Posts Tagged Zionism

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Or in graphic form (which is slightly outdated – before the last seat had been properly allocated):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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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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African Migrants in Israel – Betar Australia open letter to Danny Danon

Regular readers will have seen the rather concerning rhetoric coming out of, inter alia, Likkud MK Danny Danon regarding the African migrants in Israel. Regular readers will also know my feelings towards Mr Danon — particularly that he misrepresents his ideological forebears and is in many ways betraying the Revisionist Zionist tradition.

I have just seen this open letter to Danon from the Australian branch of Betar — the youth movement of Likkud’s father, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, of which Danon is world chair. As it is an open letter, I will reproduce it in full and hope it gets as much exposure as it deserves.

While the letter, I think, speaks for itself, I do want to extend a huge kol ha’kavod to Betar Australia for standing up for the values on which their movement is based.

An open letter to MK Danny Danon,

We are writing to you in respect of your position as the chairman of the Knesset committee for Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, the chairman of World Likud and as a past chairman of World Betar. Recently we have seen a number of attacks on African migrants living in Israel. Regardless of their status in the country, these attacks have come as a shock and an embarrassment to us as Jews. However, your words in regard to the “national plague” (that is commonly referred to as African migrants) have greatly upset us as Betarim.

We would like to reiterate that Betar Australia firmly subscribes to Betar’s key stance of ‘Had-Ness’ – our most important value is Zionism, we subscribe to the importance of the Jewish majority and our highest flag is the Israeli flag. We do acknowledge the complexities related to the influx of African migrants, and we are not trying to mandate a policy to you from the other side of the world; however we believe that you need to urgently reassess your policy in regards of some of the important ideological principles held by Betar and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

When Jabotinsky wrote “in the beginning, God created men” (The Story of My Days, 38); he was referring to mankind as a whole, to our shared origins and our shared humanity. This aspect of humanity is unequivocally expressed in our ideological principle of Hadar. Hadar, as you know does not specifically refer to the Jews – it refers to how all people should treat themselves and others in a ‘princely’ manner.

These people fleeing conflict from Africa, who have chosen Israel because they know it is a moral and free country, are just as human as us. In fact, in their present state, they are unmistakably similar to us as Jews. We have always been refugees; our ancestors have been refugees since the destruction of the first Temple up to our grandparents, who fled a climax of persecution around the world. Menachem Begin saw this when he allowed Vietnamese refugees who had been rejected by the rest of the world to settle in Israel, even granting them citizenship, as the minister, David Levy, the former Minister of Absorption said, “May they lend a hand to save women and children who are in the heart of the sea without a homeland, and lead them to safe shores.” Israel desperately needs to develop policy to deal with this crisis and to deal with it humanely. We reiterate that we are not seeking to dictate policy from outside of Israel. However, as Jews and Betarim we do expect for the political establishment in Israel to act decently and to approach this issue humanely, without prejudice and to acknowledge the responsibilities that Israel has towards refugees as a signatory to both the UN Refugee Convention (1951) and Protocol (1967).

Human rights have, apparently, been trademarked by the Left of politics, but as our ideology shows they have origins in the Right and as Begin’s story and the history of past Likud government’s show; it has almost always been the Right which has implemented the humanistic policies that have rendered Israel as ‘a light unto other nations.’ As Betarim, we urge you to reconsider your stance regarding these people and we request that you ensure that Israel fairly determines who needs protection and offers them this. To deport people to persecution and danger is not the act of a Jewish State. Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years and their state should not be one that has a hand in leading others to suffer the same fate. As Jabotinsky wrote, “there is no power that would be able to tear from one’s heart the hope for a better future.”

Ki Sheket Hu Refesh – Because Silence is Mud.

Tel Hai,
Betar Australia Inc.

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It’s not censorship: Limmud Oz and BDS activists

Limmud Oz, the “festival of Jewish learning”, is taking place this weekend. As occurred last year, they are not permitting BDS-supporters to speak at the seminar.

AJDS have gotten on a high-horse as a result and are condemning the “censorship” taking place:

Stop censorship at Limmud Oz 2012 | The Australian Jewish Democratic Society..

