Posts Tagged Israel

Five reasons why everything you have heard about the Israeli election results is wrong

This is getting to me.

1. There is an even left-right split

This seems to be a the conventional wisdom, even amongst Israeli publications that should, and do, know better.

Haaretz: “right-wing to take 61 seats, center-left 59.”

Jerusalem Post: “Final election count: Right bloc 61, Center-Left 59 seats.”

Or in graphic form (which is slightly outdated – before the last seat had been properly allocated):

charty3_2

This is a lie, don’t believe it. The real picture looks like this (although I don’t fully agree even with this one):

chartyparty

Courtesy of Shmuel Rosner.

You see, Israel does not simply have ‘left’ and ‘right’ parties like we are used to in two-party system countries like Australia, the US, the UK etc. Israel has a lot of different factions, none of which the media seem to be aware of. I can only pin this down to lazy journalism and/or media groupthink. Below are a few of the incorrect assumptions that are being made in this calculation.

2. The Arab bloc

For starters, it is useless including the Arab parties in the ‘left’. This is because ‘Arab parties’ is not really what they are, a more accurate description would be the ‘anti-Zionist parties’. A lot of the Zionist parties have Arabs on their tickets, and Chadash – the communist party that is normally counted in the ‘Arab bloc’ – has Jewish candidates. Meanwhile, a lot of the Arab voters in Israel actually vote for Zionist parties because, believe it or not, many of them care about domestic economic and social issues, and aren’t just driven to destroy Israel like Arabs are ‘supposed’ to be.

The point here is that at least Balad and Ta’al, and probably Chadash too – which hold 3, 4, and 4 seats respectively – would never join a governing coalition with anyone from the Zionist left. That means that the ‘left bloc’ could win 71 seats and still not be able to form government, as 11 of those seats would refuse to join the coalition.

3. The right-religious bloc

Supposedly, 61 seats went to the right. The breakdown of these were: Likud-Yisrael Beitenu, 31; Habayit Hayehudi, 12; Shas, 11; Yehudat Hatorah, 7.

Once again, this is by no means a cohesive bloc. It is true that, while there is a very significant ideological difference between the secular-nationalist LYB and the national-religious HH, they are both on the right of politics. The other two, however, are not really. Shas and Yehudat Hatorah represent the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) community, the difference between them being that Shas is Sephardi (from Middle Eastern countries) and YH are Ashkenazi (from Eastern Europe).

Both are more accurately described as ‘interest groups’ than ‘right-wing parties’. They are happy to join any coalition so long as their demands are met – which are primarily that they continue be able to study torah instead of having paid work, be exempt from national service, have generous government benefits for having a lot of children, and generally have their lifestyles subsidised by the Israeli taxpayers. In essence, the left could deal with them if they were willing to accept these conditions, which has often been the case in past governments. It is a little dishonest, therefore, to include them in the ‘right’.

4. The centrist bloc

At the moment, there are four parties that are referred to as ‘centrist’: Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid’s party), 19; Avodah (Labour), 15; Hatnuah (Tzippi Livni’s party), 7; and Kadima, 3. The one party I have yet to mention is Meretz, which is unambiguously on the Zionist far-left and won 6 seats.

Here’s the rub: I do not remember any other point in history where Avodah was referred to as a ‘centrist’ party. In fact, looking at their platform coming into these elections, they would be giving Trotsky a run for his money. Shelley Yachimovich’s plan to save Israel seems to be along the lines of ‘put everything under government control, tax successful businesses, and increase the size of every public service department’. I am fairly sure that would make her ‘left wing’.

Meanwhile, Hatnuah is essentially comprised of former Avodah leaders who left Avodah because they weren’t being chosen as leaders anymore. I think that qualifies as ‘left’ too.

5. Israel’s new ‘centre-left’ sensation

Now that is in contrast to Yesh Atid. As explained by Michal Koplow, Yair Lapid was not running on a leftist platform at all. In fact, his platform was more in line with the traditional Likudniks than anything else – that would be the Likudniks like Dan Meridor and Ruben Rivlin, who were purged in the primaries due to heavy branch-stacking by the settlement movement. Lapid is actually much closer ideologically to Netanyahu than most of the current MKs from Netanyahu’s own party. He has also been running this entire time very openly intending to join a Likud-led coalition once elected. Yesh Atid are a centre-right party.

So what really happened?

I think Yossi Klein-Halevi said this one best:

Yair’s ideological challenge will be to clarify the political center and give coherence to the instincts of a majority of Israelis. That centrist majority seeks a politics that isn’t afraid to acknowledge the complexity of Israel’s dilemmas. These voters agree with the left about the dangers of occupation and with the right about the dangers of a delusional peace. Centrists want a two-state solution and are prepared to make almost any territorial compromise for peace. But they also believe that no concessions, at least for now, will win Israel legitimacy and real peace. Centrists want to be doves but are forced by reality to be hawks.

