Appreciate this article? +972 depends on your support -- click here to help us keep going

Analysis News

Michael Sfard: Is Israel on the high road to fascism?

Will the anti-democratic legislation underway in Israel soon make progressive advocacy redundant? Is it an exaggeration to say Israel is on the high road to fascism? And what can the Left do to reverse the process? An interview with Israel’s pre-eminent human rights lawyer, Michael Sfard. 

A courtroom in the Israeli Supreme Court (photo: Josh Yellin/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It’s no longer a secret to anyone Israel is facing a rising tide of anti-democratic legislation – from new restrictions on free speech to the chipping away at the separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary. Earlier this month I took a broad look at these trends in a piece published two weeks back on the New York Review of Books website, titled “The Knesset vs Democracy.” Because the premise was so broad, only a handful of quotes from the interviews conducted for the piece made it into the final text, which is a pity, as my interviewees had stark and startling analysis to offer. With the NYRB’s kind permission I’ll be publishing the full transcripts here over the coming weeks, beginning with this interview with Michael Sfard – probably Israel’s most prominent human rights lawyer.

 

Can you imagine the constitutional situation becoming so dire NGOs stop petitioning the Supreme Court? 

You’re going into murky waters here, but I want to make clear it’s not an option that isn’t being discussed. I wrote about it in 2004, in an article called “The human rights lawyers’ existential dilemma.” When you’re faced with a system that’s systematically violating human rights, on a huge scope, is it right or wrong to sustain internal, as opposed to external, resistance? Because when you resist from within, you legitimise the system. There are many prices that you pay. And it’s a very, very difficult question. The Supreme Court today is making a horrible, horrible mistake by rendering petitions by or on behalf of Palestinians less and less worthy of the effort. Really, even in simple terms of supply and demand. For years, the success rate of Palestinians approaching the Supreme Court has been absolutely appalling. There hasn’t been a single instrument the army wanted to use against the Palestinian that the Court failed to approve. However, the Court did provide – through informal pressure, through comments in the rulings and the hearings, what they call “in the shadow of the court” – some highly localised achievements for the Palestinians, as well as a handful of rulings that were later translated into English and seriously exploited for PR. And this constituted the oxygen that allowed this machine to work and made the Palestinians to remain willing to appeal.

Today, the Court is creating a situation that’s a lot less attractive for Palestinians. It sends a chill wind in the direction of everything concerning the human rights of Palestinians. It’s not happening all in one go, it’s a process. The latest ruling, on families, is practically a death blow. It prompted quite a few debates even among Palestinians on whether it’s right to go on petitioning the Supreme Court. And then we’ll see whether there’s a particular Palestinian individual who will still say that for even one percent chance of a success he has nothing to lose by going to the Supreme Court; or, the general feeling of collaborating with the occupant’s system will grow and grow. Because at the end of the day attorneys dealing directly with human rights, like myself, would find it very difficult to tell an individual Palestinian who wants to petition the court not to do that “for the greater good.” Because this is what we’d need to say to him: We won’t exhaust the one-percent chance you’ll get to reunite with your partner, because the Palestinian struggle for freedom will suffer for it. This is a legitimate statement, politically speaking, but it is not a legitimate position for a human rights lawyer to take, because this lawyer is supposed to always prefer the benefit of the individual person over some highly abstract political greater good. But this question is being constantly debated – both by human rights organisation and by individual lawyers who deal with such cases, and by the Palestinians. And I can tell you that there are cases that I’ve taken to court that I would take up today.

For instance? 

I wouldn’t take up any principal cases, cases that don’t focus on the benefit of a particular individual. I’ve taken up such cases before, and I wouldn’t today, because in my estimate, the harm in taking them up will be greater than the good. When it’s about an individual, I don’t feel I have the privilege to refuse. Can I imagine a situation in which I would refuse to approach the court altogether? Well. If, say, a bill is passed saying that only IDF veterans can serve in the Supreme Court. I’ve brought this up as a hypothetical scenario with my colleagues, when we discussed the appointment of conservative judge and settler Noam Solberg to the Supreme Court. Here we have a situation in which one of the justices is a settler, which, to me, makes the Supreme Court less legitimate an institution. If it becomes an institution in which only Jews may sit, it will make it an illegitimate institution, period.

Solberg’s appointment is an interesting case in point, because it raises the question – where do you actually draw the red line? Why is the appointment of a settler such a big deal when the Justice Ministry itself constitutes a settlement by virtue of residing in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah?

Sometimes you need artificial red lines, lines that you draw yourself. Coming back to the frog in the cooking pot – that frog has to set itself a deadline. To say, when the water boil to forty degrees Celsius, we need to reconsider. Why forty and not thirty-nine or forty-one? Simply because you need to reevaluate your situation at some point. And you also need to decide, way in advance, what is the temperature at which you jump out and run for it. So I can tell you with absolute certainty that a court in which, by definition, only Jews may serve as justices, is an illegitimate court. Unequivocally illegitimate. But then what if you have a person who has a chance, via that illegitimate court, to obtain the rescinding of an order to uproot the orchard that sustains him, do we go to that court or do we not? Or if he can go to that illegitimate court and persuade it to let him leave the Gaza Strip and undergo a life-saving operation: Do we go to the court or do we not?

And then there’s also the issue that every ruling in favour of human rights group instantly becomes ammunition for politicians who want to curb the powers of the court. 

