Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Israel's Man of Conscience

Ezra Nawi (see my previous blog entry) has this remarkable piece in The Nation.

My name is Ezra Nawi. I am a Jewish citizen of Israel.

I will be sentenced on the first of July after being found guilty of assaulting two police officers in 2007 while struggling against the demolition of a Palestinian house in Um El Hir, located in the southern part of the West Bank.

Of course the policemen who accused me of assaulting them are lying. Indeed, lying has become common within the Israeli police force, military and among the Jewish settlers.

After close to 140,000 letters were sent to Israeli officials in support of my activities in the occupied West Bank, the Ministry of Justice responded that I "provoke local residents."

This response reflects the culture of deceit that has taken over all official discourse relating to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

After all, was I the one who poisoned and destroyed Palestinian water wells?

Was I the one who beat young Palestinian children?

Did I hit the elderly?

Did I poison the Palestinian residents' sheep?

Did I demolish homes and destroy tractors?

Did I block roads and restrict movement?

Was I the one who prevented people from connecting their homes to running water and electricity?

Did I forbid Palestinians from building homes?

Over the past eight years, I have seen with my own two eyes hundreds of abuses such as these and exposed them to the public--therefore I am considered a provocateur. I can only say that I am proud to be a provoker.


Read the full article at The Nation.


I was taken by a quote by Ezra Nawi, the Israeli human rights activist who was arrested and will soon be sentenced for opposing the Israeli army's destruction of Bedouin encampments in the south "Har Hebron" area. You can read about Ezra's case in the New York Times, or here, here or here. (The latter two sites also let you join a campaign to overturn his conviction - a worthy cause in my opinion. And thanks to Rabbi Brian Walt - http://rabbibrian.wordpress.com/ - for bringing the Times article to my attention.)

In the Times article, Nawi is quoted as saying:

“I don’t have a solution to this dispute. I just know that what is going on here is wrong. This is not about ideology. It is about decency.”

This is an extremely significant statement. It deserves to be up there in the pantheon of Jewish aphorisms from Pirke Avot. The world stands, first and foremost, on common decency: "Derech Eretz Kadma La'Torah."

I don’t have a patented solution to the Israel/Palestine problem either – but I do know that the current situation is intolerable and immoral. Israel has taken more than its fair share of land and water. It has stolen property both from individual Palestinians and from the Palestinian people as a whole. It is daily imposing unjustifiable and extreme hardship on the entire population of Gaza.

One doesn’t need a solution in hand to the entire conflict in order to object to this behaviour and these results.

Peace should not be the only (or maybe even primary) goal in Israel/Palestine. Justice – or its poor cousin, Decency – are important too, and maybe more so. This is the problem with Peace Now. Every time Hamas or Fatah display some intransigency, every time there is a terror attack, the Right says (well, not in so many words) “See, peace is impossible and therefore we can go on oppressing and stealing from the Palestinians.” But the point is to be decent and just even in the face of war and security risks. This conflict may go on for another century. (I hope not, but it might.) Are we to reduce the Jewish people to wild vicious beasts, like some barbarous warlike tribe of another era?

The core of the issue today is the settlements. They are all the fruits of sin – of theft. Even if you allow (and I don’t) that the Israel cannot evacuate the territories for fear of the radical Palestinians, what right does that give us to move Jews into the occupied territories, to build modern homes with modern infrastructure only for Jews, to appropriate land and water only for Jews, and to deny Palestinians freedom to build and travel in the occupied territories in order to defend the privileges of the settlers. If Israel was only concerned with security, it would keep the army in the territories and remove all the settlements and then relax all restrictions on movement, building, and economic activity within the territories.

But covetousness for land, greed for economic advantage, and a scorn for the Palestinians that rivals the worst racist attitudes of other societies, has overlaid Israel’s initial security concerns and turned Israeli society into one that daily acts indecently towards nearly 50% of the people under its control.

