Friday, October 29, 2010

Torn Between Being Liberal and Being Israeli

I was sent this email


I wanted to let you know that I've been reading your blog for a few months now, and that it's one of the most objective, honest and interesting collection of ideas and comments from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As an Israeli high-school student, I'm so gracious to people like you who help me understand what makes my home country tick, and to live an aware, responsible life.
I think you'd be interested in featuring an article about my struggle to reconcile patriotism with politics. This struggle faces all liberal Israelis--and I think it'd be so incredible for you to show the world that we do exist, regardless of Israelis like Avigdor Lieberman. You should check out
I hope you take me up on this offer.

So I have taken up the offer. The article linked to above, is a heartfelt cry from a young liberal Israeli currently living in the U.S. Read it and ponder what the fate of this young man will be in 10 - 20 years.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gaza War Crimes Revisited

Remember the Goldstone Report. Remember how it was reviled as "anti-semitic" for its highlighting probable Israeli war crimes in Gaza, and for demanding that Israel instigate credible and independent criminal investigations of these allegations or face the International Criminal Court.

Well whether out of good will or a wish to avoid the ICC, Israel has instigated criminal investigations. Whether they are credible remains to be seen. (They are certainly not independent, since it is the army doing the investigations of itself.) One of the cases currently being investigated is the incident in which 30 members of the al-Samouni family were massacred on January 5, 2009, after taking refuge in a building to which they had been directed by Israeli troops. The building was subsequently attacked with missiles ordered up by the same brigade that directed them to this "safe haven".

The Tikun Olam blog gives a pretty thorough review of the evidence presented so far. And while it seems that there was no genocidal preconceived plan to round up these Palestinians and massacre them, there was a series of sloppy mistakes, an attitude of "shoot first ask questions later", and a general disregard for Palestinian civilian lives that lead to this massacre.

The initial Israeli missile attack - on a group of men just outside the "safe haven"- was based on the mistaken identification - itself based on very grainy areal photos - that pieces of lumber being carried by members of the al-Soumi family were in fact RPG launchers. This despite a warning given to the commander that the pictures were inconslusive. A subsequent direct attack on the building where the family was huddled was undertaken despite a warning that "there may be civilians inside." No one bothered to check first with the Israeli troops on the ground in the area - the same ones who had told the al-Soumi family to take refuge in that particular building. Whether the "refuge" had ever been communicated to the brigade commander who ordered the missile attacks is still unclear. But what is clear is that he was ordering missile attacks based on the filmiest of evidence of perceived threat and without doing any checking to see if civilians where in the line of fire.

If this is not murder than it is at least criminal negligence. But those are civilian categories, and this is military tribunal investigating one of its own, so I wouldn't expect any real justice here. Still the details are fascinating. Worth a read.

It also worth nothing, that the brigade commander involved - Col. Molka (pictured above) - was a direct subordinate of than OC Southern Command, Gen. Yoav Gallant. Gallant fought hard to suppress this investigation entirely, but was overruled by the chief military prosecutor - presumably with the backing of current IDF COS Motti Ashkenazi, who is known to dislike Gallant and have lobbied hard against his further advancement. But since then, Gallant was been as named the next Chief of Staff of the Israeli armed forces. (He is a favourite of Defense Minister Barak.) So its a safe bet this investigation will not go higher up the chain of command than Col Malka.

In Defense of the Two State Solution

Amira Haas quotes former PLO Ambassador Afif Safieh new book "The Peace Process - from Breakthrough to Breakdown":
"Besides my doubts about the feasibility of this proposal (one state ), I have serious reservations about its desirability. A fanaticized Israeli Jewish community is hardly a partner one would seek with relish as co-citizens. The disparity between both societies...makes the one state formula a mechanism for the perpetuation of the domination of one community by the other."
This makes sense to me. Not to mention the visceral pride that the nation state can bring. Even Canadians are not immune to the thrill of having the flag flying and the national anthem playing at the Olympics. Why should the Palestinians be denied that pride?

While I personally would not object to a one state solution - if security for all could be assured - it seems to me that the majority of both Jews and Palestinians prefer a two state solution. Only after each side feels secure in its own state, can the two comfortably come together in some looser or tighter (con)federation.

