December 27, 2010

EDITOR: Two Year after the carnage

Two years after this cataclysmic event, it may seem to many of us that not much has changed, and a now chastened west being more interested in its self-inflicted financial crisis, than in the crisis they have inflicted on Palestine via Israel. This is both true and understandable, and we should work together to change it, but it also hides the reality of change across the world, caused by the extreme brutality of the Gaza carnage. Everywhere around the globe, people were shocked into action – demonstrating, writing for press, media and web, organising a variety of cultural and trade boycott, setting up solidarity groups everywhere against Israeli occupation, barbarity and Apartheid. The movement against Israeli atrocities has at last come of age, has established itself as a moral force and a political reality in most countries; it may well be a young shoot, but it is a strong and growing one, contributing to the isolation of the murderous pariah racist state which Israel has become.

This international movement can only grow, and is the main vehicle for long-term political action against the Israeli regime; the lessons of the Anti-Apartheid movement have been learnt, and a similar global movement is now being built and strengthened – be sure to support it yourself in any way you can!

An Open Letter from Gaza: Two Years after the Massacre, a Demand for Justice: PACBI

We the Palestinians of the Besieged Gaza Strip, on this day, two years on from Israel’s genocidal attack on our families, our houses, our roads, our factories and our schools,  are saying enough inaction, enough discussion, enough waiting – the time is now to hold Israel to account for its ongoing crimes against us. On the 27th of December 2008, Israel began an indiscriminate bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The assault lasted 22 days, killing 1,417 Palestinians, 352 of them children, according to main-stream Human Rights Organizations.  For a staggering 528 hours, Israeli Occupation Forces let loose their US-supplied F15s, F16s, Merkava Tanks, internationally prohibited White Phosphorous, and bombed and invaded the small Palestinian coastal enclave that is home to 1.5 million, of whom 800,000 are children and over 80 percent UN registered refugees. Around 5,300 remain permanently wounded.

This devastation exceeded in savagery all previous massacres suffered in Gaza, such as the 21children killed in Jabalia in March 2008 or the 19 civilians killed sheltering in their house in the Beit Hanoun Massacre of 2006. The carnage even exceeded the attacks in November 1956 in which Israeli troops indiscriminately rounded up and killed 275 Palestinians in the Southern town of Khan Younis and 111 more in Rafah.

Since the Gaza massacre of 2009, world citizens have undertaken the responsibility to pressure Israel to comply with international law, through a proven strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions. As in the global BDS movement that was so effective in ending the apartheid South African regime, we urge people of conscience to join the BDS call made by over 170 Palestinian organizations in 2005. As in South Africa the imbalance of power and representation in this struggle can be counterbalanced by a powerful international solidarity movement with BDS at the forefront, holding Israeli policy makers to account, something the international governing community has repeatedly failed to do. Similarly, creative civilian efforts such as the Free Gaza boats that broke the siege five times, the Gaza Freedom March, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and the many land convoys must never stop their siege-breaking, highlighting the inhumanity of keeping 1.5 million Gazans in an open-air prison.

Two years have now passed since Israel’s gravest of genocidal acts that should have left people in no doubt of the brutal extent of Israel’s plans for the Palestinians. The murderous navy assault on international activists aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea magnified to the world the cheapness Israel has assigned to Palestinian llife for so long. The world knows now, yet two years on nothing has changed for Palestinians.

The Goldstone Report came and went: despite its listing count after count of international law contraventions, Israeli “war crimes” and “possible crimes against humanity,” the European Union, the United Nations, the Red Cross, and all major Human Rights Organizations have called for an end to the illegal, medieval siege, it carries on unabated. On 11th November 2010 UNRWA head John Ging said, “There’s been no material change for the people on the ground here in terms of their status, the aid dependency, the absence of any recovery or reconstruction, no economy…The easing, as it was described, has been nothing more than a political easing of the pressure on Israel and Egypt.”