This culture of censorship within the Australian Jewish community is dangerous and only conveys the message that dissent will not be tolerated. This is a major freedom of speech issue for the Jewish community and the wider community concerned with a resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict.”

For one thing, I think that there is a lot of merit in the argument that Limmud is doing AJDS’ job for them. Limmud works with Israelis and brings Israeli speakers to Australia, therefore technically the BDS supporters should not be participating anyway.

Of course that doesn’t stop them, because they only support boycotting Israel in its entirety when that doesn’t take away their soapbox.

Secondly, what is happening there is not censorship. Censorship is preventing someone from speaking or preventing a certain message from being heard. Not inviting someone to speak at your conference does not constitute “censoring” them.

AJDS are perfectly free to say whatever they want — in fact they do that, all the time.

It’s the same line of thinking used when people like AJDS complain that the mainstream media “censors” them. That is not the case — the reality of holding fringe views is that people probably will not want to listen to you. I sure as hell don’t, and I spend half of my life reading fringe views.

Crazies have a place, but that place is not in mainstream fora. Limmud is not censoring AJDS, it is exercising its discretion and determining that BDS not something that fits the Limmud mandate.

If AJDS are so upset, they should hold their own conference. Of course no one will go — but that’s kind of the point.

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The cancer that is eroding the Jewish character of Israel

Source: Activestills.org

Source: Activestills.org

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

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

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

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

Israel’s asylum seeker problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jpost | African influx to TA worries elderly Jewish holdout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hatikvah was a riot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

National unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jews should boycott Jews who boycott Jews, by Isi Liebler

It goes something like this: “Jews boycotting other Jews is a disgrace! Jews who call for a boycott of settlements should not be welcomed into the Jewish community!” — ie, we should boycott them.

Apparently the internal inconsistency of this argument has not dawned on Mr Liebler.*

The editorial correctly expresses consternation that the South African government is creating an atmosphere in which bullying Israel is considered perfectly legitimate. Surely the Diaspora Jews who indulge in similar activities should likewise be fervently condemned for conducting hostile acts against their own kinsmen. The suggestion that the vast majority of committed Jews in the Diaspora, as well as Israelis, should welcome Jews calling for such boycotts into “the big tent” if their “motivation” is deemed to be “well intentioned,” is thus idiotic and unconscionable.

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* In case I really have to say this, I am not in favour of boycotting settlements, but I will defend to death Liam’s right to say it.

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The real crisis is the America-centric Zionism

Jordan Chandler Hirsch has given the best review that I have seen yet of Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism (UPDATE: except this one) (disclaimer: I have not read the book myself). For those who don’t follow these things, for the past couple of years, Beinart has been trying to pioneer some new form of “liberal Zionism” that, for reasons explained below, I find deeply flawed.

Before I get into that, I would just like to highlight one important point that Beinart has backtracked on. In the New York Review of Books essay with which Beinart originally launched his campaign, he had a premise that was very popular with quite a few of the Jews who were inclined to agree with his position anyway (hi Liam): that the reason American Jews have become increasingly alienated towards Israel is that they cannot “blindly support” Israel the way AIPAC does (which AIPAC doesn’t actually do).

This is understandably an attractive prospect for Beinart and his followers — who wouldn’t want to believe that everyone naturally agrees with them and if only the establishment were different, they would be super popular. Unfortunately for Beinart (and Liam), this assumption is not grounded in reality.  He has since been proven wrong and quietly moved away from this position:

Diaspora Divided > Jewish Review of Books.

Beinart—though he doesn’t explicitly admit to it—largely walks back his theory of political distancing in The Crisis of Zionism. In fact, in direct contradiction to his article in The New York Review of Books, he endorses Cohen’s argument that, for the vast majority of American Jews whose ties to Israel are weakening, intermarriage is a more important factor than politics. Noting that the intermarriage rate among Jews today is “roughly 50 percent,” Beinart admits “the harsh truth is that for many young, non-Orthodox American Jews, Israel isn’t that important because being Jewish isn’t that important.” Later, he states, quite rightly, “it would be wrong to imagine that young, secular American Jews seethe with outrage at Israel’s policies.” “For the most part,” he writes, “they do not care enough to seethe.”

