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Netanyahu’s assault goat and Israel's human rights NGOs

Netanyahu freezes the anti-NGO bills – and keeps them as a weapon to be used at any time

The mythical, conflict-erasing goat has a place of honor in the annals of Israeli administration. It is based on an ancient morality tale, fabricated a few decades ago, in which a Jew goes to his rabbi and complains he prefers death to life; his large family, forced into living in a small room, bickers endlessly. What should I do, rabbi? The rabbi thinks. Put a goat in the room, he finally says. The Jew is skeptical, but obeys. A week later, they meet. How is life? Much worse, Rabbi, much worse; The goat is everywhere, eats everything, and befouls the room. Everyone is at their wits’ end. Take out the goat, orders the rabbi. Meeting a few days later, the Jew is ecstatic: Everything is so much better now, your honor! We have so much room!

The goat technique is the favorite of the two most powerful ministries in Israel: The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry if Security. The first uses it in a straightforward way: Come every budget season, it pushes a herd of goats up to the Knesset. We’re going to destroy education, destroy welfare, destroy pretty much everything, come to think of it – and we have a really large goat in the Omnibus Bill, specifically an article referring elderly Israelis to a government-supplied protected housing, on the back of an Inuit iceberg. The public is shocked; MKs wear sackcloth and put ashes on their heads on live TV – and, in the end, the treasury boys lead most of the goats out, leaving behind them only those which are absolutely essential to the demolition of what’s left of the welfare state, and everyone sighs in relief, not paying attention to what actually happened.

The army has its own, slightly different, version. Oh, you wanted us to cut down on the number of unnecessary NCOs? Want us to send officers into retirement at the age of 67 instead of their current cushy 42? We hear you! We have therefore decided to cut down the wing which was supposed to bomb Iran, and that hideously costly missile program we lied would defend you, but actually is intended to be sold to Taiwan. So sorry, but if you cut our budget, we seem to lose all offensive and defensive capabilities. What’s that you say? You’re performing the manouver known as a French retreat? Exccccccellent. Now, to business – we need more money, specifically so that we can employ a few dozen more pointless officers on your account until they expire.

Binyamin Netanyahu will be remembered in the history of Israeli government as an upgraded version of Yizhak Shamir: A lack of activity on the Bourbon scale, combined with poisonous incitement against Israeli liberals. But you must grant him this: He has created a new model of a goat, the assault goat – a hybrid between a goat and a Rottweiler.

Netanyahu’s aides informed us this morning (Hebrew) that he decided not to bring up the ministerial appeal against the anti-NGO bills. As long as the government does not vote on the appeal, whichever way it goes, the Knesset cannot go on with the legislative process (unless the bills’ supporters start a long and costly, and somewhat doomed, process of re-tabling them). Note that Netanyahu did not kill the bills, which he probably could have done had he wanted to; He merely froze them. The assault goat is not out of the room; It is under the table, dozing.

This is a very blunt sign to the NGOs: Criticize me too much, and I shall sic Akunis and Dannon at you again. Write a devastating report on what my government does in the territories – such as the novelty of annexing West Bank territory to a religious kibbutz situated in Israel (Hebrew) – and you may find yourself without a budget and in litigation hell. Nice throat you have there, be a shame should something happen to it.

So go on, be the human rights NGOs we like you to be – the sort that will allow us to pretend to the world Israel is a democracy. Just don’t pull the rope too much, just keep looking around; I may have unleashed the goat.

I know many people in the human rights NGOs scene. With no exception, they are brave, opinionated people whose ideals are more important to them than wealth. If anyone of them is paid, as Im Tirzu defames them, 9,000 Euros a month, I am yet to meet him or her. But people, when all is said and done, are geared towards a struggle which has a definite resolution. A much vaguer situation, when a threat is always near you but you can never know whether you can fight it properly and find out whether you’ve won or lost, is much harder. The state of a prisoner who knows the day of his release, be it 20 years in the future, is much better than that of the administrative detainee, who has to keep guessing whether at the end of his six months, the dark apparatus which imprisoned him may decide to arrest him again. That Netanyahu wants the NGOs to live in this uncertainty in is not accident. Who knows, maybe they’ll get the hint and start censoring themselves. Maybe they’ll start rethinking, and rethinking, their every word. Maybe we should soften this harsh paragraph? Use less incisive, more obfuscating words?

And that would be the most harsh defeat of all – because it won’t be acknowledge or even understood as such.

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    1. Henry Weinstein

      The Goat Technique is also the favorite management method to overcome the resistance of workers.
      Thinking of Bibi’s Israel, it’s very tempting to add the Threat Technique,
      which is the Ultimate Goat Technique so to speak.
      Seems the present Israeli government is always playing knowingly at the margins of legal rules, freezing & defreezing at each opportunity settelments building, postponing quasi-systemically evacuations of illegal outposts, Land Grab in short, playing poker bluffing not only with other countries but first of all with its own people, never tired to pass & stock-pile democratically anti-democratic bills like squirrrels do, Freedom Grab resulting from Land Grab.
      I wonder what the word “Trust” means for them, if it means something.
      Personally I don’t think all politicians are like that, I would say all politicians are like that when there are not counterpowers endorsed by constitutional laws, i.e a functioning civil society composed of civic and social organizations distinct from the state structures. Limits have to be set to the politicians’ freedom to get away with rules.
      It seeems that the Israeli government doesn’t trust Israeli civil society – which would be much more stronger composed of all Israeli citizens, regardless of their religion, origin -, and that no counterpower can restraint Israeli politicians from doing whatever they want.
      Without vigorous civil society, what you get is violence, i.e fascism destroying democracy from the inside.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Henry Weinstein

      I wonder what the word “Trust” means for them, if it means something for them.

