This is a big week in Israeli politics. Three sets of bills are being introduced into the Knesset for their second and third readings, and all of them have far-reaching consequences. Though there has been much handwringing over them, over fears that Israeli democracy is being ruined, there is no doubt that the Israeli electoral and governance systems need to be fixed. Israel has had 33 governments since 1949 — an average of about one every two years. This makes for unstable government, increases coalition infighting, and undermines coherent policymaking. Still, the manner in which these bills are being passed is what makes them problematic.
In reality, two of the three bills are actually packages of bills, some of them long and detailed. Most contain some positive changes, but because they were passed relatively quickly and without as much opposition input as necessary, without a broader, comprehensive package of reforms, and because they were essentially trade-offs between various parties that make up the coalition (except Hatnua, which just wanted to remain in the government) they will have an overall negative effect on Israeli governance.
1. The Governance Bill
Just passed was the governance bill, comprised of an amendment to the Basic Law: The Government and a regular bill. What’s positive about this bill is the limitation on the number of ministers to 19, and no ministers-without-portfolio. This will reduce bloating of the government and make it a little more difficult to pass time-wasting no-confidence votes.
Esther denouncing Haman / Ernest Normand
These days, many liberal Jews think of Purim as a play date for the kids and a night of drunken debauchery for the grown-ups. We think of costumes and songs and noisemakers, a kind of carnival spirit. But the levity with which we approach Purim is actually pretty astonishing. Because this holiday, fun as it may seem on the surface, has a dark and dangerous underside to it.
Orthodox Israeli scientist and philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903-1994) was once asked whether he would consider living outside Israel. Leibowitz allegedly responded that, no, he would not, one reason being that Israel was the only place he could live where he never had to celebrate Purim. On Purim he would be in Jerusalem (as a walled city, Jerusalem celebrates Purim a day after everyone else, called Shushan Purim) and on the evening after Purim Leibowitz would travel to Tel Aviv. Thus he never had to read the Megillah nor drink to celebrate an act of bloody revenge — that time we killed Haman, his sons and 75,000 of the Jews’ enemies throughout the ancient Persian empire. In typical fashion, Leibowitz cut to the chase. Purim is essentially about the celebration of violence.
Let us not forget that on Purim we drink to celebrate blotting out the nation of Amalek, of whom Haman is said to be a descendant. The Shabbat before Purim, called Shabbat Zakhor, Jews gather in synagogues to read the only biblically mandated Torah reading of the year, the verses that command genocide against the Amalekites. Perhaps we are commanded to get so inebriated on Purim to simulate the seemingly paradoxical notion of blotting out the memory of Haman through the very act of remembering Amalek. We must remember not only to not forget, but to blot out the enemy — not mercifully, but through genocide.
Writing in Tablet Magazine, Liel Liebovitz — or perhaps Tablet’s headline writer — recently asked the apparently rhetorical question “Why Talk About Israel With People Who Want It To Disappear?”
Here are five answers.
1. Because many of them and their supporters are Jews.
Hillel, the Jewish Museum, Ramaz and other organizations that have lately banned anyone who supports BDS or is otherwise insufficiently pro-Israel all have missions that involve outreach to Jews. Are some Jews simply beyond the pale? Do we give up on Jewish peoplehood when Jewish people aren’t supportive enough of Israel? Perhaps instead of swearing fealty to an ideological position, organizations that do outreach to Jews should do outreach to Jews.
2. Because talking with people who disagree with us is good.
I’m not really clear why this has to be stated, but since Liebovitz argues forcefully that it’s better not to talk to some people, I guess it does. Encountering people we disagree with is part of the process of becoming a grown-up. Thoughtful people listen to people we disagree with, and dialogue with them to see where we disagree and why. This process may not persuade anyone, but that’s not the point; the point is to be thoughtful, reasonable, and well-informed. At Hillel, in particular, this should be an obvious value, since it works in a university context. Should students not read disagreeable philosophers? Should they boycott their disagreeable peers down the dorm room hall? Oh, and saying “you can go hear this anti-Israel speaker somewhere else” is not a reply. What that says is there’s a place for the free exchange of ideas, and then there’s a little Jewish ghetto where we don’t talk of such things.
Palestinian Orthodox Christians at the 2013 Palm Sunday procession in Gaza City / Getty Images
Last week the Knesset voted to force yet another division onto the Palestinian people.