That’s right – and don’t forget also that when you go to court you have to use a very particular language. I for instance had to insist to use the term “assassinations” rather than the official “targeted subversions”. To call the wall a “separation wall” rather than “security fence.” But then, in all honesty, this creates antagonism. If, tactically speaking, I want to win the sympathy of the justices, I can’t tell them, like I did in the permits system case, that this is apartheid. But there are things you simply have to do because you realise that otherwise you really do become complicit.

Looking at the bigger picture, how would you describe the transformation Israeli democracy is going through?

The attempts to define the Israeli regime in the past few decades have made use of many terms that will be familiar to your readers – an occupying regime, colonialism, imperialism, ethnocracy, and so on. Each of these has a role, even if none on its own paint the whole picture. But I think too little attention has been paid to fascization. And this is the process that we see. I don’t think you can presently describe the Israeli government as fascist – absolutely not. We can, however, see vectors that contain clearly fascist elements. Now, it’s an Israeli genre of fascism, not your classical European one. What makes this trend worthy of being described as fascism are the extreme nationalism that sees the People and the Nation as something metaphysical, organic, alive; and the rejection of liberal values that are seen as being detrimental to this nationalist zeitgeist. Israel has always been a very nationalist country – Zionism is, after all, a nationalist movement.But at least until today there was the aspiration and the pretence – pretence is important, even if it’s only pretence – that this can walk hand in hand with liberal values, especially where Jews are concerned. So we had this quaint mix – very strong nationalism hand in hand with freedom of speech, which was one of our strongest values, and as a lawyer who deals with this issue quite a lot, I can tell you that many Western countries could be proud of the way freedom of speech has been enshrined here in Israel. And these values are currently being taken apart.

The trends have always been there, but the point at which I think they really came into the open was Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report and the “realisation” on part of the Israeli public that our “enemies” have “allies” from within. And this really let all the demons loose and cracked the apparently all-too-thin surface of liberal values – even when applied to Jews.

It’s not that there haven’t been clampdowns on freedom of speech before. It’s not that there haven’t been attacks on liberal values. But now we are suddenly seeing it happen systematically, in legislation – not something abrupt like shutting down a particular newspaper. You have the Nakba Law, the Boycott Law – fully fledged assaults on freedom of speech, and not on any particular instances of freedom of speech, but on entire genres. This is a whole other story – it’s different even from someone saying or doing something and being prosecuted for it, like the Kamm-Blau affair. And looking at it altogether, the only term I find useful for understanding all of this is fascism. And I’m happy to admit I’ve been searching for a different name, because I felt it was all too convenient. But the more I think about it, the more it appears to line up.

And it’s  not that there’s much support for civil society among the public, either. People won’t go onto barricades if the government actually clamps down on progressive NGOs. 

I’m not sure you’re right, but it really is difficult to guess where is the actual red line might be. The metaphor most apt, I think, is that of the proverbial frog being cooked slowly and not necessarily knowing when to jump out of the pot. This is why the idea of attacking not the NGOs themselves but their sources of income is so sophisticated. To slowly starve them out without confronting what they actually do or outlawing their positions. I don’t think we’re far gone enough just yet, however. I do believe people will come out into the streets if B’tselem was to be abruptly banned. After all, considerably weaker moves, like the attempt to set up parliamentary inquiry commissions, do provoke very strong emotions. But what we have here is more than a political struggle; it is a culture war. We are fighting over the very character of the state, the regime that controls it and how this regime interacts with the civil society. And while one side of this struggle has reared its head and took the lead, it doesn’t mean it has taken  over yet. They [the conservative legislators - DR] still discover on occasion that they’ve aimed too high. There’s a kind of a tussle of trial and error there.  But the general direction is downward, no question about it. The fact that we have twenty monstrous bills and only ten of them pass into law, still leaves us with ten new monstrous laws.

Having said that, while we are sliding in a very negative direction, it’s not yet free-fall. What I often tell the folks at my office when they get depressed is that even if we are standing on the breaks and the car is still sliding towards the precipice, it doesn’t mean we can take our foot off the breaks.  It also doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter whether we continue hitting the breaks or not – of course it matters. The speed of the slide, after all, also matters. So the struggle is still on. We might be retreating, but it’s not yet a rout. There is opposition here yet.

Is there anything that can reverse the process? 

First of all, you have the wildcard – a war, some other kind of a disaster, would change everything. In the less-then-apocalyptic scenario, we should remember that we keep tightening the noose around ourselves as far as international isolation is concerned. I don’t accept the argument that this doesn’t matter. I don’t know at what point the isolation will grow bad enough for Israelis to say, alright, that’s too much, let’s toe the line that the international community draws. Now, it’s true that when you apply pressure, the first reaction that you get is resistance. At some point, though, this spring will begin to slack. I don’t know when and I certainly wouldn’t like that to have to be the way to make things right here. The world at large has an understandably complex relationship with Israel, and that makes it more difficult to apply pressure to us than to other countries. And even so, if you take a look at the past five years, you see a very clear change in how Europeans and Americans approach us. It hasn’t borne much fruit yet, but that doesn’t mean it never will.

A third scenario for change, and I wish I could see it happening, is a different kind of leadership appearing here. It’s hard for me to say how and when it can appear, but then again, who could possibly have foretold 400,000 people coming out into the streets over social justice? And who could have guessed this massive wave will simply sip away and leave us with nothing? Is it impossible then that 400,000 come out into the streets again over something different? I can’t tell. But there’s no doubt that leadership is something we very seriously lack.

