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Silence is no longer an option: A call to action from Israel

It is imperative that Jews around the world who cherish humanistic values publicly express their concern about the current situation in Israel, and call for the government to return to peaceful, moral, democratic, and humanistic values.

By Daniel Bar-Tal

A right-wing protester holds up Israeli flags while thousands march in the annual human rights march in Tel Aviv. (photo by Activestills)

Israel is a prosperous and well developed state with remarkable achievements in technological, educational, cultural, scientific and agricultural spheres by every account. These achievements are a source of pride to Israelis as well as to Jews around the world. But beside these undeniable successes, a considerable segment of the Jews in Israel, who love their country and care about its future, also see a glass half empty.

They see the growing dominance of nationalistic, expansionist, and anti-democratic ideologies – goals and policies which have already crossed democratic and moral red lines. The ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories violate Palestinians’ basic human and collective rights and tear apart Israeli society’s democratic and moral fabric, as did past governments’ refusal to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians while ignoring the Arab Peace Initiative. In carrying out these policies, the government has not only violated international law, but at times also broken Israeli laws, thus seriously undermining the very foundation of Israeli democracy. We’ve witnessed systematic and often successful attempts to pass laws that contradict the fundamental democratic principle of equal treatment of minorities, along with institutionalized discrimination against minorities. In addition, we’ve seen organized attempts to silence criticism of Israeli policies and delegitimize dissenting voices in academia, the media and NGOs.

This deterioration, which has very serious practical implications, is taking place in the spheres of values, moral codes, norms and laws, so often people do not pay attention to them. They can live comfortably without exercising their right to freedom, without defending the rights of others or without observing discrimination, oppression or exploitation carried by their own society. This has happened in many places in the world, often directly affecting the fate of the Jewish people.

This is what is presently happening in Israel. But this time it is Jews who ignore, repress or rationalize deviations from the moral and democratic compass. This process is not surprising if one looks at the way in which a person grows up in Israel. In addition to the continuous external threats which provide the context, Israeli Jews pass through a uni-dimensional tunnel of formal socialization which limits them to different perspectives, and closes them off to alternative ideas to their formal narrative. It begins in the schooling process from kindergarten and continues throughout mandatory military service. Much of Israel’s mass media, although being relatively free, exercises self-mobilization on “security issues” and practices self-censorship in order to maintain a positive image of the state (Freedom House ranked Israel 65th out of 197 states in terms of freedom of the press).

Although there are also clear voices in the media, civil society, academia, art and the political arena that challenge the hegemonic political culture, most Israeli Jews do not subscribe to moral and democratic values of human rights, justice, freedom and equality, particularly when it comes to Palestinians (regardless of whether they are Israeli citizens or they live in the occupied territories). At best, the minority that does care about these values is viewed with disdain. At worst, they are seen as traitors who harm the state’s interests. There is a growing monopolization of patriotism and Zionism, which recognizes only one ideology, one goal and one policy as legitimate and patriotic. All other views are branded as harmful to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Valid criticism is depicted as “anti-Semitic,” “anti-Israel,” or even as expressing “self-hatred.” This approach aims to silence critical voices by arousing fear, and constitutes a powerful tool that has been used over and over again by anti-democratic forces in different societies.

In light of this situation, it is imperative that Jews around the world who cherish humanistic values of Jewish heritage publicly express their concern about the current, critical situation in Israel, and call loudly and clearly for Israel to return to peaceful, moral, democratic and humanistic values. This is a vital manifestation of concern and love for Israel. It is a shared responsibility towards future generations, who will pay a heavy price for our silence and passivity. The cost of silence far exceeds the cost of involvement. What is at stake is no less than the future of the State of Israel, Israeli society and the Jewish people. It is an obligation to speak out and take action, as an ultimate expression of our identity and conscience. Ultimately, history will judge us by our actions.

Daniel Bar-Tal is a professor of political psychology at Tel Aviv University. He recently launched a project to encourage involvement of liberal Jews around the world to create a critical watch group to monitor Israeli legislation, policies and actions.

