Posts Tagged democracy

In defence of Bibi and Israeli democracy

I would like to highlight this response to a recent New York Times op-ed by former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg. The response is written by Gil Troy on Karnage not-so-favourite editor Peter Beinart’s Open Zion blog (aka the best thing Beinart has done since he decided to dive head-first into the crowded pool that is the Jewish world’s Israel debate).

Troy makes some important points about Burg’s arguments, which I will conveniently identify below – although, as always, you are encouraged to click through and read the full piece.

Burg’s Blind Spots – The Daily Beast.

The first blind spot appears in Burg’s first paragraph, when he rants about a “misguided war with Iran” and calls Benjamin Netanyahu a  “warmongering prime minister.” … So far, as far as we can tell from the media, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reign has included unconventional alternatives such as cyberattacks, coalition sanctions, and assassinations, rather than bombing raids or battles—a salutary, more subtle approach.

This gets to me too. Bibi definitely talks a big game, but he has yet to launch any major military operations – let alone wars – in either of his terms as Prime Minister. By way of comparison, Olmert – the much-lauded peacenik – invaded both Lebanon and Gaza during his term last decade. Before him, Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield. Judging Bibi on his actual record and not his rhetoric, he is the least war-mongering Prime Minister of the past decade.

The second blind spot ignores any signs of life, liberty, equality or fraternity in Israel’s polity in order to justify the article’s hysterical title: “Israel’s Fading Democracy.” … How come we only hear from Burg about the “exclusionary ideas” of unnamed “rude and arrogant power brokers” as opposed to noble tales about the princes of the Likud, Ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, Knesset Speaker Rubi Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu himself, who, through their Beginite and Jabotinskyite liberalism have been fighting the anti-democratic and occasionally racist forces in their own party and coalition?

I was complaining about something similar in my Doug Cameron post last week. Bibi has spent the last four years blocking the vast majority of the antidemocratic reforms that Shas, Beitenu and the Danon faction of Likud have been trying to introduce. Instead of praising him for this, Burg et al seem to be doing whatever they can to make it not worth Bibi’s while to keep fighting – because win or lose, he gets condemned as though the reforms were his idea in the first place.

As a final thought, the Burg piece shows how the Israeli political debate seems to have descended into political point-scoring on every side. Ironically, this is not a sign that Israeli democracy is dying, but that it is just as vibrant as democracy in Australia or the US. (Yes, I said “vibrant”. That does not mean “good”.)

The problem is that partisan point-scoring makes more sense in a domestic context. Opened-up to the world, this does not do what Burg has developed these arguments to do (ie win votes for his party), it makes Israel look bad.

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For an opposite perspective, see Liam.

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The cancer that is eroding the Jewish character of Israel

Source: Activestills.org

Source: Activestills.org

It is hard to put into words what I feel about the events in the South Tel Aviv suburb yesterday with the bitterly ironic name of Hatikvah. That said, putting things into words is what I do. So here goes.

I’ll begin with someone else’s words: Ha’aretz journalist Ilan Lior, who was actually there and watched the whole thing play out. Here is how he described it:

How a Tel Aviv anti-migrant protest spiraled out of control – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

I have been a journalist for ten years. I’ve covered terror attacks, funerals, car accidents, and protests. I’ve seen fury, frustration, despair, and sadness in a variety of places and forms. But I’ve never seen such hatred as it was displayed on Wednesday night in the Hatikva neighborhood. If it weren’t for the police presence, it would have ended in lynching. I have no doubt. Perhaps a migrant worker would have been murdered, perhaps an asylum seeker, or maybe just a passerby in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Israel’s asylum seeker problem

I have written in the past on how Israel provides its African asylum seekers with a safe haven that is unmatched by any other country that side of Europe, but also that they still face difficulties. The situation that they find themselves in is depicted very well in this piece by Daniella Cheslow and I recommend clicking through and reading it, but in essence: Israel has no policy.

Tens of thousands of people have been fleeing for Israel over the past decade, primarily from Sudan and Eritrea. The horrors that they face at home and during the journey do not bear thinking about. Amongst other things, they are hunted for their ethnicity, quite literally shot on sight by Egyptian forces, and often abducted by Sinai Bedoins, held to ransom and then tortured to death when they can’t pay (African refugees do not tend to have a lot of money).

After weeks of travelling through harsh deserts, often on foot, they cross the border into Israel – where they are greeted by the Israeli border guards, given food and medical attention, taken to a detention centre in South Israel so that Israel can figure out who they are, and then given a one-way bus ticket to Tel Aviv.

That is the end of Israel’s plan for them. They arrive in Tel Aviv with absolutely nothing – no working visa, no knowledge of Hebrew, no friends, no family, no support network. There are now 60,000 of them – almost 1% of Israel’s entire population – and the Israeli government has had no policy at all to deal with the issue. For reasons outlined here by Shallya Scher-Ehrlich, this is in breach of international law.