The (often gleeful) argument put forward by the one state fans, is that continued Israeli settlement has made the two state solution impossible. But it is no more impossible to imagine than one state - which requires an uprooting of both Jewish and Palestinian thinking no less difficult or painful than the uprooting of settlers. Both solutions seem distant dreams right now. But until a majority of at least one people back the one state solution, I think lefty intellectuals should back what both the Israeli government and the PA/PLO officially say is their goal - a two state solution.

And in the interim, the battle should not be about "solutions" at all, but about equal rights for Palestinians under Israeli jurisdiction.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Not By Might Nor By Power, But By Spirit ...

A chilling article in Haaretz makes it clear that the continued Israeli occupation and the continued - and increasing - racism against Arabs within Israel proper - is not only an ethical problem but a strategic and possibly existential problem as well.

After discussing the tactical "rationality" of messianic fanatic, and exploring some nightmare scenarios of "limited" Iranian nuclear strikes against Israel, the article concludes with this:

The conclusion to be drawn from this is not the necessity of a preemptive strike. Necessity lies elsewhere. Israel, which is being pulled into a racist, antidemocratic identity, is not "only" an ethical tragedy. Such a racist entity isolates itself, makes itself illegitimate in a way that deprives it of its capabilities of both deterrence and self-defense.

All paths to reducing the danger of the apocalyptic-messianic scenario require Israel to end the diplomatic isolation to which its racist policy sentences it and to become a welcome, legitimate member of the global community.

It is the same for the strategic umbrella from the West, with Israel's inclusion in NATO - which is conditional on the signing of a regional peace agreement a la the 2002 Arab League Peace Initiative. And also for any last-minute attempt to foil the Iranian nuclear program, whether by a dangerous Israeli military gamble, by an action that will bolster regime change or by more aggressive action by the West.

All this gives the moral imperative, necessary to Israel's very existence, of a change in policy - dismantling the religious autonomy threatening to swallow Israel; returning to the post-War of Independence borders and ensuring the Declaration of Independence's promise of "complete equality of rights irrespective of religion, race or sex" - the force of an existential imperative.

The crude swipes taken at this imperative show that the racist and fascist winds blowing in Israel have reached the stage where they even allow themselves to violate the survival instinct. ...
Legitimacy has its privileges. Would Iran dare attack Israel if it where firmly ensconced in NATO and/or the EU? Would Iran be so motivated to attack Israel if there was a peaceful two state solution and if Israeli Arabs were firmly and prosperously integrated into Israeli society?

Concomitantly, lack of legitimacy has its costs.

So I ask the Israeli government- are another few square kilometers of the Land of Israel really worth that much? But sadly the Israeli government is dominated by messianists - as tactically logical, but ultimately as deluded as the Iranian leadership - and by fascistic cynics - who see no value in good-will, legitimacy or spirit, and who believe that only might makes right.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cup Still Half Full. But For How Long?
At Least 25% of Israeli Jews Can Objectively be Considered Fascist

A shocking new poll published by the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronot shows how far and how fast the mood among Israeli Jews has shifted towards outright fascism.

According to the poll:
36% of Israeli Jews wish to revoke the voting rights of non-Jews;
55% support abrogating the right to free speech during times of "political difficulties;" [And when in recent memory has Israel not been in "political difficulties"?]
57% support banning all demonstration during times of "military operations;"
25% would support transferring all power to a dictator during times of war. [And let's remember that Israel has been in legal state of war since its creation in 1948, and in an active shooting war, with one party or another, for much of the past decade.]
I could argue that any of these opinions is fascistic. But let's be conservative and say that only the last opinion, supporting dictatorship, marks one as a fascist. That's still 25% of the Israeli Jewish population that holds objectively fascist views. Not surprisingly only 3% self identify as fascists, but more tellingly, and giving some reason for hope, 66% of Israeli Jews are worried about the rise of fascism in Israel. (Still, I wonder how many of those people worried about fascism also approve of the opinions cited above. Mathematically there has to be an overlap!)

Now some may argue that 25% (or 36%) is not so bad. It's a minority. So the glass is more than half full. But what's most worrisome is the trend. Support for these opinions is growing. As the conflict with the Palestinians drags on and on, and as Israel gets more isolated, many Israeli Jews are circling the wagons, becoming even more inward looking and ethnocentric, more and more rejecting liberal Western values, and more and more adopting hard right positions.