I voted for Yair because, as a centrist Israeli, I have no other political home.

Netanyahu, who accepted a two-state solution in principle and then imposed a 10-month settlement freeze, tried to turn the Likud into a center-right party, more pragmatic than ideological and able to attract voters like me. But the ideological right within the Likud revolted. Today’s Likud appears more hospitable to the far rightist Moshe Feiglin than to centrists like Dan Meridor, denied a safe seat in the Likud primaries.

The Israeli media is speaking relentlessly of an even divide between the left-wing and right-wing blocs. That’s nonsense. Yesh Atid isn’t a left-wing party; half of its voters define themselves as right of center. Instead, the rise of Yesh Atid affirms the vigor of the center. Despite the historic failure of every centrist party—Kadima, the last attempt, virtually disintegrated in this election—centrist Israelis continue to seek a political framework.

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Did the left give up on Israel or did Israel give up on the left?

I hear a lot of talk from the Zionist left and right about the abysmal state of the Israeli left. Take, for example, this report by Elisheva Goldberg on the recent Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) march in Tel Aviv:

The Israeli Left’s Identity Issues – The Daily Beast.

The trouble is this: when “leftism” becomes an identity element, it makes leftist politics involuntary. It turns marching with ACRI from a political act of free will into a necessary expression of self. It turns human rights activism from a fight for political victory into a fight for acknowledgement and recognition. And—most crucially—it turns the left from a movement of social change into a group of people who love each other, but have given up on winning and instead are just doing their best to preserve their community. Ella’s last comment to me was that “we need to feel that we’re part of something so that we can get up and go to work every day.” These ACRI marchers feel they’ve lost—and so they have. They’ve decided they’re content just to feel loved and appreciated by each other—and so they will be.

There are plenty of explanations for this from both sides.

Ask someone from the right, and they will tell you that the left’s policies failed — Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Hizballah fired rockets for 6 years until a brutal and bloody war; Israel withdrew from Gaza and Hamas took over and fired rockets for 6 years and counting, despite two brutal and bloody wars; Barak sat down with Arafat and made a generous offer and all we got in return was an intifada; Olmert sat down with Abbas and made another generous offer and we got nothing out of it; the Palestinians and Arabs continue to spread antisemitism in schoolbooks, on TV, and everywhere else; the Muslim Brotherhood is taking over the Middle East; they all hate us and they want to kill us like they did in the intifada, so  we need to be strong and defend our borders and prepare for the impending apocalypse by buying a camper-van and moving next to Ramallah so we can improve our security by burning down some Palestinian olive trees.

Ask someone from the left and you’ll hear all about how Israel’s continuing occupation of the Palestinians is eroding its moral character and transforming it into some kind of proto-fascist society — everyone goes to the army, and so militancy is being bred into the society; years of controlling the Palestinians and relating to them only as soldier to controlled society has led to them being seen not as humans, but as some kind of lesser creatures; the failure to halt the settlement enterprise has put Israel in permanent control of the West Bank and made the two-state solution impossible, meaning there is some kind of apartheid system in place; the religious-Zionist camp has become increasingly racist and has begun to have more influence over the secular right and over the haredim; Likud is being taken-over by Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin, the Kahannists are the fastest-growing Knesset faction, they all hate us and want to kill us like they killed Rabin, so we may as well just give up and smoke pot in our run-down bauhaus apartment building in Tel Aviv while talking about how much smarter we are than everyone else and complaining that we don’t have jobs.

That’s not to say that there’s no merit in these theories. Maybe we can learn from both of them — for example, I don’t mind the idea of smoking pot near Ramallah and talking about how smart I am.

One thing that I do want to point out is that the two narratives are completely polarised in a way that is quite revealing of their respective mentalities: the Zionist left blame everything on the Israeli right and the Zionist right blame everything on the Arabs.

This annoys me, especially when I read things like this article by Peter Beinart, where he talks about how Obama has given up on Netanyahu without even mentioning that Obama may have also given up on Abbas — because it can’t be Abbas’ fault, the Israeli right is to blame for everything. Likewise for the many articles (I don’t have an example in front of me, but there’s no shortage) that keep talking about how much Israel just wants peace and it’s all the Arabs’ fault, as though the ruling party didn’t just preselect a lot of people who openly oppose a Palestinian state (the part about Danon and Feiglin taking over the Likud is true).

But anyway, that’s beside the point. I am going to posit another explanation for the state of affairs. We have a bad tendency in the Jewish community to think that we are the only ones affecting anything — when really, on a global scale, we are quite minor players. It’s probably some degree of internalised oppression resulting from antisemitic conspiracy theories, but that’s a different discussion.

A while ago, I read this piece on the geopolitics of Israel by George Friedman, which made a point that has stuck with me:

The Geopolitics of Israel: Biblical and Modern | Stratfor.