On the 2nd of December, 22 international organizations including Amnesty, Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid, and Medical Aid for Palestinians produced the report ‘Dashed Hopes, Continuation of the Gaza Blockade’ calling for international action to force Israel to unconditionally lift the blockade, saying the Palestinians of Gaza under Israeli siege continue to live in the same devastating conditions. Only a week ago Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive report “Separate and Unequal” that denounced Israeli policies as Apartheid, echoing similar sentiments by South African anti-apartheid activists.

We Palestinians of Gaza want to live at liberty to meet Palestinian friends or family from Tulkarem, Jerusalem or Nazareth; we want to have the right to travel and move freely.  We want to live without fear of another bombing campaign that leaves hundreds of our children dead and many more injured or with cancers from the contamination of Israel’s white phosphorous and chemical warfare.  We want to live without the humiliations at Israeli checkpoints or the indignity of not providing for our families because of the unemployment brought about by the economic control and the illegal siege.  We are calling for an end to the racism that underpins all this oppression.

We ask: when will the world’s countries act according to the basic premise that people should be treated equally, regardless of their origin, ethnicity or colour – is it so far-fetched that a Palestinian child deserves the same human rights as any other human being? Will you be able to look back and say you stood on the right side of history or will you have sided with the oppressor?

We, therefore, call on the international community to take up its responsibility to protect the Palestinian people from Israel’s heinous aggression, immediately ending the siege with full compensation for the destruction of life and infrastructure visited upon us by this explicit policy of collective punishment. Nothing whatsoever justifies the intentional policies of savagery, including the severing of access to the water and electricity supply to 1.5 million people. The international conspiracy of silence towards the genocidal war taking place against the more than 1.5 million civilians in Gaza indicates complicity in these war crimes.

We also call upon all Palestine solidarity groups and all international civil society organizations to demand:

– An end to the siege that has been imposed on the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a result of their exercise of democratic choice.
– The protection of civilian lives and property, as stipulated in International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law such as The Fourth Geneva Convention.
– The immediate release of all political prisoners.

– That Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip be immediately provided with financial and material support to cope with the immense hardship that they are experiencing
– An end to occupation, Apartheid and other war crimes.
– Immediate reparations and compensation for all destruction carried out by the Israeli Occupation Forces in the Gaza Strip.

Boycott Divest and Sanction, join the many International Trade Unions, Universities, Supermarkets and artists and writers who refuse to entertain Apartheid Israel. Speak out for Palestine, for Gaza, and crucially ACT. The time is now.

Besieged Gaza, Palestine

List of signatories – on the link above

EDITOR: Voices of reason in the Israeli racist wilderness

As opposed the the normative repulsive racism which now heads every Israeli media outlet, the articles below are rare examples of the voice of reason, all coming from Palestinians and Israeli Jews on the left of the spectrum, and may well be some of the last such voices to be published by a fast-moving fascistation of the Israeli public sphere; I have included many recent pieces from Haaretz – the other vehicles of the press in Israel are much too right-wing to allow this type of opinion on their pages – as evidence of the delayed shock and realisation of the Israeli liberal elite, who find themselves ina xenophobic, fascist country, and start to realise its frightening features. They should have spoken much earlier, alas; No amount of liberal pressure can or will change this sick body – it has to be changed radically by outside pressure, like Aparheid South Africa was changed. Most of the writers do not yet realise this simple and depressing truth – they have lived under Apatheid all their lives, and yet, like white South Africans, failed to identify its features and dangers;Every Palestinian could have told them about those from personal daily experience!

