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Knesset Committee on un-Israeli activities

The Knesset’s decision to investigate organizations that criticize the government’s policy on the Palestinian issue is yet another demonstration of the fear that grips Israeli elites. Their true concern is about Israel’s internal strength, rather than its standing abroad.

The Knesset’s decision to investigate organizations that criticize the government’s policy on the Palestinian issue may or may not prove to be a watershed for Israeli democracy. Either way, it is yet another demonstration of the fear that grips Israeli elites.

This fear is supposedly directed at Israel’s deligitimization abroad. The most frequently cited concern is the prosecution of IDF officers abroad, and the most popular target are Israeli human rights organizations which, their persecutors claim, distribute damaging and misleading information about Israel to foreign countries.

But that is not the only target for attack. Organizations which assist refugees have been denounced as a threat to Zionism. Groups advocating for a fair distribution of profits are labeled as servants of Iran and Hezbollah. Even protectors of the environment are sometimes compared to terrorist organization. Need I even mention what happens to those who struggle for the rights of Israel’s Palestinian minority?

The sum of all this belligerence is a picture of an Israeli establishment that is comically insecure, even hysterical. Israel just joined the OECD. It has never been sanctioned in any way. On the contrary – despite being a relatively wealthy nation, it is one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid. It is the only country outside the European Economic Area which participates in the European research and development program.

Its already vast military superiority in the region is further buttressed by a guarantee of permanent technological superiority by the world’s most advanced producer of armaments. Even terrorism against Israel, which was never a strategic threat, has waned in recent years, on all fronts – in the south, center and north of the country, as well as against Israeli targets abroad.

So why are Israeli elites so afraid? Although they will never admit it, perhaps not even to themselves, their true concern is about Israel’s internal strength, rather than its standing abroad. As I’ve written in the past, Israeli society has been demobilizing for decades now. Its formerly Spartan ethos has been almost completely reversed, creating soaring socio-economic gaps.  Cohesion now has to be maintained by constantly fomenting nationalist paranoia. Although it is effective in the short term, fear mongering is a shaky long-term prop.

It certainly has real consequences. Like all countries, Israel has never been a perfect democracy. Within a certain scope of positions, orientations and identifications, it has generally allowed a wide array of liberties as well as fierce competition for political power. At the margins of this space of acceptable discourse, freedoms were much more restricted. Outside it – they were virtually non-existent. The center which defines legitimacy has shifted repeatedly over the years, and concurrently, various groups have dropped in and out of democracy’s remit. In recent years, we are witnessing a substantial contraction of this center, and as a result, groups that were always marginal are now being driven increasingly closer to losing their freedoms altogether.

We should not lose sight of the bigger picture, though. The erosion of democracy is always based on indifference and apathy. The recent crackdown is a reaction to the opposite trend. Israelis and Palestinians are standing up for democracy. Some pay with their lives. Others sacrifice their freedom. Most Israelis who oppose their government’s policy are giving up something more modest, yet significant: the assurance of their superiority and the belief in the justice of their privileges. The Israeli establishment is rightly concerned about these groups: they represent one of the biggest threats to the status quo.

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    1. Excellent analysis again. Thanks, Roi! This is a strangely comforting read.

      Reply to Comment
    2. […] will be investigated in a context that has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with internal political posturing. As Yossi Gurvitz points out (Hebrew here, English coming soon), if this were a matter of justice […]

      Reply to Comment
    3. Y.

      I haven’t been able to read +972 lately ($#@! flu), but this is interesting enough to comment as Roi makes an unfortunate error of analysis here.

      Roi misidentifies who the “Israeli elites” are/were. If you look at the bios of members of said NGOs (e.g. today’s Ynet op-ed by the spokeswoman of Mahsom Watch which proudly proclaims her ‘yehus'[1]), or their sectarian identification (nearly all ahuslim, which is obvious if we start considering their self-interest), you see these are former/current members of the elite. While Lieberman and most members of YB (originator of the law) are outside it.