Do you think all these negative trends will prompt American Jews to take some sort of action? And what if it does? After all, the States’ interest in Israel is not merely cultural – it’s also military… 

I find American politics on Israel very complicated. I’ve been trying to understand it for years – both in the macro and in terms of the Jewish community, AIPAC, J-Street. I think I understand it better than the average  Israeli but I still find it difficult to understand just how it works. I can tell you that although this may be naive, American elections are a cardinal event, not just domestically but also in terms of the relationship with Israel. Because despite the fact Obama’s administration didn’t manage to push Israel or lead Israel in a more desirable direction, there is still the feeling that this alliance based, at least rhetorically, on common values, is cracking up, not least because of the loss or change of values here in Israel. We had Hillary Clinton’s comments at the Saban forum, for instance, and comments from high up in the military that we are becoming a burden for the United States. And then the thing that keeps it together is the power of AIPAC. Which, I think, can only last for so much. Because if the American administration maintains, over time, that Israel’s values are changing to something very distant from the fundamental values to which the United States themselves lay claim, that Israel is becoming a security burden, AIPAC will not be able to keep it going for very long. Internal political interests, the courting for Jewish votes and Jewish donors will no longer be enough. Which is why the question of whether Obama gets reelected is so important. Republicans, obviously, have a very different view on this – significant parts of the American society are undergoing a change similar or parallel to Israel’s. So will the value gap change anything? It may, but right now I don’t have enough information to tell you if it will.

So what do you do for now- just keep hitting the breaks? 

First of all, yes, you do not take your foot off the breaks. Second, I believe there’s a historical duty on our part to share with the world what is going on here – it’s not an internal, private Israeli matter. So long as there’s the Occupation, and even when it’s gone, what’s happening here is anything but our own private matter. And third, since I diagnose our disease as symptomatic of fascism, I think the situation calls on us to set up an anti-Fascist League. Such a league is an excellent endeavour to attempt because it can bring forces that will not come together under any other circumstances. I can clearly see parts of the Israeli public that cannot cooperate in almost any situation, but can join hands against this legislation. So for instance the fact that you had (Kadima) MK Meir Sheetrit speak at the protest against the non-profits law shows me that even if only subconsciously, people still sense this thing that I’m trying to name. It’s not happening yet but it has to happen, as it happened whenever fascism actually took power – and it’s yet to take full power here. I don’t think it will happen soon and in one fell swoop; we won’t have someone crank up the heat suddenly to 100 degrees. But, I think we are slowly being cooked, just like that frog in the pot.

 

For additional original analysis and breaking news, visit +972 Magazine's Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our newsletter features a comprehensive round-up of the week's events. Sign up here.

View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • COMMENTS

    1. jacque

      Israel is a ‘nationalist’ country? YES!
      and it SHOULD BE !!!
      otherwise if Israel keeps letting flow of sudanese and “foreign “workers”, it will become the most dangerous situation for Israel’s existence.
      Majority of Israelis are waiting and hoping for another, a Real Zionist leadership, not from the left and not from the right. But from the Patriotic Zionists, from the real zionists. From the kind of Menachem Begin.
      Shalom Achshav and all leftist organizations has become 5th Column of Israel.
      “transformation” of Israel democracy ?
      well, democracy in 21st century is not the same democracy of 20th century. It’s an anarchy.
      We see how this “democracy” has ruined the economies of greece, spain.. there are thousands of examples.
      So far, our democracy in a better shape than your imagination, mr.sfard

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bill Pearlman

      Correct me if I’m wrong but other then kach has there ever been a political party that was outlawed in Israel. Hell you have Tibi in the knesset. Arafats butt buddy. And what would an article like this be without mention of aipac exercising its mysterious “jew power”

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      So the Zionist yearning for leadership turns to a war criminal. Fascism is already present.

      .
      What I find interesting is that these repressive acts aren’t taking place in the midst of the intifada but in a period where Israel increasingly faces less and less violence, where its enemy is increasingly democracy, freedom and rights rather than bombs.

      Reply to Comment
    4. P. Ami

      It’s one thing to ask the question, is Israel on the high road to fascism. One needs to ask such questions. It is the using of the examples that Michael Sfard endorses, that makes the asking of the question farcical.

      One example used by Mr. Sfard, the “shutting down” of Nabka celebrations. The government of Israel has not made it illegal to march and protest the existence of Israel and to portray it’s existence as a catastrophe. What the Knesset has done, is to withdraw government funding of these celebrations. This is not fascist. Let us see how the US would react to the KKK organizing a march to celebrate the Confederacy and mourn the loss of the civil war and then see how Americans feel about tax dollars funding these marches.

      Let us also talk about foreign funding of NGOs. Nothing in the bills keeps these NGOs from functioning in Israel and Mr. Sfar admits as much. He claims that the ingeniousness of Israel’s policy is that it chokes off the funding of of the NGOs without making them officially illegal. The only element that makes the funding of these NGOs lose their funding is if foreign states fund them and these NGOs are politically active. This policy is viewed as from the position that when foreign bodies, such as the EU, or various states (including states that do not recognize the State of Israel, such as Qatar) are funding NGOs that are involved in the inner political workings of Israel, and manipulating the politics of Israel. The US does not permit such meddling in their internal politics (remember that AIPAC is funded only by Americans, not by Israel). It is disingenuous for Mr. Sfard to so unevenly address the arguments for and against his own personal interests and to go so far as to misrepresent these activities as leaning towards fascism is a deliberate work of vilification.

