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The real danger of outlawing Palestinian political movements

Banning and persecuting political groups like the Islamic Movement and Balad has the effect of disengaging Palestinian citizens of Israel from the state and its political system. That is very, very dangerous.

Israeli police carry away documents and computers from offices of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, November 17, 2015. (Photo by Israel Police Spokesperson)

Israeli police carry away documents and computers from offices of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, November 17, 2015. (Photo by Israel Police Spokesperson)

The Israeli government has done very few things that worry me more than its ongoing assault on the country’s Palestinian citizens’ political representation. In the latest such move, the government outlawed the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and seized assets and properties belonging to 17 affiliated organizations on Tuesday.

One of the things that enables Jews and Arabs to live together in this country, which despite everything is still happening, is that both sides participate in civil society and politics (Arab society’s political and economic grievances are debated in the Knesset and the court system, and religious and civil institutions operate under the laws of the state and with its acceptance of them).

There is no love lost: the Jews don’t share power with the Arabs, and the Palestinians clearly don’t identify with the idea of a Jewish state, and even boycott some of its institutions. Yet system works, more or less. That is no small accomplishment, especially considering both the internal and external pressures at play here, like the fact that Israel keeps millions of Palestinians under military rule.

The Jewish side decided in the past few years that it has had enough. If its red line used to be aiding the enemy (a line only a very small number of people actually crossed), today, rejecting the idea of the State of Israel has become cause for delegitimizing Palestinian political parties and movements. That is a very dangerous development.

The decision to outlaw the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and efforts to disqualify the Balad political party from running in elections do not stem from incitement or support for terrorism — those are crimes that already exist in the law books and are regularly enforced — but rather because both movements represent radical schools of thought. The accusations suggesting Sheikh Raed Salah and Haneen Zoabi are somehow responsible for the wave of stabbing attacks are ludicrous. Most of the attackers have come from areas like Hebron and East Jerusalem, where the influence of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and Balad are marginal compared to, say, Hamas (which won the last Palestinian elections in East Jerusalem). It takes a special kind of crazy to think that Sheikh Salah or a few op-eds or speeches by Balad politicians could make a 13 year old stab someone — and if there is anyone “inciting,” one can easily find far worse things on the Internet.

MK Haneen Zoabi sits alongside members of the Joint List during a Supreme Court hearing on her disqualification from the Knesset. (photo courtesy of the Joint List)

MK Haneen Zoabi sits alongside members of the Joint List during a Supreme Court hearing on her disqualification from the Knesset. The court reversed an Election Commission decision to disqualify her. (photo courtesy of the Joint List)

The significance of outlawing these movements and parties is that it pushes large portions of Palestinian politics beyond the confines of the law. The Islamic Movement and the charitable and religious institutions operating under its aegis provide important services to Arab citizens of Israel — and more importantly, they serve as an outlet for expressing Palestinian political and social grievances. Balad has the support, or at least the appreciation, of a lot of the Palestinian intelligentsia in Israel. And it is clear that the government’s assault won’t stop here. The spotlight will soon shift onto the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement (the differences between the two aren’t all that great), and to Hadash, the communist party. In the end, only those Arabs willing to join Zionist movements will be allowed to participate in politics, and there aren’t very many of those.

People ask: why should the Israeli establishment permit a movement that denounces its very existence? There are two answers. Firstly, Balad or the Islamic Movement (or any other non-Zionist political party) do not want to annihilate Israel’s citizens — they want to change the legal system in the country, which is a legitimate demand in a democracy. The political right wing intentionally distorts that very important distinction. Secondly, Palestinians in Israel will never see themselves as part of a Jewish state — because they are not and cannot be Jewish. That they accept the state in practice, that they interact with its institutions and follow its laws is the best thing the Jews could hope for. Yet for some reason the Jewish public decided to take that miracle and throw it into the trash.

A dangerous consensus

From a security perspective, of course, that is a disaster. As long as the Islamic Movement operates within the confines of Israeli law its leaders know they are being scrupulously watched, thereby dramatically reducing the risk that they will engage in subversive activities. When political movements are made covert, their obligation to follow the law disappears and the process of radicalization is almost inevitable. Think about all the effort going into getting the Palestinian political movements in the territories to accept the State of Israel and reduce the violence. That’s the point of departure with the Palestinian political movements in Israel, and we are pushing them away from that point. There is no shortage of examples of Islamic movements that became militant the moment they were outlawed — the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example. There is a good chance that one day we’re going to miss the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which may have talked about attacks on the State of Israel but never actually did much of anything about it.