Obviously not all Israelis and not all Jews feel or behave this way. But we are all complicit.

The question for Jews who see all this, and morn all this, is how do we create a more decent environment for the Palestinians and how do we save the Jewish people from the indecency into which it is being dragged. If this conflict goes on another hundred years, will there be anything left of the message of justice and the identification with the stranger that has been the core of Jewish civilization for millennia? If we – progressive Jews – cannot change the situation, how do we at least make it a bit better and how do we prevent it from changing, permanently and for the worse, the Jewish people?

I don’t have answers. But I am looking. Any ideas?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sowing Seeds of Terror

Read this story on the Ibn Ezra blog. Watch the video.

Then ask yourself: What you would do if you were the Hamad Soleibi, or his son, or his niece; if this sort of thing happened regularly month after month year after year, to him and to other members of your village; if the authorities never lifted a finger to stop it, and openly mocked you and sided with the vandals? What would you do?

Terror cannot be justified. But it can be explained. And it can be predicted.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Israel Replies

In Cairo, President Obama raised the stakes. He re-iterated again - loudly and in public and to the entire Arab and Muslim world - that America objects to new Israeli construction in the occupied territories.
Today, perhaps hoping that Obama is distracted by Iran, North Korea, Health Insurance, and the economy, Israel gave its real answer. (Forget Natanyahu's speech - that was just for show.)
According to Haaretz:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has authorized the building of 300 new homes in the West Bank, defying U.S. calls for a halt to settlement growth. ... Barak recently authorized the Civil Administration to submit a plan for the construction of 300 housing units in the unauthorized outpost of Givat Habrecha, near the community of Talmon.

... The new construction is located around 13 kilometers east of the Green Line, [and about 5 kilometers] on the "Palestinian" side of the separation barrier.

Not only is this construction not in an "authorized settlement" (thus it violates Israel's own planning and approvals process), not only is it not in a "major settlement block", it is deep inside the territory Israels has said that it would be willing to return to the Palestineans should they meet Israel's conditions (like agreeing to Israel keeping the major settlement blocks, agreeing to a demilitarized state, and agreeing that Palestineans should be second class citizens inside Israel.)

Well? Is Obama going to allow himself to be played the fool? Israel is no doubt testing Obama's will, hoping he will fold. But, having raised the stakes so publicly, he better not have been bluffing. If he lets this slide for too long, he can kiss goodbye to whatever credibility he currently has on the Israel/Palestine file.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dvar Torah - Parshat Korach

Moses, Aaron and Korach

The picture above is my dvar Torah on this weeks torah reading - Parshat Korach. (But it is not necessarily my commentary on the Iran situation.)

To read the Torah parsha, click here, and read chapters 16, 17, and 18.

Obviously the point of the Torah author is: don't challenge the theocratic hierarchy (i.e. the Priests.) To do so is to oppose God - and may be deleterious to your health.

Surprisingly, later Jewish sources felt somewhat uncomfortable with this Torah stance. The Talmudic rabbis never once take issue with Korach's main argument opposing the established theocracy:
"Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?"
Instead they attack Korach's character. ("He was just using the people to advance his own ego." "He was merely jealous of Moses and wished to replace him as leader." etc.) This through midrashim that have scant evidence in the text.

Perhaps this is because the rabbis, in fact, did replace the authority of the hereditary-theocracy-of-the-priests with that of their own meritocracy-of-the-learned.

But additionally, I believe, there is a deep anarchistic tendency in Prophetic, Second Temple, and early Rabbinic Judaism. It distrusts both Kings and Priests. And as if to emphasis this point the Rabbis juxtapose Parshat Korach's message of support for a fixed hereditary hierarchy with a Haftarah reading that problematizes Kingship, and hearkens back to a "golden age" when Israel was ruled directly by God through the intermediacy of ad hoc and temporary judges and prophets - people who drew their authority from their message not from their birth.