      While nationalism is a facet of fascism the nationalist form of collectivism is carried in many other political ideologies and is so ubiquitous as to make nationalism, as a component of fascism, almost meaningless. The disregard of the weak, which is a major component of fascism, is not at all a characteristic of the Israeli collective. The nationalization of industry is actually being undone by the more right-wing of the Israeli political spectrum. There are a number of political parties in Israel and this is certainly not a feature of fascism. The numbers of newspapers, radio and news stations produced in Israel is of a wide spectrum and this does not count the fact that Israel is completely open to news from all over the world. This is very clearly not a feature of fascism. Israel makes plain the security concerns that lends itself to the situation in the West Bank. Gaza proves, with every missil it fires, the wisdom of Israel’s position on the West Bank. Mr. Sfard’s insistence in calling the Security Wall a separation barrier willfully ignores the near 100% decrease in terror attacks from the West Bank into Israel since the wall was completed. In other words he ignores the security the wall has so clearly provided in favor of the separation feature which he believes is not doing it’s job well enough in that it allows “settlers” access to those territories.

      One point after another made by Mr. Sfard point to his bias, and it is this bias which enjoys painting his Western Liberal opponents to be leaning towards fascism, when instead they are seeking political independence from foreign meddling, diverse opinions in the Supreme Court rather then a homogenous one (homogeny of idea being a strong feature of fascism), and the withdrawal of funding by Israel of events that mourn the existence of Israel. Israel simply says, let these NGOs find funding here in Israel among the people whose politics they wish to manipulate. Let the Nabka protesters march, but do it on the dime of those who are marching. Let all Israelis have a voice in Israeli justice, Arabs, Jews and even those who do not favor the creation of a second Palestinian State. This diversity and protection of it’s citizens is democracy, not fascism.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Noam W.

      Bill Pearlman – yes – The Progressive Party for Peace, a mixed Jewish Palestinian party, headed by Mati Peled was disqualified twice. I think there a few (no more than a handful) others – but I am not sure.
      .
      But the Progressive Party for Peace was definitely disqualified.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Noam W.

      Admitting an error at the risk of sounding stupid is better than not admitting a mistake.

      That party was disqualified by the election committee, but the committee’s decision was overturned by the Supreme Court.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Noam W.

      Last on this – in 1965 a socialist list was disqualified and prevented from running.

      Reply to Comment
    8. The July 9, 2004, ICJ advisory opinion tells us: ”
      100. The Court would note finally that the Supreme Court of Israel, in a judgment dated
      30 May 2004, also found that:

      “The military operations of the [Israeli Defence Forces] in Rafah, to the extent
      they affect civilians, are governed by Hague Convention IV Respecting the Laws and
      Customs of War on Land 1907 . . . and the Geneva Convention Relative to the
      Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War 1949.”

      I judge from this that it would (if consistent) rule the same for any of Gaza or the West Bank and even more for the Golan. => Geneva Convention Applies.

      This does not mean that the ISC would agree with the UNSC and ICJ that the settlements and settlers are present illegally. Perhaps someone can contrive to ask the ISC and especially its new, settler, judge.

      I’d like to hear more about this, perhaps from Mr. Sfard.

      Reply to Comment
    9. sh

      @P. Ami – “the withdrawal of funding by Israel of events that mourn the existence of Israel”
      .
      As I understand it Nakba events mourn the dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians by Israel rather than the existence of Israel. The result of this legislation boils down to dispossessed citizens not being allowed to educate their new generations about their own history in their own schools and more or less puts them in the position of crypto-Jews in post-Inquisition Portugal.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Kubrikon

      SH, of course the Nakba mourns the creation of Israel. Whether it mourns its continued existence is somewhat a matter of interpretation. In either case, the withdrawal of public funds by the state whose creation is being mourned for such an event seems reasonable.

      Really? The position of crypto-Jews in Portugal? Someone is forcing them to convert to a different religion with the threat of burning them at the stake if they lapse?

      Reply to Comment
    11. Bill Pearlman

      I also love the “Warsaw ghetto was a picnic compared to gaza” analogy that they’re so fond of

      Reply to Comment
    12. Beholder

      Author is certainly right – to some extent, not everyone in Israel supports such tendencies.

      However the solution lies not within Israel, but it is our (beloved) neighbors who has the burden of responsibility for such unfortunate turn of events.

      The roots of the problem IMHO lies in fact that Jewish population was constantly brutalized, terrorized, murdered, raped and subjected to multiple genocides since 66 A.D. until July 6, 1938 – first terrorist attack by Irgun, after which Jews got more or less even.
      However Jews weren’t the first to start this round, and certainly are not the first to finish.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Leen

      Didn’t Marek Edelman say that the cause of the Warsaw ghetto uprising now belonged to the Palestinians?

