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The Right's new spin: Israel demolishes only Jewish homes

In their attempt to prove allegiance to the settlers, right-wing ministers are finding creative new ways of misleading the public.

The controversy over the slated evacuation of a West Bank outpost reached a fever pitch this past week, with government ministers trying to outdo each other to prove their allegiance to the 50 families living in Amona, located in the heart of the West Bank.

While the state promised it would evacuate Amona, built entirely on private Palestinian land, back in 2010, it has found every possible way to delay the inevitable. According to the latest High Court decision, the state must demolish the outpost by December of this year, a decision that has pushed the government into a crisis over Amona’s fate — and by extension the fate of the rest of the over 100 unauthorized illegal outposts spread across the hilltops of the West Bank.

Now as Amona’s evacuation nears, at least in theory, right-wing ministers are repeatedly making the misleading claim that the state destroys homes belonging to Jews, yet refrains from doing the same thing to Arabs.

Culture Minister Miri Regev wrote on her Facebook page that she did not see “similar treatment toward dozens of illegally-built homes in the Negev, Galilee, and Wadi Ara.” Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin says that he “expects the High Court justices to show diligence and decisiveness, similar to decisions made on illegal Arab building.” There are many other examples.

Of course Amona and Palestinian construction are totally unrelated, apart from the right-wing tendency to respond to every unfavorable development by yelling “But the Arabs!” or “But the leftists!” The state promised to evacuate Amona in 2010, such that talking about “diligence and decisiveness” when it comes to a process that has taken more than six years is a joke. But the big lie — or rather the truth — is that the state certainly does destroy Arab homes, and it does it diligently, decisively, and persistently.

In 2015 Israeli authorities demolished 982 homes belonging to Bedouin citizens in the Negev. A year before that authorities demolished 1,073 homes. The Bedouin have a real claim to the land that clashes with the state’s claim. In Amona, on the other hand, there is no controversy over the fact that the land on which the outpost was built belongs to Palestinians — only over the right of Jewish Israelis to...

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Trump’s victory leaves Obama with only one option on Israel-Palestine

When everyone believed Clinton was going to be the next president, Obama was rumored to be considering several last-minute options to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. All that went out the window on Tuesday.

The Obama administration is probably trying to figure out how to protect its two signature achievements – Obamacare and the Iranian nuclear deal – for the next two years, when the White House and both chambers of Congress will be under Republican control. But it will also need to revisit other issues, such as a widely discussed final move on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Specifically, the idea of laying out parameters for a final status agreement – either in the form of a major policy speech or via a UN Security Council resolution – might seem out of touch with the new political reality in Washington.

It is extremely difficult to predict what Donald Trump’s actual policies will be – common wisdom is that a weak and poorly informed president depends on the people around and below him – but it’s a pretty safe guess that Trump won’t continue efforts to broker a final agreement on a two-state solution. The GOP removed the very idea of Palestinian statehood from its platform ahead of the elections. Those around Trump have taken positions in favor of West Bank settlements and against previous efforts to push the Israeli government towards a deal with the Palestinians. Others in the president-elect’s circle – probably including Trump himself – have strong isolationist tendencies.

All that should cause the outgoing Obama administration to change its calculations. Much of its thinking on a final push on the peace process was clearly predicated on the assumption that Hillary Clinton would be the next president. The idea was not that a major policy speech or a UN Security Council resolution on parameters would generate an immediately response on the ground. It might, however, have laid solid groundwork for future negotiations, all while creating options for the next administration that relieved it of the need to spend actual political capital on the issue.

This thinking was problematic to begin with. The last attempt to set parameters, by Bill Clinton during his own lame duck period, did nothing to prevent violent escalations on the ground. The Clinton Parameters had little significance when talks did eventually resume in Annapolis, and the same was true in the most recent...

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The one newspaper in which Trump is still winning

By all accounts, Donald Trump’s election campaign is careening toward disaster. But according to Israel’s most-read newspaper, everything seems to be going just fine. 

The most prominent event in the United States over the past few days has been the implosion of Donald Trump’s campaign. Not only has Trump lost the slight advantage he held following the Republican National Convention, according to polls aggregated by Real Clear Politics, he is now trailing Hillary Clinton by five percent (Fox News’ latest poll is the least favorable).