The Palestinians are already divided in a myriad of ways: There are those who live in the Diaspora and are divided there, from America’s well-fed middle class to Syria’s hungry refugee camps; there are those who live in the West Bank, and those in Gaza, each under a different kind of military occupation; there are Palestinians who live in Israel’s capital city but aren’t given Israeli citizenship, and those who live elsewhere in Israel and do have citizenship (if often of a second-class variety); there are Bedouin Palestinians who have citizenship and are even drafted to the army, but if anything, are treated even less equally than their non-nomadic Palestinian brethren; and long ago, Israel decided that those living within Israel’s borders aren’t even Palestinian: They’re Arabs. Israeli Arabs.
Last Monday, by a vote of 31-6 (out of a total 120 Members of Knesset, so one has to wonder where everyone else was), Israel’s legislative body passed a law the ultimate goal of which is, according to its sponsor, “to distinguish between Muslim and Christian Arab citizens and to heighten involvement of Christians in Israeli society.”
Quick, if you’re a settler-dominated government uninterested in sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinian people, what’s a good way to telegraph your position without raising a ruckus?
Well, one good way would be to turn over a sizable portion of Judaism’s holiest site to the management of a maximalist settler group — which is precisely what Israel’s government is about to do.
Haaretz reported on Monday that settlement organization Elad—City of David Foundation stands to be granted the management of the Western Wall’s southern section — not the section most people visit, but the part to the south of the rampart up to the Temple Mount itself, where the Jerusalem Archaeological Park/Davidson Center are located.
Elad is best known, perhaps, for its management of the City of David (Ir David) archeological excavations, which it has turned into a right-wing propaganda center, eliding Palestinian history in the city, ignoring findings that don’t support a Jewish-only narrative, and in the process of expanding its work, damaging (or simply claiming) the property of Palestinians living in the surrounding neighborhood, Silwan.
Young British Jews who support the Sign on the Green Line Campaign. / YouTube
Throughout our history, young Jewish voices have played a vital role in shaping the Jewish story. Young people lead and teach other young people and take on significant leadership roles. Youth empowerment is highly valued, and it was with this feeling of empowerment that a group of 16 young British Jews — of which we are a part — stood up and asked British Jewish communal organizations to “Sign on the Green Line.”
Education is a core Jewish value, and we are simply asking for a fair and balanced education in regards to Israel. We, the members of the Sign on the Green Line Campaign, are asking for Jewish schools, synagogues, youth movements and Jewish communal organizations to only use maps that show the 1949 armistice lines. Why? Because we believe that our community is presenting us with inaccurate maps of Israel, which are ill-informing us as to the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Jewish community often worries about young Jews and their lack of Israel involvement. But how can we possibly expect young people to get involved with a country about which we do not properly teach them?
Supporters of Naftali Bennett celebrate in Tel Aviv in 2013. / Getty Images
When I heard that the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency were spearheading a three-day “Online Brainstorming Marathon to Plan the Future of the Jewish People,” the international crowdsourcing initiative instantly grabbed my attention.
Partly, it was because I’d heard that Israel’s Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs minister Naftali Bennett has been working with the Jewish Agency to launch a global dialogue that will, I believe, promote a healthy shift: from viewing Diaspora Jews simply as bankrollers of Israel, to seeing how Israel and the Diaspora can help each other in securing their respective and mutual identities. The “Government of Israel and World Jewry Joint Initiative,” which kicked off last November, will see the Israeli government earmark 1.4 billion towards this goal. More recently, Bennett even went so far as to float the idea of granting Diaspora Jews “semi-citizenship.”
The other reason I wanted to join the Jews around the world who have been participating in this online forum for the past three days had to do with something I’d written years ago. In a column about attending a Tel Aviv peace rally, I had puzzled over the question of whether or not participating in such protest marches was my right as a non-citizen. I suggested that perhaps we Diaspora Jews can consider ourselves quasi-citizens of Israel as we engage and wrestle with the Jewish state and its policies.
So I went sleuthing online, where I eventually found the Securing the Jewish Future discussion board. After signing in with my name and photo, I was invited to watch several minute-long, upbeat videos on topics including Israel and peoplehood, Israel on campus, Jewish engagement, experiencing life in Israel, immersive experience, and serving the global good.
Palestinian and Israeli activists at a joint protest in the occupied West Bank in 2014 / Getty Images
The Jewish and Israeli press is quick to report any and all Palestinian violence against any Jew, anywhere. Which makes sense, of course. Israelis and Palestinians are at war, Jews everywhere have a dog in the fight, violence is deplorable, et cetera and so on.
But, by contrast, there’s a marked reticence to report on events that show Palestinians actively engaged in nonviolent forms of protest, like last week’s little-noted “protest village,” Ein Hijleh, established by hundreds of activists to protest Israeli annexation plans in the Jordan Valley. This reticence speaks volumes. Really inconvenient and uncomfortable volumes.