      And the Nakba mourns the expulsion and dispossession of 80% of the Palestinian population, most were farmers who were not politically involved, after several massacres conducted on defenceless villages. Believe me, if the state of Israel was built without expulsion and dispossession, on a land without a people… There wouldn’t be a Nakba.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Beholder

      >Believe me, if the state of Israel was built without expulsion and dispossession, on a land without a people… There wouldn’t be a Nakba.
      _
      And was only possible is IF muslim population was willing to peacefully live side by side with Jews…
      A bit too many IF’s…

      Reply to Comment
    15. Leen

      @Beholder, This issue isn’t a religious conflict, so please stop bringing in religion. I’m sorry you have a lot of paranoia, but this has nothing to do with ‘Islam’ or ‘Judaism’. Jews always existed in the holy land but Zionism has only been around for 150 years. So please stop the BS.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Jack

      Beholder,
      The problem was the idea of a jewish homeland on top of another people. If you look back, jews and muslims lived pretty good before the entrance of zionism in Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Beholder

      @Leen – Well, it IS religious conflict, as well as territorial – it is Holy Land after all and it has everything to do with Islam and Judaism.
      _
      Yes, Jews always existed in the holy land, while being constantly oppressed.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_in_Israel

      >The problem was the idea of a jewish homeland on top of another people. If you look back, jews and muslims lived pretty good before the entrance of zionism in Palestine.

      _Before Zionizm Judea (I prefer this older Roman toponym to a newer one) was under Brits – and were subjected to massacres, before that under Ottomans – and there were massacres too
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_in_Israel
      _
      Obviously, local population never liked Jews – for numerous reasons, including religious, so speaking of “pretty good” living takes an uneducated or indecent person.

      Reply to Comment
    18. ya3cov

      Bill, I guess you didn’t get the memo, pinkwashing is Israel’s new propaganda game. don’t ruin it by being vocally homophobic!!!

      Reply to Comment
    19. Jack

      Beholder,
      Now there was no systematic massacres before the entrance of zionism, check the pre time 1900 before the flooding began.

      Reply to Comment
    20. sh

      @KUBRIKON – “The position of crypto-Jews in Portugal? Someone is forcing them to convert to a different religion with the threat of burning them at the stake if they lapse?”
      Looks like you’re another one who can’t read. Or are you the same person using a different handle? Copy/paste from my post: “more or less puts them in the position of crypto-Jews in post-Inquisition Portugal”. Do I need to underline post-Inquisition, put it in upper case or what?
      .
      Maybe you didn’t know that the crypto-Jews continued to celebrate Shabat and the festivals in secret, Pessah being a particularly difficult one, long after the end of the Inquisition. Google Jews in conjunction with Belmonte, Tras os Montes, Les Derniers Marranes (very good French TV reportage on them), Artur Carlos Barros Basto… Fascinating stuff.

      Reply to Comment
    21. jacque

      Beholder, thank you for posting the list of Massacres of Jews from roman times up to modern times incl. all the massacres by so called “palestinians”. I didn’t know this type of list exists.

      Now, the future NEW RealZionist leader of Israel should stop ALL talks with “palestinians” about peeeece.
      Because Israel for over 60 years was ready to talk peeeece with arab countries. Only 2 of them accepted the deal.
      “palestinians” are not people.
      “palestinians” are not a state, not a country.
      The whole story is a total fabrication of history of the middle east.
      Israel does need some kind of FASCISM in order to survive the damage that was done to the state by leftist governments.

      The damages are many. The main one is almost 500,000 “foreign” “workers”, that have no intentions of leaving.
      If the government doesn’t care, then Israelis will have no choice but to make them leave.
      Yes, fascism tools will help with this operation.
      Israel needs to have some elements of fascism in order to be more agressive towards those who hate it, and in order to survive.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Leen

      Newsflash Beholder, the Jews during the Roman times are modern day Palestinians (I can’t keep stressing enough that many and I do mean many Palestinians have Jewish ancestors and geneologically linked to the Israelite tribes). This is because when the Muslims from Arabia came, they entered the Holy land and conquered it, and mixed with the locals. There was never a mass immigration from Arabia to the Levant, most of the population however mixed with some of the Muslims from Arabia, their culture became more arabized, and most converted into Islam (from Christian and Jews). As a result the modern day Palestinian has Jewish ancestors.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Beholder

      @Leen – SOME of modern-day Palestinians are descendants of Roman-era Jews.
      However they have lost their faith, thus stop being Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Leen

      Beholder, nope many. However are we talking about being Jewish as an ethnicity or a religion? Because if it is the former, then that means the Palestinians are included in the mix. If it’s the later, in the context of your list of massacres than once more it is included.

      Also preference based on religion…… well… the Crusades did it and that was a terrible exclusionary practice. We’re in the 21st century now.

      Reply to Comment
    25. XYZ

      Leen-
      Actually, it is the Muslims who have practiced “religious preference” leading to discrimination against all non-Muslim groups, by way of their dhimmi laws and jizya taxes which were only abolished in the Ottoman Empire in the middle of the 19th century.
      Interestingly enough, Amin Ma’aloufs excellent book (he is Lebanese) “The Crusades in Arab Eyes” points out that a Muslim ambassador sent by one of the sultans in a Muslim state neighboring the Crusader kingdom said the Muslim peasants living under Crusader rule had more rights and a better life than did the peasants living under Muslim rule! (If you want, I will get the exact place in Ma’alouf’s book this is quoted).

      Reply to Comment
    26. aristeides

      Nothing like an honest racist/fascist!