What happens next is quite obvious: they serve the same functions as large groups of illegal migrants anywhere else. They work in below-minimum-wage jobs for people unscrupulous enough to employ them in these conditions, they live in crowded accommodation in the poorest neighbourhoods and, out of desperation and because criminal gangs are one group that do not exclude them for the colour of their skin, they often become involved in crime (although reports of them massively increasing crime rates are highly exaggerated).

The areas that they moved into were previously (and in some cases still are) the ones predominantly inhabited by Israel’s other marginalised groups – Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and from Ethiopia, or ‘Mizrachim‘. How the old residents have reacted was captured quite well in a profile by Ben Hartman on Sophie Menashe, a Mizrachi Jew who found herself to be the last Jew in a building now inhabited by African migrants:

Jpost | African influx to TA worries elderly Jewish holdout

Despite the descriptions of a gilded past, these neighborhoods were never upscale and had a persistent reputation for being crime-infested. However, the influx of Africans has added racial conflict to the already troubled social dynamic and has left many veteran residents feeling foreign and outnumbered. …

The apartment was once a source of pride for Menashe. …

Over the years, her neighbors grew older and died or moved out, and more and more foreigners moved in; first foreign workers, mainly from West Africa and East Asia, and over the past five or six years, East African migrants and asylum- seekers.

The sentiments that Menashe expressed toward the African migrants left little room for nuance: They carry AIDS and other diseases, are violent drunks and might be part of a plot hatched by the Jewish state’s enemies to flood Israel with African Muslims, creating a demographic threat to bring down the country from within.

Although such views would offend a wide swath of polite Israeli society, they come from a place of fear and frustration, and from long days spent cooped up in her apartment, afraid to step out into a world that has shifted beneath her feet – where Menashe now feels like a stranger.

These tensions have recently started coming to a head, and the government is finally reacting as a result – building a fence along the border to Egypt and building a massive detention centre to house the asylum seekers. In many ways, it seems as though they are taking a leaf out of Australia’s book.

Whatever your views on mandatory detention, one particular leaf that Israel has now taken is unambiguously disgusting, hateful and unjustifiable. That “leaf” is the 2005 Cronulla riots, which in many ways were mirrored by yesterday’s events in Tel Aviv.

This car with an African driver was attacked by the mob. Photo: Ha’aretz

I began the post with Ilan Lior’s eyewitness report of the incident and another, by Hagai Matar, can be read here. The worst part is undoubtedly the fact that the crowd was fuelled mostly by Members of the Knesset.

Hatikvah was a riot

Let’s be clear though, while some of these were government MKs, the protest was against the government’s policy. The protesters and the speakers were complaining that the government has not been harsh enough on the refugees. What the parliamentarians said, however, was disgraceful. Lior quotes Michael Ben-Ari, a Kahannist, saying, “there are rapists and harassers here. The time for talk is over.”

Wore still was the quote from Likkud MK Miri Regev, which I feel the need to emphasise in bold:

“The Sudanese are a cancer in our body. All the left-wingers that filed petitions in the Supreme court should be embarrassed – they stopped the expulsion.”

As a few have pointed out, this is precisely the kind of abhorrent, racist rhetoric that Iranian leaders use to refer to Israel and Jews, rightly drawing condemnation from most of the world.

Even worse, it is the kind of language that Sudanese President Omar Bashir uses when he’s busy inciting genocide against the black Africans in his Arab-ruled country. This is precisely what these people fled in the first instance, hoping for a haven in Israel, yet they are met with the same revulsion. It’s sickening.

Even this was not quite the evening’s the low point.

Ben-Ari, Regev and Major Karnage favourite Danny Danon  managed to rile the crowd enough that they transformed into a mob and began attacking the journalists mentioned above for being “traitors” and allegedly “throwing rocks at checkpoints” (which, needless to say, both of them deny ever doing).

The mob started chanting “Sudanese to Sudan!” and making their way towards the largely African neighbourhoods. What ensued was beyond harrowing. The mob went around South Tel Aviv, smashing the windows of African-owned businesses, looting African-run shops and attacking passers-by who happened to be black.

I cannot think of any epithets that even approach how repulsive this is. Jews Sans Frontiers, a group with whom I do not often agree, compared it — not unjustifiably — to Kristallnacht. Watching some of the footage, this is exactly what comes to mind:

Danon’s response? Well, he figured that he’d pen an op-ed. This was published in the Jerusalem Post the morning after the riot:

Deportation Now! – JPost – Opinion – Op-Eds.