      So what we have here is not an ‘elite panic’ vs a rising force embodied by certain NGOs, but rather a power struggle between a declining former elite (some of whom are members of NGOs) and the rising political forces which oppose it, a struggle the former is doomed to lose (for many reasons, but one of the most important is the demographic one). That some members of the declining political force are members of NGOs with bad reputations in Israeli society is useful for Lieberman and his ilk, but I have no doubt there’d be some other avenue of attack if said NGOs did not exist.


      Reply to Comment
    4. Roi Maor

      Obviously, anyone who now works for human rights NGOs has long diverged from the elite. The establishment “left” (Labor, Meretz) are not real supporters of human rights (even if they like to think of themselves that way). In socio-economic terms, some NGO workers come from a privileged background (although many others do not) but they certainly do not represent dominant views among the elite.

      As to the supposedly “rising” elite of YB et al, even if they are indeed a new group (and many of them are not), they certainly represent the same old policies which have characterized Israeli governments since the country’s inception.

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    5. Y.

      No, it is not obvious at all they have diverged from the elite. Both you[1] and I[2] pointed out earlier that the Left’s actual position on economic issues is motivated by narrow class interests. But is this the only political position of the Left which is motivated by narrow interests? I believe not.

      The NGOs (whose composition is overwhelming privileged as far as I can tell) help these narrow ahusali interests:

      First, pushing authority from the political sphere (where the old ahuslim are getting weaker and weaker) to the legal sphere (where the self-perpetuating oligarchy of Bagatz[3] governs) increases the former elite’s power as it controls the latter. The NGOs are very obviously a prime help here.

      Second, blaming the settlers for all the mess is extremely convenient as these are mostly exemplars of the opposing Religious-Zionist block (oh, and it allows the Left to avoid its own responsibility). The difference between the attitude towards the Golan settlers and Jordan valley settlers and the attitude towards all the other settlers is striking unless we recall which groups compose the former…

      Lastly, the difference or lack thereof in policy is not relevant. What is important is the composition of the establishment is slowly changing and will continue to change.



      [3] There isn’t any other democracy where the entire personnel of the justice system is determined nearly solely by the chief judge.

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    6. Roi Maor

      The difference in policy and positions matters to me. That was the topic of my post.

      The people that I criticized in my post that you cite are not those working for the NGOs targeted by the Knesset inquiry. Quite the opposite.

      As to wanting to strengthen the Bagatz and blaming everything on the settlers – again, the NGOs’ position is quite the opposite. Read their websites and reports.

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    7. Y.

      Yeah, Mahsom Watch (to follow my previous example) really has a well considered position on Bagatz and its role in society (rolls eyes)…

      Now, look, you can delude yourself if you like, but even here on +972**, it’s pretty obvious the real target was to tar the Left using unpopular NGOs, much moreso than attacking some annoying NGOs (something they had far more effective ways of doing if they bothered). This is even more obvious if we examine the Ynet headlines (“Rivlin against the committee to investigate the Left”, “The Judgment of history and the investigation of the Left”) or Levy’s article on Haaretz (“When did it become illegal to be a Leftist in Israel?”) etc. etc. to see everyone understands what’s the real motive here. Arguing this happened merely because Israeli elites fear some scrawny NGOs is apart from the understanding of the situation by just about everyone.

      ** Where is Gurvitz argues its an attack on an entire political and calls it (in typical hysteria) a putch and a Reichstag fire, and where Ami talks about “investigating Leftists” not merely NGOs.

      Reply to Comment
    8. David

      It is strange to analyze the Israeli Left. But nire li that it is un-Israeli. And I don’t mean in the security sphere.

      Most Israeli leftists claim to be in the Left. But they do not adhere to standards of what a true Leftist view should be.

      They, for instance, are elitist. That is typical of some phases of left-leaning governments and organizations around the world, that strive to be “vanguardist”. But the Left, aside considerations of “vanguardism” should not be elitist (is it not thought as a movement “for the masses”? Then why should we become a new elitist oligarchy?)

      They are dogmatic. They manage to bend factual things ( I clearly remember how different editions of the Soviet encyclopedia have very different views of the same subject, supposedly they differ due to “dialectical” changes) and yet at the same time remain unchanged when it comes to dogma.

      Here it ends any similarity with other left-leaning movements around the world. Above everything, the Israeli Left seems to promove inequality, by not adhering to and not judging itself to the same standards they use to judge everyone else.