The Israelis are now looking in the mirror at a face that some of them, on the liberal left, are finding justifiably terrifying, repulsive and unacceptable. They are starting to see themselves as the rest of us see them – as a terrorising, xenophobic, militaristic settler-state, sowing death and destruction all around it, projecting hatred and racism. It is good that at least some Israelis are noticing this, while the great majority of Israel’s Jews are wallowing in this hatred like pigs in ripe excrement. It all gives the lie to the preposterous oxymoron of “Jewish Democracy”…

Jews and Arabs must fight Israel’s racism together: Haaretz

MK Ahmed Tibi

Trends of alienation and despair are evident in Israel’s Arab population, and in this reality it is easy to foster separatism and segregation.
By Ahmed Tibi
Something evil is occurring in Israeli society. Racism and xenophobia are consuming its enlightenment and tolerance, and democracy is becoming more and more endangered. Phenomena that had been on the sidelines are now moving to the forefront. Blatant racism against Israel’s Arab citizens, and hostility to foreigners in general, phenomena that are usually deeply repressed in the collective soul of people and which enlightened governments are careful to lock in a psychological basement are now being released in a murky thrust. Hatred and fear are being reinforced. This is a frightened and insecure society.

Between the rabbis’ letter, the growing public standing of Avigdor Lieberman, loyalty oaths, incitement against Arab officials and the flood of racist laws, the 18th Knesset is the most racist of all time. To the current parliament’s credit, it’s likely that the next one will be worse.

All of this is not happening in a vacuum. The public space and the social atmosphere have been ripening for this dark attack. The Democracy Index – the flagship project of the Israel Democracy Institute – shows that a majority of the Jewish public supports the stifling of minority voices.

Moshe Arens blamed the collapse of Israeli democracy on Arab Knesset members (Israeli Arab MKs don’t always represent Israeli Arabs, Haaretz, Dec. 14). Thus even a “liberal rightist” like Arens, when he came to analyze the society of which he was a leader for many years and investigate the sources of racism bubbling up in that society, ignored the truly damaging elements and preferred to revert to cheap attacks and incitement against elected representatives of the Arab public.

The prolonged occupation, the bloody struggle, the oppression and the contemptuous treatment of Arabs and their rights did not exist in Arens’ analysis. Nor did the continuing exclusion of Israel’s Arab citizens or the lack of Israeli Arab representation in the civil service (just 6.7 percent). Arens did not touch on the inherent discrimination or lack of planning for Arab towns nor the general distance of Arabs from benefits that only the majority enjoys. Arens takes none of these into account. He only repeats the mantras spoken by vegetable sellers in the market.

I am not a spokesman for all Arab lawmakers and I refuse to see us as one entity. There are 14 Arab Knesset members and each has his or her own color, character, style, agenda and emphases. There are some who have made achievements and some who have not; there are those who have earned the public trust and those who have yet to accomplish this. It is only the public that will judge us at the end of the day. But we are all elected public representatives who are no less legitimate than any Jewish MK.
Arens’ sweeping generalization was shameful and not befitting to his style.

I’m not saying that we’re completely perfect, but one must remember that political discourse is dynamic and symbiotic. Therefore a comment, even when it is harsh or in bad taste, is just a comment. We must not forget that we sit in the Knesset as a right not a privilege. Time and time again we’ve been elected by a general public Arens said we don’t represent. A contradiction, it seems to me, and not appropriate for an empirical rationalist like Arens. Some of us are very popular in our public.

Trends of alienation and despair are evident in Israel’s Arab population, and in this reality it is easy to foster separatism and segregation. Many of my colleagues and I try to be a responsible national leadership that grits its teeth and looks to both the near and far future. We cling to the word “democratic” of the phrase “Jewish and democratic”, even when from day to day it seems we have less to hold on to.

Israel’s government ministers are more dangerous, in my view, than the rabbis who cling to the idea of “Jewish”; and from that idea of “Jewish” allow the same dark halakhic ruling to rear its head.

The struggle against racism must be a joint Jewish-Arab effort, just as it was when thousands demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Human Rights Day. As Martin Luther King said, there is no path to peace and equality; peace and equality are the path.

Ahmed Tibi is the deputy speaker of the Knesset, and a member of the Ta’al party.

Netanyahu is sowing fear and we are harvesting hatred: Haaretz

Instead of warning of the dangers of continuing the conflict, Netanyahu chooses to exploit the primitive fear of the other.
By Akiva Eldar
How frightening! Masses of Sudanese refugees are threatening to erode our achievements and corrode our existence as a Jewish and democratic state. How frightening!

