Friday, February 05, 2010

Can Good Come From Evil ?

After living in Israel for 15 years, we decided to leave: partly because we saw the political situation as immoral, self-destructive, and getting worse year by year. We felt it was basically hopeless, or close to it.

Then (in December 1987) the first intifada broke out. And I had a change of heart. Maybe there was hope. Maybe, just because of the awful violence (by the standards of those days - today that kind of violence, Palestinians throwing rocks and Israelis shooting them, is considered normal), and the ugliness of the Israeli response, people - Israelis and Jews in particular - would finally wake up to the cancer that is the occupation, and put and end to it.

After a few months it became clear that the intifada - at least in 1987, and 88 was only "hardening Pharaoh's heart", and the most of the Israeli people were learning nothing positive. We left in August 1988.

Now, a new evil is upon the land. The right is in complete control of the Israeli political landscape. The former Likduniks of Kadima are the moderate opposition. (In any normal country they would be the right wing.) The parliamentary Zionist left is reduced to a co-opted and divided rump of the Labour party - doomed for further decimation in the next elections - and a demoralized and largely irrelevant Meretz. The real left, both in and out of the Knesset, is tiny and marginalized.

And now, the right - whose desire for totalitarian loyalty can never be sated, who always needs enemies, external and internal, in order to thrive - has decided to crush the feeble voices of dissent and public moral conscience that do continue, bravely it must be said, to call out. Loyalty to the Jewish Nation, and Spartan vision of that nation to boot, is all that counts.

I reported on the campaign against the New Israel Fund (NIF) and its president, Naomi Hazan, in my previous blog post. Things have gotten rapidly worse since then. And the attack on NIF is only part of a wider campaign, against any Jewish organization that speaks out against the army, or government policies vis a vis non-Jews, or which fails to display sufficient loyalty to the State and the Jewish Volk. The ad shown above appeared in the Jerusalem Post. Naomi Hazan has been accused by TV news anchors of being an agent of Hamas - and not just metaphorically. The Australian Jewish Community cancelled a planned speaking tour by Hazan, and the Jerusalem Post has cancelled her weekly column. (Hazan was one of only two left wing opinion writers at the Post.)

In addition, in the last few weeks both the head of the Israeli Civil Liberties Association and the Israel Religious Action Center have been arrested and face flimsy (some would say trumped-up) charges. While the army has been intensifying its crack down on non-violent Palestinian activists for many months now, rightists, both inside and outside the Knesset have recently been calling for investigations and/or outright banning of a half dozen Israeli NGOs - including Breaking the Silence, B'Tzelem, Adallah, etc.

But in the end, it is the attack on the NIF that is the most telling. The NIF, for the most part stays out of the Israel/Palestine conflict. It spends most of its money funding women's groups, immigrant aid groups, environmental groups, and generally working with marginalized groups within "Israel proper" - within the "green line". Yet, its small funding support for "pro Arab" groups has raised outrage. They have broken the nationalist consensus. They have shown "sympathy for the enemy." They have crossed the line and become "race traitors."

It is also the attack on the NIF that has awoken, at least some, liberals. The NIF would be mainstream center left in any other society. The values it espouses are those of the Canadian Liberal Party or the centre left of the Democratic Party in the U.S. Hardly revolutionary or radical stuff.

Some people think that things are so bad they will lead to good: that finally the good people will wake up to the obvious evil around them.

I hope they are right, and not be disappointed as I was in 1988. Because sometimes evil just leads to more evil. Sometimes evil becomes the new normal. Sometimes people wake up too late, or just continue their slumber while the house all around them burns down.

Arik Asherman, of the excellent Israeli NGO Rabbis For Human Rights, in the open letter reproduced below, sums up the current dire situation, but ends with a hopeful spin. From his lips to God's ears.
Dear Friends and Supporters,

In light of the smear campaign being run by a group called "Im Tirtzu," ["If You Will It" from Herzl's famous quote about a future Jewish State: "If you will it, it is no dream"] it should be clear to all that we are engaged in a struggle for Israeli democracy. That is not an exaggeration. This is also a not to be missed opportunity, because many people are waking up and realizing the just how dangerous the situation has become. Please find below a description of the situation, a list of things that every one of us must do that was developed in an emergency meeting with the New Israel Fund and fellow Israeli human rights organizations on Monday, and helpful links. Many of the links in the body of this message are to Hebrew websites, but there are English language links below.
To paraphrase Mattathias the Macabee, "Everyone who is for democracy with us."