This is another reason to pray for a peace agreement as soon possible. If the trend continues, in another few years most Israelis Jews will not be interested in peace or democracy or coexistence.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Loyalty Oath Is About Hatred Of Liberal Values

This appeared in Haaretz. It is worth spreading far and wide, which is why I am reproducing it in full. It's truth is self evident to anyone who follows Israeli politics closely, but it is not often stated so clearly.

There is nothing left to say about how bad, harmful and useless the new citizenship law is: Labor Party Minister Isaac Herzog has warned that it is another step towards fascism; legal experts like Mordechai Kremnitzer have pointed out that it doesn’t serve any identifiable purpose except making Arabs feeling even less at home in Israel. Likud Ministers Benny Begin and Dan Meridor have pointed out how harmful the law is for the relation with Israeli Arabs and for Israel’s standing in the world.

Both Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu have already declared that they see this law as just a first step in a general attempt towards ensuring loyalty to the state by legislation. The time has come to ask what really stands behind this rising tide. The obvious answer seems to be that it is directed against both Israel’s Arab citizenry, whom Avigdor Lieberman is alienating and insulting almost every day, and Palestinians who want to gain Israeli citizenship.

But I think that this is not the whole story. Consider this strangest of alliances between Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas; one is a completely secular, ultra-nationalist, the other an ultra-Orthodox party. What do they have in common? Why are they lately so effectively cooperate with each other, together with other extreme-right parties?

I believe that what unites them is less a fear of Israel’s enemies (and Israel does have enemies). It is a visceral hatred for the Western values and the liberal ethos. They all hate freedom; they all hate the idea of critical, open discourse, in which ideas are discussed according to their merit. They keep criticizing what they see as the liberal bias of the media and academia, and they have made sustained attempts to curtail freedom of speech at the universities.

Lieberman’s disdain for these ideas breaks through at every possible moment: lately he has insulted French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, telling them they should take care of their own problems in Europe before they come to advise Israel. This has been typical of him for a long time: Lieberman thinks that Israel should turn east; that it should no longer define itself as a Western country, and should finally shake off Israel’s original commitment to be part of the Western world.

Shas has made clear for decades that it just plays along with democracy; that it doesn’t believe in the idea of citizens thinking critically: they believe that only their spiritual leader, Ovadia Yossef, must determine what is right and what is wrong. Other ultra-rightists have been feeling for a long time that the commitment to universal values is undermining their program for the greater Israel in which Palestinians should have no political rights.

They cannot stand the idea that a liberal democracy should be based on rational legislation and is open to criticism by all. They are furious that tribal loyalty is not above criticism. Just lately, national religious rabbis have claimed that studying at universities is a danger for young religious people, because they internalize too many enlightenment values.

We are really talking about a right-wing anti-liberal coalition united by an instinctive hatred against the idea that there are universal standards of rationality and of morality. They do not want to hear criticism of their worldviews that relies on ideas that have, for a long time, been common to the free world. What we are seeing is a fight about Israel’s cultural and political identity.

It may be frightening, but it’s time to realize where we live. Isaac Herzog is wrong when he says that fascism lurks at the fringes of Israeli society. It is now in the mainstream. After all, even the majority of Likud ministers have voted for the shameful new citizenship law amendment.

Israel is now facing a fateful question: will it remain a liberal democracy, or is it on the way to becoming a totalitarian ethnocracy? This is not a rhetorical question. Democracies do not turn into autocratic regimes from one day to the next; it mostly happens step by step. The ugly wave of anti-liberal legislation we are witnessing shows that Israel has embarked on a slippery slope; and we cannot know where it will end. The day may well come when Lieberman and Yishai will argue that critical articles about the government are disloyal to the state, and must be forbidden; and the day may come where the repeated attempts to shut off academics who do not show sufficient “loyalty” will succeed, and they will be fired or jailed.

It is a truly terrible tragedy: we Jews have suffered throughout history from repressive, authoritarian regimes that accused Jews of not being sufficiently German, French, Russian or Spanish. We Jews have experienced the blessing of the enlightenment ideals that allow Jews around the world to live dignified lives and participate in liberal democracies. And the Jewish state is about to gradually erase these values, enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

The likes of Eli Yishai and Lieberman cannot possibly be influenced by arguments like this. After all, they hate Enlightenment values and the principles of liberal democracy. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom I disagree in many respects, is, at heart, a believer in classical liberalism. He must ask himself whether he can live with the fact that, for the sake of political short-term gain, he is harming Israel’s democracy irretrievably.

