Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why are Israelis protesting for social justice?

When I was in Israel earlier this summer, the big local protest was about the cost of cottage cheese, which had been raised greatly in the last 2-3 years. The protest was started on Facebook by a haredi man and eventually gained 100,000 signatures. The three big dairy companies in Israel finally conceded and lowered the price. But this was only symbolic of the increasing discontent with rising prices of food, real estate, and everything else. I've commented for several years to my friends in Israel that the only housing being built in Jerusalem seems to be extravagantly expensive developments that only rich people from outside of the country can afford to live in. This has created the phenomenon in the city of "ghost" neighborhoods - blocks of luxury apartments that are largely uninhabited for most of the year, when their wealthy foreign owners visit the city. 

I was talking to some new friends this summer - a young couple with two children, one working as a teacher's assistant in a school for severely handicapped children, the other working in construction (yes, there are Jewish Israelis working as construction workers) - but he recently quit that job and started one that probably pays quite a deal less, working as a clerk at a grocery story. My guess about their income is that they make around 7,000 shekels a month (=about $2000). They're living in a rented apartment, where I would guess the rent is around 2500-3000 shekels per month. The night I got together with them, they were discussing an apartment for sale that a friend had told them about - for 900,000 shekels (=about $264,000). Could they afford an apartment at that price?As a young couple, they could get some funding from the government, but that wouldn't cover very much, and they'd end up with an enormous mortgage, if a bank would lend to them.

It's the situation of people like them that is driving these protests.

Another significant development over the past years is the privatization of big parts of the Israeli economy that used to belong to the government. These companies now belong to enormously rich people (the "oligarchs" - like the Russian oligarchs who ended up dominating that economy after the fall of communism). After talking to some friends this summer, I finally grasped that this is one big reason why the gap between rich and poor has grown so immense in Israel. Israel is also a high-tech incubator, but that has also added to the increasing gap. Of all the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (which Israel just joined last year), Israel has the biggest gap.
..... the country is still at the bottom of the rankings. Every fifth Israeli is twice as poor as the average person in OECD member states. Most of the poor come from Arab and ultra-orthodox communities, where poverty rises to 50 percent and 60 percent, respectively. More than half of Israelis are paid less than NIS 4,000 a month, while only a very few make many times as much.
You don't hear much of this in the foreign press, or even the Jewish press in America - the economic stories I have read recently about Israel are all about the high-tech sector, leaving behind the more than half of Israelis who don't make more than $1200 per month.

"The people want social justice" - protests in Israel

Has the Arab Spring come to Israel? If you expect to learn about this by reading the New York Times or listening to NPR, you're out of luck - they haven't discovered the story yet. But fortunately we have some independent journalists from Israel reporting on something different from the usual hopeless Israel-Palestinian conflict stories.

My friend Gershom Gorenberg reports from Jerusalem:
The dead have come to life.
I saw them marching tonight through Jerusalem, jumping, swaying, pounding pots and water-cooler bottles as drums, the Israelis in their twenties who’d been written off in a thousand political obituaries as dead of terminal apathy, sweating in the absurd heat close to midnight, roaring so deep you could hear their throats tearing in anger and in joy at being angry together and being alive again.

'People before Profits'
‘People before Profits’ (Gershom Gorenberg)
They came flooding down from Zion Square through Independence Park and up Agron Street to the square outside of one of Netanyahu’s three homes, and they sang an old kindergarten song about “my hat has three corners” rewritten as “my Bibi owns three houses,” and they overflowed up onto the walls and fences past the sidewalks and they danced with mad happiness at seeing each other.

They chanted “The people want social justice!” and “What’s the answer to privatization? Re-Vo-Lu-Tion!” and waved flags, both blue-and-white and red. They cheered for the Arab medical student telling the government it has to pay for health care, and for the teacher decrying the pure insult of treating teachers as temp workers, and for the rabbi quoting Isaiah....

For those reading from abroad, I also note that so far, foreign editors have completely missed what’s happening here, because the stories they expect from Israel are about war and terror and peace talks, so they haven’t gotten their minds around two weeks of protests that just keep getting bigger, Israelis inspired by Egypt, demanding what was once the basic minimum here before the poison of privatization arrived: free education, free health care, affordable apartments.
Read the whole thing.

For more coverage, from +972: Marches for Social Justice in Israel.
Huge protests in cities across Israel signal they are a growing political force

The housing and social protests tonight reached a huge crescendo, with throngs flooding streets in over 10 cities across the country Israel. Haaretz is reporting roughly 150,000 people around the country in Hebrew (most conservative estimate in the morning papers belongs to the pro-Netanyahu free paper, Israel Hayom: 100,000 protesters).

Compared to the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 who demonstrated last week, the number of protesters around the country may have more than quadrupled.

