establishment of a Middle East “Nuclear Test Free zone” would be preferable to the proposal to declare a regional moratorium on nuclear testing. The ratification of the CTBT by the three countries would also strengthen the region’s monitoring and verification system.

Including the ban on nuclear testing in the Middle East in the discussion of a nuclear free zone in a Helsinki format could help to break the deadlock on the NWFZ discussion. Most importantly, it would enable a temporary circumvention of one of the preconditions (an Arab demand that Israel sign the NPT) and to give the sides a framework to open professional and practical discussions. In addition, it would introduce substantial strategic content in a real step-by-step process which is often perceived in a negative manner and as a delaying tactic and means to deflect attention from essential issues.

These ideas were combined with a proposal to learn from the multilateral framework to promote regional security and arms control in the Middle East (ACRS). This was the working group for regional security that was active in the 1990s as part of the Israeli-Arab peace process. But this time, there would be necessary to adapt such an effort to the new regional strategic environment. The idea would be to create a broad framework for regional dialogue on proliferation and arms control which would include as many countries of the region as possible. Parallel working groups would discuss regional issues (for example, confidence building measures with military significance and monitoring and verification systems lessons drawn from the Tlatelolco model for the de-nuclearization of Latin America which combined regional and international inspection and verification) and on global agreements on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. One of the reasons for the failure of ACRS (in addition to the collapse of the peace process) was Israel’s insistence not to discuss nuclear arms control and non-proliferation anchored in global agreements. When it comes to nuclear proliferation, the regional and global are intertwined.

Finally, many tend to attribute the inability to advance Middle East nuclear non-proliferation processes to the absence of trust between the sides. My lesson from the Iran agreement is that it is possible to hold discussions and contacts between hostile countries such as the US and Iran even in the absence of trust and mutual affection on condition that the final product is anchored in a tight and intrusive monitoring and verification system of the highest degree.

Shemuel Meir is a former IDF analyst and associate researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. Today he is an independent researcher on nuclear and strategic issues and author of the “Strategic Discourse” blog, which appears in Haaretz.

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Leading Israeli rights group to stop cooperating with the IDF http://972mag.com/leading-israeli-rights-group-to-stop-cooperating-with-the-idf/119570/ http://972mag.com/leading-israeli-rights-group-to-stop-cooperating-with-the-idf/119570/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 03:00:40 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119570 The Israeli military justice system acts only to ‘cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators,’ B’Tselem says, citing 25 years of experience working with the military. Palestinian rights expert welcomes the move.

A Palestinian B'Tselem volunteer documenting a protest in the south Hebron Hills, June 14, 2008. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

A Palestinian B’Tselem volunteer documents a protest in the South Hebron Hills, June 14, 2008. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

Israel’s best known human rights organization, B’Tselem, has lost all faith in the Israeli military justice system and will stop cooperating with it on behalf of Palestinian victims, the organization announced Wednesday.

A quarter century of experience working with the army “has brought us to the realization that there is no longer any point in pursuing justice and defending human rights by working with a system whose real function is measured by its ability to continue to successfully cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators,” the organization wrote in an 80-page report that accompanied the announcement.


The report details the exact failings of the military investigative system — read it here.

B’Tselem’s decision is particularly significant because Palestinian victims of violence by Israelis security forces largely rely on Israeli human rights groups to file complaints on their behalf. On a most basic, logistical level, the IDF’s Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU, sometimes referred to as MPCID) does not have any bases in the West Bank where Palestinians can physically go to file complaints, and the army does not issue them entry permits for the purposes of filing complaints against its own soldiers.

But it is the army’s utter ineffectiveness at investigating its own that is most striking. Out of 739 cases in which B’Tselem demanded that the IDF investigate soldiers killing, injuring, beating or using Palestinians as human shields since the year 2000, only 25 (3 percent) resulted in indictments. At least 70 percent of those cases ended without military investigators taking any action whatsoever, the organization reported, describing the process as riddled by “systemic failures which are neither random, nor case specific.”

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth, who shows signs of being beaten, following a demonstration against the occupation and in support of Palestinian prisoners the West Bank city of Hebron, March 1, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth, who shows signs of being beaten, following a demonstration against the occupation, Hebron, March 1, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Data compiled by Yesh Din, another Israeli human rights group that represents Palestinian victims of crimes by security forces, is even more troubling. According to Yesh Din, in 2014 military prosecutors filed indictments as a result of only 3.5 percent of criminal investigations into offenses committed by soldiers against Palestinians. The indictment rate presented by B’Tselem is relative to all complaints filed, while Yesh Din’s refers only to criminal investigations initiated by the army. (Full disclosure: my wife serves as a legal advisor to Yesh Din, and is the coordinator of its “criminal accountability of Israeli security forces project.”)