Israel exists in three conditions. First, it can be a completely independent state. This condition occurs when there are no major imperial powers external to the region. We might call this the David model. Second, it can live as part of an imperial system — either as a subordinate ally, as a moderately autonomous entity or as a satrapy. In any case, it maintains its identity but loses room for independent maneuvering in foreign policy and potentially in domestic policy. We might call this the Persian model in its most beneficent form. Finally, Israel can be completely crushed — with mass deportations and migrations, with a complete loss of autonomy and minimal residual autonomy. We might call this the Babylonian model.

Israel is a small fish in a big pond, but is very strategically located and therefore will always be in someone’s interests to control. When great powers compete over Middle East hegemony (as they tend to do), Israel can either survive as a client state, or be subsumed.

Until fairly recently, Israel was a client of the Western secular left. At the moment, Israel is a client of the Christian right. Europe — dominated by the secular left — has been becoming increasingly anti-Israel for a variety of reasons (and correlated with a dramatic rise in antisemitism throughout the continent). The Western academic left has essentially fallen to the Edward Said mentality and now speaks about Israel as though it were the root cause of everything that is evil in this world. A similar attitude pervades the UN (which is essentially where the academic left go on secondment when they are tired of academia).

Meanwhile, support for Israel in the Christian right has never been stronger. The massive Evangelical population in the US has become fanatically pro-Israel. In response to the growing cultural tensions in Europe and the ‘unholy alliance’ between the secular left and the ultra-conservative Islamists, the European right has begun to shift strongly towards Israel. I often hear remarks in Australia that the conservative Christian right is more pro-Israel than the Jewish community, and I think there is genuinely some truth to that assessment.

What does this mean? Put simply, Israel needs to maintain itself as a client state in order to survive. It can no longer rely on the secular left for support as, in a fit of post-colonial guilt and profound ‘Orientalism’, the secular left has determined that since the Islamists were fighting against George Bush, and they don’t like George Bush, the Islamists must be ‘part of the global left‘. Never mind all that stuff about hanging the homosexuals, stoning adulterers, and killing the women in your family for ‘dishonourable’ behaviour. That part’s not important.

In other words, the Israeli right has huge support from the global right, and the Israeli left is being scorned by the global left. Given the dynamics of Israel, it is small wonder that the left is in disarray.

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At least SOMEONE gets it (re Israelis and Palestinians)

I was a little heartened when I readt his profile of Sami al-Ajrami by Sarah Topol a few days ago.

Ajrami is apparently the only Palestinian living in Gaza who reports events there in Hebrew to the Israeli media. He has figured out something that seems to go over the heads of pretty much everyone else I ever see who try to push the ‘Palestinian’ line — including most of the Jewish left. My bold:

Translating Two Bitter Enemies In Gaza – The Daily Beast.

Ajrami says he tried to create common ground by comparing the Israelis who fled their towns in the south for the relative safety of Tel Aviv to Gazans evacuating their homes in heavily-targeted areas of the enclave. “I can understand your misery, as people, as humans—but you have to understand the message from Gaza,” he remembers saying. “It’s the same misery and there are politicians who rule and govern in a way that makes a lot of civilians dead.”

Israelis are more prone to understanding that message, Ajrami believes, than if he accused the Israeli military of targeting Palestinian civilians. “They won’t understand me, and they will say: ‘What? Fuck, you are launching rockets randomly on our houses!’ They won’t understand and they won’t feel sympathy towards your misery,” he says.

Ajrami’s mission is not to be a one-way bullhorn on the situation. When he speaks as an Israeli expert on local television and radio in Gaza, he tries to explain that Israel is a segmented society, with different factions that should be engaged in different ways. “Let’s separate between Jews and Israelis, and Israelis citizens and Israeli government and the Israeli policy, because I can have the support of a lot of Israelis because they understand and they call for the end of occupation, just like me,” he says.

I wrote last week about the common experience of being shot at and the futility of trying to be The Victim in the conflict. Ajrami understands that. He sees that the way to make Israelis sympathise with Palestinian suffering is not to start telling them how evil they are and how much worse it is for Palestinians than for Israelis, while trying to downplay the impact of Palestinian terrorism. The way to do it is to concentrate on shared suffering and common experiences.

Fear, suffering, and anger are things that Israelis understand. Trying to claim a monopoly on these emotions is what hurts the Palestinian cause the most (the same, by the way, can be said for the people on the Israeli side of the fence who do the same thing).

We need more people like Ajrami, and we need people on the Israeli side broadcasting to the Palestinians in Arabic. In fact, it seems insane that nobody in Israel has thought to do that yet (or at least, hasn’t done it well).

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Tel Aviv bus bombing kills chances for peace

**Update**

It seems that nobody has been killed, thank God. Also, it is not guaranteed that Hamas carried this out, but Hamas were definitely celebrating it. There are reports that Israel has stepped-up its airstrikes over Gaza and Hamas/PIJ have stepped-up rocket fire in response. Who saw that one coming?