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement and former mayor of Umm al-Fahm. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement and former mayor of Umm al-Fahm. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

But the worst part about banning the Northern Branch this week was the complete consensus behind it — the exact same consensus that formed around efforts to disqualify Haneen Zoabi from running for office. The Labor party not only participated in the foolishness, it complained that it didn’t happen sooner. And that is most menacing phenomenon of the past decade in Israel. Among Jews, an absolute consensus has formed around the ideas that: Palestinians are not a legitimate part of the Israeli political system; that Israeli means Jewish; that the minimum requirement of Arabs is absolute obedience; that Arabs’ rights are guaranteed only in the economic realm, and only on a personal basis; and that those rights are not actually rights, but favors that we bestow upon them.

Faced with that worldview it would be prudent to remember that there is and always has been a bi-national reality in Israel, even if its institutions don’t reflect that. The proportion of Palestinian citizens in Israel is larger than the population of African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans in the United States — and that count leaves out the Palestinians in the territories, who also live under de facto Israeli sovereignty. Without mentioning the region in which we live, even if we are a white villa in the jungle, there is clearly no future in this land that isn’t a shared future, for Jews and Arabs. It is not a question of democracy or human rights; this is our life here.

I don’t get how people think that France can’t manage a five-percent Muslim minority but that Israel can control a 20-percent Muslim minority of which it demands compete obedience. It is madness for a country stuck in the middle of an entirely Arab region to espouse the idea of a war of civilizations between Muslims and Christians and Jews. Even if there were some legitimacy to that worldview (and there isn’t), the fact is that Europeans and Americans can afford that Armageddon — we cannot. And despite all that, we are taking the political spaces in which Jews and Arabs are succeeding to exist together, and we’re systematically dismantling them. For that, there is no rhyme or reason.

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

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    1. Ram

      Thanks for a great article, Noam. Brief comment – The Northern Branch of the Islamic movement does actually hold strong influence in East Jerusalem, following a process of disenchantment of the Jerusalemite Palestinian public from the PA over the past decade or so.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      As usual Sheizaf cuts through the fog and the bluster to the heart of the matter. With numbing repetition right wingers express the “absolute consensus” among Jews that Noam describes. As if it all made sense. But it doesn’t. Noam shows how this consensus attitude is, based purely on self-interest, madness.

      Reply to Comment
    3. mcohen

      What’s your point,why waste the space on the obvious.the temple mount is at the heart of this issue.salah has forced the issue to further isolate Israel.stamp him on the forehead with a settlement label and export him to the eu

      Reply to Comment
    4. Average American

      Mr. Gottesman: Did you say the State of Palestine? So you are not only in favor of two-state solution, you believe it already exists. Tell me, what are the borders of the State of Palestine? What are the water and electricity facilities of the State of Palestine? What army does the State of Palestine have? Who is the legislature of the State of Palestine? Where is the capital of the State of Palestine? These are rhetorical questions because there will never be a State of Palestine, because “Israel means Jewish” and has meant that from the beginning of Israel’s Zionist charter. Now in addition there is the Jewish Nation Law, which of course just as racist as the Arian Nation lebensraum of WW2. Why are people pretending about that.

      Reply to Comment
      • Merkava

        BEN alias Average American, you seem to have forgotten that you once lectured us that “Palestine” is a UN recognized “non-member state”? Palestine has its capital in Ramallah where PRESIDENT Abbas, the Prime Minister and other Ministers, the PLC (Palestine Legislative Council), police, intelligence services, army (Al Aqs martyrs brigade, Force17, Secrete Service, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, etc.) are residing. “Palestine” also has sophisticated layers of Courts. The Supreme Court of Palestine is in Ramallah. Got it now, Eva/Eliza/Lauren?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          “Hamas = Isis = lone teens with knives reacting against brutal occupation.” “Eliza = Average American = Eva = Laura = Ben.” “Palestine = a state….” As the highly placed American intelligence official put it: “You can’t embarrass an Israeli. It’s just impossible to embarrass them. You catch them red-handed, and they shrug and say, ‘Okay now, anything else?’”

          Reply to Comment
          • Merkava

            The more rattled Ben is, the more angry and ridiculous he gets. Let’s begin with this two points and get to the rest later, shall we?