Iran is threatening to destroy us, and the world is once again standing by. How frightening! If we get out of “Judea and Samaria,” the Palestinians will fire anti-aircraft missiles at Ben-Gurion International Airport. How frightening!

The Palestinians are refusing to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, so as to flood the State of Israel with Arab refugees and rip out parts of the Galilee and the Negev. And those who wish to destroy Israel have begun a deligitimization campaign against the Jewish state within the 1948 borders. How frightening!

This is a collection of the nightmare scenarios of the Benjamin Netanyahu school of thought. One day Netanyahu – the scariest prime minister in the history of Israel – is complaining about the Palestinians refusing to speak with him about Nablus and Hebron, and the next day he’s scaring the populace with statements about the Palestinians plot to take over Carmiel and Be’er Sheva.

In the morning Netanyahu gets his picture taken with Turkish pilots who came to fight the Carmel fire; in the evening, he’s instilling fear with his implication that the world is once again standing by as the Jews are facing annihilation.

The common denominator of all the prime minister’s frightening messages is that what the Jews do isn’t important; what’s important is that the goyim hate us. Even if we give the Arabs the Tel Aviv coast, they won’t rest until they throw us into the sea.

In 1996 the fear campaign against Palestinian terrorism and the danger that Shimon Peres would divide Jerusalem brought Netanyahu to power. In the absence of suicide bombers, and while Peres is dozing in the President’s Residence, Netanyahu is finding, and inventing, new fears.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook wrote more than a century ago that exaggerated fear is the source of all weakness – physical, ethical and intellectual. Kook wrote that such fear will be so threatening that those subjected to it wouldn’t even lift a finger to save themselves. A new book called “Barriers to Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, provides a well-researched stamp of approval for this analysis of the spiritual shepherd of religious Zionism. In the book, Nimrod Rosler of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Swiss Center for Conflict Research, Management and Resolution writes that fear has become a force that maintains and intensifies conflict, and prevents conflict from being resolved, because it leads to perceptual bias toward the conflict and toward the other side, creates a cognitive freeze and a tendency to avoid risk, and leads to justification of existing policy.

There is no doubt that from a cognitive perspective, the prime minister is aware of the heavy toll that Israel’s current policies currently exact and will exact in the future. But he is overcome by the fear of tough decisions that entail necessary risks. For Netanyahu, the fear that freezing settlement construction will lead to a coalition crisis is greater than the fear that freezing negotiations will lead to a crisis over Israel’s international standing.

Fear has proven itself as a uniquely effective political tool. The late Asher Arian – a professor of political science who spearheaded the Israel Democracy Institute’s annual Democracy Index, which provides data on the quality and functioning of democracy and the way it is perceived by the public – found that the stronger the Israeli perception that the Arabs are posing a threat, the lower the Israeli willingness to negotiate with them or give up territory. Arian, who died in July, also found a close link between hawkish views and high levels of fear. These findings were manifested in the results of the last general election, as well as in public opinion polls.

Fear is a legitimate human emotion, and it can even be a useful one. The Israeli left is trying, without much success, to frighten the public with the idea that the alternative to making peace is an increased risk of war and the loss of the country’s Jewish and democratic identity. If Netanyahu were to present a brave and realistic peace plan, he would be able to take advantage of the extensive experience he has accumulated in peddling fear.

But instead of warning of the dangers inherent in the continuation of the conflict, Netanyahu has chosen to exploit the primitive fear of the other. Instead of warning of Israel’s increasing isolation, he is increasing the public’s fear of the unknown. Those who are feared are hated and those who are hated are killed, Nelson Mandela has said.

Netanyahu is sowing fear, we are harvesting hatred, and our children are killing and being killed.