We are at a critical crossroads with a strategic demographic threat developing within our borders that may upend our country’s very character as a Jewish and democratic state. It is nonsensical that such large numbers of illegal infiltrators from Africa are settling permanently in our country and so little is being done to rectify this problem. This is especially highlighted when taking into account that the crime rate among the infiltrators is almost double the rate of that in the general population. The desperately necessary solution is a three-pronged program to end this dangerous phenomenon: stop, arrest and deport.

A threat to Israel’s “character as a Jewish and democratic state”.

No.

The rhetoric that Danon was supporting and that pogrom he incited is exactly the sort of persecution that Israel was created to prevent. The Zionist dream was formed when Jews had to regularly endure this kind of treatment and longed for a place where they would be away from it, where they would be able to live without fear — not a place to import the violent prejudice that plagued the countries from which they fled.

The concept of a “Jewish state” may be difficult to define, but it was definitely not meant in the same way that the Nazis spoke of a “German state”. Whatever some anti-Zionists may choose to believe, Israel was never intended to be a land “cleansed” of non-Jews. It is supposed to be a homeland for the Jewish people, that to some extent embodies Jewish values.

This riot was about as far from Jewish values as anyone can possibly stray. Where is the “light unto the nations” now? Who is “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you?”

It is not the African migrants that are eroding Israel’s Jewish character, it is Danon, Regev and Ben-Ari. They are the cancer that is eating away at Israeli society, propagating this vile racism — not to mention trying to unravel the Constitutional basis for Israel’s democracy.

National unity

If there is some hope left to find in Hatikvah, it is in the fact that these MKs did manage to unite the Jewish people — against them. Jewish organisations around the world condemned what happened. Similar for everyone in Israel beyond a handful of extremists.

Even someone like Neil Lazarus — who has literally made his career out of defending everything Israel does — has come out strongly against Israeli racism as a result.

Moreover, the critical voices include members of the Government who are much more important than Danon:

Netanyahu condemns southern Tel Aviv violence – Israel News, Ynetnews.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on Wednesday’s violent protests in southern Tel Aviv and made it clear that “there is no room for the actions and expressions witnessed (in Tel Aviv). I’m saying these things to the general population and the residents of southern Tel Aviv, whose pain I understand.”

Rivlin: ‘Lawmakers Must Guard Their Words!’ – Inside Israel – News – Israel National News.

[Knesset Speaker Reuben Rivlin said that t]he people “may demonstrate and protest and demand the government formulate a solution, but there should be no incitement – and it is forbidden to use the same tactics anti-Semites used against us [in the Exile].”

“We suffered greatly from incitement and harassment,” Rivlin said. “We must be committed to sensitivity and finding just solutions. The main problem is not the infiltrators and refugees, but the lack of a clear policy from the government of Israel.”

It is important to maintain perspective. As Michael Koplow pointed out, there were only about 1,000 people who attended the rally, and fewer still who actually rioted.

Also, while I did use the word “pogrom”, this is not like the state-sanctioned pogroms that the Jews of Eastern Europe were subjected to. Happily, no one was killed or seriously injured on the night – thanks in no small part to the heroic actions of the Israeli police. Israeli society has overwhelmingly condemned what went on and it has been made clear by the Prime Minister and the President that this kind of thing has no place in Israel.

In that spirit, I strongly believe that the Members of Knesset who were involved in the affair should be forced to resign. What they said and did is absolutely unacceptable and their parties should not countenance that behaviour.

Also, I will be donating money to the African Refugee Development Centre in Tel Aviv, I suggest that you do the same.

I will leave you with some words from Adam Ibrahim, a leader of Israel’s African migrant community:

An African migrant’s plea for a few basic rights – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

If you don’t want us here, don’t turn your rage at us, because we have no choice. I have nowhere to go. I just want to live in safety. I agree to be deported to any African country, other than Sudan. I just want to live with dignity, without people talking about the color of my skin, and I want to stop feeling hostility on the streets.

It is important for me to say that we are not a burden on society. We work for less than minimum wage in jobs that Israelis wouldn’t want to do themselves anyway. We pay rent, and make do with organizations that we established ourselves. It is hard for me to hear Eli Yishai’s statements in the media. Their impact on Israelis is tremendous, since in Israel everyone listens to the news.

The state is spreading negative propaganda against us – they say it is unsafe here because of us. I feel that the Jews are doing to us the exact same thing the Germans did to them. Don’t talk nonsense – we are in the 21st century. Don’t talk about skin color, don’t talk about slaves and don’t say that I stink. We want to see a real democracy – not only words.

I know that I will never have equal rights here. I just want to receive the few rights that I do deserve as a refugee.

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Arab democracy blooming from Spring, but not what you’re thinking

An item in the International Herald Tribune reveals that Jordan is beginning to develop a genuine civil society that is independent of Government. What has led to this? Well, not the common people rising up against their dictator — King Abdullah is one of the Arab rulers who looks to be emerging from the “Spring” mostly unscathed. Also, if there’s one lesson from the past year, it’s that in most cases the Arab public do not want democracy and will not vote for progressives or reformists — rather, they overwhelmingly support the Muslim Brotherhood.

