Posts Tagged Middle East

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Or in graphic form (which is slightly outdated – before the last seat had been properly allocated):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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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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Ivory Tower Watch: it’s all your Foucault

Before I start, let me apologise for the absence of posts recently. I’ve been very busy and have not really had time for this blog. Hopefully it will pick up again towards the end of the month.

Anyway, today’s ITW features an article by one Susanne Krasmann from the University of Hamburg, entitled ‘Targeted Killing and Its Law: On a Mutually Constitutive Relationship’. Krasmann is a follower of the ‘Foucauldian’ school of philosophy. We have encountered this school before on ITW here and here, but Krasmann is different, because she actually makes some very good perceptions.

The trick employed by the Foucauldian school was explained by Martha Nussbaum in a critique of leading Foucauldian Judith Butler:

obscurity creates an aura of importance. It also serves another related purpose. It bullies the reader into granting that, since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought, where in reality there are often familiar or even shopworn notions, addressed too simply and too casually to add any new dimension of understanding. … When Butler’s notions are stated clearly and succinctly, one sees that, without a lot more distinctions and arguments, they don’t go far, and they are not especially new. Thus obscurity fills the void left by an absence of a real complexity of thought and argument.

In even plainer terms than that, what Butler, Krasmann and our favourite Frenchie Michel Foucault like to do is write disgustingly dense an indecipherable passages about nothing very interesting. They do not have much to say, so they take as long as they can to say it, using the most obscure language possible, so that the average reader just assumes that, because they can’t understand what the hell the writer is talking about, whatever it is saying must be intelligent. All too often, it’s completely the opposite.

Which brings us back to Ms Krasmann. Here is the particular passage that sparked this post:

When targeted killing surfaced on the political stage, appropriate laws appeared to be already at hand. ‘There are more than enough rules for governing drone warfare’, reads the conclusion of a legal reasoning on targeted killing. Yet, accommodating the practice in legal terms means that international law itself is undergoing a transformation. The notion of dispositifs is useful in analysing such processes of transformation. It enables us to grasp the minute displacements of established legal concepts that, while undergoing a transformation, at the same time prove to be faithful to their previous readings. The displacement of some core features of the traditional conception of the modern state reframes the reading of existing law. Hence, to give just one example for such a rereading of international law: legal scholars raised the argument that neither the characterization of an international armed conflict holds – ‘since al Qaeda is not a state and has no government and is therefore incapable of fighting as a party to an inter-state conflict’ – nor that of an internal conflict. Instead, the notion of dealing with a non-international conflict, which, in view of its global nature, purportedly ‘closely resembles’ an international armed conflict, serves to provide ‘a fuller and more comprehensive set of rules’. Established norms and rules of international law are preserved formally, but filled with a radically different meaning so as to eventually integrate the figure of a terrorist network into its conventional understanding. Legal requirements are thus meant to hold for a drone programme that is accomplished both by military agencies in war zones and by military and intelligence agencies targeting terror suspects beyond these zones, since the addressed is no longer a state, but a terrorist network.

However, to conceive of law as a practice does not imply that law would be susceptible to any form of knowledge. Not only is its reading itself based on a genealogy of practices established over a longer period. Most notably, the respective forms of knowledge are also embedded in varying procedures and strategic configurations. If law is subject to an endless deference of meaning, this is not the case in the sense of arbitrary but historically contingent practices, but in the sense of historically contingent practices. Knowledge, then, is not merely an interpretive scheme of law. Rather than merely on meaning, focus is on practices that, while materializing and producing attendant truth effects, shape the distinctions we make between legal and illegal measures. What is more, as regards anticipatory techniques to prevent future harm, this perspective allows for our scrutinizing the division made between what is presumably known and what is yet to be known, and between what is presumably unknown and has yet to be rendered intelligible. This prospect, as will be seen in the following, is crucial for a rereading of existing law. It was the identification of a new order of threat since the terror attacks of 9/11 that brought about a turning point in the reading of international law. The identification of threats in general provides a space for transforming the unknowable into new forms of knowledge. The indeterminateness itself of legal norms proves to be a tool for introducing a new reading of law.

The first paragraph is not that hard to follow, primarily because she is citing the work of international legal scholars and not going off on her own wank (I couldn’t think of a better word to use). Here’s what that second paragraph reads like when translated from the academese:

While the law is shaped by the way that it is enforced, the way that it is enforced is itself shaped by the different historical interpretations of the law. The process of putting the law into practice changes the way that we look at what is or is not legal. Thinking about law this way helps us to understand the problem presented by law enforcement aimed at anticipating and preventing future crimes instead of punishing past ones. The law is incapable of dealing with ‘unknown unknowns’ — ie things that we not only do not understand, but cannot see coming. Actually identifying potential threats allows us to then begin developing tools to incorporate them into our legal system.