There is still time until the elections and anything is possible. Right now, however, it looks like Trump has a big problem on his hands, which even the right-wing media and his biggest supporters cannot help but talk about. Other segments of the American mainstream are already speculating over the sanity of the Republican nominee, while some are discussing the possibility of replacing him before election day.

But if you read the most popular newspaper in Israel, Israel Hayom, the story of Trump’s troubles simply does not exist. At all. On Wednesday the paper merely hinted that Trump had become embroiled in controversy following his attacks on a Muslim American family whose son died in Iraq, while on Thursday it briefly mentioned the fact that he had kicked out a baby from one of his rallies.

But instead of reflecting the current turbulence, the headline of that piece is a quote by Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, about how her father will be an excellent president. The only poll cited in the piece is by the Los Angeles Times (which shows Trump up by one percent), and the piece briefly mentions an Israeli who opened up a pro-Trump Facebook page, which already has 8,000 “likes.” That page, by the way, includes Bernie Sanders photoshopped with the slogan “Vote Trump, the bitch (Hillary) is crazy.”

All this would be funny if it weren’t the reality that most Israelis consume on a regular basis. This alternative universe will one day collapse, and Israel Hayom will most likely blame the media, or the elites, or the Left, or Obama the Muslim. Israel Hayom can support Trump just as Haaretz and the New York Times can support Clinton, but to conceal information — not opinions — from the readers shows a total abandonment of the mission and principles of journalism for the sake of something else entirely. If only this problem existed solely when it came to coverage of...

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The Israeli Right still hasn't internalized that Palestinians exist

Arabs are more present than ever in the Israeli public sphere, but attempts to marginalize them are growing at an even faster pace. A new law aimed at pushing Arab representatives out of the political system could wind up changing the rules of the game — in the worst possible way.

The Knesset this week passed a law that will enable it to expel Arab MKs from their positions as elected representatives. The same day, a storm erupted over a program on Army Radio that examined a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Both events have one thing in common: they highlight Israeli right wing’s hopeless desire to make the country’s pesky Palestinian population simply disappear. That’s no easy task considering that proportionally speaking, there are more Arab citizens in Israel than African Americans or Hispanic Americans in the United States. And can anybody even imagine a U.S. without them?

Those on the right in Israel will tell you that they don’t oppose the Arabs themselves, just their ideas. That is, of course, feigned naïveté. As long as Israel is defined as a Jewish state, Arabs will always feel alienated from it. An Arab can become Israeli like he or she can become German or American, but he cannot become Jewish, which Israeli Jews wouldn’t want either. That’s the fundamental difference between the Israeli model and the Western democratic model, where even if there sometimes exist symbols of Christianity or some other nation, Western democracies are ultimately based on the idea of “a state of all its citizens.” In Israel, that idea is so terrifying to people that some want to criminalize even advocating for it.

And yet despite this unusual model, Israel has managed to maintain a mostly democratic system within its pre-1967 borders (though never a liberal one). It worked, somehow, because of the pragmatic attitude adopted by both the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority that survived 1948. For example, the unwritten compromise according to which Palestinians can vote and be elected, even if they oppose — quite naturally — the very idea of a Jewish state. Or that a Palestinian poet can be canonized even if, among other things, he wrote poems that portray Jews as the enemy, just as Israeli poets who saw Arabs as enemies enjoy an even more sacred stature.

What made it work was the separation that existed between the realm of...

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The female conscientious objector who just made Israeli history

Following her sixth trial, Tair Kaminer has become the longest-serving female conscientious objector in Israel’s history. This is her story.

IDF military “Prison 6” lies in one of the most picturesque spots in Israel, at the bottom of the Carmel Mountain, between green fields and banana plantations. The prisoners can see the mountains from the yard, but there is no view of the Mediterranean, less than a mile away.

The prison includes a separate unit for officers and, since 2011, a female unit as well. Prison life is boring and discipline is harsh. Most prisoners’ favorite days are those when they are taken to work at nearby factories. Following a mutiny in 1997, living conditions were improved a bit; among other changes, the cigarettes given to the prisoners were replaced by a better brand.