In Tel Aviv, the roar of frenzied euphoria mixed with anger preceded the crowd as the parade rounded a major intersection on its way to the Tel Aviv museum. Screams of “revolution” were echoed all over the country. Estimates speak of 10,000 in Jerusalem, similar numbers in Haifa and Beer Sheva, along with demonstrations in Kiryat Shmona, Nazareth, Ashdod several other locations.

Like last week, the Tel Aviv demonstration ended with a large and loud sit-in at a major traffic intersection (Dizengoff and Kaplan streets); police formed human chains to block streets, mounted police appeared, and eventually called to break up the protesters. Eight were arrested and released in the following morning.

At first glance, it appeared that the crowd’s demands were not significantly different from last week. The main rallying cry was still: “The people! Want! Social justice!” with a generous dose of “Bibi go home,” as well as anti-capitalism, pro-welfare state slogans, all laced with dripping sarcasm along the lines of: “The market is free, but we’re slaves.”

Over the last two weeks, the protests have been criticized as unfocused and lacking concrete demands. Tonight there were new signs of a plan taking shape. In the final speeches, after a lineup that included celebrity musicians, the organizers wrapped up with several quite specific demands. In what sounded very much like an ultimatum, they said that Netanyahu has until Wednesday, the day the Knesset goes on recess, to do two things: Withdraw the pending law for national housing committees – which they consider deeply damaging  - and prevent the privatization of the Israel Lands Administration, which holds the vast majority of land in Israel.

On Sunday, Netanyahu has announced that a team of ministers would meet the representatives of the protest movement. The director of Israel’s finance ministry has resigned in the morning following the protest, citing the protest among his reasons.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Justifying murder

I just spent some time this morning reading through the comments on a posting on Harry's Place about Pamela Geller deleting the violent part of an email she published in 2007 from someone in Norway. Joseph W picked up the item from Charles Johnson's LGF: Pamela Geller Edits Post to Conceal Violent Rhetoric in 'Email from Norway. Charles comments that this email was "from a reader who sounds a lot like the Oslo terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik."

Some of the comments on HP were fine, but others descended into the abyss of trying to justify what Breivik did. "Hutch" quoted israelmatzav as saying, "Norway's ambassador to Israel justifies 'Palestinian' terrorism and we're supposed to cry for the Norwegian Laborites?" "Ben" writes, "Israel is once again displaying a lack of self-respect. The exaggerated display of solidarity with the Labour Party youth victims (lowering the embassy flag to half mast, Peres making overly fulsome speech of grief) is unseemly, because it is quite clear that most of the Norwegian Labour Party establishment and its youth cadres acquiesces in or is indifferent to Jew-killing in Israel." "censoredbyyou" writes "I in no way condone his acts, but as the smirking 'Left' internationally observed after 9/11 - they had it coming."

J.J. Golberg of the Forward wrote about a similar phenomenon in the talkbacks to articles on Breivik on the websites of the Israeli newspapers - Ynet and Maariv.

Damian Thompson, right-wing writer for the Telegraph (UK) and editor of their blogs, has some trenchant words on Anders Breivik and the echo-chamber of the trolls:
Was Anders Breivik an internet troll? I’m sorry if that seems a flippant question to ask about a man who killed dozens of Norwegian teenagers, but you can’t read his 1,500-page “manifesto” without being struck by how thoroughly he trawled the web. Whatever the explanation for his murderous actions, this was definitely a brain warped by the blogosphere....

Then there are the pyjama-clad pseudonymous obsessives whose fingers are calloused from rattling out the truth about the “EUSSR”, BBC bias, Big Pharma, Zionists, Islam etc.

These trolls aren’t confined to the far Left or the far Right: some of the most noxious internet bores turn out to be Liberal Democrats. It’s true that, on the whole, their views tend to be controversial, but the essence of their trolling is their rhetorical style: in particular, an insistence that they know the truth about everything. All they really have in common – apart from an aversion to deodorant – is hysterical omniscience.

Speaking as someone who hates the way the mainstream media suck up to radical Muslims, I find it frustrating that websites devoted to monitoring Islamism are dominated by trolls and writers who play up to them. I don’t trust a word that the BBC tells me about “the religion of peace” – but equally, I can’t trust either the articles or the comments on the Gates of Vienna or Jihad Watch websites. (This I learnt the hard way, by quoting on my own blog an anecdote about Muslims besieging a hospital that turned out to be an urban myth.)

Someone who did trust them, however, was Anders Breivik, whose manifesto draws far more heavily on anti-Islamic and anti-EU blogs than it does on neo-Nazi sources. This is massively embarrassing for the Right-wing bloggers he cites, three of whom are old friends of mine, but it demonstrates cunning on Breivik’s part.

He knew where to look to find statistics to support his vicious theories. He knew that the far Right can succeed only by exploiting public anger at political correctness and immigration, avoiding the idiocy of neo-Nazism, about which the manifesto is scathing. Above all, he revelled in the special hysteria of the internet, which allows its users to bolt together whatever ideas turn them on, while ruthlessly excluding inconvenient data. (This new hysteria taints even the most trivial internet discourse – you should have seen the way supporters and opponents of vibrato-free Mahler were squawking at each other after Roger Norrington’s Prom on Monday.)