      They are elitist. Most of the Israeli Left comes from “the cream” of Israeli society. Starting with the kibbutzim.

      They deny others the right to do things they themselves do. Why Ein Hashofet (built upon Juara under the “Homa uMigdal” plan – Juara itself remains a military base) is illegal, but Kfar Etzion (Jewish before 1948, then stolen by Arabs, then recovered by Israel) is not? In any case the settlement built upon an Arab town should be the illegal one, or not? Then where is equality? By the way, Ein Hashofet is an Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz, and maybe that’s how it is considered legal. But if built under even more violent premises than a now-considered-settlement, then why the “settlement” is not legal and the kibbutz built upon some Arab land is? (not all of the kibbutz is built upon Arab land, but some, and certainly the base is built upon the Arab town of Juara).

      Now the Israeli Left occupies (what an irony) their time with these issues and mostly forgets about social issues. They do not advocate, for example, a salarial scheme rewarding skilled workers (with at least 3 categories), or school benefits per work and per children, or the enforcement of laboral laws. They permit service manpower companies to pay their laborers any amount they want. They do not protest about that. Some privileged labor unionists do get laboral rights, while the vast majority of other workers are subemployed. (not to mention the unemployed…)

      There are people with valuable skills that could benefit the Israeli society as a whole. I will tell initials of real people: N.S., agronomical engineer, unemployed and living on govt. subsidies. H.S., chemical engineer with studies on the SIT (Stevens). Same situation. M.S., expert mathematician and computer engineer. Living with his parents, has difficulties to find a decent job. V.N., biologist (with a toar shlishi, working as a metapel). K, mechatronic engineer, has difficulties to find a job in his profession. E.C., accountant, emigrated out of Israel and found a good job. F.G., oleh, systems analyst, unable to find a decent job, unable to study (to afford his studies) because he was Brazilian and not Argentinian and therefore he’s considered a wealthy North American (he’s not), so he gets far less benefits. Emigrated out. D, (not me), lawyer,oleh, had to pass an extensive reeducation process in order to get a work license, and after that other long process to get a decent job (and in the meantime, what? and he is Argentinian, but he has a large family to care of so the subsidies barely help – it would be better to give him a good job than subsidies). R.Y, Mexican oleh, same story as F. (no protektzia, no real possibilities of study). P, she just got a wealthy husband.

      All those people could help the Israeli society if given the opportunity.

      “All people should give the society according to their abilities; and the society should reward them according to their needs”.

      And where was the Left while all this talent was being lost?

      Maybe sipping a capuccino at some Swiss cafe. Maybe in a demonstration against the occupation at some public North Tel Avivian plaza. And after that going home in a new car. Ignoring that in the perifery, in Arad and Dimona and Kiryat Shmona, there are people who can contribute to our nation with valuable skills. If only given the opportunity. They mostly do not want benefits. THEY WANT DECENT JOBS. They are professionals who want to work in their professions. Not in nikaion and tipul. Those jobs are important of course. They can do that to survive, but what a waste of talent is it?

      I for instance have the luxury of being independent as a strategist. It costed me a lot of effort but here I am. My abilities are largely unused, even by the very people I advise. (I make my very best effort to counsel them, but it’s up to them to actually improve their businesses).

      I have seen a person profit $300000, when he could have profited $1100000 from a commercial operation. And that didn’t mean underpaying his laborers. (he tried, but in the end he had to pay them). I warned him. I have seen many cases like this. The big enterprise can withstand some losses in order to maximize its profits somewhere else. And minimize losses. Legally. No need to pay such low wages. And raising wages increase sales, which in the end benefits the economy.

      I wonder how many people are out there waiting to work and earn their money (more than the minimum wage) in a decent way.

      They should be given an opportunity.

      The Left should worry about these economic and social issues. In my humble opinion, it is un-Israeli not to worry about the people’s living standards.

      Not to mention issues like education, health and urban security. And urban planning (to at least improve the urban aspect of the quality of life – “mechonit lechol po’el” didn’t work and people who own no cars do notice having to walk 50 or 60m more. Especially if elderly). And firefighting. And even art. (yes, art).

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