The civil society that I am referring to, in fact, comes from the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the carnage in Syria and one very wealthy Jordanian man whose conscience couldn’t bear to see them suffer.

Jordanian Donors Privatize Relief – NYTimes.com.

RAMTHA, JORDAN — Nearly every day, Thaer Al-Bashabsheh drives his BMW to the end of an unmarked road in Ramtha, in the northwest of Jordan, to check on the hundreds of refugees who occupy a five-building apartment complex donated by his family to house people fleeing from Syria.

In the past four months, aid workers say, more than 10,000 refugees — mostly from the southern Syrian city of Dara’a and central Homs — have made their way through the camp. Mr. Bashabsheh says one woman, who arrived with a bullet wound in her shoulder, recounted how she had been carrying her 3-year-old son when government forces shot him in the head, the bullet going through his skull and out the other side through her shoulder.

A 25-year-old man who died of a heart attack at the border is buried in the Bashabsheh family cemetery.

“When I’m go through the camp teardrops come to my eyes because I see kids my son’s age. It kills me to see them shoeless and dirty,” Mr. Bashabsheh, 36, said in an interview. “There’s a guy who lost his leg, and I see an old man, 95 years old, who cannot move and is sitting under the shade of a tree.”

“This is not a life.” …

The family subsidizes the camp for Jordan’s Interior Ministry at a personal cost of about 280,000 Jordanian dinars, or $395,000, per year. They also provide food, water, clothing and cigarettes for those who have fled President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Mr. Bashabsheh said. The camp is supposed to hold only 600 people, but at one point it overflowed with 2,000 refugees, according to local news reports.

“You know, daily, my father is taking from the bank 1,000 Jordanian dinars, going to the camp, coming back in the night” without a dinar left in his pocket, Mr. Bashabsheh said, puffing on a Cuban cigar.

As I have mentioned many times, elections are the final step towards democracy and not the first. Steps like wealthy Jordanians feeling obligated to spend their personal money helping those less fortunate is a step towards democracy. This is the start of the classic Hobbesian “social contract”, whereby the society is united by common values and the ruling class is a part of that society and not a separate entity that spends its time consolidating power and wealth (as is the case in the vast majority of Arab states).

This idea can be exemplified by people like Andrew Forrest, the mining magnate who today outlined his new initiative to employ Indigenous Australians. He laments the decades of well-meaning enslavement of our Indigenous community through keeping them poisoned through welfare and not affording them accountability for their own actions. Instead, he is taking them into his company on his own initiative and giving them the skills they need for the dignity of being productive citizens.

Work is the key to living free of the curse of welfare and shame | thetelegraph.com.au.

There will be some who will dismiss this great cause if I neglect to mention an important truth. A truth I have seen best taught by Aboriginal elders, leaders and scholars – some of whom are in this room.

I understand what they are saying to me: “When it comes to having the respect of others, being Aboriginal is not an achievement in itself”. It is not a right, a reward, or anything else that one earns by effort. It is a simple fact of birth which can be upheld with respect or cheapened by the actions of the indigenous individual. The same is true for all of us.

Those parents of Aboriginal youth who stereotype their own people through misbehaviour cannot turn a blind eye to the impact of their example. Nor can they blame anyone else. The family unit so deeply and traditionally honoured in indigenous culture means elders and parents take responsibility. No longer can they say: “There are no jobs, there is no place for me.”

The expectation is no different for Aboriginal people than for every other Australian. No segment of our society can excuse or blame bad behaviour on Aboriginality.

But we must make sure that the opportunity to work is well and truly there, and our expectation of their duty just the same as for any other Australian.

Of course, Forrest has been made a nemesis by Treasurer Wayne Swan, who figures that he — not Forrest — should be determining how Forrest’s money should be spent (probably on more welfare).

Meanwhile, as the Project on Middle East Democracy has reported, Tunisia is also seeing an incredible amount of civil society activity and looks to be the only Arab revolution that may actually lead to democratic rule. The situation in Tunisia is largely because Tunisia has been the only Arab country that did not elect an Islamist majority in Parliament — the ruling Ennahda party has had to form a coalition with secular groups. This is more proof that the centralisation of power is the enemy of freedom, a lesson that many in Australia could do well to learn.

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Why do they hate Mona Eltahawy for speaking about Arab women?

Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy has a piece in this month’s Foreign Policy on the problems faced by women in the Arab world. This is a very important article and I would encourage you all to read it, but I want to highlight the central point in her thesis — which has been proven overwhelmingly by the response that has exploded literally hours since her article went online (the print edition is not even out yet).