Many of you know that the de-legitimization campaign being waged against Israeli human rights organizations was taken to another level on Friday when Ben Caspit attacked the New Israel Fund (NIF) and many Israel NGO's (Including RHR) in the newspaper Ma'ariv and on the NRG news website. The attack was based on the vicious and inciteful report issued by the extreme right wing organization, "Im Tirtzu," claiming that most of the information in the Goldstone Report incriminating Israel was supplied by Israeli NGO's supported by the NIF. A second Ma'ariv/NRG journalist, Ben Dror Yemini, added an additional article in Maariv on Monday. On Wednesday the chair of the Knesset Constitutional Committee MK David Rotem threatened to set up a sub committee to investigate funding from abroad, and, during a special Knesset debate on the Im Tirtzu report, MK Otniel Schneller called for a Parliamentary Committee to look into what Israeli NGO's passed on to the Goldstone Committee.
On Channel B radio this morning (Thursday) MK Yisrael Hasson went so far as to say that he intends to check whether Israeli HR organizations are receiving money from enemies, and that if he were Hamas he would be setting up three organizations to do what Israeli HR organizations do.

The smear campaign has included expensive banners on the YNET and NRG websites (the banners are still on the NRG website), a full page ad in the Jerusalem Post, and who knows where and what else. The various statements in the ads, banners and on the Im Tirtzu website include an ugly caricatureof former MK Naomi Chazan (currently NIF chairperson) with a large demonic horn with "NIF" written on it is growing out of her forehead (In Hebrew, "keren" is both "fund" and "horn."). This caricature sends shivers up my spine as I recall the pictures of Yitzhak Rabin z"l dressed in an S.S. uniform at that infamous demonstration in Zion Square in Jerusalem not so long before he was murdered. A sampling of the texts accompanying the caricature include:
  • "Now it is a fact: Naomi's fund endangers the State."
  • "We love Naomi Chazan and hate the IDF" (Signs at an Im Tirzu demonstration outside her house dressed as Hamasniks with keffiyas.)
  • "Fact: the NIF headed by Naomi Chazan is behind the Goldstone reports defamation of the IDF"
  • "In the past three years Naomi Chazan's fund granted 8 million dollars to 16 anti-Zionist organizations that gave the ammunition to charge Israel with war crimes."
  • "Naomi Goldstone Chazan"
True, it is difficult to know where to draw the line between harsh but legitimate criticism, and incitement. However, Im Tirtzu has clearly crossed red lines, lied and mislead. I find it very disturbing that YNET sold banner space to Im Tirtzu, but in December refused to run a "B'Tselem ad campaign on Gaza, saying that "they did not want to offend the public."
I have only quickly read through the section on RHR [Rabbis for Human Rights]in the Im Tirtzu report, but the "proof" that we are anti-Zionist and are responsible for the Goldstone report was the fact that the report mentions the letter we send to the Israeli attorney general calling for an independent and transparent Israeli investigation, the petition we published in HaAretz and on the mini-website we set up for our Gaza campaign and our High Court appeals and other activities on behalf of Palestinian human rights.

Nothing in our activities, those of the NIF, or in the activities of the other targeted organizations justifies Im Tirtzu's vicious and dangerous campaign. The Im Tirtzu campaign crosses so many red lines that even the controversial Christian Zionist Reverend Hagee is repudiating it. As I write, there are initial reports that Reverent Hagee has now announced that he will stop funding Im Tirtzu.
I could be content to simply issue a call to defend democracy and claim Lashon HaRa (slander). We could minimize our connection to Goldstone and disassociate ourselves from the NGO's who contributed information to the committee. However, that would be wrong. The struggle of RHR and our partners is just and essential for the future of Israel. Our struggle is a just and Zionist struggle. It is the struggle over "Who are we" and who we want to be. It is a painful struggle, and we pray that an independent investigation will prove that all of our suspicions were wrong. And yes, our struggle is faithful to what we and our partners have said consistently from the outset, "Citizens must not be targets - not Israelis in Sderot and not Palestinians in Gaza."
We care about every human being because, by virtue of being human, we are all created in God's Image. I am proud of all that we and our partners have done and are doing here in Israel to achieve an independent and transparent Israeli investigation. I only wish that we were doing more.