Hirsch goes on to explain the important flaws in Beinart’s thesis. He more-or-less describes my point of view as well: rather than addressing the problem, Beinart is just presenting Read the rest of this entry »

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Criticising an organisation you do not understand: J Street and AIPAC

To my readers: I’m sorry that this week has been completely focussed on Israel and Toulouse. Hopefully regular blogging will resume soon.

Myriam Miedzian says AIPAC’s policy is making American Jews less liberal on Israel. Her solution, naturally, is to plug J Street.

Myriam Miedzian: How the Split on the Jewish Left Helps AIPAC and What Can Be Done About It.

according to a 2011 poll commissioned by J Street 67 percent of American Jews would support U.S. leadership in helping to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict even if it meant “publicly stating its disagreements” with Israelis and Arabs. This is contrary to AIPAC’s position of pressuring our government into supporting Israel’s conservative leaders.

… Most American Jews remain exceptionally liberal  … It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that AIPAC influences U.S. Jews to be less liberal on Israel than on other issues.

I am completely sick of reading this kind of thing. I noticed that Miedzian hyperlinked references to most of what she said, but not to the bolded sentence. The reason why she didn’t? That is not AIPAC’s position.

J Street and its supporters everywhere have been dismantling a straw man for the past two years, completely missing what AIPAC in fact Read the rest of this entry »

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Beinart boycotting West Bank settlements and MK going to blog-war

Friend of the blog Liam Getreu and I were having a private email conversation over Peter Beinart’s recent New York Times op-ed — and upcoming book — which calls for Jews to boycott West Bank settlements. The piece has been creating a huge stir on the old interwebs, with responses being thrown-around everywhere and a particularly amusing-yet-insightful Twitter debate going on between Beinart himself, Palestinian researcher Hussein Ibish and MK favourite Jeffrey Goldberg.

The conversation between me and Liam has partly gone public in a post on Liam’s blog. Naturally, I feel that I must also respond in public. Here goes nothing:

Reaction to reactions to Beinart’s settlement boycott proposal – Liam Getreu.

while Beinart’s suggestion of boycotts is, yes, aimed at changing settlers’ behaviour (which may have a degree of naivety, if we think it’s going to instantly deconstruct everything overnight), but it’s also about making a moral stand: I do not support the settlement enterprise, and I don’t want my money going to support it. That’s an entirely legitimate point of view.

… Of course a boycott isn’t going to end the occupation, but it will help to undermine the economy that many have going there. And Beinart’s suggestion, that the money you would otherwise spend on settlement products is instead spent on democratic Israel’s products (or, another suggestion, split between that and Palestinian businesses?), is a good one. Your purchasing behaviour may help change realities, in some small way.

Liam is correct in that boycotts can be a legitimate political tool and, for the record, I am also in favour of the Israeli government ending the ludicrous and counter-productive tax breaks and other incentives that it still gives to Israelis who move over the Green Line.

That said, the circumstances surrounding a boycott of West Bank settlements make it impossible to make the point that Beinart and Liam want to make through a boycott of them.

It is important to remember that, with a few fringe exceptions, Jewish communities worldwide (Liam and Beinart included) are completely opposed to the BDS movement. The movement is dishonest to its very core, it claims to be about “Palestinian rights” and that it takes no stance on a one or two state solution to the conflict, however its fundamental tenets effectively call for the destruction of Israel and reject the idea that Jews are entitled to nationhood or self-determination. Boycotts are particularly touchy for Jews as they bring back spectres of the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses that served as a prelude to the Holocaust.

Beinart’s boycott idea is derived from Jews who are not comfortable supporting the BDS movement but still feel the need to “do something”; meaning that the West Bank boycott can never be wholly separated from the broader BDS movement. Indeed, as Omri Ceren observes, such initiatives regularly metastatise into full-blown BDS.

This is where Beinart’s thesis starts becoming increasingly problematic. Accepting a partial boycott of Israel is ostensibly akin to accepting some — if not all — of the BDS movement’s ideology. This leads to Read the rest of this entry »

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