There is more to it than that, but I don’t feel that any of it needed to be there. This is actually a pretty strong argument and does have an impact on the way that the law treats targeted killings. I just wish that I hadn’t had to read that paragraph over several times to figure out what it was actually saying.

 

 

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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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Palestinian women, silencing domestic abuse and unconscious antisemitism

When I read the article this week in the Forward by Jay Michaelson on his break with the extreme anti-Israel “left”, I knew that I had to write something about it. Michaelson has been active for years in the LGBT movement and is well-versed in the social science theories of discrimination that are popular with the far-left and that I have been reading a lot of recently, so I recognised straight away what he was referring to and really connected with the striking observations that he was making about the anti-Israel movement.

I recommend reading the full piece, but I also want to concentrate on the following points:

When the Right Is Right About the Left – Forward.com.

Just as I try to remind myself of my white privilege, my economic privilege and my male privilege in my anti-oppression work, so, too, anti-oppression activists should be aware of the reality of anti-Semitism and the way it informs political discourse. If you single out the Jewish state for criticism among all countries in the world, the onus is on you to demonstrate that your discourse is free from conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Even if you’re Jewish.

For those who don’t quite follow, what Michaelson is referring to is a phenomenon known as “unconscious oppression” — people who are not members of a disadvantaged group are often completely oblivious to behaviour that is actually prejudiced towards someone from one such group.

This is the source of all of the arguments against things like black people being constantly portrayed as thugs and gangsters in movies, or the amount of scenes on TV showing a woman falling apart and crying hysterically while a man comforts her, or joking about how your new Asian friend must be good at maths. It’s the kind of subtle prejudice whose criticism has certain people saying things like “come on love, we were just joking!” or “oh God, the PC-brigade are at it again!”

Michaelson makes the point that the people who champion this idea more than any other at the same time are doing precisely the same thing to Jews. This links in to another point that Michaelson made and a news item from today.

Michaelson:

But the flattening of Palestinian society is even worse. Ironically, given the critics doing it, it’s Orientalist to depict the Palestinians … as noble victims of European colonialism, free from blemish and fault. Such oversimplifications are no different from those of noble “Indians,” noble poor people, or noble savages in general and are offensive to Palestinians and Israelis alike.

For example, in one of the accounts of an LGBT trip to the Palestinian territories last year, one participant expressed dismay at being told not to be visibly affectionate with her female partner. This naiveté is revealing. Palestinian society is patriarchal, homophobic and conservative. The Palestinian Authority has done little to prosecute so-called “honor killings” (that is, murders of LGBT people or unmarried women suspected of sexual activity), and there are hundreds of LGBT Palestinians living, legally and illegally, in Israel as a result. … There’s pinkwashing on both sides of the political fence.

As if on cue, Angela Robson had this story in the Guardian yesterday on the terrifying prevalence of domestic abuse in Gaza (my bold):

Women in Gaza: how life has changed | World news | The Guardian.

Before the blockade, my husband used to make good money working in Israel,” she says. “With the blockade, that all stopped. When he can’t find any work and we have nothing to eat, he blames me. He is a like a crazy animal. I stay quiet when he hits me. Afterwards, he cries and says, if he had a job, he wouldn’t beat me.” …

Violence against women has reached alarming levels. A December 2011 study by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, PCBS, revealed that 51% of all married women in Gaza had experienced violence from their husbands in the previous 12 months.

Two thirds (65%) of women surveyed by the PCBS said they preferred to keep silent about violence in the home. Less than 1% said they would seek help. Mona, my 22-year-old interpreter, is astonished when I later ask what support there is for women such as Eman. “If her husband, or in fact anyone in the family, knew she had talked about this, she’d be beaten or killed. As for places for a woman to run to safety, I don’t know of any.”

Clearly, the implication is that Israel is responsible for this abuse because it imposes a blockade on Gaza. As a letter this morning from one Abdul Hamed demonstrated, this was not lost on the Guardian’s readership:

Letters: Israel, Hamas and blame for the plight of women in Gaza | World news | The Guardian.