Just to be clear: an anti-war rally in Tel Aviv was cancelled because of this bombing. Everyone in Israel who wanted to end the offensive has just lost their case. All of the Israeli peaceniks that I follow are as shocked and scared as everyone else. These attackers have essentially guaranteed that there is no end in sight to this war.

**Update** at least 21 injured. Police say it was a definite terrorist attack

Follow live blogs at these links:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/as-iaf-pounds-gaza-pm-meets-with-clinton-pledging-whatever-action-to-defend-israelis/
http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=291794
http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/blast-hits-tel-aviv-bus-at-least-17-hurt-police-chasing-two-terror-suspects-1.479535

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There are breaking reports of a bus bomb in Tel Aviv, the first attack there since 2006. From what I can gather from Twitter and elsewhere, it was a female terrorist who threw a bomb onto the bus and then left the area. The police has arrested one suspect and are looking for another. There were over 10 injured, three critically. Luckily, the bus was mostly empty at the time.

Most importantly/disgustingly, Hamas is busy celebrating this as a ‘victory for Allah’ over the loudspeakers in Gaza. Celebratory gunfire heard throughout the strip.

This pretty much puts an end to any hope of a ceasefire agreement. What Hamas have just done is won themselves a long-protracted ground war.

Congratulations.

Explosion hits Tel Aviv bus, at least 10 wounded; police suspect terror attack – Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper.

A bus exploded in central Tel Aviv on Wednesday, wounding at least 10 people, three of them seriously.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blast on the No. 66 bus on the corner of Shaul Hamelech and Henrietta Szold Streets, but Israel Police suspect it was a terror attack. Passersby were ordered to keep their distance from the scene.

Large police forces were deployed to the area, and opened a manhunt after two suspected terrorists. Eyewitnesses say they saw a person plant an explosive and run away. Al-Arabiya reported that at least one of the suspected terrorists was a woman.

“A bomb exploded on a bus in central Tel Aviv. This was a terrorist attack. Most of the injured suffered only mild injuries,” said Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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You think YOU have it bad? You should hear about ME! Or: why Israelis and Palestinians need to shut up and listen

What do you feel when you’re being shot at?

The answer may seem obvious, but in the scheme of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it’s important. As everyone tries to ‘out-suffer’ everyone else and the stories of trauma in Gaza and in Southern Israel mount, people seem to be forgetting this basic truth: being shot at is fucking terrifying.

That’s right, being shot at is a very unpleasant experience. It means that the person on the other end of the trigger/rocket-launcher wants to kill you, and is trying to kill you. Of course, there is probably some context: perhaps that person has suffered immensely; perhaps they lost a sister or brother or son or daughter and they are venting their rage at the people that they blame; maybe you have had a much more comfortable life than they have – they have been living in constant squalor fear, while you have been able to life relatively normally, most of the time at least; maybe it’s not you they were shooting at, but the person next to you – you just happened to get caught in the crossfire.

All of this information is important, but when you’re being shot at, it’s an academic point really. No amount of context will make you think ‘ok, well fair enough, I guess it’s not really their fault that they’re shooting at me’. It seems ridiculous to say, but the way people talk, you’d think that was the natural reaction that most people have. Abstract discussions of ‘necessity’ and ‘proportionality’ do not make you forgive the fact that you and your loved ones are being shot at. All that you really have in your head at that moment is ‘fuck, I’m being shot at’.

Here is something that everyone needs to bear in mind as they try to take the mantle of ‘suffering’ and claim the moral high ground in the current Gaza incursion: Israelis and Palestinians are shooting at each other. It’s that simple.

Well, it isn’t that simple. There is a lot to be said about the fact that Hamas is shooting at the Israelis to inflict terror and the Israelis are shooting at Hamas to try and stop Hamas shooting at the Israelis. But then, the Israelis inflict terror in spite of themselves. Shooting at people will do that. Whatever you want to say about Hamas launching rockets from civilian areas, it makes very little difference to the people who are on the ‘business end’ of the response. All they know is that they were not firing rockets from civilian areas, but they are being shot at.

Then again, that makes no difference to the Israelis in Hamas’ ever-expanding rocket range. The fact that they are being targeted with much less powerful weapons and that they have bomb shelters to run and hide to does not make the fact that they are being shot at less traumatic. All of those things are true, and they are losing less loved ones than the Palestinians in Gaza, but they are being shot at, and being shot at is fucking terrifying.

I have, over the course of my relatively brief time in Israel, had to take shelter from Hamas rockets twice and had rocks thrown at me once. That’s a hell of a lot less than most of the people in Israel at the moment, but when those incidents happened, I was not thinking about how terrible life must be for the Palestinians who were attacking me. My thoughts were more along the lines of: ‘fuck, I’m being shot at!’