            1. “Hamas = Isis…”

            Islamic State is killing innocent civilians and committing genocide to achieve political goal(s). HAMAS is killing innocent civilians and committing genocide to achieve political goal(s). HAMAS continuously, openly declares its intention to commit genocide against Jews and destroy the Jewish State and engages in mass slaughter of Israeli civilians to achieve that goal. So far, they have not succeeded, because, unlike the Yazidis, Israel is a Power greater than all of them put together!

            Wherein, Ben, lies then the difference between the Islamic State and Palestinian Islamic groups currently butchering Israelis in the streets? Can you articulate that and entertain us with coherent arguments, or are you going to copy and paste the opinion of some political pundit? Bring forward your arguments, Ben!

            2. “Hamas = Isis = lone teens with knives reacting against brutal occupation.”?

            (a) Do you mean this kind of “lone teens” who first ram their cars and buses into a crowd of innocent civilians gathered at a bus-stop waiting for the bus, then come out and use meat-cleavers and start butchering their dying victims? (b) Is that “a lone teen” you see in that video? (c) Is that butcher in the video “a lone teen” because he was “alone”? Answer the questions, (Eva .. LoL..). It does seem that you are not just clinically obsessed with Jews and Israel, Ben, but also that the hatred of Jews in your heart has rendered you completely irrational, Ben…..eh…..Average American?


            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”You can’t embarrass an Israeli. It’s just impossible to embarrass them.”

            I heard it another way. I heard that you can’t embarrass Arabs.

            For example, they claim that after 100 years of killing Israeli Jews, by all sorts of means, sometimes by organized massacres, by terrorist bombs, by suicide bombings, by rockets and openly rejoicing and handing out sweets in their streets rejoicing after every successful murder of Jews, including non Israeli Jews like the wheelchair bound elderly American Jew, Klinghofer whom one of their leaders pushed him off the Achille Lauro cruise ship after they hijacked it as well the massacre of our olympic athletes in Munich in 1972, after all those years of violence they look you in the eye and say with a straight face….

            What war? There has not been a war between us and the Israelis or other Jews, these were ALL just lone wolf attacks.

            Hey Benny, a thought just occurred to me, I don’t know why, please don’t be offended. I do have to ask you…

            Are you an Arab, Benny? Coz you made the same claim and methinks that only Arabs would not be embarrassed being caught making such outlandish claims.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            That’s bluntly racist. Wow. Ugly anti-Arabism. Can you just imagine the hue and cry if someone here said “You can’t embarrass a Jew”? You guys would be having seizures. Yet “you can’t embarrass an Arab.” !!! Not “you can’t embarrass a Palestinian.” But “you can’t embarrass an Arab.” You display your casual Israeli racism for which you feel entitled to a pass all the while you would go ballistic quite rightly on someone who said “You can’t embarrass a Jew.” The hypocrisy! The double standard! Arab-hater! Unbelievable! And a flatly hypocritical one! Oh my! Out in the open! And quite unwittingly you, an Israeli, end up therefore being THE poster child for the assertion that “You can’t embarrass an Israeli”! Wow. Just imagine some poster here blabbering that “You can’t embarrass a Jew. For instance, they claim that after 48 years of brutal occupation…..” Just wow. Oh my god. Now do you finally see yourself as you really are, how entitled and hypocritical Israelis like you have become? You get to spout racism, but let for example the president of the United States, who has done more for Israel’s security than any president in history, set any limits on Israel’s depredations in the territories aaaaaaand, you guessed it, he’s…an anti-Semite! Hypocrisy!

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav


            In the post before his latest post, Benny reiterated the following racist sentiment which he has uttered a number of times before…

            BEN:”You can’t embarrass an Israeli. It’s just impossible to embarrass them.”

            I then gave him a taste of his own medicine and now Benny is pretending to be outraged by MY “racism”.

            I think this guy is here purely to annoy. Hey Benny, you are so stupid that I no longer find you annoying. I just pity you. I just laugh at you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Seriously, though. Benny’s above approach sums up exactly what Israel is up against….

            …wall to wall hypocrisy and double standards…

            Why? Because of Arab oil money and the influence of the 1.3 billion strong Muslim bloc.

            Never mind. We shall overcome.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Oh no no no you can’t weasel out if this. “Israeli” does not equal “Jew.” And you well know it! Mon hypocrite lecteur!