I don’t know why Breivik made the leap from propaganda to mass murder. I don’t think he was mad, in the sense of suffering from psychotic delusions, but there’s no doubt that years spent in the echo chambers of cyberspace can cause psychological damage.

In the months leading up to last Friday’s atrocity, did he join in the internet discussions he read so avidly? Given his verbosity, it’s more than likely. The manifesto is written in the self-righteous, autodidactic style of a troll; it will be interesting to see whether, following Breivik’s arrest, one of the anonymous contributors to Right-wing websites suddenly disappears off the map.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Anders Breivik: Insane or Guilty?

Norm has a good post today on whether Anders Breivik (the Norwegian terrorist who killed 76 people a week ago) is insane. "It's puzzling this tendency to assume that someone who does something very bad - of a degree that we're even inclined to say of it that it's evil - must be crazy."

Plenty of people who were not mad shot and killed thousands of civilians on the eastern front during WWII. The Einsatzgruppen committed their murders of Jews, Communists, and others largely by shooting people. Altogether, they killed about 1.5 million people, including most of the Jewish populations of the Baltic countries - numbering among them my grandfather's uncle Mordechai Falkon and his wife Dvora Falkon, who were murdered in July and December of 1941, respectively. The Soviets who tried and executed some of the Einsatzgruppen members after the war did not consider them not guilty by reason of insanity - they held them responsible for their gruesome acts of destruction.

Does anyone consider the hijackers of September 11, 2001 to be insane? In all of the millions of words I've read on the subject since then, I've never heard anyone suggest that Osama bin Laden and his minions were crazy.

Why shouldn't we hold Breivik to the same standard? I've read some of his 1500 page manifesto, where he lays out the ideology behind his acts. His thinking is racist, distasteful, and obsessive but his methodical description of the process involved in creating the fertilizer bomb did not strike me as at all insane.

Calling Breivik or others who commit terrorist acts (violent attacks against civilians for political purposes, in order to sow terror) insane is in most cases a way to diminish their responsibility for their actions. I can understand why Breivik's lawyer is calling him insane. I don't understand why other people are, unless they wish somehow to diminish the gravity of his acts and his responsibility for them.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Spatial Humanities

Today's New York Times has a fascinating article on the "spatial humanities" - the use of Geographic Information Systems for mapping historical events: Geographic Information Systems Help Scholars See History.

I want to do something like this for my Jerusalem course. I wrote a proposal for an in-house grant, but unfortunately didn't get it, but I'm still interested in doing it.

Debt ceiling news

Listening to President Obama now giving his speech on the debt ceiling. He's in professor mode. I like what he's saying, but would appreciate more passion. Perhaps a threat or two that there won't be Social Security payments if the debt ceiling isn't raised, and that the Republicans are to blame.

Now he's speaking against the Republican idea that the debt ceiling should be raised only for the next six months. "This is no way to run the greatest country on earth." Amen. Now he's speaking in support of Reid's proposal. "I'm confident we can reach this compromise" (between Democratic and Republican plans). I wish I felt as confident.

He's engaging in his sweet reasonableness, pro-compromise mode - but what do you do when the Republicans aren't interested in compromising?

"Americans voted for a divided government, but not for a dysfunctional government." Now he's asking for people to contact their representatives if they want a balanced approach.

Compromise as the American virtue. "Out of many, we are one."

"We remember the Americans who put country ahead of self."

"To form a more perfect union."

"The entire world is watching."

John Boehner is about to speak - not planning to listen to him too!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Back in Ithaca

Back in Ithaca now. I left Israel on Sunday night, flew to Philadelphia, then to Boston, where I spent a few days with family, and drove back to Ithaca on Wednesday - in a car with no air conditioning!  Somehow I didn't expect that it would be hotter on the east coast of the US than in Israel, but it has been. Fortunately, here in Ithaca there are a number of ponds, lakes, and waterfalls to jump into when it really gets too hot to bear, and I've been taking advantage of them.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Open Letter to Alice Walker

My friend Bonna Devora Haberman, who lives in Jerusalem, has written a beautiful response to Alice Walker's presentation of her reasons for taking part in the US Boat to Gaza. I post it here with her permission.

Dear Alice Walker,

Though your riggings are tied, your heart has set sail. Your desire to deliver audacious hope to our region and your caring about children inspire many. As a person who lives in Jerusalem and dedicates many of my waking hours to Israeli-Palestinian collaboration, may I float some ideas that might advance commitments we share?

I co-direct an Israeli-Palestinian activist community theater project in Jerusalem together with my Palestinian partner, Kader Herini. YTheater—housed at the International Jerusalem YMCA. We work in those languages you cannot decipher—in Arabic and Hebrew, and in English. Our theater arises from shared exploration. We strive for an artistic language to express and respect our differences and to develop our joint potential for betterment. We train leaders in our process to inspire more collaboration. Our audiences, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, laugh and cry together; they participate in the enactment of joyous tolerance and creativity, where women and men, gay and straight, yearn and strive together.