It’s our duty to challenge Israel’s law of segregation: Haaretz

In a country in which people live in fear, it is not only our right but our duty to offer a space of hope.
By Daphna Golan
Ilana Hammerman’s articles challenge us to ask what the role of a citizen is in a country where the law is illegal. In this space known as Israel and the occupied territories, the space guarded by Israeli soldiers, there are six groups with different rights and different levels of freedom of movement, according to the law.

The first group consists of about 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who have been under a prolonged closure for years, with only a small number of persons bearing special permits allowed to leave. The second group is the 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, barred from entering Jerusalem or Israel proper unless they have special permits, which they can receive only in exceptional cases from the military authority known as the Civil Administration. The settlements, all of which are illegal by international law, have stolen 44 percent of West Bank land for Jewish settlers. They have been surrounded by patrol and access roads, on which Palestinians are not allowed to travel. The roads from one place to another inside the territories are also blocked by hundreds of checkpoints. The freedom of movement of almost all Palestinians in the West Bank is limited – to inside the West Bank only.

The third group is the quarter-million Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, who have blue identity cards and can travel in Israel, Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank, but whose travel outside of that space is controlled and restricted by Israel. Jerusalem Palestinians who leave the city to study abroad, or even in Bethlehem, lose their status of “permanent residents,” which signifies their future temporary presence in the city.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel are the fourth group, and supposedly have the same freedom of movement as the fifth group: the Jewish citizens of Israel. Neither group is allowed to enter Gaza or the main cities in the West Bank. But the law allows Jews from the whole world and from Israel to settle in Israel and the territories, and to receive Israeli citizenship, while forbidding – with the endorsement of the Supreme Court – Palestinians from the first, second, third and fourth groups to intermarry and decide where to live together.

The sixth group is asylum seekers and migrant laborers, whose freedom of movement is restricted and who live in fear of being deported. While this group is new here, after 43 years of occupation, the regime that separates different groups of people with different rights is not temporary and resembles the apartheid regime.

In South Africa, too, the apartheid system was created thanks to detailed legislation that determined who had the right to vote, who had the right to live where, which persons had to carry passes to stay in white cities and which lived there by right, and which were considered strangers in the very cities in which they were born and grew up. Apartheid was not only a system of racial discrimination maintained by the military through the use of extreme force, but a system of discrimination regulated by legislation.

The State of Israel also emphasizes, both to its own citizens and the international community, that it is a state of law; the occupied territories are administered by a system of laws, orders and directives. The Supreme Court expanded its jurisdiction into the territories. Furthermore, Israel has signed most of the main international conventions on human rights (although with significant reservations ), and invests considerable efforts in maintaining the rule of law. Like in South Africa, separation and discrimination are enforced by the law.

Like Ilana Hammerman, I too refuse to obey illegal laws. In a country where spacious prisons were built under the protection of the law, in which people live in fear, it is not only our right but our duty to offer a space of hope. As long as we do not have agreed-upon borders, we are living in an occupying country that discriminates between the rights of different groups based on their ethnicity.

In such a country, just like in South Africa under apartheid, it is our right and our duty to challenge the legality of the law.

EDITOR: Asking the Ethnic Cleanser to bea liberal humanist…

The Haaretz Editorial below is interesting for its naivity – it expects the War Criminal Shimon Peres, the one responsible for som many wars and blood in the Middle East, to change his spots now…

Mr. President, you must fight Israel’s mounting racism: Haaretz

As head of state, Shimon Peres must express that which unites and consolidates us and loudly and clearly take a stand against hatred, racism and violence between ethnic groups and communities.
Haaretz Editorial
The fire of hatred and racism is ablaze in Israel. Signs of loathing toward Arab citizens and African migrants are cropping up every day; examples include the municipal rabbis’ letter that called for a ban on renting or selling homes to non-Jews, the protest rally for “Jewish Bat Yam” and the call to deport foreigners from neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv. Hatred leads to violence. A gang of teens was arrested in Jerusalem on suspicion of attacks on Arabs for nationalist reasons.