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Our ignorant Benny is trying to make a case that making a generalized derogatory comment about a group of people based on their NATIONALITY is not racist. He should read the definition of the UN which classifies racism as follows…


            “Racism is recognised by many as an affront to basic human dignity and a violation of human rights. Racism is opposed by almost all mainstream voices in the United States. A number of international treaties have sought to end racism. The United Nations uses a definition of racist discrimination laid out in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and adopted in 1965:
            …any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. source”

            Note the words…

            “…any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or NATIONAL or ethnic origin…”

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Weasel words. I say “Israeli” you say “Arab.” If someone said “Jew” you’d have a holy conniption fit. But you get to say “Arab.” Cuz you are entitled. Because your casual racism is so ingrained you can’t even see it. You can not even see it bro. “Jew” is bad, “Arab” is A-OK. Mon hypocrite!

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Let’s see, Benny-leh how do things work in your petty little mind?

            One is born to an Israeli mother and father, so voila, woosh, one is automatically un-embarrasable.

            Oh and I also posted the definition of the UN of what they define as racism. It hasn’t been published yet by +972 (it had a link in it, I guess they are checking the link?). But here it is in a nutshell…

            “…any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or NATIONAL or ethnic origin…”

            Get it, Benny? NATIONAL origin too!

            Are you embarrased yet, Benny?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            I have come to think of Benny as a little pooch. He leaves his poo on the kerb besides a tree then he proudly walks off with his tail wagging.

            He is simply un-embarrasable. He dropped his racist comment about Israelis a few posts ago (the equivalent his pooch poo) and now he feigns self righteousness coz I exposed HIS racism by giving his own medicine back to him.

            I know you are falling over backwards trying to annoy with your transparent double standards Benny-leh, but the only emotion you evoke in me is pity. I pity you for your stupidity. And you give me perverse pleasure in rubbing your nose in your own poo Benny-leh. LOL.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The contents of your fantasies about me are of zero import. Really, you’d be surprised how little people are interested, I least of all. Lest you thought that your fantasies about poop would change the subject. Moreover, mon hypocrite, all your trollish “you must be an Arab” comments to me amount to your backhanded admission that you think all motivations in life are racial just because yours are. All your comments to me that “I doubt you are American because you criticize Americans” only show that your concept of democratic citizenship involves almost-fascist-like obedience to a hyper-nationalist creed.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Yep, Benny is unembarrasable and he is proud of it.

            Oh and Benny, I know that people are not interested in you. How could they possibly be interested in a pathetic caricature of a man such as yourself?

            You are good for a laugh though. You amuse me Benny. I can’t wait for the next opportunity to have a good laugh at your incessant nonsense which somehow you manage to bring forth from your rear end.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Is this guy amusing? Or is he amusing? LOL.

            BEN:”That’s bluntly racist…”

            BEN:”you think all motivations in life are racial”

            Reply to Comment
    5. Gustav

      BEN:”The Palestinians, furthermore, have had the responsibility of being Israel’s security contractor …for many, many years now and carried through on it, like adults. Done it faithfully and well.

      Benny is kidding of course. The PA have had that responsibility that is true. But they have done a terrible job. Families like the Fogel family which was massacred and families of the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered and many other families can testify what a poor job they did.

      BEN:”What ever has Israel carried through on for them?

      WTF, we owe them what they dish out to us. Hatred, hostility, violence and deception.

      BEN:”Israel can’t even be counted on to hand over tax revenues they owe them and swore to deliver.

      Yes Benny-leh. Now why don’t you talk about the fact that the PLO charter was supposed to be amended as part of the Oslo accords, to reflect the undertaking which they wrote in letters to give up on their plan to take over Israel and expel Israeli Jews.

      Neither Arafat nor Abbas delivered on this undertaking. Or many other undertakings either.

      BEN:”Remarkable hypocrisy.”

      You are very good at describing yourself and your Palestinian Arabs, Benny.

      BEN:”Drenched in an occupation overlord mentality.”

      Get over it, Benny-leh. Time is on our side. You don’t believe me? Just look at how far we have come and how your Palestinian Arabs are getting nowhere. Tell them to get some sense into their dense heads of theirs and make peace with us so we can both move on.

      BEN:”Have a nice day. Looks like you miss me.”

      Yes Benny, I miss you like I miss a stomach ache, you delusional moron.

      BEN:”But it’s over, Gussie.”

      Promise? So you have decided to F – off, at long last? I doubt it, never mind. I know how to handle fools like you.

      Reply to Comment
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