None of this, however, is new. Nearly two years ago B’Tselem declared the military law enforcement system “a complete failure,” and announced that it would refuse to assist the IDF in investigating suspected crimes committed by its soldiers during the 2014 Gaza war.

“Based on past experience, we can only regretfully say that Israeli law enforcement authorities are unable and unwilling to investigate allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law committed during fighting in Gaza,” the organization wrote at the time, noting that if Israel were to establish an independent investigative body it would gladly cooperate.

Wednesday’s announcement broadens that move and applies it to all military investigations.

Palestinians inspect damage to a destroyed ambulance in Shujaiyeh, a neighborhood in eastern Gaza City that was the site of some of the war’s heaviest fighting, July 27, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinians inspect damage to a destroyed ambulance in Shujaiyeh, a neighborhood in eastern Gaza City that was the site of some of the 2014 war’s heaviest fighting, July 27, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The other major factor behind B’Tselem’s announcement is what the organization describes as the military law enforcement system’s role in undermining the chances of any real accountability of the upper echelons of the military and its political command structure, and creating a sense of legitimacy for and ultimately propping up the occupation itself.

“The semblance of a functioning justice system allows Israeli officials to deny claims made both in Israel and abroad that Israel does not enforce the law on soldiers who harm Palestinians,” the B’Tselem report released Wednesday argued. “These appearances also help grant legitimacy – both in Israel and abroad – to the continuation of the occupation.”

B’Tselem says its move is not meant to shift efforts for holding Israeli security forces accountable into external bodies like the International Criminal Court (ICC). “We don’t think that the current international situation provides other, better avenues for [promoting accountability],” spokesperson Sarit Michaeli told +972. “We’re not going to go to other bodies, but we assume our decision will resonate internationally, and in Palestinian society.”

Which is to say that B’Tselem’s decision may very well affect processes already in place in bodies like the ICC. One of the key factors that ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda must determine when deciding whether to open a full-fledged investigation into war crimes in Palestine is whether Israel is willing and able to investigate and hold its own security forces accountable, and whether it does so in good faith — known as the principle of complementarity. If it does, then the court has no jurisdiction.

But if the ICC determines that Israel is unwilling or incapable of investigating itself, then it may indeed have jurisdiction over war crimes committed by Israeli citizens, ranging from individual soldiers to generals and politicians. Bensouda will certainly take notice of B’Tselem’s message that it has lost so much faith in the Israeli military’s investigative mechanisms that it no longer believes it is worth engaging with.

An Israeli soldier shoots tear gas into a crowd of Palestinian protesters in Hebron. March 31, 2013 (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

An Israeli soldier shoots tear gas into a crowd of Palestinian protesters in Hebron. March 31, 2013 (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Shawan Jabarin, director of Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq, congratulated B’Tselem for its decision to disengage from the military justice system, and told +972 he believes B’Tselem’s decision could help the ICC conclude, directly or indirectly, that complementarity does not pose an obstacle to the international prosecution of Israelis. “I think it will help show that there is no will, that [the military investigation system] is not effective, and that it is not an independent mechanism.”

Jabarin, whose organization long ago stopped cooperating with the Israeli military in order to seek justice for Palestinian victims, said he believes it is important for other organizations to follow in B’Tselem’s footsteps. Working with the Israeli Military Advocate General, he said, “doesn’t accomplish anything except [to allow Israeli] officials to create an illusion that there is a democratic, just system in place.”

Yesh Din, along with Adalah, another human rights legal organization based in Israel, expressed criticisms of IDF investigatory mechanisms that are nearly identical to those put forward by B’Tselem. But both organizations told +972 they will continue to file complaints with Israeli authorities, each citing their obligations to seek legal redress on behalf of Palestinian victims.

“[Although] the inherently flawed structures of Israel’s mechanisms make it nearly impossible to obtain criminal investigations, prosecutions, and punishment of perpetrators of serious violations of international law,” explained Nadeem Shehadeh, an attorney in the civil and political rights unit at Adalah, his organization will continue to file legal interventions with Israeli authorities in order to seek individual redress, exhaust all domestic remedies, and to establish and maintain formal documentation for purposes of local and international advocacy.

B’Tselem, however, is not shutting its doors anytime soon. The human rights clearinghouse, best known for distributing video cameras to Palestinians in the West Bank and publishing the video documentation of Israeli crimes and rights violations they capture, will continue carrying out those investigatory and advocacy activities. The organization’s main emphasis, however, will shift away from legal work and move toward the loftier political goal of ending the occupation itself.