The people who preach hatred, first and foremost the municipal rabbis and the Kahanist MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union ), are openly leading the racist wave, and the political establishment is backing them by its actions and silence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the right-wing Knesset continue to advance laws and initiatives designed to discriminate against Arab citizens and lock up thousands of immigrants in a giant facility in the Negev. The message out of Jerusalem in the delicate language of legislation is translated into wild incitement in the offices of the rabbis.

The prime minister warned yesterday about incitement toward minorities and foreign workers that could lead to violence. But Netanyahu doesn’t visit the Arab neighborhoods and cities or conduct a dialogue with leaders of the Arab community. He prefers his coalition partnership with Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman and Shas’ Eli Yishai, who preach the ostracism of Arab citizens and the persecution of migrants.

Under such circumstances, the president must intervene. Shimon Peres has unique standing as the representative of the Israeli state, thanks to his public position and extensive experience. As head of state, he must express that which unites and consolidates us and loudly and clearly take a stand against hatred, racism and violence between ethnic groups and communities. Peres should be free of the political and coalition constraints that tie the prime minister’s hands.

Peres must visit the seam lines and friction zones and show the Arab inhabitants that they are equal citizens and Israel values them. He must meet with the victims of the gang violence in Jerusalem and show that victims of nationalistically motivated crimes should receive equal treatment regardless of their origin. Peres must show compassion for the migrants. That is his task in these dark days.

Instead of befriending neo-fascists, Israel should make peace: Haaretz

True, the scope of settlement construction was four times larger during the premiership of Ehud Barak; but remember, that’s also why negotiations with the Palestinians ended.
By Dror Etkes
Anyone who has visited the West Bank in recent months has been greeted by the din of mountain-moving bulldozers and jackhammers, alongside giant foundation drills sending up clouds of dust that can be seen for miles. Cement mixers are working around the clock, and everything is being done in a grab-what-you-can atmosphere.

The Civil Administration is completely disregarding the hundreds of laborers constructing hundreds of homes in the West Bank. Photo by: Nir Kafri

In dozens of settlements, including those where not even a stone has been moved for years, accelerated work is underway to fulfill hundreds of Israeli families’ dream of having a house and a yard in what is still perceived here as pastoral scenery. This is in addition to the preparation of huge areas and construction in the largest settlements, where for decades work hasn’t stopped for a minute: Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Modi’in Ilit and Beitar Ilit.

In contrast to what happened in the months preceding the moratorium and during the 10 months of the “freeze” (which was no more than a media gimmick a la Benjamin Netanyahu ) – during which a relatively large portion of the construction was in settlements east of the West Bank separation barrier – the building begun in recent months has again migrated to settlements west of the approved barrier route, those that Israel is trying to accustom the world to seeing as part of the settlement blocs.

Illegal construction is also going on. New projects in official settlements that don’t include a single legal house, such as Eli and Ofra, are flourishing. The unauthorized outposts haven’t seen such massive building momentum in a long time. In a few – such as Shvut Rachel, Nof Harim, Palgei Mayim, Bruhin and Mitzpeh Kramim – it is permanent construction, the likes of which has not taken place since 2002-2003.

Hundreds of laborers are energetically constructing hundreds of homes, completely disregarded by the Civil Administration, whose dozens of inspectors were apparently too busy recently with demolishing the picnic table and garbage can settlers had installed near a spring adjacent to Elon Moreh. Why confront the real issues at hand when you can continue doing nothing other than send messages to West Bank reporters about purported enforcement activities?

Construction in the settlements on such a scale has not been seen since the premiership of Ehud Barak – who recently scolded the Palestinians for their unwillingness to resume negotiations, arguing that during his term as prime minister the talks continued even though the scope of construction was four times larger than today. Despite his exaggeration, what is interesting is precisely what Barak forgot to mention: the way his negotiations with the Palestinians ended.

And perhaps that is precisely the reason the Palestinians refuse to resume negotiations. They’ve already seen this movie – which began with 110,000 settlers in 1993 and has now reached 330,000, with more on the way.