I am writing this post because I have been sitting at my computer screen for almost a week now, watching two Sides of the Conflict trying to out-do each other in terms of being shot at. And in all honesty, the Palestinians win hands-down. The big Israeli infographics with numbers of rockets are not quite as pity-inspiring as footage of families grieving over dead children. But, once again, that is beside the point. In fact, what is really going through my mind is: what is the point? Why is it so important to have suffered? Why are we holding up spent rockets and dead and injured children to the world and saying ‘you need to feel sorry for me, I’m being shot at!’?

And more importantly, why am I the only one who seems to be affected by all of it and see two different groups of people being shot at? Why do I have to put up with so many people saying ‘you think the ISRAELIS are suffering? Do you know how many people died in Gaza today?’ or ‘you think the PALESTINIANS are suffering? Do you know how many rockets were fired into Israel today?’

Why can they not both be suffering? What’s so hard about recognising that the war is hell on everyone?

I can tell you this: there are two traumatised and terrified peoples firing at each other over the Israel/Gaza border fence right now, they are both going through hell, and neither of them will ever stop so long as they keep pretending that THEIR people are the ones that are REALLY suffering. Just shut up for a second and pay attention to the world outside your little bubble.

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Wow, that leader of Hamas’ militia sounds like a real stand-up guy

I’m sure that, by now, everyone has heard about this bullshit going on in Gaza. This is one of those rare situations when I say that I hate to say ‘I told you so‘ and I actually mean it.

Meanwhile, you know that ‘Ahmed Jabari’ guy that Israel just rocketed into oblivion? You know, this guy:

Well according to my old friend and sparring partner Liam, when he wasn’t busy launching rockets at Israel, or procuring rockets to launch at Israel, or calling for the ‘rats’ to be driven out of Israel (by which he meant the Israelis), he was actually ‘Israel’s biggest ally in negotiations with Hamas’.

Initial thoughts on “Operation Pillar of Defense” – Liam Getreu.

The guy was probably Israel’s biggest ally in negotiations with Hamas — ceasefires, returns of soldiers, etc. (Oh, wait, I thought Israel refused to negotiate with Hamas?) Yeah, he was a horrible terrorist, but so were plenty of other people that Israel talked to, and indeed became prominent Israelis themselves. I’m all for getting the bad guys — but choosing them should be done more carefully, and strategically.

Liam based his conclusions on something Gershon Baskin said:

The Israeli….

The Israeli decision to kill Ahmed Jaabri was total insanity. Jaabri was behind enforcing all of the recent ceasefire agreements. He sent his troops out to stop the rockets and was prepared to reach a long term ceasefire. Jaabri was also the main interlocutor of the Egyptian intelligence service in reaching ceasefire understandings. Now who are they supposed to talk to? Who can expect the Egyptians to continue to mitigate our relationship with Gaza? Now the government and people of Israel will face a massive barrage of rockets and they bought the entrance card to Cast Lead II.

Aluf Benn is also in on the party, referring to Jabari as Israel’s ‘subcontractor in Gaza‘.

Now I’m not saying that it’s typical of Liam not to fact-check things that sound a little implausible but kind of fit into his general narrative that the Israelis never do anything right. I wouldn’t say that. Not that I really understand what’s so appealing about the idea that Israel took out the best friend it had in Gaza other than some kind of perverse combination of vindication and schaudenfreude.

But what I am saying is that Liam didn’t fact-check.

For one thing, none of those ceasefires were really ‘enforced’. If they had been enforced, there would not have been ceasefires, there would have been a ceasefire. Maybe he did clamp-down on non-Hamas militias a little, but there are other things that he didn’t do – like not give them weapons, or not prevent them from firing at all. In fact, I don’t really see the fact that he clamped-down on non-Hamas armed groups as particularly endearing – one of the groups he completely drove out of Gaza was Fatah. That wasn’t about helping Israel, it was about holding onto power.

Meanwhile, it is true that Gershon Baskin was negotiating with Jabari… through Baskin’s Palestinian Christian colleague Hanna Siniora, who was speaking to Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Razi Hamed, who was speaking to Jabari. It is also true that he secured the Shalit deal, and that he kept Shalit alive and relatively unharmed – if a little malnourished and isolated, as well as and completely sun-deprived and denied his basic as a prisoner, let alone a prisoner of war – although he wouldn’t release him without Israel releasing a few hundred mass murderers and a thousand other Palestinian prisoners.

So this, apparently, makes him Israel’s best buddy in Gaza? Well as they say, with friends like these…

But in all seriousness, the argument that Liam/Baskin/Benn put forward is pretty much like those people who want Bashar Assad to stay-on in Syria because ‘better then enemy you know than the enemy you don’t’. I reject that idea completely. The enemy we knew was terrible. I have no doubt that the next Qassam Brigades commander will not exactly be a saint, but he might be less competent than Jabari and he will definitely be less experienced (and he will also definitely be a ‘he’, as an aside).