Eltahawy begins her essay with the point that when anyone normally brings up the issue of Arab women, they are shouted-down with problems women face in the West. As if this is a reason not to speak about something far, far worse.

This is the third-worldist cultural relativism that I have highlighted a few times. It is the insipid prejudice of low expectations — using “cultural differences” to justify holding others to a lower standard. It’s hard to even imagine the outcry that would follow a white, American pastor coming out in support of female genital mutilation — yet one of the leading clerical celebrities in the Arab world does so unashamedly and no one blinks. He even gets invited to hang out with London Mayoral candidate and career antisemite Ken Livingstone.

If no one says anything, nothing will ever get done about this. Good on Eltahawy for standing up to the cultural pressures trying to crush her into silence. Elections in Egypt will not bring democracy so long as female candidates cannot even have their faces on electoral material.

Why Do They Hate Us? – By Mona Eltahawy | Foreign Policy.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either. …

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women.

Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

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If only the rest of the Arab world had Tunisia’s problems

There is a genuine confrontation going on between pro-Government protesters and the State media.

That means the State media is actually not controlled by the Government and has been reporting on flaws in Government policy. Even Al-Jazeera, which everyone keeps heralding as a “democratic force” is suspiciously silent on the leaders of the Gulf states(/often just putting out Qatari propaganda when it reports on the Middle East).

These protests in Tunisia are a sign that the country may actually pull through and establish democracy. Long may they continue.

THE DAILY STAR :: News :: Middle East :: Tunisian TV journalists in shouting match with protesters.

TUNIS: Journalists of Tunisia’s state television Wataniya had a shouting match Monday with protesters who have staged nearly two months of sit-ins outside its offices accusing it of backing the ousted Ben Ali dictatorship.

Shouting “Media of Shame!” the protesters brandished brooms and bottles of chlorine and demanded the “cleansing” of the national broadcaster, while Wataniya employees massed on the other side of the perimeter fence vented anger over the disturbance. …

Relations are strained between state media and Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that won elections in October and now leads the governing coalition.

Wataniya is regularly accused of denigrating the work of the government and even of plotting to overthrow it. On the other hand, many in the media suspect Ennahda of wanting to keep them in check.

 

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On the Finkelstein report: HAS ANYONE ELSE ACTUALLY READ THIS THING???

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the Inquiry into the news media by Justice Raymond Finkelstein that is making waves in Australia. In the time that I have been reading it, everyone in the media has come out against it. And I mean everyone — from Andrew Bolt to the Green Left Weekly.

Many of these criticisms (including both Bolt and the GLW) stem from the claim that Finkelstein advocates imposing regulation on any blog with more than 15,000 hits per year. For some perspective, this blog received about 19,000 unique views in the last year (most of which would represent multiple “hits”) and that includes a good four-month period in which I was barely posting.

Other people to raise this as an issue include Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella, Institute for Public Affairs researcher Chris Berg, Sydney Institute head Gerard Henderson, influential political blogger Andrew Landeryou of VexNews and ABC’s Media Watch. Some even quoted the actual line in context, which I find absolutely baffling. Take a look here, pay attention to the sentence that comes after the one with the number “15,000” — which I have conveniently bolded for you:

If a publisher distributes more than 3000 copies of print per issue or a news internet site has a minimum of 15 000 hits per annum it should be subject to the jurisdiction of the News Media Council, but not otherwise. These numbers are arbitrary, but a line must be drawn somewhere.

I feel like I may need to draw your attention a little more, given how many people seem to have missed this, so here goes:

“THESE NUMBERS ARE ARBITRARY”

That means he is not recommending the number of 15,000 hits per day. 15,000 was just a random number that he made up.

There is no possible explanation for this except that one person skimming the report noticed the number and then everyone else in the media saw that somewhere and decided to make a huge deal about it without actually bothering to read the report. Ironically, this is exactly the kind of low journalistic standards that Finkelstein identifies as a problem in a report that  has been — unsurprisingly — blown completely out of proportion. I guess the press don’t have the attention-span to read through 334 pages anymore.

What is particularly ironic is that Media Watch also made the same error — aren’t they supposed to be the ones picking things like this up?

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Your depressing Israel reading for the weekend

Just when things were starting to get more happy around here, these came up.

Numero uno: an article by MK favourite Diaa Hadid on the issue of detaining Palestinian children that has been getting a lot of exposure over the last couple of months. As usual, Hadid presents one of the most balanced perspectives out there and her reporting is appropriately damning of all sides.

There is, for instance, disgraceful treatment of children by the IDF:

Israel policy of detaining kids questioned – The Denver Post.

BEIT UMAR, West Bank—When Mahmoud al-Alami was 9 years old, an Israeli soldier caught him throwing rocks, took him out of his uncle’s arms, slung him over his shoulders and carried him away.