I also parent Jewish children who risk at least three of their prime years to protect us. History proves that defend ourselves we must—today there are so many armed to harm us. My children have done National Service—caring for needy school children from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, and served in elite units of the Israel Defense Forces. My sons persevered through grueling training, navigating hundreds of miles by maps they memorized, plodding on without sleep in the black of night with more than 100 pounds of equipment on their backs. When our son Bezalel completed his training as a medic in his combat unit, the commanding officer emphasized to his class their obligations. Their oath to treat the injured with justice—saving friend and enemy equally—brought tears to our eyes.

The IDF ethics of engagement often expose our children to extra danger in order to avoid harming non-combatants, searching door-to-door for terrorists rather than bombing from above. In Gaza, Israel electronically relayed tens of thousands of phone messages and dropped harmless “knock on the roof” sound bombs to advise civilians to evacuate their homes where Hamas stashed weapons and hid military operators. The US army learns from our methods in their war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though their opponents pose no imminent threat to your life or your family and friends, your soldiers inevitably wound and kill women, men, and children far from your home.

After Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Palestinians were free to choose their leaders. Hoping for less corruption and dysfunction, and better social services, many Palestinians voted for the only alternative to Fatah, Hamas. The Hamas covenant seeks not only the destruction of Israel. Citing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hamas seeks to murder Jews.

Similar to the tough sanctions imposed on the South African apartheid regime, The Quartet—the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia—imposed sanctions on Hamas-controlled Gaza. Egypt and Israel imposed a blockade. The goal is to pressure Hamas to meet three conditions:
  • recognize Israel,
  • accept agreements made by the previous Fatah-led Administration, and
  • denounce violence.
Refusing all of these, Hamas waged civil war, ousted Fatah, broke apart the Palestinian Legislative Council in June 2007, and rained rockets down on southern Israel. 3,278 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza into Israel in 2008 aborted normal life—kindergarten, school, and work, and caused trauma, death, and destruction daily. My daughter's medical school held class underground. While she was doing her rotations, the pediatric intensive care unit was treating children from Gaza. In all Israeli hospitals, Arabs and Jews routinely receive the same medical care together. Meanwhile, the university dorm of one of our sons in Beer Sheva took a direct hit—students were, thankfully, in class.

Israel launched operation Cast Lead in January 2009. Shortly after my son, Bezalel was mobilized during Sabbath, I wrote the following journal entry,
We spent an hour before he left reading poetry together, Coleridge and Blake, Wordsworth—romantics who defied social institutions with their embodied eros, and Mary Wollstonecraft's introduction to Vindication of the Rights of Women. He napped until it was time to go. We packed food—vegetarian rations for a gentle soldier. I shiver with our embrace at the threshold of our home, at the threshold of Shabbat and desecration, at the seam of peace and war.

We have not yet heard from him. It is impossible to imagine this, the most difficult thing that I have ever faced.

There are no words to describe the anguish and vulnerability, the fusion of Zionist conviction with empathy. The sheer fear for the life that we birth, nurture, raise, and cherish is beyond any comprehension. There is no safety for innocence.

Not for Israelis.

Not for Palestinians.

My son Bezalel is an artist. He spins wood and metal into sacred vessels, paints on canvas, welds, builds tools and furniture.

May he and all dear ones speedily return to their true passions, bodies and souls intact. Our life force could be so much better spent.

I write of love in the midst of blood.

May we enable peace.
Thank God, Bezalel completed his compulsory army service. He has undertaken a course of study that will prepare him to design new limbs and organs that communicate with the nerves and mind.

The Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza operation documents blood-curdling accounts of how Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank persecute their political rivals. At the same time as retracting the central and unsubstantiated claim of his Report that condemned Israel for intentionally targeting civilians during the operation, Judge Richard Goldstone maintains that, “the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.”(1) The Goldstone Report comments about Hamas strategy,
In July 2009, Hamas declared that it was entering a period of “cultural resistance”, stating that it was suspending its use of rockets and shifting its focus to winning support at home and abroad through cultural initiatives and public relations. (2)
In spite of this statement, the rocket bombardment of Sederot, the town where Bezalel goes to college, and the south of Israel has not ended; he is on the medic volunteer roster. On April 7, 2011, Hamas fired a laser-guided Kornet anti-tank missile at an Israeli school bus near Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

Willingly or not, Alice, you are participating in the Hamas cultural initiative and public relations campaign, a fusion of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

I share your desire to improve conditions for people in Gaza—they and we all suffer from Hamas policies. In June, 2010, Israel loosened restrictions to relieve the hardship by allowing all strictly civilian goods to enter; in May 2011, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing to women and to men under 18 and above 40 without a visa.