To read this peon to anarchy-lost read the haftarah here: Samuel 11:12 through 12:22.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Videos show what the occupation has wrought

Yishayahu Leibowitz warned Israelis 40 years ago that if they did not end the occupation, and soon, it would infect the entire Israeli [and Jewish] body and soul like a cancer.

Read this- from the Magnes Zionist, watch the videos, and weep.

Related links: Haaretz, Jewish Voices For Peace

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

West Bank Village Sues Developer in Canadian Court

Here's something from the mainstream media you may have missed.

The village of Billin (in the occupied West Bank) is suing a Canadian company for illegally building subdivisions for Israeli settlers on village lands - once productive olive groves.
The case, filed last year, alleges Green Park International Inc. and Green Mount International Inc. are complicit in war crimes because they helped build an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. The village's lawyers have based their case on international and domestic Canadian law.

Canada's federal Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act states a population transfer by an occupying power to "territory it occupies" is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Let's hope they win their case.

Read the full story in the Toronto Star.

Monday, June 08, 2009

More Mississippi Justice

In a previous post I claimed that the West Bank was like the American Deep South of the 30's 40's and 50s. The Palestinians are the blacks, settlers in the big suburban settlements are the go along everyday racists of Birmingham, Mobile and Jackson, and while the settler militants of Kiryat Arba and some of the smaller settlements are the KKK murders and thugs of Selma, Philadelphia and the rural south. And just as the cops and the courts where complicit - either before or after the fact - with the KKKs terrorizing of blacks, so too the Israeli police, army, and courts protect - or at least turn a blind eye to - settler violence against Palestinians.

Today Haaretz reports:

[The court] announced that it is dropping the indictment against Ze'ev Braude, the West Bank settler who was alleged to have shot two Palestinians at close range during the evacuation of a disputed house in Hebron in December 2008, and was caught on film doing so.

Ze'ev Braude, 51, of Kiryat Arba, is alleged to have shot two Palestinians at close range during the evacuation of a disputed house in Hebron.

Braude, a Kiryat Arba resident, turned himself in to police last week after an activist with the B'Tselem human rights group caught him on film shooting at Palestinians at short range and hitting two.

During the evacuation of the house in Hebron, Braude approached the Matriya family residence, drew his gun and shouted at the family members to go inside, the [original] indictment says.

Hosni Matriya, 44, went up to Braude and told to leave. Braude struck him and aimed his gun at him, said the indictment. Hosni's father, Abed el-Hai, 67, walked up and asked Braude to leave. Braude pushed el-Hai. Other family members came to help push Braude away and he fired at them. The first bullet passed close to one man's head and the second one hit Hosni's chest. A third bullet hit el-Hai's arm. El-Hai and two family members attacked Braude and stopped him from again firing his gun. They held him until Kiryat Arba residents arrived and took him away, the indictment says.

Hosni, who was shot in the chest, is awaiting surgery to take out shrapnel that remains around the wound. El-Hai, whose arm was broken, has been operated on twice and his arm has been set with screws....

Jamal Abu Safan, a relative of the injured Palestinian, told Haaretz that the court's decision shows "how racist Israel and its justice system are."
How can charges merely be dropped in such a case? "Probably there are two sides to this story, or the evidence is not clear," you say.

Well here is the video, referred to in the article. The whole incident, including the shooting, is caught on tape. How, indeed, can the court dismiss this case? Racism and corruption, thats how!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Love Me, I'm A Liberal

Continuing with my comparison of Israel's relationship to Arabs with the American relationship to blacks of 50 years ago (see my previous blog entry,) if the West Bank is the Deep South, then the liberal suburbs of Tel-Aviv, and the elite garden communities of the Galilee are the equivalent of the U.S. northern liberals who opposed civil rights as soon as it was their schools that had to be integrated and the first blacks tried to move into their neighborhoods.