The de-legitimization did not begin on Friday. As always in these matters, evil grows when good people prefer not to know. At our Gaza conference in May, Im Tirtzu demonstrated outside with "Matza dipped in blood." We of course invited them in to be a part of the conversation. (A few came in, asked one question, and then left.)

Im Tirtzu's report cites Gerald Steinberg's "NGO Monitor," an organization which for years has smeared any NGO which Professor Steinberg defines as "anti-Israel" or "extremist," without ever giving the public a definition of these terms which they throw around. This is but one example of how The Monitor pretends to be holding NGO's to standards of reliability, but consistently violates these very same standards. I once asked Professor Steinberg how it is that they advertise themselves as an organization holding all Middle East NGO's to standards, but in practice only reports on NGO's that deal with Israeli HR violations. He answered that Israel is in a battle for her survival and that the real goal of his organization was to be a part of the PR battle. The Monitor has been working in the Knesset and abroad to dry up funding sources for Human Rights organizations, as well as left wing organizations.

We must take action along two lines:

1. All those who value Israel's democracy, especially those who do not agree with us regarding Gaza, must say as one, "Sharp public debate yes - Incitement no!"

2. We can not expect the entire public to defend our position calling for an Israeli independent and transparent inquiry into the Gaza War. However, we can not accept a situation in which all that is said publicly after this attack is "Well, you are right that what HR organizations did was controversial and we don't agree with everything either, but that is democracy." We must say loudly and clearly:
a. The positions taken by Im Tirtzu, NGO Monitor, Ben Caspit and Ben-Dror Yemini endanger the State and abandon our children.
b. A moral army is not handed to us on a silver platter, but is achieved through constant vigilance, willingness to investigate, ask questions, and educate in ways that make it clear that we do more than pay lip service to our declared values.
c. If former attorney Mani Mazuz had not waited until the day after he stepped down to support an independent investigation, but had ordered one a year ago when Israeli HR organizations first wrote to him, there might never have been a Goldstone Commission. If today the Government would not allow Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Perhaps the person with the most to lose if an investigation would sadly find that there had been systematic violations of international law and Jewish values.) to block an Israeli independent transparent investigation, we might yet avoid an international investigation.
d. We are Israeli patriots and Zionists who believe with all our heart that what we are demanding is not only the just and Jewish thing to do, but is what is best for our country.

The Talmud tells of Nahum Ish Gam Zo, who whatever ill befell him would say "Gam zo l'tova," (This is also for the good.) There is no pleasure to be gained from this threat to our democracy and the danger both to our society and to targeted individuals should in no way be dismissed. However, for too long, too many have been unaware of what is happening in our society. If history will record that this was the moment in which supporters of Israeli democracy and human rights united to defend those values they held most dear, then Gam zo l'tova.

B'Vrakha (In Blessing)
Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman
Executive Director Rabbis for Human Rights


Blogger Ben Murane, New Israel Fund said...

Thanks for posting Rabbi Arik's email!

There are over 450 Israeli sources cited in the Goldstone report and NIF's grantees are only 16 of them. The others include Israeli generals like IDF Northern Commander Gadi Eizenkot, MK Eli Yishai, and IDF Colonel Gabriel Siboni -- quotes pulled from the pages of Maariv itself.

Even ADL head Abe Foxman himself said in the New York Jewish Week that Im Tirtzu’s campaign is an "outrageous is absurd to blame Goldstone on NIF.”

We’ve asked all supporters of NIF and democracy to email Prime Minister Netanyahu to put a stop to the right-wing ministers trying to defund NIF in the Knesset. Please share this link far and wide:

1:52 pm  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...

I told you that the NIF is a milquetoast organization. Just read Ben Muranet's comment above. He too is intimidated by the Israeli right and their supporters worldwide.

Rather than stand up and defend Goldstone - as some of its grantees have done - NIF distances itself from his report.

It is true that NIF grantees contribution to Goldstone was minimal - but it is a contribution that they and the NIF should be proud of, not try to hide from.

The point is that upstanding Jews should join in Goldstone's call for Justice over ethnic loyalty. They should stand up to the right and say, "You exaggerate our contribution to Goldstone report, but it is one we are proud of. We stand with Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel who stated that the World - and Judaism with it - stands on three things - on truth, on justice, and on peace. That is where our loyalty lies, and not with the army - as you demand."

6:41 am  
Blogger Eric said...

@Syd - and "stand up to the right and say, "You exaggerate our contribution to Goldstone report, but it is one we are proud of" would play right into Im Tirtzu's hands.

6:56 pm  

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