The Jewish and Israeli narratives — the way we talk about who we are and why we’re here (and though they run parallel, these narratives are not the same) — are, like any other cultural narrative, heavy on self-promotion. Jews share a deep and disturbing history of anti-Jewish violence and hate, and we often tell ourselves that this is the only part of our story that matters when we’re looking out into the world. This is the part that tells us everything we need to know.
In this light, our enemies can only be unjustified in their hate; the use of violence defines them and reveals their truest selves; anything else is aberration and cannot be trusted.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Haman / GettyImages/HipsterJew.com
First he was described as “obsessive” and “messianic” by Israel’s defense minister Moshe Yaalon. Then he was accused by Israel’s intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz of “holding a gun to Israel’s head”. And now, Secretary of State John Kerry faces a new barrage of criticism coming from the holy land. This time from a group of rabbis going all biblical on his peace plan.
A letter signed by five Israeli rabbis, all known for their hard-line opposition to any compromise with the Palestinians, compares Obama’s top diplomat to two of Israel’s worst enemies in history. “If you continue on this destructive path, you will ensure your everlasting disgrace in Jewish history for bringing calamity upon the Jewish people — like Nebuchadnezzar and Titus who destroyed, respectively, the first and second great Temples and the entire Holy City of Jerusalem, and who, by heavenly punishment, brought eventual disaster upon themselves, too,” the open letter to Kerry states.
As counterintuitive as it may be, when you see Scarlett Johansson’s Super Bowl ad on Sunday, promoting a product that lets you make carbonated drinks at home, try to see through bubbles and think about the future of the Middle East.
There is nothing wrong with the product itself. Under normal circumstances, I would buy SodaStream and recommend it to my friends. But the circumstances under which the product is made are not normal. And because Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is such an anomaly, as much as I may like Scarlett (and seltzer), I will not buy SodaStream, not until it moves its headquarters away from a West Bank settlement.
But before I discuss bubbles, a few words of clarification are in order. My organization is staunchly pro-Israel. Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of Israel’s peace movement, is a Zionist organization, proudly committed to Israel’s security and wellbeing. I love Israel and I’m worried sick about its future as a democracy and a Jewish state.
It is because of my love for Israel that I don’t buy products made by companies that are located in West Bank settlements, and that I urge the millions watching the Super Bowl on Sunday to look beyond the luminous actress and the fizz — and to consider the future of Israel and the Middle East.
A new anti-discrimination video campaign by Israel’s Ministry of Justice sends an important social message and packs a powerful emotional punch. But that doesn’t mean it’s enough to do the enormous job of eradicating racism in the Jewish State. Still, it’s a start.
Discrimination on the grounds of race, religion or religious group, nationality, country of origin, sex, sexual orientation, political views, party membership, personal status or parenthood is a violation of a law passed by the Knesset in 2000.
There is no mistaking what statement the video is making. Filmed in an edgy, ominous style and with a soundtrack that wails a heavy metal-style acoustic version of Hatikvah, it shows various instances of the discrimination against minorities that happens on a daily basis. Children on a basketball court tell an immigrant boy to go home to Russia. A white mother stops her preschool-age son from playing with a black boy on the playground. A Jewish woman prevents a Muslim woman and her daughter from sitting next to her on a bus. A bouncer won’t allow a black young woman to enter a nightclub with the cool kids.
The text accompanying the images warns that one kind of discrimination can lead to another, often worse, kind. A refusal to play with a boy could lead later on to preventing him from going to school, or refusing to give him a job. Not making room on a bus for a girl could lead to eventually refusing to rent her an apartment.
These scenarios have not been pulled from thin air. These kinds of things really do happen daily in Israeli society. It’s rather astounding — not to mention maddening — to think that Jews, who suffered not so long ago from the Nazis’ Nuremberg Laws, would need reminding as to where discriminatory behaviors can lead.
Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson is taking heat for her decision to represent SodaStream, an Israeli home beverage company that operates in the occupied West Bank. Cartoonist Eli Valley offers his own unique graphic take on the controversy.
REASONS TO LOVE:
1 — It’s delicious. What Jew doesn’t like seltzer?
2 — It’s eco-friendly, saving massive amounts of otherwise virtually indestructible plastic waste.
3 — It could feasibly pay for itself.
4 — According to MSNBC, it’s the largest job provider for local Palestinian workers.
5 — It comes in invigorating Energy Drink, tipsy Happy Hour Cocktail and relaxing Diet Tea flavors.
REASONS TO HATE:
7 — It has fraudulently used the “made in Israel” label on its products when, in fact, they were made in the occupied Palestinian territories.