The following story appeared in Haaretz. It needs little comment except to say that it echos every "liberal" excuse mouthed by northern whites opposing integration: property values will fall; they don't have the same values as us; they will feel uncomfortable here; people should stay with their own kind; we aren't racists like those people in Mississippi; we applaud black celebrates - just don't want to live next door to their relatives.

So read the article, and weep. And then remind yourself of the Phil Ochs song. America changed. Can Israel?

Galilee communities: We're not racist, we just don't want Arabs

Residents of the Misgav bloc of communities in the Galilee consider themselves to be liberal, peace-loving people who support coexistence with their Arab neighbors and even root for Bnei Sakhnin, the soccer club based in a nearby Arab town considered a prominent symbol of that community. Which is why they were shocked this week when proposals raised at local council meetings to accept only applicants who shared their Zionist principles drew negative headlines and criticism for alleged racism.

"The label upsets me," South Africa-born lawyer Michael Zetler, who founded the Misgav community of Manof in 1980 with other immigrants from what was then an apartheid state, said Thursday. "It hurt me. I am not a racist."

Although few people will say so, the panic that spurred the submission of the controversial proposals are related to the High Court of Justice's ruling two years ago that upheld the right of Ahmed and Fahina Zubeidat, an Israeli Arab couple, to buy a house in the exclusively Jewish community of Rakefet notwithstanding the local admissions committee's objection.

Since then, some residents of Jewish communal settlements in the Galilee fear that the region's substantial Arab population might seek to buy property in their communities, where the standard of living is far higher, causing Jews to move out. In some areas of the Galilee this has already taken place: Portions of the once-exclusively Jewish town of Upper Nazareth are now populated by newcomers from the nearby Arab city of Nazareth.

"I agree that there is a problem, but whether this is the right way to deal with it, I am not sure," Zetler said yesterday. "Experience will tell. But there is a problem in the Galilee and people are challenging the political right of [Jewish] communities."

Unpleasant to be called Lieberman

Residents of the Misgav bloc are not used to being accused of racism, and dismay at being compared to Jewish settlers in the West Bank. "It's unpleasant and even offensive to wake up one morning and find that you've turned into [Avigdor] Lieberman when in fact it's the other way around," Alon Mayer, another resident of Manof, said, referring to the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu chairman who proposed that Israeli Arabs be required to take an oath of loyalty to the state.

Mayer pointed out that the right-wing party headed by Lieberman garnered only 2.5 percent of the town's vote in the last Knesset elections - far below the national average. Despite feeling on the defensive, Mayer will not apologize for supporting the demand that applicants who seek to buy property in the communal settlement should adhere to the locals' basic cultural and political beliefs.

"When we decided to move to Manof, we sought a community that chose similar basic principles to our own, such as good education for children, culture, celebrating a Jewish communal lifestyle and protecting the environment," a woman from Manof said. "We joined this community knowing it is founded on these values."

Some Misgav bloc residents accuse Arab rights groups such as Adalah, which would rather Israel be defined as a binational state than a Jewish one and championed the Zubeidats' cause in the courts, of intentionally causing provocations. "An Arab narrative exists that proclaims 'we were not conquered, we did not desert,'" said Danny Ivri, a resident of the Misgav bloc community Yodfat. "They say 'we were manipulated in various ways, such as through military rule and suppressing our development by placing Jewish communities between our own communities."

Misgav bloc residents also fear increased tensions that could result from Arabs and Jews living in close proximity, and point at the occasional spurts of sectarian violence that break out in nearby non-Jewish towns between Muslims, Druze and Christians. "You can't impose a demographic mix on us that will recreate the sort of friction between Muslims, Christians and Druze that exists in Maghar, Peki'in and Rameh," Mayer said, referring to cities prone to periodic unrest. "High Court justices don't understand what it's like to live in a small community which was founded with great hardships, a community which is trying to hold on to a certain way of life."