This brief sojourn in Greece is not a set-back, but preparation to make hope and love a daily routine, a way of life. As you re-group, please make plans to deliver love letters that arouse desire for a civil society in Gaza that denounces violence, recognizes Israel, and makes peace. Please long to deliver a love letter to Gilad Shalit who Hamas has held captive for more than 5 years, and please plan to unearth the love in Gaza to release this child to his parents, Noam and Aviva who ache for him. Please plan to deliver love letters to Palestinians in Gaza to support their choice of new leaders who will invest in cultivating and contributing to humanity.

With humility and hope, I offer these tenets of Israeli society as an agenda to share with the people of Gaza. Most Israelis accept Palestinian statehood—flourishing side-by-side with us in peace, with dignity and security. Israelis will surely open all ports to support the people of Gaza pursuing this building work:
  • sustainable economic development
  • universal education for civic responsibility and respect for all peoples
  • women's liberation from systemic oppression and full participation in public life and leadership
  • a comprehensive, high quality universal health care system
  • academic institutions that promote open, critical thinking and innovation
  • technology, scientific and medical research and development
  • vibrant and uncensored media, culture, and arts
I close with a few lines of hope that I wrote after our soldiers came home from Gaza—a love letter to Palestinians in Gaza and everywhere, to Israelis, and to all who care.
Let us conceive
a new covenant with life
incise in our broken hearts
to open to one another
to give and to receive
to fix
to build and
to love
With blessings,
Bonna Devora Haberman

Jerusalem, Israel
______________________________________________________

(1) “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes,” Washington Post, April 2, 2011, retrieved May 3, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/reconsidering-the-goldstone-report-on-israel-and-war-crimes/2011/04/01/AFg111JC_story.html.

(2) “Goldstone Report,” of the “United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” headed by Richard Goldstone, p. 523, 1680.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Terrorist attack in Mumbai today

Report from the New York Times:
Three bomb blasts shook the city of Mumbai at the height of the evening rush hour on Wednesday, in what appeared to be coordinated attacks on India’s economic capital. The Interior Ministry described the explosions as a terror attack, India’s NDTV reported.
Indian news outlets reported that at least 10 people were killed, and that dozens may have been injured. The explosions struck central locations in the city, including the crowded Dadar neighborhood; the Zaveri Bazaar, a jewelry market; and near the Opera House, according to news reports citing the Interior Ministry.
For the latest reports, go to Twitter - http://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23Mumbai. May this not be the beginning of more terrorism in India!

More interesting opinions about the Israeli anti-boycott law

False Dichotomies has an interesting post about the anti-boycott law:
An unholy alliance of the Zionist far-right and the anti-Zionist far-left is trying to bring Israel down. Like previous unholy alliances, the two partners despise one another, but realize that they are locked in a symbiotic relationship: without one another they will die. The far-right needs the hysteria of the far-left as a pretext for the legislation that fulfills the far-left’s fantasies.
The whole thing is worth reading.

Michael Weiss of the Telegraph (UK) also has an interesting column:
One of the more elegant ways pro-Israel activists used to be able to confront the absurdities of anti-Israeli activists was by referring to the tolerance and patience that Israel has for its many critics and enemies. An Islamist cleric whose answer to the Jewish Question is straight out of Torquemada? We’ll let him become mayor of an Arab village. A sinister campaign for the economic and cultural boycott of Israel? We’ll let the head campaigner work toward his doctorate at Tel Aviv University, where his oral defence will no doubt be an attack on his own academic viability. Even an Israeli Arab parliamentarian is allowed to sail on a blockade-busting “freedom flotilla” to denounce the very government to which she belongs.

Israeli democracy, in other words, has long been patient with its gadflies, cranks and nudniks who sometimes confuse that democracy with a banana republic. (Ben-Gurion was hinting at national self-definition when he joked about two Jews with three opinions.) Now, however, those doing the confusing are purportedly acting in Israel’s defence, which is deeply problematic for its democracy.

On Monday, the Knesset voted in favour of a bill that would allow citizens to sue anyone recommending a boycott of not only Israel but of West Bank settlements. This is a distinction with a difference. Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of Palestine, has long favoured a boycott of settlement goods, but not Israeli ones, as a way of forcing Israel to distinguish its GDP from its occupation economy. Diplomatically ill-considered though such a policy may be, and however skirted by the Palestinians themselves in practice, Fayyad’s policy was by no means “anti-Semitic” or belligerent in its logic.
On a related topic, Shiraz Socialist has published a very interesting critique of the BDS campaign written by Cathy N of Workers Liberty (a small left-wing group in the UK).
BDS may seem in the ascendant for now. It may make progress in places, on the back of the Israeli state’s next atrocity. BDS needs to be fought politically, because it stands in the path of two states, the only consistently democratic solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But BDS is ultimately a pessimistic approach. It put the agency for change outside of the region. It wants civil society, which includes not only NGOs and unions but bourgeois governments and business internationally to make things right for the Palestinians. There is another road. The Palestinian workers in alliance with Israeli workers fighting for a two state democratic solution to the national question, is the force that could deliver peace and much more besides.