      Reply to Comment
    27. Leen

      Contextualizing the religious preference, the Muslims had a much more humane system than the Crusaders ever had (remember we are talking about a 1000-1500 years ago). Both Christians and Jews were allowed to practice their religious beliefs, had access to the holy sites, and some christians actually preferred to be under Muslim rule rather than be persecuted by the Byzantines and the Romans because of differing sects. As for the Jizyeh, Muslims also had to pay taxes, and there were many exemptions put in place (women, children, holy men, sick and the poor were exempted).
      Compare that to what was going on back in the day… where christians of differing sect (one only needs to look at the Europe riddled with bloodthirsty wars), it was more humane.

      However, now we are in 21st century and religious preference is outdated, this includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel’s label as a Jewish state in religious terms. IF we are going by ethnicity, it falls in an entire different category. (the reason why I brought the religious debate is due to Beholder hinting that the ‘Jewish state’ is based on religious exclusionary practices).

      Reply to Comment
    28. Leen

      And you can post the quote you want, but remember, one academic source does not equal fact if the majority say otherwise.

      Reply to Comment
    29. XYZ

      I don’t think we need to go into yet another round about how Jews (and Christians) were treated by Muslims. There was a lot of discrimination, there was a lot of oppression, there were also tolerant sultans and good times, but they never lasted. The jizya tax was onerous, I read some academic papers about it and someone who hadn’t paid it could be killed or sold into slavery. It was European pressure that forced the Ottoman regime to abolish it.
      I just read today that the Coptic Christians withdrew from the new Egyptian Constitutional Committee, feeling that it is a stacked deck with the Muslim Brotherhood and Noor-Salafists controlling it and not being interested in a consensus body, so even today, we see dhimmis are afraid they aren’t going to get a fair deal.
      Finally, everyone points out that the Crusaders were people who came from far away to conquer another land out of some sort of religious fervor. When Pope John II visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem he was harangued by the Muslim sheikh there, demanding an apology for the Crusades. Well, what was the Muslim conquest of the country in the 7th century? What about all of Muhammed’s conquests? What’s different about them? How come the Muslim sheikh thinks they are okay but not the Crusades?

      Reply to Comment
    30. Jack

      XYZ,
      I think we should go through another round since you obviously base your arguments on the Breivik manifest. You should compare how jews were treated by muslims visavi christians. Now see how muslims are treated by Israel.
      -
      Why is Jizya a problem (I know islamophobes always bring this up)? Why shouldnt non muslims be paying taxes?

      Reply to Comment
    31. Leen

      People think that the Jizya was arbitrarily done just for fun but it was to ensure that the government would protect you. BTW, you also need to specify which Jizya we are talking about because I am talking about 7th century and not the Ottomans. The Ottomans were obsessed with being Muslims from European descent. Arabs were also suppressed, and so were the Turks actually, hence they there was a revolution against the Ottoman empire.
      And like I said, Muslims also paid taxes.
      Why do you insist on using the word ‘dhimmis’ btw? And yes I for one detest the way Egypt is turning out, but that does not excuse Israel’s religious exclusionary practices.

      The Muslim conquest (during the 7th century) is actually a lot more complex than that. Firstly there has been a war between the Byzantine Empire and the Rashidun Caliphate, and although I am not a huge fan of Omar bin Khattab, nevertheless you are aware that after the conquest Jews were allowed to practice their religion freely? Same for the Christians whose sects were not that of the Byzantine sects (Christians that had a more Roman influence, I completely forget the correct terms though).
      By the way, the Byzantine Empire was also a foreign empire.

      Reply to Comment
    32. Leen

      This discussion is interesting thought because throughout the whole conquest of empires, the inhabitant population ended up mixing with various groups including Byzantine Christians, Muslims from Arabia, ISraelite tribes, Phoenicians, even Crusaders, etc, and they are the modern day Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    33. Deborah

      Excellent interview. Thanks so very much for posting. Sfard is one of the smartest Israeli human rights lawyers I’ve read. Very sharp and useful analysis. I will share it with my university class.

      Reply to Comment
    34. XYZ

      It was under the Muslim conquest that the Jewish community in Eretz Israel came to an end. It had survived in an organized fashion thoughout the Roman and Byzantine periods in spite of repression and the devastating effects of the two rebellions. It was the Arabs who made the situation so intolerable that the community pretty much vanished. This was apparently due to the dhimmi restrictions and discriminatory jizya tax which made Jews either convert under coercion to Islam or leave the country entirely. Either way, as I said, the situation was intolerable in a way that was not the case under Roman/Byzantine rule, with all the problems that were present then.
      BTW=the “protection” of the jizya, is like the world “protection” as in “protection racket”…i.e. pay up or you will have your business burned down.

      Reply to Comment
    35. Jack

      XYZ,
      I like how you 1. claim something, 2. get proved wrong, 3. ignore the discussion altogether.
      You are obviously driven by hate, not facts.

      Reply to Comment
    36. Leen

      @Jack, I know it’s almost why even bother. Not only has he ignored my requests to specify which time period we are talking about, but in a weird way he is also claiming that the Jewish community no longer existed… it’s a reverse Zionist claim almost to justify a Zionist claim over the end.
      Clearly XYZ has not really studied Islamic history or history of the Middle East. He also ignores contextualizing the time period of the events.