Zionism's bond of blood

A few weeks ago a ceremony was held in Yuvalim, the largest town in the Misgav bloc, which exemplified its inveterate ties to the state of Israel. The regional council unveiled a promenade in memory of slain Israel Defense Forces soldier Arbel Reich, whose father was among Yuvalim's founders.

"It was an emotional ceremony," recalled regional council head Ron Shani. "This event was part of the community's narrative, part of its spirit, just like the fact that we educate our children to serve in combat units. That's what it's like here and we're proud of that.

"A resident who wishes to join Yuvalim will have to feel comfortable at such a ceremony, and if not he can go elsewhere, where he wouldn't be offended," he said.

Love Me, I'm A Liberal
Phil Ochs

I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
And I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I'd lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

I go to the civil rights rallies
And I put down the old D.A.R.
I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy
I hope every colored boy becomes a star
But don't talk about revolution
That's going a little bit too far
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

I cheered when Humphrey was chosen
My faith in the system restored
And I'm glad that the commies were thrown out
From the A.F.L. C.I.O. board
And I love Puerto Ricans and Negros
As long as they don't move next door
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

Ah, the people of old Mississippi
Should all hang their heads in shame
Now I can't understand how their minds work
What's the matter don't they watch Les Crain?
But if you ask me to bus my children
I hope the cops take down your name
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

Yes, I read New Republic and Nation
I've learned to take every view
You know, I've memorized Lerner and Golden
I feel like I'm almost a Jew
But when it comes to times like Korea
There's no one more red, white and blue
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

I vote for the democratic party
They want the U.N. to be strong
I attend all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs
And I'll send all the money you ask for
But don't ask me to come on along
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

Sure, once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
Ah, but I've grown older and wiser
And that's why I'm turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

Mississippi in the Middle East

I have often thought that an analogy to Israeli behavior toward Arabs, both in Israel proper and in the occupied territories, is American attitudes to blacks prior to the mid 1950's. Certainly no analogy perfectly matches the sad Israeli reality, neither apartheid nor the U.S. of 60 and 70 years ago, but the American one might ring more true to those of us who grew up with the U.S. civil rights struggles.

If there is any truth to the analogy than the occupied territories are the Deep South - complete with lynchings, corrupts cops, complicit courts, mayors, and newspapers, and, of course, the KKK ( settler militants), it is reinforced of it by the following story, excerpted from Haaretz:

Israeli forces kill Palestinian protester at Na'alin rally

Palestinian officials reported on Friday that a Palestinian demonstrator had been killed during the weekly anti-separation fence rally near the West Bank town of Na'alin.

Palestinian medical officials said 36-year-old Yusuf Srour had been killed by Israeli forces.

Medics said Srour was hit in the chest by a live bullet and another protester was wounded when soldiers fired at protesters.

Srour died minutes later, Mohammed Shahwan, a doctor on the ambulance called to the scene, told reporters.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Border Police officers had opened fire with riot dispersal equipment when they came under a heavy barrage of rocks. He said live ammunition was not used.

Later, the IDF issued a statement saying that the victim was a Hamas activist central to the weekly anti-separation fence protests.

The statement went on to say that Srour and several other Palestinian activists had approached a Border Policeman, who felt his life was in danger and opened fire in the direction of their legs. Two of the other protesters were wounded, and Srour was killed.

The IDF also said that Srour had been arrested several times by Israeli forces over his involvement in violent protests.

Na'alin is the scene of weekly protests against the continuing construction of an Israeli barrier that has cut through the village.

Israel says the barrier it has built along its boundary with the West Bank is needed to keep bombers from infiltrating its towns.

Palestinians denounce the network of fencing and concrete walls which cut deeply into the West Bank in spots such as Na'alin, as a land grab that denies them territory they want for a future state.

Meanwhile, five demonstrators were injured in confrontations with security forces in the anti-separation fence rally in Bil'in.