Related:
Press freedom in Israel: Democracy in the age of self-censorship

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  • COMMENTS

    1. juergen martin moeller

      Professor Bar-Tal wants Israel to “return” to democratic standards. But since 1948 these standards never had been valid for the non jewish inhabitants of the country, not to speak of the later occupied territories.
      The problem for goodwilling Israelis as Prof. Bar-Tal is to understand, step by step, that there will be no redemption without confessing the initial sins – halluzinating about a country without a people for a people without a country and similar shmonzes.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >But since 1948 these standards never had been valid for the non jewish inhabitants of the country

        Lie #1

        >not to speak of the later occupied territories.

        Lie #2

        >there will be no redemption without confessing the initial sins

        Yeah, in general terms – Jews have no right for a homeland.

        Reply to Comment
        • juergen martin Moeller

          The violent foundation of Israel is history meanwhile. So the israelis of today have of course a right for a homeland. But they will have to respect the rights of the original inhabitants, the palestinians, to have a homeland too. Naming them terrorists is a boomerang.
          Jabotinski, Begin, Shamir or Sharon have been kings of terrorism. Bombing Gaza was State terrorism, an excess of pretended self-defence.
          The perception of palestinians as nothing but terrorists is an israeli projection of historically only too well founded bad conscience.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >So the israelis of today have of course a right for a homeland.

            Quite a lot of Palestinian Arabs (few millions, I’d say) does not quite think so.

            >But they will have to respect the rights of the original inhabitants, the palestinians, to have a homeland too.

            1 – There is no “Palestinians”
            2 – Palestinian Arabs’ right to have their homeland in Palestine is unchallenged. The only condition – Arabs have to accept that Jews have the same right.

            >Naming them terrorists is a boomerang.

            Terrorists = freedom fighter.

            >Jabotinski, Begin, Shamir or Sharon have been kings of terrorism.

            Or freedom-fighting, yes.

            >Bombing Gaza was State terrorism

            No. Rulers of Gaza has declared war on Israel, meaning that it is perfectly legal to bomb and blockade it.

            >an excess of pretended self-defence.

            Yeah, yeah. I know that from European Leftist point of view Jews have no right to defend themselves.

            >The perception of palestinians as nothing but terrorists is an israeli projection of historically only too well founded bad conscience.

            Such perceptions exists only in European Leftists’ minds.

            Reply to Comment
          • juergen martin moeller

            Dear trespasser,
            Israeli terrorists were freedom fighters, o.k. And palestinians have no right to fight for freedom?
            Of course Israel has the right to defend itself. But every bodycount after one of its many preemptive or reactive strikes shows an obscene disproportion in the number of victims. This I call an excess of pretended self-defence. Hereby I end our little conversation, have a nice evening.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Israeli terrorists were freedom fighters, o.k. And palestinians have no right to fight for freedom?

            Oh, of course they do. Did anyone ever denied Palestinian Arabs a right to kill Israeli civilians? Of course not. The only problem is the bodycount.

            >Of course Israel has the right to defend itself. But every bodycount after one of its many pre-emptive or reactive strikes shows an obscene disproportion in the number of victims.

            Yeah, I know that you are not concerned by the fact that missiles are fired from Gaza, but only by the fact that they are not killing enough Jews.

            >This I call an excess of pretended self-defence.

            And what IDF should do to not make self-defense excessing your standards? Indiscriminately fire unguided missiles into living quarters? Maybe disable the Iron Dome system so Arabs could score some bodies too?

            >Hereby I end our little conversation, have a nice evening.

            You can’t end something whichever never took place, leftist.

            Reply to Comment
        • Leen

          Actually, Arabs were put under Martial Law in 1948 up until the late 1950s.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            So what?

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            It means they were not treated as citizens, hence they did not get ‘full’ civil rights, therefore they were not treated equally as their jewish counterparts. Hence your train of thought that this is ‘false’, is in fact.. false.

            Reply to Comment
          • Michael W.