Other interesting articles: Jeff Goldberg - A self-defeating anti-boycott bill, and in Tablet - American Jews unite against Knesset bill: "Apparently the best way to unite American Jews is for the Knesset to do something particularly stupid, like pass a law that criminalizes calling for boycotts."

The quiet sound of going fascist

Read Bradley Burston's column in Haaretz today: Israel's boycott law: the quiet sound of going fascist.
This is the one. Don't let what we like to call the relative calm here, fool you. When the Knesset passed the boycott law Monday night, it changed the history of the state of Israel.

In real time, a tipping point of great magnitude can sound a lot like nothing at all. But if the Boycott Law makes it past challenges filed by human rights and pro-peace organizations in Israel's High Court of Justice, then anything goes, beginning with democracy itself.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak and 10 other cabinet ministers already know this. That's why they failed to show up for the vote.

They stayed away because they know that this is the stain that may prove indelible. The Boycott Law is the litmus test for Israeli democracy, the threshold test for Israeli fascism. It's a test of moderates everywhere who care about the future of this place.
Why is the law so bad? Among other reasons:
The effect of the law could be crippling to the efforts of all organizations and many individuals working for Israeli-Palestinian peace and enhanced freedoms and human rights within Israel and the territories. The rabid anti-NGO campaigns of Im Tirtzu and other groups could escalate into a full-bore "lawfare" offensive, hauling them repeatedly into court and costing them prohibitive legal fees.
And this law is not the last attempt to stifle dissent.
A list of new bills, beginning next week, each designed to choke debate, gag protest, punish criticism, and/or cement the rule of the right. First up: The return of a bill to create McCarthyesque committees to investigate organizations the panels deem leftist. The bill was originally withdrawn for lack of votes in Knesset, but, buoyed by the success of the Boycott Law, the McCarthy Bill's sponsors now believe they can win passage.

Boycott Bill rollcall

Noam Sheizaf, at +972, provides a useful list of who voted for (47) and against (38) the new boycott law, as well as who was not present for the vote or abstained from voting.

Those not present included the leading ministers in the government:

Foreign Minister Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu)
Defense Minister Barak (Atzmaut - split off from Labor)
Prime Minister Netanyahu (Likud)
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud)
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beitenu)

It's quite remarkable that they weren't even present for the vote. Sheizaf's comment: "Many of the votes were those of backbenchers, and it seems that the leading ministers preferred not to be present at the vote, once it was clear that the law was going to pass. The three most important ministers in the government–Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—chose not to attend the vote. Some leadership Israel has."

Coalition - 66 MKs: 21 not present, 2 didn't vote, the rest voted yes

In Likud, out of 27 MKs, eight were not present for the vote. The Knesset Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, didn't vote. The rest voted yes.

In Yisrael Beitenu, out of 15 MKs, five were not present. The rest voted yes.

In Shas, out of 11 MKs, three were not present. (Interior Minister Eli Yishai voted yes, along with the rest of the party).

In Atzmaut, which is part of the coalition, 4 out of 5 were not present, and the fifth didn't vote. Since they're part of the coalition, they're supposed to vote for laws proposed by the coalition - but they rebelled.

United Torah Judaism - out of five MKs, one was not present and the rest voted yes.

HaBayit HaYehudi - out of three MKs, all voted yes.

Opposition - 12 not present out of 54 MKs
Kadima - out of 28 MKs, 7 were not present. All the rest voted no, including Tzipi Livni, head of the opposition.

Labor - out of 8 MKs, 2 were not present. All the rest voted no.

Hadash (Communists) - all 4 MKs voted no

Ra'am-Ta'al - three out of 4 MKs voted no, the other was not present.

Balad - one was not present, the other three voted no.

Meretz - all three MKs voted no.

Ichud Leumi (extreme right wing party, but not part of the coalition) - out of 4 MKs, one was not present, the other three voted yes.

Reactions to the Boycott Law

Some interesting reactions to the boycott ban:

Liel Leibovitz of Tablet Magazine:
I am a citizen of Israel. I also wholeheartedly support a ban on the settlements, which I believe to be illegal, morally reprehensible, theologically misguided, and politically ruinous. So sue me.
No, really: Now you can.
Marc Tracy, also of Tablet, writes:
In striking against the international BDS movement and its undeniable, and undeniably unfair, campaign of delegitimization with such an absurd, draconian gesture, isn’t the Israeli government compelling all honest observers to pay more attention to the motives and arguments of the BDS movement? It seems to me that MK Zeev Elkin, of Likud, the bill’s main sponsor, is the BDS movement’s most useful of idiots. He ought to get a cut of the donations that are about to pour in.
David Schraub picks up on the theme of useful idiots:
But the true stunner is that it looks like this law is even too much for ZOA's Mort Klein, who said "Nobody was more appalled by the boycott of Ariel theater than me, but to make it illegal? I don't think so."