Two months ago, Ibrahim abu-Rakhma was killed during a separation fence rally in Bil'in after suffering a tear-gas grenade hit to his chest, which witnesses said was launched some 30 meters away by security forces.

The Israel Defense Force issued a response following the incident, stating that approximately 100 protesters had attempted to tear down part of the separation fence while hurling rocks at security forces. IDF troops responded to the mayhem by employing demonstration dispersal devices.

Another incident occurred four months ago, in which American citizen Tristan Anderson, in his thirties, sustained critical wounds during an anti-separation fence protest in Na'alin.

Peace activists with the International Solidarity Movement of the Oakland, Calif. area, said Anderson was struck in the head with a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops.
So: Arab or pro-Arab protesters - not terrorists - are regularly shot dead on the West Bank. No one is charged and the newspaper (the Great Liberal newspaper Haartez no less) attempts a "balanced report" that is rife with lies and half truths.

How many ways does it deceive? Let me count the ways.

1) "Palestinian officials reported on Friday that a Palestinian demonstrator had been killed during the weekly anti-separation fence rally near the West Bank town of Na'alin."

The guy is definitely dead, and he was definitely killed by the Israeli forces. Even the army spokesman admits that (in this article and in others in the Israeli press). There is no doubt about these facts. So why is it neccessary to start the report with "Palestinian officials reported"? Because this will automatically make the reader assume they might be lying? It allows the Israeli reader to discount the whole event, and it allows the newspaper to not have to express an opinion.

2) "Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Border Police officers had opened fire with riot dispersal equipment when they came under a heavy barrage of rocks. He said live ammunition was not used."

"Riot dispersal equipment" includes rubber coated bullets which have been shown to kill and seriously wound on very many occasions in the past, especially when fired at close range. There are also numerous documented cases of where the army or border police have claimed to have used rubber coated bullets and subsequent physical evidence has shown that they used standard ammunition. In any case the protester was killed, so the ammunition was "live" enough. What's the point of this statement except to weasel out of moral responsibility by hiding behind irrelevant legal details.

3) "The statement went on to say that Srour and several other Palestinian activists had approached a Border Policeman, who felt his life was in danger and opened fire in the direction of their legs."

Since they were unarmed, and on the other side of a security fence, how was his life endangered? And since Srour was hit in the chest, how is it that the Border Policeman (unnamed to maintain anonymity) fired at his legs?

4) "Na'alin is the scene of weekly protests against the continuing construction of an Israeli barrier that has cut through the village. Israel says the barrier it has built along its boundary with the West Bank ..."

Either the first statement is false, or "Israel's" statement is false. They can't both be true. In fact is the later statement that is a lie. But the claim - attributed to no individual, but rather to the State itself, is left to stand.

Na'alin is not on the boundary of the West Bank and pre 1967 Israel but about 1-2 km inside the West Bank. The place were the protest and murder occurred is where the separation barrier cuts the road between Na'alin and is "suburb" Midya (see image below.) It is about 600 meters inside the West Bank and effectively cuts off the residents of Na'alin from a good part of their fields and olive trees, also within the occupied West Bank.

The annotated satellite photo below shows the area. The red lines are the 1949 armistice lines - the "Green Line" delimiting Israel proper from the areas occupied in 1967. Pre 1967 Israel is to the west (left)) of westernmost red line. The West Bank is to the east (right) of the easternmost red line. The area between the two red lines was "no-man's-land" between 1949 and 1967. It was now been fully expropriated by Israeli agricultural settlements. The darker color shows Israeli access to irrigation water, denied to Palestinian farmers to the east (right) of the easternmost red line. The black line is the separation barrier. Na'alin is in the northeast (upper right), and the Israeli settlement of Hashmonaim and Ramat Modiim are in the south east (lower right.)

5) "Two months ago, Ibrahim abu-Rakhma was killed during a separation fence rally in Bil'in after suffering a tear-gas grenade hit to his chest, which witnesses said was launched some 30 meters away by security forces.