Reading Angela Robson’s depressing report (Behind the blockade, G2, 31 July), one could be forgiven for thinking that the horrors she describes are self-inflicted and largely attributable to the election of Hamas. This would be wrong, because long before that election the Israelis were systematically making any cross-border movement, particularly economic activity, unpredictable and arduous. … As a result, economic conditions in Gaza worsened, ensuring the election of Hamas. Today, that election is held up as the stumbling block to peace by the Israelis, just as Yasser Arafat was before his death.

Hamed believes that Israel deliberately stifled Gaza’s economy to get Hamas elected so that there could be an excuse not to negotiate a peace deal with a Palestinian Authority that is currently refusing to negotiate with Israel. Riiiiiight.

Putting to one side the crazy conspiracy theories and the argument over whether or not Israel is justified in blockading Gaza, Hamed seems to be implying that Hamas is responsible for all these abuses anyway. Well this is true to an extent, but unfortunately the other side of the Palestinian divide does not seem to be faring much better:

Palestinian women outraged by Bethlehem market murder | The Times of Israel.

The brutal killing of a battered wife in front of horrified witnesses in an open-air Bethlehem market prompted angry accusations Wednesday that Palestinian police and courts ignore violence against women. Nancy Zaboun, a 27-year-old mother of three, had her throat slashed Monday after seeking a divorce from her abusive husband of 10 years. …

Zaboun was regularly beaten by her husband … at times so severely that she had to be hospitalized … Even so, [he] was never arrested. Police only made him sign pledges he would stop hitting his wife …

But see, the PA are better than Hamas. Sure they do nothing to prevent husbands from beating their wives, but they at least punish husbands for killing their wives rather than killing the wife for speaking-out about being abused.

Last year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a decree that ended a long-standing practice of treating killings within a family with leniency. Justice Minister Ali Mohanna said such killings are now treated as any other slaying, and claims of assailants that they were protecting “family honor” are no longer taken into account.

Before I make my final point, I want to note these disgusting comments by an Arab-Israeli Member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and the Jerusalem Post editorial accompanying it:

Zoabi’s incitement – JPost – Opinion – Editorials.

It sounded quite unthinkable, but Knesset member Haneen Zoabi (Balad) blamed Israel for the recent slaying of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. “Israel is not a victim, not even when civilians are killed,” she declared in an interview with Channel 10.

Zoabi elaborated: “Israel’s policy of occupation is at fault. If there was no occupation, no repression and no blockade, then this wouldn’t have happened.”

This, again, is a common theme amongst anti-Israel groups that has been adopted by the anti-Israel “left” — the idea that innocent Israelis and Jews who are killed by terrorists claiming to act on behalf of the Palestinians somehow had it coming to them because of what Israel does. (I say “and Jews” because, as Mohammed Merah made very clear a few months ago by shooting some kids at a Jewish school in France to “avenge Palestinian children”, most terrorists do not see any difference.)

Remember that line I highlighted before where the abused wife’s husband blamed his unemployment for his beating her? Could there be a parallel mentality, in that the criminals are represented as the victims?

Put it this way, in blaming all evil on Israel and absolving the Palestinians of any of their own wrongdoing, the narrative of the anti-Israel “left” is horribly similar to the way the Nazis used to blame all of Germany’s woes on the Jews using many of the same tropes.

In saying that, however, I am opening myself up to the very common accusation of trying to silence critics because “to Zionists, any criticism of Israel is antisemitic”.

This is why Michaelson’s criticism was so incredibly perceptive and on-point. For the feminist movement — with which most of the anti-Israel “left” identify — “lighten-up love, we were just joking” is one of the worst things that a man can say. No one knows better when they are being discriminated against than the victim and, often, no one knows worse than the perpetrator. Discrimination is not something that is always done consciously, it flows from internalised preconceptions of how a group of people “must be”.

The anti-Israel “left” know this, and yet they still dismiss every charge of antisemitism that is raised at them.

Hamed’s letter effectively absolves Palestinian men from the horrible abuse that they are perpetrating and encouraging. Worse, it lays the blame on a group of people who have historically played the role of scapegoat for all manner of crimes: Jews.

That Michaelson quote that I began the piece with spoke of putting-aside his privilege to see the discrimination that he was really perpetrating. As most feminists would tell you, the way to end domestic violence is for men to be able to put-aside their societal conditioning and stop seeing women as weak objects to serve and be controlled by men.

Sadly, it seems that these same people are unable to put-aside their societal conditioning that when things go wrong it is the Jews that are to blame. In fact, they refuse to even recognise it.

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UPDATE: I’ve been accused of not practising what I preach/being full of unconscious anti-Arab prejudice/not acknowledging Palestinian suffering. I did quote a few people speaking about this without contradicting them, but I guess that wasn’t enough for some people.