            Martial law in Israeli Arab areas existed till 1966. American blacks didn’t have full civil rights till the 1960′s. So the statement that minority X has not had full civil rights since … isn’t significant today. The Zionist national project still affords more rights to minorities than any other significant national project in the region.

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            Interesting, since that technicaly means that Israel only had one year where technically speaking everyone had full civil rights (before the occupation in 1967). The difference is though Michael, no one pretends what happened to the Black people in the US wasn’t atrocious, unjustified, and simply wrong. Just like no American pretends that the European immigrants did not significantly destroy the Native American culture, society, and in short nation. In Israel, of course, it’s denial, denial denial.

            Reply to Comment
    2. The Trespasser

      Due to fact that mentioned initiative is based on destruction of the State of Israel (for instance, “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.” would be to grant them citizenship rights in host countries) AND it was rejected by said semi-legit representatives (Prime Minister Ismail Haneya said on October 2006 that the “problem with the Arab peace initiative is that it includes recognition of the state of Israel, the thing that the Palestinian government rejects” and dismissed it.[48] That month, Mahmoud al-Zahar declared unequivocally: “Hamas will never change its position regardless of the pressure’s intensity” and “We will never recognize the Arab initiative.”[49]), there is really not good reason no to ignore it – if one is not profiting for writing anti-state articles, of course.

      Reply to Comment
      • Menil

        How is changing a country’s definition “destruction”? France used to be a monarchy. Now it’s a republic. Has it been “destroyed”? What about the U.S before and after Jim Crow?

        Not that I support the “right of return”. Nor do I support Israel’s “law of return” for Jews. Israel should instead quit the nonsense and adopt Western, liberal, secular values with citizenship laws that take into account the country’s interests, and not who your mother was.

        Reply to Comment
        • directrob

          How can you be against the right of return? It is enshrined in customary law and rightly so. It is customary law so it is law for all states. Without the ROR a state like Israel could simply expell parts of its population by sending violent gangs to villages.

          In practice after all these years it will probably mean return and monetary compensation for some and only compensation for the rest.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            There is no RoR. It didn’t exist for the Germans, it didn’t exist for the Greeks, it didn’t exist for the Turks, it didn’t exist for the Poles, it didn’t exist for the Armenians, it didn’t exist for the Hindus expelled from India, it didn’t exist for the Muslims expelled from Pakistan and it most certainly doesn’t exist for the Palestinians. It is a made up right that the Palestinians have decided on for themselves which has no basis in international law.

            Reply to Comment
          • directrob

            Your word against the ICRC

            Rule 132. Displaced persons have a right to voluntary return in safety to their homes or places of habitual residence as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist.

            Rule 133. The property rights of displaced persons must be respected.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist.

            Since the reason for their displacement (namely: refusal to accept Jews as equals AND existence of the Jewish state) haven’t ceased to exist, there is no reason to grant the RoR.

            Reply to Comment
          • directrob

            So you agree there is a ROR, but you do not think that the Palestinians are ready to return.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Not only that, but even the clauses in the Geneva Conventions you point to are from 1949 and not retroactive, so you are still nowhere.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            You point to paper. I point to history. You point to an organization that would like the world to work in one way. I point to reality which is different. In reality there has never been a single binding resolution passed in the UN which suggests that the Palestinians have any right of return or that Israel has any obligation towards them whatsoever. The treatment of refugees from all other conflicts confirms this.

            Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Calling for a process where at the end there is no state called Israel is pretty obviously calling for the destruction of Israel. It isn’t a redefinition if the thing you are redefining ceases to exist.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Charley

      I think if you are not living under the threat of extinction you need to be careful about sanctimonious advice.

      Reply to Comment
      • Davdon

        I dont think that the issue is with Israelis existence its with its illegal expansions.

        Reply to Comment
    4. I would like to suggest, that any group of people who state they want a homeland for their group are racists; are people who consider other people less than, and not worthy of equal rights, equal protection under the law, equal opportunity.