The Israel Defense Force issued a response following the incident, stating that approximately 100 protesters had attempted to tear down part of the separation fence while hurling rocks at security forces. IDF troops responded to the mayhem by employing demonstration dispersal devices."

There is video all over the internet of this incident. (See here for instance.) It shows: much fewer than 100 demonstrators, no appreciable violence by the demonstrators, and no attempt to tear down the separation fence. Despite this completely damning evidence, no one had been charged with that murder.

It is like killing black "trouble makers" in Mississippi in the 40s and 50s. And the newspaper reports the death like it was a traffic accident, or worse that the "niggers" had it coming.

Just another day in the Ol' South.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Israeli Right Presses On

While Obama tries to lay out a vision of a more tolerant and less confrontational world, the Israeli non-democratic right ("Fascist" is such an overused word) pushes on with its agenda to ban anyone who disagrees with them. And, of course, they are claiming to do this all out of love - love for the Jewish People.

The most notorious of their proposed new laws, that all Israelis be required to swear a loyalty oath, was defeated by the Ministerial Committee on Law. This means it will not be backed by the government. But it can, and likely will, be introduced as a private members bill. It has the backing of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman and his Israel Beytenu party.

But several equally offensive, though lower profile, proposed laws have fared better so far.

A private member’s bill, proposed by MK Zevulun Orlev of the religious Zionist “Jewish Home” party (also a member of the coalition government), passed its preliminary hearing in the Knesset. It promises one year in prison to anyone who publishes “a call that negates the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State”, if the contents of the call “might cause actions of hate, contempt or disloyalty against the state or the institutions of government or the courts”.

So, advocating that Israel become a state for all its citizens, rather than one that promotes Jewish interests over those of it non Jewish citizens, would land you in jail. Of course most the 20% of Israeli citizens who are non-Jewish (as well as some of Israel's Jewish citizens) demand exactly this. The proposed law would be like declaring that anyone who wants to amend the U.S. constitution should be thrown in jail, or that all Bloc Quebecois supporters in Canada should be declared criminals. And the phrase "might cause" provides just enough vagueness that the prosecution can charge however they like (e.g. those demanding equal rights for non-Jews) while ignoring those right wingers who regularly call for settlers (and soldiers) to defy the feeble attempts of the democratic institutions to remove unauthorized settlements, or those Orthodox who deny the very right of democratic institutions to overrule God's Laws. It would also make illegal causing "contempt" for the state or the government. Half the newspaper columnists in the country could become suspect under this law.

As Uri Avnery writes:
One can foresee the next steps. A million and a half Arab citizens cannot be expected to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. They want it to be “a state of all its citizens” – Jews, Arabs and others. ...

The consequences are inevitable. The prisons will not be able to hold all those convicted of this crime. There will be a need for concentration camps all over the country to house all the deniers of Israeli [Jewish] democracy.

But that's not all. More anti-democratic laws are in the queue.

The the Ministerial Committee on Law did decide to introduce a law that would ban commemoration of the Naqba, the Palestinian dispossession that accompanied the establishment of the State of Israel. And the Minister of Justice (sic!) Yaakov Neeman (pictured above) has been giving interviews promoting it. This would be like telling American Indians that they must celebrate Columbus Day, under penalty of prison time.

And David Rotem of the Israel Beytenu party, chairman of the Knesset Law Committee, has introduced a bill that stipulates that anyone applying for Israeli citizenship must declare their loyalty to “the Jewish, Zionist and Democratic State." As Avnery points out: This would be like having someone swear loyalty to a "Capitalist" U.S. or a "Catholic" Italy.