8 — It is also arguable that it doesn’t pay for itself unless you “regularly buy name brand can soda and pay full cost for it.”
9 — According to WhoProfits, it was guilty of worker exploitation until the workers’ rights organization Kav LaOved got involved. It also takes advantage of Israeli policies that make it cheaper for it to be across the Green Line, in occupied Palestinian territory.
10 — SodaStream is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under complete civil and military control of the IDF. That means Palestinian entrepreneurs, business owners, and industries face significant barriers that force them to turn to the settlements for employment.
11 — It also comes in Kool-Aid. And they want you to drink it.
Israelis call for the release of Jonathan Pollard on March 19, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel.
“Hypocritical.” “Illegitimate.” “Unacceptable.” All these words and more are being used in Israeli political circles to describe Friday’s revelation that the NSA spied on former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former defense minister Ehud Barak in 2009.
And how does the Israeli right wing believe its government should respond to this revelation? Well, it should demand that the U.S. release Israeli-American spy Jonathan Pollard, a man sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of spying for Israel, pronto. Because, obviously, right?
This reaction is so absurd that not even Netanyahu — a longtime Pollard advocate — can assent to it. He agrees that the NSA espionage constitutes an egregious breach of trust between allies — as he made clear in a statement Monday. And he agrees that Pollard should be freed — as he reiterated Sunday in a renewed request for Pollard’s release. But even he is too embarrassed to suggest there’s any sort of causal link between the NSA espionage and the case for clemency where Pollard is concerned. In fact, he went out of his way to clarify that his request “is neither conditional on, nor related to, recent events, even though we have given our opinion on these developments.”
Ynet.co.il, the news site associated with Yediot Ahronot, has a profile of incoming Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (known since his youth by the nickname “Boogy”). It’s important reading, so I’ve translated it below.
Here’s the background that’s not in the profile: Born Moshe Smilansky in 1950, raised in suburban Haifa, he was active in the Noar Oved ve-Lomed youth movement and was in a garin (settlement group) named Garin Yaalon (from which he took his name), which joined with a sister garin from American Habonim to rebuild Kibbutz Grofit near Eilat. He returned to the army after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and rose through the ranks. Commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, became chief of Military Intelligence in 1995 and chief of Central Command, in charge of the West Bank, in 1998. During this period he underwent a famous conversion from left- to right-wing, claiming publicly that he now realized the Palestinians had no intention of making peace. In 2002 he became chief of staff, serving three years after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz denied him the customary fourth-year extension due to his outspoken opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. It’s worth noting that of the 18 living ex-chiefs of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet, he is the only one who opposes a two-state solution. - JJG
Political Hawk and Loose Tongue
Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon called his General Staff colleagues “snakes” and the organizations on the left “a virus.” He believes that evacuating settlements is “perverse” and that the IDF can attack any nuclear installation in Iran. Over the years Yaalon’s statements have reflected a determined, activist security philosophy. In his gunsights: leftists, Turks and of course Ehud Barak.
By Roy Mandel, Ynet 3/18/13
In April 2012 Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon absorbed criticism at home when he dared to declare that he was Benjamin Netanyahu’s heir and would one day run for the leadership of the Likud and the country. The prime minister, as we learned from the negotiations with Yair Lapid, does not like politicians who openly declare that the house on Balfour Street is the object of their dreams. But ever so quietly, under the radar and almost without opposition, the former chief of staff has found himself in an excellent launching pad for the fulfillment of his vision, now that he has been named defense minister in Israel’s 33rd government. The man who declared on the day he was demobilized from the IDF that he was careful to keep his boots on at General Staff headquarters because of all the snakes will soon enter much taller shoes and march in them to his new office, which is located in the same General Staff compound, the Kiryah.
Moshe Yaalon, ID no. 2057989, is a kibbutznik who returned to active duty after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a retired chief of staff, the commander of the IDF during the second half of the second intifada and a person who ended his military service in grating tones when his tenure was not extended on the eve of the Gaza disengagement. Now, after a term as minister for strategic affairs, he is returning to run the entire system.
The man who led a hawkish line at the General Staff and in the government, who believed that Yasser Arafat had never deviated from his goal of destroying the state of Israel, who insisted that the paradigm of two states for two peoples was unworkable—will now navigate the security establishment, effectively oversee millions of Palestinians and deal with Israel’s security and strategic challenges. Many on the dovish side of the political and military map fear that his line will drag Israel into diplomatic and security complications.
The U.S.’s most experienced Mideast negotiator said Mitt Romney’s caught-on-camera admission that he sees little chance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could lead to a dangerous sense of “hopelessness.”