Mahmoud, now 10, says he was subsequently blindfolded and shackled, slapped and ordered to confess to throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and identify other children doing the same.

But then, there is the disgraceful use of violence in protests that Palestinians and their sympathisers try to spin as “peaceful”:

Israel’s military points out that rocks Palestinian youths throw can be dangerous and even deadly. In September, an Israeli settler and his year-old son were killed in a car cash after stones were thrown at their vehicle on a highway that crosses the West Bank.

“It doesn’t matter if it was thrown by a 12-year-old or a 20-year-old if it killed somebody,” said an officer in Israel’s military justice system, speaking on condition of anonymity under briefing regulations. “We still have to take minors to trial. It’s still a serious offense for us.”

Then, of course, we have the disgraceful inculcation of a violent mindset into Palestinian children, which creates this whole cycle in the first place:

Mahmoud denies he was throwing stones at soldiers when he was detained for several hours in February last year. He says he was hurling rocks at friends pretending to be Israeli soldiers—a game the children call “Arabs and Jews”—near a military watchtower in his home village of Beit Umar. Nearby soldiers thought he was targeting them, he said.
“It was just a game,” the fifth-grader said.

And, as usual, we finish by being reassured that nothing will change:

The arrests warp relations in tightknit villages too because children are bullied to confess against their neighbors. Parents fight over whose child squealed on whom, said Fatima Awad, 50, whose son Mohammed was imprisoned for six weeks at age 14 for throwing rocks.

Mohammed, who is now 15, said his mother doesn’t let him attend demonstrations anymore.

“All of us throw stones, it is not one or two children,” Mohammed said. “If they take a few kids, will it stop? No. There will be others.”

*sigh*

Meanwhile, Israeli journalist Dimi Reider has written a piece on Israeli democracy for the New York Review of Books. Reider’s piece does not exactly give a balanced perspective, but nevertheless makes some frightening observations. I feel that I have to point out both what is good and bad about Reider’s piece, so bear with me Read the rest of this entry »

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And the Greens call themselves “progressives”…

There has been a lot of what looks like sensationalism/paranoia surrounding the Finkelstein report on the media in Australia, so I have decided to read it myself. I will write on this when I have seen more, but I did want to highlight something early on.

Firstly, Bob Brown’s call for a media inquiry (my bold):

…but the leader of the Greens, Senator Brown, called for a general inquiry into the newspaper industry. He suggested that the inquiry should canvass whether:

· publishers should be licensed
· a ‘fit and proper person’ test should be applied
· there should be limits on foreign ownership of the press
· the newspaper industry is too concentrated
· there is a need for independent regulation of the press

A few pages later, Finkelstein summarises how the idea of a free press came to the British Common Law (and therefore Australian Law) (my bold):

The newly-invented printing press came to England in 1476. It brought about a sweeping change in communication possibilities. There was now a means, which could be employed by many, of carrying speech far and wide. It did not take long for the state to exercise strict control ‘over the printing, publication and importation of books’ in the interests of the state’s ‘peace and security. As early as 1484, monopolies were granted to publishers to print particular books. Then, in 1534, it became an offence to purchase a book published abroad. This was followed by proclamations against seditious and heretical books

2.9 In 1586 the Star Chamber issued a decree prohibiting all printing other than by licensed stationers. …

2.10  …The 1662 Printing Act was the last attempt to regulate printing by statute. The Act established a licensing system. The licensor was required to certify that his work was not ‘contrary to the Christian faith … or against the state or government’.

2.11 By the early 1690s advances in technology had significantly reduced the cost of printing and it was no longer practicable for the state to keep printing under control.

2.12 The 1662 Act was allowed to lapse in 1694.

As a small point, Australia still bans the importation of foreign books to a large extent (or at least, this was reintroduced somewhere down the line).

More importantly, Bob Brown is trying to bring back the idea of licensing press outlets in order to quell criticism of the Government – an idea that our legal tradition got rid of more than 300 years ago. This is supposed to be progressive? I can’t think of many things more regressive.

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A warning for Arab women, hope from Palestinians but in spite of everything, Israel still way out in front

In an article that I will probably discuss later, Israeli academic Eyal Gross rebuts a theory by another academic that, in his words, “what he calls the ‘racist’ narrative of gay-friendly Israel versus homophobic Palestine confirms Israeli perceptions of the collective others by representing the queer Palestinian as a helpless victim of Palestinian homophobia in need of the benevolence and protection of the Israeli state.” As Gross notes, the reality is that this is true: there are a lot of persecuted gay Palestinians who would find some kind of solace in Israel. Of course, Israel does harbour some intolerance and it is not fair to stereotype all Palestinians as homophobes, but it is equally true that mainstream Israeli society is against homophobia, whereas Palestinian society is a very difficult place to be gay – openly gay Palestinians are quite literally risking their lives.