I mean, seriously? How badly do you have to fuck up for Mort Klein to attack you from the left? Mort Klein criticizing Israel for being too harsh on its critics is like hearing Pat Robertson condemn a "family values" org for being too homophobic. It's a sign that you didn't just go off the deep end, but cracked your head open on the side of the pool mid-leap.
Gush Shalom, which already in the 1990s began a campaign to boycott goods produced at the settlements (I remember reading their list of things produced at the settlements at that time), has filed a petition to overturn the boycott law:
The appeal states that the new law violates basic democratic principles: “The parliamentary majority seeks, through the Boycott Law as by other pieces of legislation, to silence any criticism of government policy in general and of government policy in the Occupied Territories in particular, and to prevent an open and productive political dialogue, which constitutes the basis for a functioning democratic regime” (art. 7).

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Boycott Law" just passed by Israeli Knesset

The Knesset just passed (on its second and third readings) the "Boycott Law," which penalizes people and organizations that call for a boycott against Israel or against the settlements. Tomorrow a petition will be submitted to the Supreme Court against the law by the organizations Coalition of Women for Peace, Physicians for Human Rights, the Public Committee Against Torture, and Adalah. This is after the opinion of the Legal Adviser to the Knesset, who ruled today that the law suffered from a "real constitutional defect" and is a "violation of core political speech in Israel."

To protest against the law, Peace Now has just started a Facebook page calling for boycotting products from the settlements. The head of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, said tonight that "Someone who buys products from the territories himself funds building in the settlements and the outposts, damages Israeli exports, and deepens the occupation. As Israelis we will not surrender the right to protest and the freedom to say this."

As should be clear to anyone who reads my blog, I am opposed to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, because I believe that it is fundamentally antisemitic and will never lead to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. On the other hand, I myself have grave doubts about buying products made in the settlements. As the Peace Now leader said, doing so directly supports the settlements financially and enables them to continue to exist.

I oppose the occupation and think that Israel should withdraw from most of the West Bank to enable the establishment of a Palestinian state. The continued building of settlements and the establishment of settlement outposts has continually diminished the amount of land that could be used for the Palestinian state. In addition, many settlers engage in illegal and violent acts against their Palestinian neighbors, up to and including setting fire to mosques in retaliation for Israeli government actions (usually quite mild) against the settlements (for example, tearing down an outpost consisting of a few caravans). I don't want to reward people for these actions.

The Peace Now Facebook page says (my translation): "Prosecute me, I boycott products of the settlements. This is an historic day in which the Israeli Knesset transformed itself from a representative of the people to the national thought police. It appears that the extreme right prefers to end the many years long debate about the settlements by means of an anti-democratic law. In the wake of the law, we will call (for the first time), tomorrow morning, together with thousands of supporters, to boycott the products of the settlements, and we will explain to the public that one who buys products from the settlements damages the state of Israel."

The point of this law is not to attack the BDS movement outside Israel, which will not be injured by it. It is to attack the Israeli left and its activism against the settlements. There are a few extreme Israeli leftists who support the BDS movement, but groups like Peace Now are certainly not among them. This law is part and parcel of the campaign by the Israeli extreme right to demonize and delegitimize the Israeli left, including such human rights organizations as B'Tselem. Israelis and Jews in the other countries may not like what Peace Now, B'Tselem, the Public Committee Against Torture, and other organizations say in criticism of Israeli governmental actions, but to deny them the right to free speech, on penalty of extensive fines, is a blow to Israeli democracy.

Glenn Beck in Israel speaking about "truth"

Glenn Beck visited Jerusalem today and spoke before a Knesset committee: he called on MKs to "speak the truth" about Israel and its adversaries. He addressed the Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs committee (why this committee in particular?). Beck did say, surprisingly, that "I'm not against a Palestinian state. I'm not here for a political solution. There's something bigger than politics here. I don't think in my lifetime I've seen a more clear definition of evil that has been dismissed," referring to the massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar.

Apparently Beck was criticized from the right by a number of MKs for not condemning the proposal for a Palestinian state. MK Arye Eldad also criticized Beck for saying that Arabs and Israelis are all "people who want to live their lives and raise their kids." Eldad said: "Not everyone is like us. They don't just want to have a good life. They have different motives than we do."

I guess it takes an Israeli politician to make Glenn Beck look good!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Some questions for the Gaza flotilla from Christopher Hitchens

Some excellent questions for the Gaza flotillistas from Christopher Hitchens.

A sample:
It seems safe and fair to say that the flotilla and its leadership work in reasonably close harmony with Hamas, which constitutes the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The political leadership of this organization is headquartered mainly in Gaza itself. But its military coordination is run out of Damascus, where the regime of Bashar Assad is currently at war with increasingly large sections of the long-oppressed Syrian population. Refugee camps, some with urgent humanitarian requirements, are making their appearance on the border between Syria and Turkey (the government of the latter being somewhat sympathetic to the purposes of the flotilla). In these circumstances, isn't it legitimate to strike up a conversation with the "activists" and ask them where they come out on the uprising against hereditary Baathism in Syria?...