And Isaac Herzog must understand that giving interviews saying that fascism is becoming a danger in no way absolves him from the responsibility of being a member of the government that is gradually burying Israel’s democracy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Check It Out

My son thinks my obsession with Israel is beside the point. He thinks, and he may be right, that the environmental crisis, and global warming in particular, is the number one problem facing all humanity - including Jews, Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians.

And he takes his beliefs seriously. He had decided several years ago to become an organic farmer. In order to minimize his carbon footprint he decided to go "low tech" and farm, as much as possible, with horses instead of tractors.

After apprenticing and working on other peoples farms for 5 years, he is now starting up his own farm and community supported agriculture project (CSA.) You can check out his web site and blog at If you live near Guelph or Kitchener/Waterloo Ontario you can join the CSA and get good fresh organic produce to pick up, or to be delivered to your door, starting May 2011. Check it out.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Israeli Loyalty Oath Set To Pass

The Israeli cabinet recently approved a controversial right wing proposal to have new Israeli citizens swear loyalty to "Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

This is understood by everyone as a slap in the face of non Jewish Israelis (25% of the population) and an attempt to make any demands that Israel be a "state for all its citizens" beyond the pale, and perhaps grounds for revocation of citizenship.

By way of comparison, imagine if the U.K. demanded that all new citizens swear allegiance to the "United Kingdom as an Anglo-Saxon and democratic state" or if Italy demanded a declaration of loyalty to "Italy as a Catholic and democratic state."

Interestingly, Jews claiming citizenship under the Law of Return are exempt. (Are they afraid of a few lefty olim who might refuse to take such an oath?) Thus practically speaking the new law will apply mostly to relatives (typically new wives) of Israeli Arabs who apply for Israeli citizenship under the family re-unification clauses of the Citizenship and Immigration Act.

But still the symbolism of the new law is clear. To put non-Jewish Israelis in their place, and to squelch any liberal voices calling for Israel to be a secular state for all its citizens. It further ensconces Israel as an "ethnic democracy" where some people are more equal than others. It moves Israel towards a totalitarianism where the official state ideology cannot be challenged, and where people who do challenge that ideology can be labelled traitors and be denied (and perhaps lose) citizenship rights. And it further supports the historical mistake (in my opinion anyway) of the total conflation of the State of Israel and the Jewish People.

Friday, October 01, 2010

This Is Happenning In Jerusalem - "The Eternal Capital of the Jewish People"

What's shocking about this story is not that it happened (sadly it is all too common in Gaza or the West Bank), but where it happened.

This happened in Jerusalem - "The Eternal Capital of the Jewish People." In an area within Israel "proper" (at least according to Israel), subject to Israeli law (not military law), and whose victims are legal residents of Israel (with legal papers to prove it) and some of whom are Israeli citizens (residents of East Jerusalem were automatically given Israeli residency status after Israel's 1967 annexation; they were also given the right to apply for, and easily receive, Israeli citizenship, though only some availed themselves of this right.)

Read the full story on the Tikun Olam site (and follow the links for more background on the "Silwan Riot", itself caused by the killing of an Arab resident by a Jewish security guard), but here is an excerpt. It gives you an idea of how even Israeli Arabs (as opposed to "occupied Arabs") are treated.

Recently, I was on the ground and witnessed soldiers urinating and defecating on the roofs of private Palestinian homes, throwing bottles (water and beer) on to Palestinians pedestrians on the street and breaking windows left and right. From the ground [live] I tweeted:

Soldiers are trashing roof tops with urine and feces in Silwan. We are cleaning up and putting the waste in front of the settler house”

“The police have no shame at all. They have broken a window now and poked their heads into the house demanding coffee”

“They are also throwing bottles from roofs on to the main streets.”

By way of a thought experiment, imagine the L.A. police acting this way during and after a riot in a black neighborhood. How would America have reacted - even in the 60's? And how has Israel reacted? Despite widespread reporting of these incidents in the Israeli media, the police defend themselves, the government takes no action, and the public is indifferent.