The reason I am relating this is to illustrate the unfortunate tendency in some parts of the Western “left” to reject as “racist” any criticism of non-Western (and especially Middle Eastern) societies. In their well-meaning eyes, they see all people as basically “good” and do not want to accept that, for instance, Arab society tends to be extremely sexist, homophobic and racist. Ironically, they attribute the belief that this is, in fact, the case to a “colonialist” attitude – white people thinking that non-whites are barbaric savages. Ironically, it is these “third-worldists” who are in fact taking a patronising/colonialist attitude. Even worse than stereotyping Arabs as “backwards”, they are taking their own interpretation of “good values” and imputing it onto the Arabs.

This patronising attitude has been showing-up everywhere since the “Arab Spring” began last year. As “the people” of Egypt, Libya and Syria were protesting dictators, the third-worldist wisdom was that they must want a more democratic society. Then suddenly, after decrying everyone who was worried about an Islamist takeover as “racists”, they are shocked when the Libyan National Transitional Council announce that they plan to implement Shariah. The reality is that the Libyan revolutionaries were always open about where they stood on Islamic law, the third-worldists just refused to listen to them when they criticised Qaddafi for discouraging women from wearing the veil and for being accepting of Jews and Christians.

How short everyone’s memory is. Even if you can’t think back to Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, remember what happened when the Afghans became free from Russian oppression? Well if your memory could use some jogging, Morwari Zafar has written an amazing obituary for her grandmother, Massouma Esmatey-Wardak, an Afghan leader and politician who was hit as hard as the rest of Afghanistan when the once relatively prosperous and modern nation was taken over by Islamists.

Determination Defined: Remembering an Afghan Pioneer – by Morwari Zafar | The AfPak Channel.

In the wake of her successes at the helm of AWC, President Najibullah Ahmadzai appointed Massouma as Minister of Education in 1990, though she was not a part of his contentious political party. Her appointment at a post formerly held by her husband, who supported her, was part and parcel of the political reformations in the country at that time. Under the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), the country was progressing socially in a way that seemed incongruous with Islam. And more than ever, Massouma was determined to secure access to education and promote literacy for women. The efforts were condemned by most Mujahideen [holy warriors] leaders, who perceived the developments as a communist endeavor destined to obliterate Islam from the country’s core values, and promote sexual anarchy.

Women’s rights disintegrated in the chaos of the civil war … After the Soviet withdrawal, President Najibullah agreed to transfer power to the Mujahideen in an effort brokered by the United Nations. Headed by President Mojadeddi, the former Jihadists took key ministerial positions in the new Islamic Afghan Government … The Taliban dealt the final blow to the social development and women’s rights of my grandmother’s generation. The current Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan maintains a sketchy record of human and women’s rights, and yet 50 years ago, even women in some rural areas had access to education and healthcare. Neither my grandmother nor my grandfather was born to wealthy families with vast social capital. They came from modest families that understood the value of education — especially for women — as a part of Islam, not divorced from it.

Afghanistan was starting from a better position than any of the “Arab Spring” countries: Wardak was the Minister for Education there, no “Arab Spring” country ever had a woman in a prominent leadership role. The only one that genuinely seems to be showing progress towards a more free and open society is Tunisia, where the Islamist al-Nahda was forced to join in a coalition government with secular parties. Egypt and Libya do not look so lucky, and by refusing to acknowledge how serious the situation there is, the third-worldist West is damning the women, Christians and other groups to some very unpleasant circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians seem to be actually making some progress against their retrenched prejudices. Jillian Kestler-D’Amours has reported on a Palestinian female-run radio station that could signify something extremely important (my bold):

FM Radio Spells Change, Success for Mideast Women – IPS ipsnews.net.

Launched in June 2010, Nisaa FM is an almost entirely female-run Palestinian radio station based in Ramallah, West Bank and the only radio station in the Middle East devoted solely to women’s issues. Its director Maysoun Odeh Gangat says that the station aims to inform, inspire and empower local women.

“Through the positive role that the women are playing in the society that we portray, we believe that we can empower women economically and then socially and politically. It could be any woman from the rural areas or the refugee camp, or a woman parliamentarian or minister,” Gangat told IPS.

In addition to suffering from a myriad of human rights abuses stemming from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza, Palestinian women face challenges from within their own society.

According to a 2009 report released by the Palestinian Women’s Information and Media Centre (PWIC) in Gaza, 77 percent of the women in Gaza had experienced some form of violence; 53 percent had been exposed to physical violence and 15 percent to sexual abuse.

The bolded paragraph is key: this fact is almost never admitted by anyone on the “pro-Palestinian” side. The Palestinian people have for decades remained in a self-perpetuated misery by blaming everything wrong with their lives on Israel and refusing to look within their own community. In a way, they have been simply believing what the third-worldists tell them; amazingly I have actually heard people blaming Palestinian oppression of women/homosexuals on Israel, in spite of the fact that the Palestinians are no different in that regard from all of the neighbouring Arab countries.