But 19-year-old Tair Kaminer doesn’t smoke. Last week, Kaminer made history: she was sentenced to her most recent stint in prison — 45 days for refusing to enlist in the IDF. This was her sixth trial, bringing her entire sentence to 170 days, more than any other female conscientious objector has received in Israeli history. Before sentencing her, Lieutenant Colonel Eran Shani complimented Kaminer for her bravery, but also told her that the consequences of her actions will be severe.

Kaminer could have avoided her long prison term. Many Israelis fake medical or psychological problems in order to avoid the draft. Religious women don’t serve either, so all it takes is a declaration that one observes in order to be released immediately. If you can convince the military that you are a pacifist — a challenging task, but not entirely impossible — you might be released as well. But Kaminer is neither religious nor a pacifist, and she is not ready to lie. She doesn’t oppose the military as a rule. Rather, she chose to refuse because of the IDF’s role in the occupation and in the systematic depravation of Palestinian civil and human rights.

In her public statement, Kaminer, who volunteered to do her year of national service with children in Sderot, writes: “The children I worked with grew up in the heart of the conflict, and went through traumatic experiences from a young age. In many of them, this has generated a terrible hatred — which is quite understandable, especially in young children. Like them, many of the children living in the Gaza Strip...

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Avigdor Liberman's new job: Control over four million Palestinians

Netanyahu may have found an opportunity to take revenge on the old IDF elites, but in doing so has put one of Israel’s most hawkish politicians in charge of the occupation.

Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as defense minister is, in my eyes, one of Netanyahu’s most surprising moves (in fact, on Wednesday I argued that it wouldn’t happen; two hours later I was proven wrong). Netanyahu is a careful politician that does not like big egos surrounding him, and Liberman is Liberman — a person who deliberately chooses to be unexpected and undisciplined — even when it doesn’t serve his interests — and who spews hawkish remarks in spades.

Liberman promised to take down Hamas and execute terrorists — and all this before we blow up Egypt’s Aswan Dam, as he once famously suggested. I do not think that anyone in Israel wants to fully re-occupy Gaza, but Liberman has too many promises to fill, and an electorate that runs the gamut from traditional right-wingers to Kahanists. This is disturbing. Even for Netanyahu it’s not an easy bet, since Liberman has serious political ambitions and can always leave the coalition right before the elections, claiming that Netanyahu prevented the IDF from going all the way, or by fueling smaller fires that may serve his interests.

So why did Bibi do it? In my opinion it has little to do with the recent comments made by Deputy Chief of the General Staff, General Yair Golan or the soldier in Hebron who shot a Palestinian in the head — two recent incidents in which the prime minister did not back Defense Minister Ya’alon. In fact these only provided Netanyahu the opportunity to get rid of Ya’alon, whose support from the Right has all but disappeared.

The great fracture between Netanyahu and the defense establishment stems from their disagreement over Iran, and the insubordination that occurred or did not occur during Gabi Ashkenazi and Ehud Barak’s tenure. The story is that former Director of the Mossad Meir Dagan and head of Shin Bet Yuval Diskin revealed that in 2010 the army and the Mossad were given orders to prepare for an attack in Iran, although it remains unclear whether it was an explicit command. Ashkenazi and Dagan either “opposed” or refused the order — depends who you ask. After that came the wars between Ashkenazi and Barak, and the torpedoing of...

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How the director of Peace Now saved Bibi and the peace process

Avi Buskila, the new director general of Peace Now, may come as an outsider to the world of peace organizations but there’s one unique item on his resume nobody else can lay claim to.

Twenty years ago I was a deputy company commander in the West Bank city of Hebron. The first Netanyahu government was about to transfer control of three-quarters of the city to the Palestinian Authority. The settlers were furious — the tension in the occupied city was palpable.

After Rabin’s assassination, the Hebron Agreement was seen as vital for demonstrating progress in the Oslo process under the new Israeli prime minister, who had so ardently opposed any withdrawals just a few months earlier. It was considered a significant achievement and if it were to fall apart, the world feared, so would the entire peace process.