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Resource: The myriad failings of Israeli military investigations http://972mag.com/resource-the-myriad-failings-of-israeli-military-investigations/119573/ http://972mag.com/resource-the-myriad-failings-of-israeli-military-investigations/119573/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 00:14:00 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119573 After 25 years of assisting Palestinian victims of Israeli military violence file complaints with the IDF’s investigative bodies, human rights group B’Tselem decides to stop cooperating with the army’s investigations. ‘The experience we have gained, on which we base the conclusions presented in this report, has brought us to the realization that there is no longer any point in pursuing justice and defending human rights by working with a system whose real function is measured by its ability to continue to successfully cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators.’

Read more here about how and why B’Tselem’s decided to stop referring complaints to the Israeli military law enforcement.

B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories was established in 1989 by a group of prominent academics, attorneys, journalists, and Knesset members. It endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human rights culture in Israel.

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What we left behind in Egypt: Mizrahi thoughts on Israel http://972mag.com/what-we-left-behind-in-egypt-mizrahi-thoughts-on-israel/119490/ http://972mag.com/what-we-left-behind-in-egypt-mizrahi-thoughts-on-israel/119490/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 13:29:18 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=119490 Even when they had reached the borders of the Promised Land, after 40 years in the desert, all the Children of Israel wanted was to go back to Egypt. In Erez Biton’s poem, the immigrant from Algeria and his son fail to build a home in Israel. Independence Day is also the tale of the rift in our identity, created by immigrating here.

By Mati Shemoelof

Footprints in the sand in the Sinai desert. (Dudarev Mikhail / Shutterstock.com)

Footprints in the sand in the Sinai desert. (Dudarev Mikhail / Shutterstock.com)

“And the children of Israel said unto them: ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” [Exodus 16:3]

“…And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron; and the whole congregation said unto them: ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would we had died in this wilderness!;

And wherefore doth the LORD bring us unto this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey; were it not better for us to return into Egypt?’;
And they said one to another: ‘Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.’” [Numbers Chapter 14 2-4]

Before we discuss the Mizrahi present in Israel, let us examine the trauma as it is reflected in the desire of the Israelites to return to Egypt and postpone the narrative of redemption in the Promised Land. Looking back at this theological question is important for a psychological understanding of the modern perception of identity, and the impossibility of achieving inner autonomy within Zionism and its holidays and Independence Day in particular.


At the beginning of the Israelites’ journey, and at the end of it after 40 years, the Israelites ask to return to Egypt. Both requests are impossible, as Egypt is already impossible. They are in a never-where, in the desert, which is neither the Promised Land nor Egypt. But in both cases they do not speak to God or to Moses and Aaron, and if they do, all they ask for is life and death in the land of Egypt, which still seems like a safe place to them. How could Egypt be a safe place for them, after having left it with such sturm und drang? How could they ask to return to Egypt, having drowned Pharaoh and his army in the Sea of Reeds? And how dare they ask to return to Egypt, a moment after the Song of the Sea, and all the miracles the Lord has performed for them?

It can be understood when they are still Egyptian slaves at heart, and so the moment there is hunger, and they are in the desert, they are afraid and want to go back. But after 40 years, during which they have received the Ten Commandments, Moses as a prophet and Aaron as his right-hand man, received the greatest technology there is, acquired monotheism, which no nation around them had. And with all these wonders, they still want to go back to Egypt. How does this happen?

Yearning for the cut-off hand

I wish to argue that Egypt in this context is not the Egypt of an enemy. Egypt is their identity. Egypt is their mother tongue. Egypt is the first memory. Egypt is the frame of reference, the context in which they live. When they say that they want to return to Egypt, it is like saying that they wish to return to their mother, to the womb. They are Egyptian slaves who following the awakening of a new identity have been thrown on a journey.

And they reject the terms of the journey. This is perhaps the context in which we may understand the golden calf. At Mount Sinai of all places, a moment before the theophany, they are Egyptians, and as such they speak with Egypt, even if at present Egypt is the land of the enemy, is the perfect other, is the one that wanted to put them to hard labor, to annihilate them.

Thus, a moment before entering the Promised Land, after 40 years, and also a moment after the escape, they discover Egypt as a place of love, a place where they’d rather die than live hungry in the desert, or fighting wars in the Promised Land against large nations, and huge kings such as Ogg King of Bashan, and the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Hivites and the other local peoples. They want Egypt, even though Egypt is impossible. They hold a dialogue with Egypt, and we may re-read Pharaoh’s reluctance to give them up also as Pharaoh’s reluctance to give up the Jewish-Arab aspect of his Hebrew-Egyptian subject. Suddenly the Israelites’ hyphenated identity, as Hebrew-Egyptians, and the Egyptian identity of Moses, as the grandson of the previous Pharaoh, and as a leader opposed to the current Pharaoh – all these do not seem so far fetched.