Either way, I feel like Liam is jumping to conclusions a little by condemning the strategic expertise of the Israeli government and intelligence agencies based on one journalist’s Facebook status. But that’s just me I guess.

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Gaza: if the current strategy isn’t working that well, why not try something stupid?

 

Israel has been hit with hundreds of rockets over the past couple of weeks. There is nothing new about this — Israel has been hit with thousands upon thousands of rockets for the past decade or so — except that the situation is becoming untenable.  The people of southern Israel are tired of living in bomb shelters, periodically closing schools, and having to make a decision every night about whether or not it’s safe to sleep in the second story of their homes and put the bomb shelter too far away to reach should a rocket land overnight.

Before anyone says anything, I am not trying to downplay what the Palestinians in Gaza are going through. I am trying to explain how Israelis are feeling and how they are thinking. Whatever else may be said about the rocket fire, it is not ‘harmless’ at all, it is terrifying for the people who have to live through it on a daily basis. The casualty rate is low only because of the insane precautions that the population has to go through, but being under constant threat is no way for 1/5 of the country to live.

The entire Israeli public are demanding that something be done. This crosses any kind of partisan and factional lines that you could imagine. Even those who are generally in the peacenik camp have been amping-up their rhetoric. Holding an outstretched hand does not seem like a great idea when you’re being shot at. Wheat we are looking at, potentially, is a repeat of 2008/09’s Operation Cast-lead. It’s an outcome that nobody wants, but if it’s the only way to stop these attacks, it may be needed.

Well, there have been a couple of alternatives floated. Take Nervana Mahmoud, for example:

The End Of Deterrence – The Daily Beast.

Going to war, however, is not the only option. There is potential for a political out, as some analysts advocate, including Khalid Elgindy of Brookings. A smart move would address both elements of the problem: the lack of a state that Israel can deal with and the non-state players. The solution for Gaza is two-fold, a conditional acceptance of Mahmoud Abbas’s U.N. bid in return for demanding that the Egyptians reinstate the U.N.-recognized Abbas government in Gaza and empower his security team to run the Rafah border. In addition, Israel announces its willingness to engage with the emerging Sunni alliance—Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt—to formulate a plan to dismantle Gaza militants’ military capabilities in return for lifting the siege. Such a gambit could snooker Hamas supporters into either accepting the deal, offering alternatives, or a rejection, which would make them appear to be the opponents of a political solution.

Clearly, among the different schools of foreign policy, Mahmoud falls into the ‘remedial class’. Let’s break this down item-by-item. First, Mahmoud wants Israel to offer to the Egyptians — who are led by the Muslim Brotherhood, let me remind you — that Israel will provisionally accept a UN bid that Egypt has not really expressed much investment in, in return for Egypt forcibly expelling the MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD-offshoot Hamas regime and instead installing a secular-nationalist Palestinian regime led by corrupt officials whose relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood could be best described as ‘sworn enemies who have been killing each other for years’. Do I have that right? Just checking we’re on the same page.

And then part two of this genius plan is for Israel to show that it is ‘willing to engage’ with Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. That would be the Egypt that has just decided to stop supplying Israel with natural gas, the Turkey that has just suspended all formal relations with Israel, and the Qatar that never had formal relations with Israel. Leaving Qatar to one side for a second, Mahmoud is suggesting that Israel engage with its two former allies, both of which have become increasingly belligerent towards Israel as a result of Islamist parties taking over.

Right.

I like this idea better:

State of Gaza – JPost – Opinion – Editorials.

Today, Hamas functions as the official political leadership of the entire Gaza Strip. The party sets both domestic policies – such as the institution of Shari’a law – and foreign policy. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh represented the entire Gaza population when he welcomed the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. And the emir effectively recognized Hamas as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians living in Gaza.

Recognizing Hamas as responsible for what happens inside Gaza – which has clear geographical borders – would serve Israel’s interests. Instead of struggling to distinguish among a myriad of players – Hamas, Salafis and international jihad-affiliated terrorist groups, as well as the Gaza civilian population – Israel should view the “state of Gaza” and its Hamas government as directly responsible for any act of aggression emanating from the territory under its control. Israel’s response to such attacks would, therefore, be directed against the territory of Gaza as a whole.

It makes no sense for Israel to provide an enemy state with electricity, fuel and other goods as it currently does. This makes sense only if a fabricated distinction is made between those in Gaza who fire at Israel and the wider “innocent” population. In reality, however, the majority of Gaza’s population continues to support Hamas, which rules the entire Gaza Strip domestically and represents it internationally.

In contrast, if Hamas provides stability and prevents smaller terrorist groups operating inside Gaza from firing on Israeli civilians, Israel could reciprocate by providing fuel and electricity and keeping trade borders open.

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Israel’s new ‘right wing super-faction’

Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman just announced a joint-ticket in the Israeli elections:

Likud, Yisrael Beytenu announce right-wing super-faction | The Times of Israel.