Yet another bill waiting for its turn before the Ministerial Committee proposes changing the declaration that every new Knesset Member has to make before assuming office. Instead of loyalty “to the State of Israel and its laws”, as now, he or she will be required to declare their loyalty “to the Jewish, Zionist and Democratic State of Israel, its symbols and its values”. This would preclude most Arabs and many ultra-Orthodox from ever becoming (honestly at least) Knesset members.

None of these laws has yet passed. Hopefully they never will. But it is clear that an ill and intolerant wind is blowing through the land.

"The Speech"

Everyone -T.V., newspapers, blogs - is commenting on Obama'a big speech "to the Muslim world" in Cairo. There is not too much I can add. If you are interested, tze-ulmad (go forth and learn). You can read the full text of the speech here, or watch it on video here, or just google Obama Cairo.

I will say that while the speech made all the right noises, I am still skeptical of Obama's ability (or desire) to follow up his lofty words with appropriate actions. (I will be happy to be wrong on this.)

In that spirit I will quote the cleverest comment I read on "the speech": by Arthur Waskow.

What is greater, speech or deeds?
Speech, for it leads to deeds?
(Of course this echoes the famous Talmudic story: "R. Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper story of Nithza's house, in Lydda, when this question was raised before them: Is study greater, or practice? R. Tarfon answered, saying: Practice is greater. R. Akiba answered, saying: Study is greater. Then they all answered and said: Study is greater, for it leads to action.")

But I would caution that this is not always so. Just as too many yeshiva buchers study all day but do little to fix the world, and fail miserably to follow many of the less outwardly pious mitzvot, so too a politicians speeches are not always followed up with matching deeds.

Only time will tell if "the speech" will be a turning point in U.S. policy in the Middle East, or just more empty words. But maybe there is reason to hope.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

God Bless the Canadian Courts

Many of the things we Canadians pride ourselves on - tolerance and diversity - have been brought to us not by the "will of the people" as expressed through the elective legislature, but through the courts. This is how abortion was legalized, same sex marriage, and lenient cannabis laws. Our governments where too conservative to make these moves, but too gutless to change the laws in the face of court rulings. Only later did these ideas and frames of mind become the "norm".

Now the Federal Court has saved Canada from another shame. It has ordered the Canadian government to bring home the hapless Abousfian Abdelrazik: a victim of Islamophobia, and blatant discrimination if there ever was one. Its about time !

Read the full story here.

Now if only the courts can force the government's hand re Omar Khader the former Canadian child soldier held for 8 years now in Guantanamo Bay. He deserves to be brought to Canada and given a fare trial - not held by a paranoid and self serving American system of faux justice.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Gotcha! (well maybe not)

You've got to hand it to the Israeli government. They sure have chutzpah!

In response to the a statement by the U.S. State Department clarifying that President Obama's call for a freeze on all Israeli construction in the occupied territories includes occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli Government Press Director Daniel Seamen responded:

“I have to admire the residents of Iroquois territory for assuming that they have a right to determine where Jews should live in Jerusalem.”
(see story in the Philadelphia Bulletin)

Touche you hypocritical Americans ! You have the gall to criticize us for what you yourself did, and got away with!

This may not be the best way to win friends and influence people in Washington. Though scalping Indians probably does still appeal to the more conservative and jingoistic U.S. politicians, and I believe Andrew Jackson still appears on the $20 bill, it has fallen into disrepute among the majority of the American population. But you have to give the Seaman credit for his honesty.

Of course, this does put Israel into the same category as the U.S. (and Canada) - a European Settler State that stole land from the indigenous people, slaughtered them, and still continues in its failure to compensate their descendants or honour its treaties with them. Israel doesn't usually admit to this - claiming instead that the Jews are the true indigenous people and the Arabs are the ruthless newbies. (And to be fair, America and Canada have treated their native people much worse than Israelis did the Palestinians - no smallpox infested blankets.)

But maybe Seaman should have kept his thoughts to himself. If the Palestinians are listening, this will do nothing to make them want to compromise or sign treaties with Israel. Look where that got the North American Indians.