So apparently I need to say this: Israelis are responsible for a lot of Palestinian suffering, there is a lot of racism in the Zionist movement and here are some things that I have written on that subject. It just wasn’t the focus of this post.

 

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Why the Levi Report would help Palestinians

Back on this theme, some detractors (who probably didn’t read the report before detracting) have attacked the Levy Report for bringing an end to the two-state solution and taking away Palestinian land rights.

For a quick and easy, cut-and-paste style rebuttal, I figured I would take a post by Benedict Roth on the latest uproar in the West Bank, followed by an excerpt from the Levy Report’s conclusions, then some commentary.

To wit (my bold):

The Prayers of Susya – The Daily Beast.

Susya is a tiny Arab village–more a shanty-town than a village–sandwiched between two Jewish settlements at the southern edge of the West Bank.  It has been repeatedly demolished by the Israeli army since its creation in the 1980’sIt is about to be demolished again, by court order, because it is sited on agricultural land and its residents have not been granted permission to build.

The Arabs whose shacks are being demolished have documents attesting title to their land. Ironically, they also hold title to the site of one of the Jewish villages, a few hundred yards away.  Indeed they lived there until the early 1980’s.  But they were ordered to leave by the military government after archaeological remains were found.  So they camped on their fields nearby.

… So, today, nearly every Palestinian construction site is “illegal” and is subject to demolition while the Jewish settlement programme proceeds apace, fuelled by a ready supply of building permits and funds.  By controlling Area C through its civil administration, Israel obtains all the benefits of annexation without incurring any obligation to grant its Arab residents legal and political rights.  Water, electricity, land, public services and votes are all reserved for Jews.

Levy:

a. The area of municipal jurisdiction of each settlement, if not yet determined, must be determined by order, taking into due consideration future natural growth.

f. In the event of conflicting claimants to land, it would be appropriate to adopt a policy whereby prior to any determination by the state regarding petitions for eviction or demolition, a thorough examination of the conflicting claims be conducted by a judicial tribunal dealing with land issues. This is all the more necessary with respect to claims of prior purchase or prescription, or where the possessor acted in a bona fide manner. Pending such determination, state authorities should be instructed to avoid taking any position in land conflicts and carrying out irreversible measures, such as eviction or demolition of buildings on the property.

g. To this end and with a view to facilitate accessibility by local residents to judicial tribunals, we suggest the establishment of courts for the adjudication of land disputes in Judea and Samaria, or alternatively, extending the jurisdiction of district court judges in order to enable them to handle in their courts, land disputes in Judea and Samaria.

h. It is necessary to draft into the security legislation a right for the public to review data banks administered by the various official bodies, including the Civil Administration, concerning land rights in the area of Judea and Samaria.


j. The composition of the Appeals Committee should be changed. It is presently manned by uniformed reserve officers, jurists, who are, of necessity, perceived at the least to be subordinate to, and even under the command of the Head of the Civil Administration. We feel that this situation is not proper, and therefore recommend that the Appeals Committee be composed of non-uniformed jurists, a factor which would contribute to the general perception of the Appeals Committee as an independent body, acting according to its own discretion.

k) The “Procedure for Dealing with Private Land Disputes” must be revoked. Such disputes must only be considered and adjudicated by a judicial body.

So let’s recap. A huge part of the problem (which, by the way, is a huge problem — I completely agree that the way the people of Susya are being treated is a disgrace) is that the people of Susya have been arbitrarily moved around and denied the right to enjoy land over which they hold title. This has been made possible due to the current Israeli Civil Administration in Area C; which has an Appeals Committee that is not a proper court and is essentially made-up of Administration officials; and which is overly secretive, extremely bureaucratic and very difficult for Palestinians to work with — whether they seek information or building permits.

I will note that I have a lot of (completely anecdotal) reason to believe that the difficulty in attaining building permits is not all down to direct discrimination, there is a significant amount of bureaucratic incompetence and corruption that presents hurdles to people who can’t “work the system” like Israelis can.

So what does the Levy Report recommend? That the Appeals Committee is abolished and replaced by a proper independent judiciary; that no new construction or demolition may take place without prior approval of this judiciary; that the judiciary is given the power to examine the land ownership rights that are currently ignored; and new freedom of information laws to make the whole process more transparent.

That, to me, looks a lot better for the people of Susya than the opaque, corrupt system they currently face, in which their claims are adjudicated by the people that they are going up against.

Please correct me if I’m wrong.

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