One morning I was sent for some reason or another to Gross Square, known by Palestinians as Vegetable Market Square, which was still bustling and lively at the time — before the army shut down most of the Palestinian shops and banished the grocers and store owners.

We were standing near the entrance to one of the settler compounds when suddenly we heard a burst or two of automatic gunfire coming from another side of the square. I was able to see an Israeli soldier shooting (from a sitting position, no less) toward the crowds of Palestinians, and then I saw two other soldiers jumping on him.

It turned out that a setter (not a settler in the city of Hebron itself) who opposed the Hebron Agreement had decided to mimic Baruch Goldstein and commit a mass murder hoping to set the city alight and prevent the withdrawal of Israeli troops from it. His plan was foiled, however, by an officer from our battalion who happened to be standing behind the shooter, pounced on him, and arrested him without anybody getting seriously hurt — not the shooter and not any of the Palestinians in the square (six Palestinians were lightly wounded). The only thing left for us to do was to deal the crowd that had formed to see what happened.

The Goldstein Massacre (or the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre) sparked a series of Palestinian revenge attacks and irreparably challenged the Oslo peace process. The incident that I witnessed only held public significance for a few days at most. The officer who stopped...

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We don't have the privilege of being Islamophobic

Israelis tend to warn of the ‘Islamization’ of Europe in the wake of attacks like those in Brussels. But the fear of Muslims in a country where Jews and Muslims must live together is simply not an option.

After events like the terrorist attacks in Brussels or Paris, it has become common to hear Israelis say that “Europe is finished” or that it is being “conquered by Muslims.” In fact, people say these things even when there are no attacks. Regardless of inherent racism, I do not really understand the logic behind such statements. In France, seven percent of the population is Muslim. In Belgium it is six percent. In Britain — less than five percent.

In Israel, on the other hand, more than 20 percent of the population is Arab, the majority of whom are Muslim. Add to that 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank. Even if we don’t count Gaza, Jews and Arabs live side by side in every part of this country — in a way that doesn’t exist anywhere in Europe.

They say Israel may become a bi-national state sometime in the future, but the truth is we are already living in a bi-national reality — we are just in denial about it. If there are Israelis who believe we cannot live alongside Arabs or Muslims, then the only logical step for them is to run away from here as fast as they can. Any imaginable future scenario here will necessarily include more Arabs and Muslims in Israel than in those areas of Europe with large Arab populations.

Many years ago I saw Professor Aviezer Revitzki speak on a televised political discussion which devolved into generalizations about how Israel would spearhead a clash of civilizations. This was more or less the consensus in the study, from both left and right. “I don’t want to be the spearhead,” Revitzki announced (I am quoting from memory), “since that the part that is eroded and destroyed first.” Wise words.

If the world is moving toward all out war, Israel is probably the worst place to be. I’m happy to say that I don’t think that is the direction we’re headed. I do not have a simple solution to the current wave of nihilistic terrorism, and I don’t know anyone who does. Regardless, the numbers show that Jews and Arabs have to learn to live in this...

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The rise of the pro-censorship journalist

The latest right-wing sting operation against Israeli human rights groups made it to primetime this week. Israeli journalists, once again, played a central role in shaming those who criticize the occupation.

A Channel 2 report that aired Thursday night accused Israeli human rights organization Breaking the Silence of gathering confidential information on Israeli military operations through its interviews with former soldiers. The report was based on hidden camera footage recorded by right-wing group “Ad Kan,” which infiltrates and gathers information in order to shame anti-occupation organizations. The footage shows Breaking the Silence activists collecting testimonies from several former soldiers, which include questions on Gaza tunnels as well as military equipment and positions.

By Friday morning, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had already ordered an investigation into the activities of the organization, accusing it of attempting to collect state secrets. Others went as for as talking about espionage. The following is a translation of a Hebrew piece I wrote.


Ronen Bergman, Yedioth Ahronoth‘s excellent defense correspondent, often describes the immense powers of Israeli secrecy as follows: imagine that you write down the following sentence on a piece of paper: “The State of Israel has X atomic bombs,” and then place that piece of paper into your pocket. From this moment on, you are guilty of “possessing state secrets,” and can be sentenced to prison.