Dennis Ross, a former advisor to President Obama and a top mediator between the Israelis and the Palestinians for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said blithely dismissing the two-state solution as Romney does on a now-infamous leaked video will only undermine moderates on both sides of the Green Line.
“I don’t think what you want to do is create a sense of hopelessness,” Ross told the Forward. “If you create a sense that there’s no hope and you tell the Palestinians there’s no hope, they have very little stake in stability.”
“And if you tell the Israelis there’s no two state outcome at a time the Prime Minister has said it’s in our interest to have a two-state outcome…what are you saying is the outcome?”
Romney’s comments were made at a Florida gathering of major campaign givers in May. The Republican presidential nominee told donors that he believed that the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians were intractable.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called Israel’s President Shimon Peres to offer him Rosh Hashanah greetings.
“Happy holiday and a Happy New Year to you and the entire Israeli nation,” Abbas said.. Well, perhaps he meant all of Israel with one exception.
At the same time as the phone call from Ramallah came in at Peres’ residence, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman had his team working on his attempt at character assassination of Abbas.
Last month, Liberman wrote to the Mideast Quartet, which consists of America, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, asking it to insist that long-overdue Palestinian general elections are held, which could lead to the end of the presidency of Abbas.
What a difference four years makes. In 2008, the Democratic Party’s platform vowed “an active role” in aiding the procurement of “a lasting settlement” in the region. That accord would provide closure for Palestinian refugees via “an international compensation mechanism” and the creation of a democratic and viable homeland. The platform made reference to “the armistice lines of 1949” and favoured Jerusalem remaining the capital of Israel.
Intransigence in Israel, unilateral manoeuvres by the Palestinian Authority, and the aftershocks of the Arab Spring meant the first four years of Barack Obama’s presidency was mostly a bust for Middle East peace. And most if not all of these fairly bold pronouncements have been erased in the Democrats’ freshly-published 2012 party platform. Even though the party still supports “a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples”, the United States’ active role has been substituted for “continuing to encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace”.
The focus instead has shifted to the “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security”. The platform’s authors note that, despite budgetary constraints, “the President has worked with Congress to increase security assistance to Israel every single year since taking office, providing nearly $10 billion in the past three years” including for the Iron Dome missile defence shield. “The President’s consistent support for Israel’s right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage” – including the push for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations – “are further evidence of our enduring commitment to Israel’s security.”
When it comes to Israel, the Republican Party platform is noteworthy for being more of the same.
The key changes are in style and emphasis as the GOP (along with the Democrats) seek to woo pro-Israel voters. For example, the 2008 platform asserted Israel to be “a vigorous democracy, unique in the Middle East.” But this year’s edition goes much further, arguing that Israel and the United States “are part of the great fellowship of democracies who speak the same language of freedom and justice, and the right of every person to live in peace.”
Just as the 2008 Democratic Party platform asserted that the United States’ “special relationship with Israel [is] grounded in shared interests and shared values,” the Republicans now say they believe that “our alliance is based not only on shared interests, but also shared values.”
This evolution in the perception of the relationship between Israel and the United States has not necessarily altered Republican policy stances. In 2012 as in 2008, the GOP supports “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders”, maintaining “a qualitative edge in military technology over any potential adversaries”.
Is Egypt Palestine?
It is a tired (and discredited) claim that Jordan is Palestine. But now there is a new one: that Egypt is.
I inadvertently pushed a button I didn’t mean to push earlier this week in a conversation in Gaza City with a group of Islamists, mostly Hamas officials and their supporters. I asked if their frustration with the peace process and unification talks would lead them to look toward Egypt instead of the West Bank, from which it is so isolated. They said such idea was treason.
My question did not come out of the blue. I had come to Gaza as a journalist — on my third trip — at the invitation of a Hamas official, but with no restrictions on my movement or who I could talk to, and had spoken the previous day to a few young enterprising Gazans for whom the West Bank is terra incognito. One, a 25-year old blogger, Jehan Al Farr, had never been to the West Bank until a few weeks before when she went to the American Consulate in East Jerusalem for a visa. She went by official bus and was not allowed off the bus except to go into the consulate and then quickly re-board the bus back to Gaza. She and her friends worry about this. (Israeli amuta Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement—www.gisha.org—reports on the impediments to travel between Gaza and the West Bank.) In a recent “tweet-up,” Jihan and her friends hotly discussed “Rafah” (shorthand for looking towards Egypt for solutions) versus “Erez,” looking towards the West Bank. Many of her friends, she said, call themselves Gazans and not Palestinians, and that too is a subject for debate. (This sweet-faced young woman told me that the party that most closely reflects her political views is Islamic Jihad.)