The Israelites’ cry is to bring Egyptian-ness into their world. In the crisis of hunger and threat of war, of all moments, they go back to speaking with Egypt, in Egyptian, and give up the spiritual guidance of their prophet, who comes from a different class, and is already speaking with God face to face. This is a class-based rejection, directed at an elite that no longer understands their daily life problems.

They wish to replace Moses and Aaron, to effect a revolution. They wish to die with full bellies sitting on the fleshpots of Egypt. In both cases, the first and the last, they reject the Lord’s leadership, despite all the wonders and the miracles, all the parting of the sea, Mount Sinai, water from the rock, manna from heaven, the pillar of cloud going before the camp, the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant and other super-natural moments.

Their call to return is almost childish, infantile, but could be considered as a desire to unite aspects of their identity that are irreconcilable in modern Jewish thought. Their wish to be Egypt is a wish to be with the dead parent, with the hand that was cut off. But in today’s thought there is no way to heal the trauma and to make peace with it. Especially not on Independence Day, because of its absence in the public sphere, within all the exclusion from the culture in general in Israel.

“Scaffolding,” By Erez Bitton (translated by Tsipi Keller)

On the threshold of half a house in the Land of Israel
my father stood
pointing to the sides and saying:
Upon these ruins
one day we will build a kitchen
to cook in it a Leviathan’s tail
and a wild bull,
upon these ruins
we will build a corner for prayer
to make room
for a bit of holiness.
My father remained on the threshold
and I, my entire life,
have been erecting scaffolding
reaching up to the sky.

Erez Biton in his poetry does not deny the darkness, the night and gloom – the trauma – entailed in immigration. He has no moment of redemption, he does not come to Independence Day with flag in hand. On the contrary. The father holds on to hope, as he moves from Algeria to Israel. But the father does not enter the Promised Land and has not a shred of Zionism’s redemptionist concept of itself, as celebrated on Independence Day. Biton’s father remains on the threshold. Belief in the Messiah will yet awaken, the father promises, with the Leviathan’s tail and the wild bull. He will yet build.

Erez Biton (Screenshot, Social TV)

Erez Biton (Screenshot, Social TV)

It is he, with the faith, who believes he will yet enter the Promised Land, but fails to do so. There is no kitchen, no temple. The son is busy with just erecting scaffolding to the sky. What does erecting scaffolds to the sky mean? Is it asking God to make his promise come true? You build the scaffolds, He’ll build the rest. Is it defiance? Like the Tower of Babylon? This is the internal Mizrahi state, which is hard to understand. Even if we wave the flag, that doesn’t mean the psychic trauma has been healed.

The father comes to half a house, to ruins. We know that Erez Biton grew up in Lod. Does he mean the ruins of the Palestinian city of Lod, or does he mean metaphorically, the ruin into which the Arab-Jews are thrown under the Ashkenazi-Zionist regime?

When we connect Biton’s poem to the theological part with which I began, we may see the perception of the impossible part of identity, which one wishes to unite. Therefore we see the dialogue between the father and the son: the father leaves behind hope, but remains outside. What does remaining outside mean? Can we compare this to the Israelites who remained outside of Egypt? Even stayed in Egypt at heart, despite arriving at the threshold of the Land of Israel, unable to enter the Promised Land? The Promised Land is the Independence Day celebration. As if the sovereign status of the State of Israel can cure the psychological problem of Mizrahim in Israel.

Did Moses die in the desert because he sinned, or because he was an Egyptian through and through, who could not have entered the Promised Land? This threshold is precisely the point of immigration, a point between here and there, between there and here. A point at which it is impossible to enter a culture that does not accept or contain the different parts of your identity. It leaves those parts outside, and so you remain outside as well. The father in Biton’s poem is full of hope that he might be able to go in, with a kitchen and a temple, in half a house, in the ruins; but the son discovers the truth, that the father’s promise has remained as scaffolding to the sky, remained outside.

Is Erez Biton’s “Scaffolding” the desire to build a Jewish-Arab culture within a state that has set it as its purpose to erase the Arab parts in its inhabitants identity? Do we think that with bestowing the Israel Prize the process of accepting Erez Biton and the Jewish-Arab poetry has been completed? Even if so, the trauma still stands, with the son looking at the father, and the grandson looking at his father, who is still looking at the grandfather, who still remains outside. The memory of exclusion passes as a collective viewpoint, a lamentation of parts excluded, leaving entire communities outside.

Mati Shemoelof is a poet, editor and author who lives in Berlin. Join him on his FB page, website. And Twitter. This essay was originally part of a sermon delivered in Fraenkelufer Synagogue

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