      Reply to Comment
    37. XYZ

      Leen clearly hasn’t studied Jewish history nor Islamic history for that matter. Regurgitating Arab propaganda is not ‘proving’ anything. Giving us the myths of the “Arab Jew” and “tolerant Islam” is not proof of anything.
      Note how my point about the most massive imperialist war of agression in history carried out by Muhammed and his successors is ignored and the imposition of Islam by coercion (not necessarily by the sword but by discriminatory dhimmi laws) over large populations is somehow accepted as “natural” and not to be discussed. The memories of Jews who lived in these countries of the uncertainties and lack of security, in spite of periods of tolerance and prosperity that always ended up stirring up hostility by the local Muslim population, are dismissed.

      I do actually view Jack’s contributions here as being quite valuable. They show the liberal-minded, well-meaning Jews and others that read this site that nothing Israel can do will ever satisfy Israel-bashers like him. This is the point Noam Sheizaf makes in another thread…Israeli’s now realize this after being bamboozled by their government with the Oslo and Gaza Withdrawal fiascos which were claimed going to make Israel popular with the anti-Israel crowd. More concessions only generate more anti-Israel hostility in these circles. So Jack, keep on posting your stuff here…it is the best argument for what we on the Zionist-Right have been saying for years!

      Reply to Comment
    38. XYZ

      I should like to add that I love the Arab/Muslim propagandists use of the term “contextualization”. I will give an example as to how amusing this propaganda tool can be. Last year, a British TV show broadcast a lesson from a Muslim school in the UK. The teacher was giving the students the quotes from the Qur’an about how Jews were decendents of monkeys and pigs and other derogatory comments about Jews and Christians. Muslim apologists went on the air and said “CONTEXT!”. Perish the thought that Islam should have negative views about Jews and Chrsitians. Islam holds Jews and Christians in the HIGHEST regard….these statement were made in a certain CONTEXT referring to Jews and Christians of Muhammed’s time, but , again, perish the thought, these do not reflect Muslim attitudes today.
      Fine…but this then raises the question: WHY ARE THE STUDENTS BEING TAUGHT THESE THINGS IF THEY ARE NO LONGER RELEVANT?
      Also, if you want to talk about “contextualization”, I suggest you apply it to Israel’s activities….you know, the Holocaust, pogroms, antisemitism. Maybe once you have CONTEXTUALIZED Israel’s behavior you may come to understand it.

      Reply to Comment
    39. Leen

      Actually XYZ, I have a honours degree in Middle Eastern History, and I have studied Islam and history of Islam for 15 years so no.
      And please I am over the Arab propaganda, I prefer academic resources. Speaking of which, you can check out Asma Afsaruddin and Bernard Lewis since I am so ‘biased’ and keep repeating ‘propaganda lies’.
      I ignored it because you ignored me saying it was against the Byzantine empire and (to add to that) against the Sassanian empire. They were carrying out aggression acts against the Muslims. I also said that that back then Muslims had strict conducts of war. It is alot more complex than that, and no by 7th century standards it was not aggressive. If you want to talk about aggressive Muslims, then talk about the Mongols or the Suljuks because you are choosing the wrong time period.

      Also man, I suggest you stop sprouting hatred between Christians and Muslims. I’m Palestinian, half of my family is Muslim and the other half is Christian, and no, no one is discriminated as and no one views the other as ‘inferior’.

      Again, which discrimination ‘dhimmi’ laws are you talking about? We’ve already discussed the jizya tax is not, because the Muslims have the equivalent, not to mention there were many exemptions put in place and offers protection from the government (you do remember we are talking about feudalist era as well, don’t you?). And we are talking about the 7th century here, please don’t bring up the ottomans because that’s an entirely different discussion (for one they were discriminatory against ALL non-European muslims) and they are in the 15th century.

      I say contextualizing because back in the 7th century, let’s be honest, everyone was cutting eachother’s heads, if an army such as the Muslim army actually had conducts such as do not kill a child, a woman, non combatants, do not cut trees or destroy homes… well if you can show me another army back in the 7th century with the same conduct please feel free.
      Oh and I was talking about the ‘time period’, does not apply to Israel. Because if we are contextualizing Israel based on time period, they certainly do not fit in liberal democratic states, and resemble more non-democratic states.

      Reply to Comment
    40. Leen

      And yes about Israel’s ‘contextualizing behavior’, I for one think that separating Jews in their own separate state and land is extremely dangerous because it assumes that all Jews are aliens and need to be separate from the rest of the world. It’s very anti-semitic if you ask me.

      Reply to Comment
    41. XYZ

      Leen-
      IT’S HISTORY.
      The large majority of Jews inside and outside Israel support Zionism.

      Sure, the Muslims weren’t agressive. It was no doubt due to Sassanid and Byzantine agression in the Middle East that the Muslims reached Spain and even into France in IIRC the 8th century.
      Regarding “alien Jews” The fact of the matter is, as I said in another thread, the problem of Jewish-Gentile relations were NEVER in Europe. The Emancipation brought murderous, genocidal violence in its wake. That is what ended the “Jewish problem” in Europe. Just after that, it became clear to the Jews in the Arab and Iranian Middle East that there was no future for them there either. Yes, Zionism is used as the excuse, but it is odd that those like you who keep telling us about how tolerant Islam justify the pogroms against the Jews in the Middle East by citing Zionism. Wouldn’t it have been more logical for the local Arabs to say to their Jewish neighbors “we hold Jews and Judaism in the HIGHEST regard, you are better off staying here than going off to Palestine”? No, they were happy to get rid of the Jews, just as the Europeans were a few years earlier.
      I will be honest, Christianity HAS made signficant efforts to finally confront their legacy of antisemitism. This is primarily true of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The Eastern Orthodox Churches have been slower to engage in this soul-searching because of their significant presence in the Middle East and because many of their national churches were under antisemitic Communist rule for many decades. It is time for the Muslim world to do the same, but I have no expectation that it will do so in the foreseeable future while they are tearing themselves up with internal conflicts along the Shia-Sunni schism and as they attempt to take full state power in the countries of the reason and each has to attempt to stake out positions of ideological purity which makes the confrontation with Israel a religious matter.