All journalists are exposed to classified material. Since all army information is classified, every article on security-related matters begins with gathering classified materials — even those PR items organized by the IDF Spokesperson. In other countries, professional ethics guide journalists when they decide what to publish. The idea is that the responsibility for keeping secret rests with the authorities, and whatever they cannot or wouldn’t keep secret could be published. In Israel, the situation is the exact opposite: nothing related to state security can be published without prior approval from the IDF Censor. This is a drastic, unprecedented restriction on the ability to have a serious conversation on Israeli politics and history. Much of the public is completely ignorant when it comes to critical actions and policies.

Over the years, some of Israel’s leading journalists tried to challenge the Censor. They turned to the courts in order to gain approval to publish material, and at times even risked prison time for publishing materials that were in the public’s interest. Hadashot, a defunct Israeli daily newspaper, was shut down for...

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Why do we only listen to violence?

Two intifadas increased Israeli willingness to make territorial withdrawals. Wars in Lebanon and Egypt led Israel to withdrawals from those territories. Despite all that, the Palestinian Authority is trying to maintain quiet and security for Israelis but receives nothing in return. If I were Palestinian I might come to a disturbing conclusion.

One axiom of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that Palestinian violence pushes the Jewish public rightward. Due to violence, common wisdom goes, the willingness of Israeli Jews to make concessions or compromise decreases, and Palestinian independence or equality becomes more of a pipe dream. Only refraining from violence will bring Palestinians closer to their goal. This has become a truism across political camps: you hear it from the Right, Left, and center, as well as from various international actors. Reality, however, is much more complex, and sometimes the exact opposite. As Israelis and Palestinians seem headed into another prolonged and bloody escalation, it’s important to face the facts.

From a simple historical perspective, the claim that “quiet” brings us closer to peace is simply untrue. In the first 20 years following the Six-Day War, when Israel held onto the occupied territories with relative ease, the idea of withdrawal or establishing a Palestinian state was completely taboo. Israel gave up on the Peres-Hussein London Agreement in 1987, which would have transferred partial responsibility for the occupied Palestinian territories back to Jordan’s King Hussein, leaving the PLO out of the process. Only six years later, Israel recognized the PLO and accepted Arafat back to historic Palestine. It was the First Intifada that made the difference. At the beginning of the uprising, the Israeli public shifted to the right, but after four years it elected Rabin on a peace platform.

A similar process took place after the Second Intifada: Israelis broke right and chose Ariel Sharon, but the Israeli government then disengaged from Gaza; Sharon’s successor presented the Palestinians with the most far-reaching proposal to date. Under Netanyahu, however, when the number of Israeli casualties decreased significantly, the Israeli public drifted to the right and became far less willing to make compromises.

The logic that violence pushed Israel to agree to things it had previously rejected applies on other fronts, too. Take, for example, the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, or the peace agreement with Egypt, which was the direct result of the 1973 War. Israel rejected the pre-war peace offers that were...

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The Israeli Left needs to step up its game

Herzog’s new diplomatic plan goes against the real interests of all those who live between the river and the sea — Jews and Arabs alike. Now it’s up to the Left to come up with a new vision based on real coexistence. 

The Labor Party committee decided last week that it was officially parting with the two-state solution. The decision was not preceded by passionate discussions, nor was it extensively covered by the media. Had Prime Minister Netanyahu and Labor Chairman Isaac Herzog not traded barbs a few days later, I highly doubt anyone would have noticed. Even more than the decision itself, the general apathy with which it was received is worth paying attention to.

I do not know if the two-state solution is dead, like everyone is so quick to declare these days. There is no real “point of no return” in politics. What is clear is that the political process that was supposed to bring us there has come to an end. The formula was based on U.S.-mediated negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Israel is not interested, the PLO represents only a portion of the Palestinian people, and the Americans are slowly disengaging from the Middle East. The carrots Israel was supposed to receive — most important among them was legitimacy and normalization with Arab countries — seem less relevant in the face of the changes taking place in the Middle East. On the other hand, many Palestinians do not believe that a demilitarized half-state on 22 percent of historical Palestine is such a great deal — and even that much seems out of reach.