In a surprise move that caught even Knesset members from their own parties unawares, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman agreed that their respective Knesset factions, Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, will form a new right-wing super-faction to contest January’s general elections.Netanyahu and Liberman formally announced the partnership to the media at Jerusalem’s Dan Panorama Hotel at 8:00 p.m.

Obviously a lot of details are yet to be announced, but my gut reaction is that this is a bad move for both parties.

Likud is an established institution that appeals to a cross-section of Israeli the Israeli right – from the right-leaning secular Israelis to the religious-Zionists. Beitenu is a newly-established party that appeals predominantly to a base of Russian immigrants.

In the elections, Likud would have been hoping to capitalise on the voters swinging away from Kadima. I am not convinced that Liberman appeals much to that demographic. Similarly, I don’t think that the Russian population would see Liberman as an ally in the same way while his party moves closer and closer to becoming a faction of Likud.

If the information floating around Twitter at the moment is to be believed (which it probably isn’t), my reaction is being vindicated. Apparently Israeli Channel 2 conducted a poll which found the joint ticket getting only 33 seats, down from the 40 that the two parties currently hold separately. While the poll showed a complete collapse of Kadima’s vote (and I mean COMPLETE – they are on no seats at all), their votes were leaking primarily to Labor and to newcomers Yesh Atid.

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Shameless propaganda hurts pro-Israel cause

I am often a spokesperson for the pro-Israel community in Australia. I do deliberately put-forward a line that is favourable of Israel and I admit that, from time to time, I will downplay information that runs contradictory to that line.

It is not an attempt to deny or whitewash anything, more a necessary aspect of being a part of a public debate. Ceding ground can have severe consequences, so must be done very carefully. It is made especially difficult for people like me to give honest criticisms of Israel when faced with opponents who are unrelenting, intolerant and even genocidal.

Any small criticism of Israel made by someone in my position is taken to be vindication for views that I find abhorrent. A common and very prominent example can be seen in comments made by now Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak a few years ago that Israel could become an apartheid state if action was not taken on the peace protest.

Barak was playing domestic politics — trying to malign his right wing rivals for not taking enough action on the peace process. However, I cannot count the number of times I have heard that Barak quote followed by something like ‘I agree with Mr Barak, I just think that Israel already is apartheid’, as though this were a perfectly natural conclusion to come to and there was just a minor disagreement between the speaker and Barak.

And of course, as a certain Jordanian BDS group reminded us recently, many of my opponents have some kind of racial prejudice thinly masked by their adopted rhetoric. In a charming Facebook discussion, several Jordanian Palestinians made it perfectly clear that, to them, any Jewish presence in ‘historic Palestine’ is illegitimate and the Jews should all ‘go home’. No, none of them could answer where exactly ‘home’ is.

Anti-normalization and the Israeli Left – a Facebook debate | +972 Magazine.

ALL CITIZENS OF THE ILLEGAL STATES OF “ISRAEL” ARE A PART OF THE ZIONIST COLONIAL PROJECT, EXCEPT THE ORIGINAL PEOPLE OF PALESTINE, AND SO, ALL THOSE WHO SERVE THE ZIONIST PROJECT ARE ZIONISTS FOR US, REGARDLESS OF THEIR RACE, RELIGIOUS BELIEVES OR DISBELIEVES OR POLITICAL VIEWS, FOR DISAMBIGUATION, ANY NON-ISRAELI JEW IS NOT A ZIONIST, ANY PALESTINIAN JEW IS NOT ZIONIST, AS LONG AS THEY ARE NOT SERVE THE ZIONIST COLONIAL PROJECT BY OTHER MEANS THAN CITIZENSHIP

That said, I think it is extremely important to be credible when speaking on these issues. Using ‘their’ tactics against them is not a strategy that I can follow in good conscience.

While I may write carefully in order to give a certain impression, I am not dishonest, I do not lie, and I do not manipulate the truth for convenience’s sake. This is why I am extremely bothered by people like Maurice Ostroff, who has done all of the above in an op-ed in today’s Jerusalem Post regarding a group of African asylum-seekers who were trapped between Israel and Egypt for the past week.

Setting the record straight: Migrants… JPost – Opinion – Op-Eds.

Contrary to the claim that the Convention obligates Israel to permit these refugees to enter the country, there is no provision at all in the Convention requiring a contracting state to allow entry of refugees who are not already in its territory. Article 33 refers only to refugees who have already entered, whether legally or illegally.

This omission of a requirement to admit refugees not already in the territory was evidently deliberate, as described in the judgment in the matter of Regina v. Immigration Officer at Prague Airport [2004].

The judgment refers to the important backdrop to the Convention as described in “Refugees under International Law with a Reference to the Concept of Asylum” (1986), as follows: “States the world over consistently have exhibited great reluctance to give up their sovereign right to decide which persons will, and which will not, be admitted to their territory and given a right to settle there. They have refused to agree to international instruments which would impose on them duties to make grants of asylum.”