It’s no wonder the Palestinians prefer to move the forum of their struggle with Israel to the United Nations. There, like the Jews in 1947, they are perceived as the weaker party, whose demand for recognition of a state along the 1967 borders is naturally and justifiably supported by most countries in the international community.

The story, as one of my friends recently concluded, is no longer about right versus left in Israel, because there is no longer a left in Israel. It is a campaign waged by the right-wing settler movement, assisted by the Netanyahu government, which is playing for time, against the entire world – except for our new friends in the European neo-fascist groups and the American evangelical right. With friends like these, Israel should seriously consider reaching peace with the Arab world, and quickly.

1932 is already here: Haaretz

A non-Jew who fled Germany ahead of the Nazi occupation would certainly recall those hard days in his homeland if he were to visit Bat Yam, Safed, Bnei Brak or south Tel Aviv today.
By Daniel Blatman
Sebastian Haffner was a young lawyer in Germany in 1932. As a non-Jew, Haffner could have continued to further his career in the civil service. In describing the atmosphere in his country before the takeover by the Nazi dictatorship, he wrote that “the game dragged on tedious and gloomy, without high spots, without drama, without obvious decisive moments … what was no longer to be found was pleasure in life, amiability, fun, understanding goodwill, generosity and a sense of humor …. The air in Germany had rapidly become suffocating.”

Haffner chose to leave Germany. If he were to visit the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak, Safed, Jerusalem or Bat Yam in late 2010, he would certainly recall those hard days in his homeland. He would find rabbis who sign racist manifestos against an ethnic minority and call for a policy of apartheid, fiery demonstrations against refugees from Africa, gangs of teens attacking Arabs, legislation promoting separatism and discrimination in racist and ethnic contexts, an oppressive public atmosphere, as well as violence and a lack of compassion toward people who are different and foreign.

Haffner would mainly warn against the anemic response of political institutions whose weakness and fears in 1933 led to a political reversal that could have been avoided. Of course, most Israelis do not see themselves as racist. The fact that half of Israel’s Jewish population would not want to live next to Arabs is given various excuses, as is the popular and sweeping support of initiatives designed to keep Arabs or Africans from living alongside Jews. But only a few people who give those excuses would be willing to openly state that they support ethnic and racial separation.

The wild propagandists of the right like MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union ) do not hesitate to use imagery and explanations taken from the anti-Semitic lexicon of Europe: Foreigners spread disease and take Jewish women; black refugees are violent criminals who endanger public safety.

This horrific propaganda is terrifying poor population groups who are already living with an infinite number of problems of survival. And the people who espouse this propaganda are persuading themselves that keeping foreigners out and racial separation produce hope for a solution to their problems. The historian Saul Friedlander defined this mood in Germany of the 1930s as “redemptive anti-Semitism.” A society in existential confusion lacking a political direction that gave it hope was swept up by an apocalyptic idea at whose heart was the need to keep Jews out; if not, the nation’s existence would come to an end.

Millions of people in Germany who would not have defined themselves as anti-Semites and certainly not as Nazis were swept up in the messianic and pseudo-religious public atmosphere. Israel today is becoming slowly and increasingly swept up in “redemptive xenophobia.” To an increasing number of Israelis, the Arab, the African refugee and people who are foreign in their religion, skin color or nationality are considered the most serious problem society has to solve on the road to tranquillity.

No society is immune to deterioration into violent racism. In the Israel of today, we can observe quite a few conditions whose presence in other societies and among other peoples led to racial separation, ethnic cleansing and even genocide. There are minority groups (Arabs and foreigners ) who are ostracized by the majority, a growing racist ideology, attempts to limit the political activities and civil rights of the minority, a tense security situation and strong political elements with vested interests in territorial expansion.

But this is not an edict from heaven. The task of responsible leadership is to stop this dangerous process. Benjamin Netanyahu frequently uses the imagery of 1938 regarding the international community’s attitude toward the Iranian nuclear threat. Back then, at the last moment before the world descended into a horrific bloody war, the democratic powers could have stopped Hitler, but they stuttered.