If the Palestinian Authority is now allowing a voice like Nisaa FM to start accepting some culpability and criticising their own culture for its flaws, maybe we will actually start to see progress in peace talks.  Addressing domestic violence and sexual abuse is a start, but a lot can potentially follow. That said, there is still a long way to go until they are even close to Israeli society, as was demonstrated recently. Despite all of the many issues with the ultra-orthodox and gender segregation, all three centre-left parties in the Knesset now have female leaders; this means that if anyone can unseat Netanyahu, Israel will have its second female Prime Minister by next year. Recognising the difference between the two societies is neither racist nor colonial, it is simply allowing yourself to see.

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This is seriously starting to threaten Israeli democracy

Uzi Landau, Yisrael Beitenu MK and Israeli minister for infrastructure (who recently visited Australia, incidentally) spoke yesterday on the new reforms to the Israeli High Court that his party are trying to push through.

I find what he said terrifying.
Judicial selection reform postpon… JPost – Diplomacy & Politics.

I think that over the past 20 years, the behavior of the Supreme Court, and the legal system in general, has become a mistake of the democratic system.

We need to change this matter on a basic level.

I think that if the Supreme Court justices knew how to act in an orderly matter, without imposing themselves into issues that don’t concern them, without interfering with the actions of the Knesset, or the actions of the government, and if they were less politically motivated in their decisions, then the current selection process would remain.

But, the problem is bad, and we must deal with it.

Just to explain the context behind the bill he is talking about, this is not the only change that they are making. The coalition is introducing dramatic reforms to the judicial selection process to give them more control over who is appointed and to get their friends in.

Peres: Israeli right-wing bills are ‘digression from democracy’ – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

The Knesset approved on Monday evening a bill proposing to abolish the rule that a justice cannot be appointed Supreme Court president unless he is at least three years short of the mandatory retirement age of 70. The bill would pave Justice Asher Grunis’ way to becoming Supreme Court president. Fifty-two MKs voted in favor, 35 voted against the bill.

Grunis is seen as a conservative judge who mostly refrains from intervening in decisions made by the executive and legislative branches, and is thus popular with right-wing politicians. But when Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch retires at the end of February 2012, Grunis will be five weeks short of three years from retirement.

Another bill, dubbed ‘the Sohlberg bill,’ and sponsored by MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) was also approved. The bill would change the way the Israel Bar Association’s two representatives on the Judicial Appointments Committee are selected. Currently, the bar’s national council picks both; the bill would require one to be the bar chairman and the other a member of the bar’s internal opposition.

The bill paves the way for Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg to sitting on Israel’s highest tribunal of justice. Sohlberg, who lives in the settlement of Alon Shvut, has in the past been criticized for rulings thought to infringe freedom of the press.

This is following the bill a few months ago that was passed for the purposes of prosecuting the political enemies of Avigdor Lieberman and his Beitenu party. I have to lay this out in stark terms. Under the impetus of Beitenu, the Israeli Knesset is doing the following:

  • If they have a political enemy who says things that they don’t like but is technically doing nothing illegal, they pass a law that makes that person’s conduct illegal and then prosecute.
  • If they are supporting things that are in fact illegal, but are blocked by the courts, they pass new laws so that their cronies can be appointed into judicial positions to approve their activities.
This is exactly the kind of pattern that sees a democracy slowly slide into dictatorship. The two most fundamental elements of a democracy are the freedom of speech and an independent judiciary that can hold the government to account. Elections are not up there, the most important thing is that people can debate and scrutinise the government and the government is subject to the law, not the other way around. If judicial independence and free speech are taken away, Israel will cease to be a democracy.
I am actually terrified by this.
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**Update**
I do want to qualify this. The other bill being passed regarding restrictions to foreign funding of NGO’s is a good idea.

Israeli NGOs brace for restrictions on foreign funding – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had already announced support for one of the bills, sponsored by two members of his Likud party – MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis – which would cap foreign governments’ contributions to “political” non-governmental organizations at NIS 20,000.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, meanwhile, is throwing its weight behind the second initiative brought forth by party MK Fania Kirshenbaum, which would slap a 45 percent tax on foreign governments’ donations to NGOs ineligible for state funding.

Damn straight. I find it hugely problematic that millions of dollars of foreign government money flows tax-free into Israel every year, particularly as a lot of it goes to organisations which work to undermine Israel as a state. When foreign governments are involved, it is not an issue of free speech, it’s an issue of foreign policy. European countries funding anti-Israel activists within Israel is essentially a form of diplomatic warfare and it is perfectly legitimate for Israel to deal with it as such.

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