      Reply to Comment
    3. I think, Henry, that the suicide bombings of 2000-4 greatly damaged Israeli civil society. Most of us can be pushed so far that we care not what happens to those we think are pushing. Active politics in Israel seems to have laregly abandoned the greater constitutional society you mention in favor of apparent security. Recall Joseph McCarthy in the US. No one seems to talk about what the suicide bombing years did to Israel. Well, Ben Israel does. I am not of his views, but he should be heard. Because, if you want to change policy, you are going to have to address those feelings.
      Consider how Bibi said those who planned the Negev attack “are no longer among the living.” He was most likely wrong. Yet does any mainstream Israeli media say so? We need to believe we know who to hit. The terrible reality is that we usually don’t really know who to hit. So we just keep hitting as a cover for or ignorance, fear.

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    4. Henry Weinstein

      Greg, not only I agree with you but I wrote several comments on this on Dahlia Scheindllin’s “DiCaprio brings peace to the Middle East – and the world” thread, notably Saturday 29 and Monday 31 October 2011.
      I wrote Israelis were “still waiting to hear Palestinians recognizing the trauma caused in the Israeli society by the Second Intifida and its suicide bombers. Truth is the Second Intifada has been a turning point for the worse, not only in the Israeli perception of the other & igniting the rise of fascism in the Israeli society, but because as a concrete result Palestinians got an apartheid-like system”.
      McCarty’s witch hunt against ‘Communists’ is an accurate historical parallel to depict what is happening right now in Israel, I agree with you on this too.
      I would add Monty Python’s Holy Graal, “She’s a Leftist! She’s a Leftist!”, with Bibi pontificating instead of John Cleese. Less funny, I know.

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    5. noam

      henry, those are wise words, not often heard on this site. i’m also light-years away from “ben israel”, yet i think repercussions of the last intifida on israeli society are often not brought into consideration.
      the effects of these attacks ranged between pushing people to the right to making people cynical and indifferent. very few people became stronger supporters of the palestinian cause this way, including arabs.
      let me be clear, i’m not saying anything against the committee against house demolitions and other ngo’s – and i share much of their positions. yet, if one wants to understand why most israelis were indifferent to measures like house demolitions (which i condone) as a reaction to suicide bombings, one should confront himself with the fact that these were indeed horrifying, unjustifiable massacres against civilians.

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    6. Henry,
      There are so many threads on the site, and I am not “here” everyday, so I missed your earlier comments, and am glad you repeated a bit here, above.
      As a far outsider, I can guess at a few ways to try and alter discourse:
      1) Those wanting peace (or at least an end to present policy), should acknowledge the effect of the suicide bombing campaign. But we can also ask how far, and for how long, present policy should go. You cannot force someone to apologize for hitting you (well, you can try), but you can certainly ask what the hits make you become. Gandhi (admitedly a hero of mine), would say that some protective responses change those so acting for the worse, and should be avoided. One can then link Occupation events with (part of) their original impetus. A Christian, a Gandhian, a Muslim may all say at some point “even though you did this to me, there are some things I cannot do to you, for fear of what I become.” I see no reason to exclude Judaism in this.
      2) It strikes me as much more reasonable to ask Palestinians to confront suicide bombing rather than demand they acknowledge Israel as “the Jewish State.” But we should also recognize that networks deploying suicide bombers are not, in toto, all Palestinians.
      3) I suspect that Palestinians do address the bombings in some of their internal talk. It takes a very strong person to speak of it publically, however, for it would be seen as giving Israel quarter. This is not true, though, for these networks have an adverse effect in Palestinian society, too. If some such speak out, they need real support. Atrocity can bridge the divide for some.
      Every once in a while someone on this site will help me understand certain Israeli policies. I think the IDF, internally, has a “never again” over the suicide campaign. I think, in fact, that the IDF is willing to ignore High Court orders because of this internal “never again.” Once I realized that, the IDF no longer appeared as a monster. Now, I think the IDF should obey all Court rulings; but if one understands (maybe) why they do not one may ultimately be in a better position to effect IDF complience. I would argue, generally, that when past events so control, even against the rule of law, such an attitude may lead to places members of the IDF do not want to go, if they had foresight.
      Nothing is gained by deriding right wing views in these matters. Something may well be gained by acknowledging their fist cause. When we say another people (or group or organization) cannot feel, then we will do naught but hit them, and they us.
      There is risk in hearing these cases. For the hearing may change us or third parties, listening. But I know of no other way to bridge the divides.

      Reply to Comment