As regular readers will be aware, I make a habit of checking sources.

Here is the UK House of Lords case to which Ostroff was referring (European Roma Rights Centre and others v Immigration Officer at Prague Airport [2005] 1 All ER 527). The passage that he quoted was not a ruling by the Court, it was one judge quoting an Australian case that the court had been referred to by counsel for the appellants.

In fact, referring to that case at all is disingenuous to say the least. The case concerned Czech citizens who were trying to claim asylum without leaving the Czech Republic — meaning they could not possibly be considered ‘refugees’ as they were not ‘outside their last country of habitual residence’. This was also at a time when the UK was being flooded with asylum seekers from the Czech Republic, the majority of whom were not valid refugees.

There is not really any comparison to a group of African asylum seekers fleeing from Egypt, which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and which has some rather unnerving practises like shooting asylum seekers as they try to reach Israel.

In fact, the Prague Airport case was brought by Roma who claimed to have been discriminated against when British immigration officials would not let them board planes to the UK — and they won! The Court ruled that British authorities could not refuse to allow Roma into the country on the premise that they might claim asylum once there.

Meanwhile, this was just sickening:

In terms of Article 33, a refugee (as defined in Article 1) may not be expelled or returned (“refouler”) to territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Clearly this does not include threats by common criminals. If this were the case it would apply to citizens of all countries suffering from a high crime rate like Colombia, Mexico and South Africa, which was plainly not the intention.

It is therefore obvious that the Convention does not cover the circumstances of refugees seeking admission to Israel from Egypt.

‘Common criminal’ is a broad and meaningless phrase. Let’s look at the actual situation and see if it fits.

Ostroff was referring to these comments by the UNHCR representative in the region:

UN refugee envoy: Eritreans trapped at Israel-Egypt border must be allowed in – Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper.

“The most worrying thing to me is the discussion of pushing them back into Egypt, which is highly irresponsible, because if they go back to Egypt there is a high risk these people will fall in the hands of human smugglers, and it is well known, it is all documented, that many of these people have been abused, there are cases of torture or rape, and if you send them back you are sending them to a situation with a very high degree of insecurity.”

The Sinai is a largely ungoverned and chaotic region of Egypt. Its local population is mostly Bedoin and they make their money through organised crime, exploiting their convenient location on the land-bridge between Africa and Europe/Asia.

They also like to dabble in things like the human slave trade and kidnapping for ransom. They particularly like to target the vulnerable Africans trying to escape the continent as they know that these people have no real protection.

The Egyptian authorities have struggled to control this at the best of times and right now is probably the worst of times in this regard.

There is no ambiguity for Ostroff to hide behind, sending the asylum seekers back to Egypt would have meant that their “life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership”.

Attacking Egypt for turning a blind eye to inhumane treatment is entirely valid, however it is completely unjust to try and pretend that Egypt is an acceptable place for these people and Israel is under no obligation to take them in.

The worst part of Ostroff’s polemic, however, was this:

The lack of credible information from the Foreign Ministry and the IDF spokesperson is a sad reflection on Israel’s public diplomacy. While admiring the valuable humanitarian work performed by Israeli groups like “We Are Refugees” that filed a petition in support of the migrants, I am disturbed by the ill-founded criticism which has been disseminated worldwide by them and by William Tall, the UNHCR representative in Israel.

Clearly, Ostroff does not admire the petitioners who managed to convince the High Court that Israel had to let the refugees in. He is essentially advocating that the Government of Israel do everything it can to oppose them and then take credit for their work when it loses.

That is dishonest and contemptuous. It does the pro-Israel cause no favours at all.

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Yom Kippur bike rental and the Israeli anti-freedom lobby

Chaim Eckstein thinks that the Tel Aviv municipality has gone too far in not suspending their bike rental service on Yom Kippur:

Yom Kippur bike rental – secular fanaticism – Israel Opinion, Ynetnews.

Suspending the bike rental service on Yom Kippur does not constitute capitulation to the religious community, and it has nothing to do with religious coercion. Why? Because Yom Kippur is not a religious day; it is an Israeli day. It is one of the state’s symbols.

You do not have to observe the Torah and the mitzvahs to deem Yom Kippur a holy day. Even avid seculars fast on Yom Kippur. Even those who regularly eat bacon with cheese feel uncomfortable upon hearing that an Israeli who plays for a European basketball team took part in a game that was held on Yom Kippur. Eat falafel, go to a barbecue but also fast one day a year – this is what it means to be Israeli in modern times.

That may be true, but these avid seculars may also want to ride a bike while they are fasting. Or maybe the 30% of Israelis who are not Jewish may want to ride a bike around Tel Aviv on a day when you can’t really drive. Or perhaps the tens of thousands of tourists that keep the Israeli economy running may want to ride a bike around Tel Aviv on that day.

Either way, who the hell is Chaim Eckstein to tell them they can’t?

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