We are in the first stages of a new phase in the political relations between Jews and Palestinians. On this Herzog is correct: the Israeli Left needs new thinking, the kind that will take into account both regional and global developments. The problem is that most of the major players on the left (political parties, think tanks, journalists, intellectuals) prefer believing in stagnant ideas from the 80s and 90s. Either that or they just join the Right. That is precisely what the Labor Party’s discussion looked like — a struggle between the romantics of Oslo and “Rabin’s legacy,” and those who propose outflanking Netanyahu from the right.

Thus the Labor Party adopted a plan full of internal contradictions: on the one...

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Why the Israeli debate on the occupation misses the point

In the eyes of most Israelis, democracy consists of two Jews arguing over the fate of the Palestinian.

Natan Sharansky, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, used his experiences as a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet Union in a recent op-ed in order to attack the activists of Israeli anti-occupation organization, Breaking the Silence, who do not shy from criticizing Israel’s policies in the occupied territories outside the country. Let me be clear: there are no similarities between what Jewish political activists in Israel go through and the persecution of dissidents in the USSR, and Sharansky’s contributions to human rights must never be forgotten, regardless of his current views.

But his article, which was published last week in Haaretz, includes one sentence that captures everything that is wrong with the Israeli public discussion on the occupation:

Who is missing from the picture? The Palestinians, of course. The entire idea of democracy is that everyone gets to participate in the discussion. But in Sharansky’s eyes, as in the eyes of most Israelis, democracy consists of two Jews arguing over the fate of the Palestinian. If the Jews don’t want Palestinians to have rights, they won’t have them.

Israelis do not have the right to endlessly deny Palestinians their freedom, and it doesn’t matter if that decision is made “democratically” or not. Sharansky is wrong — Breaking the Silence is right: there is nothing wrong with turning to the international community to put pressure on Israel to change its policies, since those policies are illegitimate to begin with.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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It's open season on anyone opposing the occupation

There is a campaign being carried out against anyone actively opposing the occupation in Israel, and it doesn’t matter if you’re an activist in the field, a human rights attorney or a former soldier talking about what you were ordered to do.

“Activists from the shady organization, “Ta’ayush,” who we tracked from within and outside, behind closed doors and during clashes on Saturdays, are going to fall one by one. Don’t worry friends. We will finish off Ezra Nawi and move on to Guy Butavia… and many others.”

That message was published and quickly spread on Facebook following the arrest of Ezra Nawi, and before the arrest of Guy Butavia, another activist in Ta’ayush, and B’Tselem field worker Nasser Nawajah. The three were arrested after a right-wing group, “Ad Kan,” gave allegedly incriminating materials to the police and primetime investigative news show, “Uvda.”

A month earlier, far-right group Im Tirzu marked other anti-occupation activists as targets: B’Tselem Executive-Director Haggai El-Ad; executive director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Yishai Menuchin; a prominent member of Breaking the Silence; and an attorney who protects Palestinians in Israeli courts on behalf of Hamoked — Center for the Defense of the Individual. This week it was revealed that right-wing group “Regavim” hired a private investigator to track human rights attorney Michael Sfard and Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din. There is a connection between each of these, of course.

The past few days have seen politicians and pundits comparing the “extreme left” to the “extreme right,” between the Ta’yush activists to the suspects in the Duma murders. Alon Idan wrote brilliantly about the mainstream’s tendency to create this kind of symmetry — replacing principled, moral judgment with statistics. But there is a different, more fundamental point that does not get the attention it deserves. In the case of Duma, the police went and looked for the perpetrators only after the crime was committed. The same goes for all the recent hate crimes by right-wing extremists, which were investigated by the state (the vast majority of so-called “price tag attacks” end with no indictment).

But in the case of the Ta’ayush activists, the process was reversed: “Ad Kan” did not go to the South Hebron Hills to investigate the harassment of land sellers. They went in search of ways to bring down Ta’ayush. To infiltrate the organization...

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