      Reply to Comment
    42. XYZ

      Correction-
      “The problem of Jewish-Gentile relations were never SOLVED in Europe”.

      Reply to Comment
    43. Beholder

      >Beholder, nope many. However are we talking about being Jewish as an ethnicity or a religion?
      _
      Since one could become a Jew by the procedure of giyur, or stop being Jew by worshiping another deity, obviously it is not an ethnicity.

      >Why is Jizya a problem (I know islamophobes always bring this up)? Why shouldnt non muslims be paying taxes?
      _
      Problem? No problem at all.
      It is muslims who have problem with the fact that tables are turned and now they are second class citizens.

      Reply to Comment
    44. Leen

      Yup, it’s history, that’s true XYZ.
      What does Zionism have anything to do with this? I thought we were talking about the history of the Middle East. To my knowledge, Zionism was born in Europe/Russia back in the 18th/19th century.

      Oh and when did I justify aggression against Jews within the Middle East and Europe? And when did I bring up Zionism?

      By the way, regarding the Jews in the Middle Eastern countries, Israel played a decisive role in evoking terror amongst the Jewish population in other Arab countries. Israel used Egyptian jews as mossad agents, they also encouraged jews to uproot from their homes. Although I am no expert in these matters, I suggest you read some of the stuff Asa’d Abu Khalil about the Jewish and Arab relations after establishment of Israel. For instance Syria was being accused of holding the Jews hostage in Syria, therefore they asked them to leave just so people would stop accusations of holding them against their will. Same with Iraq where Mossad planted fake stories to highlight the aggression against Jews.

      Beholder, therefore you are admitting that Israel is based on a religious basis, and as a result that does not belong in the 21st century (and yes that also includes Saudi Arabia and Iran, because I for one do not support states that are built on religious preferences).

      Reply to Comment
    45. XYZ

      Okay, here we go with the Iraq thing again. Yes, I know Zionist agents worked to get the Iraq Jews to leave by supposedly playing on their fears. Well, let’s say Zionist agents tried that in the US or Canada today. Would it cause all the Jews to suddenly pack up and leave? Of course not. In Iraq there had been a massacre of Jews in the Farhud of 1941 (yes, I know some will want to blame that on the Zionists as well). There also was the case of a prominent Jew whose name I forgot who was close to the Royal Court and who was tortured in order to confess to imaginary crimes and was executed after World War II. Add to that the massacre of Assyrian Christians in the 1930s. Thus, it did not take much effort to convince the Jews they were in danger. Of course, in 1970, Saddam had a public hanging of a number of Jews, so we see there indeed was what to worry about.
      Another blogger who is an apologist for Muslim antisemitims claimed there was no antisemitism in Iraq. When asked about the Farhud, the answer was “perish the thought, it had nothing to do with hatred of Jews, it occurred for ‘complex’ reasons.
      Do these apologists really think we are all stupid? That memories of Jews from Arab countries of fear and insecurity and persecution were all planted in their brains as a result of some sort of Zionist magic?
      As I stated in another thread, even if Israel were to dissolve itself and agree to the “right of return” of the refugees, it wouldn’t bring peace. There would be this large mass of unIslamized Jews in the country who would be accused of exploiting the poor Arabs and history would just repeat itself.

      Reply to Comment
    46. Leen

      The problem is you are painting the regimes that they are only against Jews, we all know those regimes were against the population in general. Saddam… I mean come on he suppressed the Kurdish population, not to mention the Shi’a majority. No one was safe from his tyranny, his terror reign wasn’t against Jews only such as Hitler for instance (Although arguably Hitler’s terror reign was against all non-Aryans).
      However I do suggest you go read some of As’ad Abu Khalil’s stuff on Jews in the Middle East (he actually advocates the right of return for all Jews should they wish to return, not to mention he believes that anti-semitism should be eradicated from existence which is why separating jews from the rest of the world is not the way to go). As I said, I am no expert on the subject.

      Reply to Comment
    47. Jack

      XYZ,
      Ok so you know zionists runned jews out of Iraq, how come then you arent keen at all to condemn these terrorists acts? It seems to you that some terror is ok and some racist are ok aslong as they arent direct towards a specific ehtnicity you hail above all.

      Reply to Comment
    48. XYZ

      Correct, Jack. I am a Jew first and foremost, and I am concerned about Jewish rights first and foremost. That makes me like about 98% of humanity who also first and foremost worry about their own people, you know, like the Muslims do, for instance.

      Reply to Comment
    49. Jack

      XYZ,
      Thanks for proving my point. You arent democratic, you are a blend of a ethnocratic supremacist.

      Reply to Comment
    50. Click here to load previous comments

    LEAVE A COMMENT

    Name (Required)
    Mail (Required)
    Website
    Free text

© 2010 - 2014 +972 Magazine
Follow Us
Credits

+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

Website empowered by RSVP

Illustrations: Eran Mendel