Only a few weeks ago, the Hamas regime in Gaza became the only governing authority in the world—by my count—to express outrage and sympathy at the death of Osama Bin Laden. As the wavelets lap in the Greek harbors, and the sunshine beats down, doesn't any journalist want to know whether the "activists" have discussed this element in their partners' world outlook? Does Alice Walker seriously have no comment?

Hamas is listed by various governments and international organizations as a terrorist group. I don't mind conceding that that particular word has been used in arbitrary ways in the past. But what concerns me much more is the official programmatic adoption, by Hamas, of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This disgusting fabrication is a key foundational document of 20th-century racism and totalitarianism, indelibly linked to the Hitler regime in theory and practice. It seems extraordinary to me that any "activist" claiming allegiance to human rights could cooperate at any level with the propagation of such evil material. But I have never seen any of them invited to comment on this matter, either.
Somehow I doubt that any of them will bother considering these questions, since it would require them to pull themselves out of their magnificent self-regard for a moment and think about the real world. The latest "action alert update" that I received from the US Boat to Gaza informed me about the eight members of the group who had just been arrested by the Greek authorities in front of the American embassy. Not a word about the people of Gaza about whom they supposedly passionately care.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Trip to the Galilee and the Golan

I got back verrry late last night from my trip to the Galilee and the Golan with my friend A., her daughter, and her daughter's friend. It was a lot of fun. We stayed at the Beit Sefer Sadeh Har Hermon (Mt. Hermon Field School), next to Kibbutz Snir, from which we had a view of the upper Galilee, the Golan, and Lebanon - which is very close that far north. On Friday we planned a trip to a waterfall on the Golan (the Sa'ar waterfall), not far from the Nimrod Castle (a Crusader castle from the middle ages) - the photos in the guide book promised a lovely waterfall, but all we found were lots of climbing up and down, and a dry river bed. We definitely came in the wrong season if we wanted to see the waterfall!

Dry wadi of the Sa'ar waterfall.
We still wanted to find water, preferably to swim in. We continued up Rte. 99, which is the road that goes up from the Galilee into the Golan (a beautiful, winding, somewhat dangerous road). On our way we encountered a small kiosk by the side of the road, selling "Druze pita" - a big round pita, with lebene and zaatar in it - delicious. The kiosk was situated right in front of a field of cherry trees - now is when the cherries are ripe. The owner of the kiosk invited us to pick some cherries - and so A's daughter and her friend followed him into the orchard and they came back with delicious, just picked cherries.

A cherry orchard in the Golan.
We then continued on our way, drove through Masade (one of the Druze towns on the Golan), and finally came to a beautiful, small, almost circular lake called Birket Ram. We scrambled down the hill and into the cool blue water. In past visits to the Golan with friends, we've tried to get to into the lake but had never figured out how to do it. Apparently the lake is a "crater lake" (according to Wikipedia), whose only sources are rain water and underground springs. It is not stream fed, nor do streams flow out of (which would be impossible anyway, since it is lower than the surrounding hills). It is surrounded by bountiful orchards and fields cultivated by Druze farmers.

Birket Ram
 The next view is of some of the orchards surrounding the lake.

Notice the little saplings that have just been planted, close to the water.
After enjoying the nice cool water for a while, we climbed back up the hill and got back in the car. We drove through Majdal Shams, a Druze town quite near Syria (on Nakba Day and Naksa Day it was where people tried to get in from Syria). Our goal was to drive up as far as we could on Mt. Hermon, but we were stopped quite close to the town at a military base. There's a ski resort on the Israeli side of Mt. Hermon, so it is possible to get there, but the sign said that the road was not open after 3:30 p.m. The Golan is full of Israeli military bases and listening stations, and there are roads that civilians aren't permitted to drive on, all in addition to the still-active minefields (which are clearly marked).

We turned around, through Majdal Shams again, and then back down to the Field School. On our way we passed by the same kiosk again and bought some more delicious food - in all, we bought lebene in olive oil, cherry jam (with whole cherries, pits and all), apricot jam (with whole dried apricots), eggplant jam (tiny little eggplants cooked in sugar), and a comb of honey. All delicious.

We passed by Nimrod's Castle again - this is a view from the road. I've visited there in the past, but this time we didn't go into it.


Nimrod's castle and a long ridge leading up to it.


Flowers on the side of the road, Nimrod's Castle in the background.


We made our way back to the Field School after that, and sat down to eat more pita with delicious cheese (lebene) and jams on it. After that my friend A. and I painted a bit in watercolors (she is definitely more skilled than I am!) and I took photos of the scene. Very quite and pastoral. As the sun was setting, we heard the eerie howls of some animal - hyenas? jackals? I don't know what is common in Israel.

The view from our porch - fish ponds with the mountains behind them. I think the fish ponds belonged to the nearby Kibbutz Snir.


And then to bed!