      Zionism is no different than any other nationalistic movement. And each and every one of them eventually became fascist. And Israel is recently demonstrating in spades it is no different.

      The only hope for Israel to not end up in the dust bin of history is to give up the idea that Jews need a homeland, and transition into a multicultural, secular society. Otherwise the fascism will continue to mount until every country in the world condemns Israel and issues the proscriptions that were placed against South Africa, during its apartheid era. Which, incidentally, philosophically used the same religious “God choose us” argument, using the Hebrew Bible as their foundation.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >The only hope for Israel to not end up in the dust bin of history is to give up the idea that Jews need a homeland, and transition into a multicultural, secular society.

        Nonsense.

        1 – Less than 100 years ago a large number of Jews was exterminated strictly due to lack of homeland.

        2 – “Jew” is first and foremost religious concept.

        3 – You won’t find many countries which are more “multicultural” than Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • directrob

          Trespasser, you have your own unique ways of telling a selective truth.

          Of course the Balfour declaration being a declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations did prejudice the civil and religious’ rights of existing population in Palestine.

          Of course the zionist leaders were planning to creating a Jewish state, Palestinians or not. They were not planning to steal some land but most land. They were not at all interested in a secular state without a strong Jewish majority. Look at the Irgun emblem.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >… did prejudice the civil and religious’ rights of existing population in Palestine.

            I suggest you to read the declaration in question.

            I don’t see how accepting some people as equals is prejudice to any rights at all.

            >Of course the zionist leaders were planning to creating a Jewish state, Palestinians or not… Look at the Irgun emblem.

            It is worth noticing that Irgun was created AFTER Arabs had refused to coexist with Jews.

            You are arbitrarily mixing events of different epochs to create an image of Good Arabs and Bad Zionists.

            Reply to Comment
          • directrob

            That England offered a homeland in Palestine to the Jews of Middle Europe without asking the people of Palestine was quite outrageous. The more so because the zionist leaders wanted a Jewish majority.

            That Jews are bad and Arabs good are your words. I do not see any difference concerning good or bad between the individuals of those groups.

            Reply to Comment
          • XYZ

            The ONLY reason the Arab states of the Middle East are independent is becuase THOUSANDS of British soldiers died fighting the Ottoman Empire which was ruling all the Arabs of the region. The Arabs did virtually NOTHING to bring about their liberation (T E Lawrence’s Beduin force was largely a sideshow that was hyped for propaganda purposes).The Arabs largely supported the Ottoman-German alliance in the war. Thus, Britain felt they should have a say in what happens in these areas.

            Reply to Comment
      • George

        Warren, imagining yourself in other people’s shoes does not seem to be your strong suit. If your ethnic group had been wiped out by the million because of the ethnic group they are and no other reason, I suspect you might be singing a different tune.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Dear Mr Bar-Tal,

      After 65 years during which Israeli authorities have used every opportunity to use Jews, against their will, for its purposes, from beating up Jews who wanted to return to their homelands in transit camps post 1945, to lobbying Germany to deny residence to Russian Jewish immigrants, not to mention doing business with antisemites at every opportunity, you have the gall to ask world Jews to clean your shit?

      Get lost. Really!

      Reply to Comment
    6. George Baumann

      I also abhor the illegal sttlements and the excessive belligerence and ill-will of right-wing Israeli politicians. What you are effectively doing, though, instead of helping to ensure Israel’s future security is to threaten its very existence. You do this by emphasizing Israel’s crimes out of context, as if many (not all) of the measures Israel is forced to take to protect itself from fanatics on the other side, are stemming from some feeling of racial superiority to the Palestinians, not the pragmatic aim of survival. The Israeli people are no more and no less apathetic than other nations. By continually hammering Israel as if it were one of the most evil regimes in the world, you are playing directly into the hands of Jew haters, who unfortunately seem to be growing in numbers, if anything, and are getting more and more militant. Why don’t you, for instance, criticise, or try to persuade Hezbollah to accept the Arab Peace Initiative?

      Reply to Comment
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