Netanyahu must understand that the domestic reality in Israel today is 1932, and his pallid speech calling on people not to take the law into their own hands cannot extricate Israeli society from the xenophobic and intolerant atmosphere that has spread. For this, a move of an entirely different magnitude is required.

The writer is a Holocaust scholar and director of Hebrew University’s Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry.

Defining Israel by what it is not: Haaretz

No to Arabs, no to Jews, no to the world; no to foreigners and no to settlement freezes; no to the bomb and no to the peace initiatives; no to ending the siege and no to Syria. That’s a frighteningly thin vocabulary – a one-word national dictionary.
By Gideon Levy
The State of Israel can be defined in the negative: no to Arabs, no to Jews, no to the world; no to foreigners and no to settlement freezes; no to the bomb and no to the peace initiatives; no to ending the siege and no to Syria. That’s a frighteningly thin vocabulary – a one-word national dictionary. Among the overabundance of “no,” the word “yes” has disappeared. Sixty-two years after its establishment, nobody knows where the state is headed. What does it want? What are its leaders and citizens seeking? What sort of state would we like to see?

This is quite a surprising situation for a state whose miraculous establishment was always accompanied by visions. It was as though vision and reality were equal partners: They may have been illusory visions, or visions of dread, but there was always a vision, some sense of the future that did not end with the next edition of the daily news.

Theodor Herzl had a vision, as did David Ben-Gurion and Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Moshe Sneh. The Mapai party had a vision as well; and when Menachem Begin took power, he raced forward with a series of initiatives – from neighborhood renewal to peace with Egypt to liberalization of the economy, each of which derived from vision.

Every political party had a clear platform, by which it spelled out what it intended to do, not just what it rejected. Some wanted an egalitarian socialist society, others called for a middle-class civil society; some parties envisioned a secular state or a religious state; some sought a European social character, others one that would be more Middle Eastern; and of course whether they supported “Greater Israel” or a territorial compromise.

Everything was clearly envisioned. There was an ethos. There was a street lamp at the end of the neighborhood, and it shed light on our provincial childhood: Every kid in Israel knew who stood for what, not just who opposed whom.

And what is Israel’s ethos today? The Iranian bomb? The removal of Hamas? A gas mask for every worker and a bomb shelter for every building? “Jewish democracy” – a concept whose meaning is opaque to everyone?

Try to figure out what the big parties in Israel stand for. Ask any citizen who crosses your path what he’d like to see happen here, what sort of society and state he favors. You won’t get an answer. Nothing. Everyone wants foods and work, quiet and security, survival and, if possible, a vacation. And that everyone around us should look just like us.

At first glance, this seems normal – a state of affairs resembling that of all other peoples, even though some of them, like the Americans, operate on the basis of a declared vision. But a state that is still groping around for a path in the darkness; that is located in a region which has yet to accept it and its society; a state whose immigrant population is far from being socially cohesive and is, in fact, increasingly torn into fragments; a state whose democratic framework is acutely fragile; a state that lacks well-rooted, strong institutions apart from its army; a state whose values are blurry and vague – such a state needs clearly defined orientations. And it has none.

Virtually every American citizen and every immigrant to the United States can recite the series of principles and values which are intended to guide his or her nation. We do not possess such values and principles.

The problem will not be solved via ridiculous means, such as introducing more Zionist lessons into the public school curriculum (at a time when the core term – Zionism – is contested and unclear ), or establishing more “heritage sites.” We must reach a decision as to where we are headed.

Do we accept Arab citizens, or not? Do we intend to hold on to the occupied territories forever? Do we want to become integrated into the Middle East? Do we want an open, multicultural society or an isolated, ultra-nationalist society? Do we want our country to be based on religious law, or on the separation of religion and state? Do we want a civil society, of which security institutions are just one element, or do we want to continue living in a quasi-military state? This is a long list of fateful questions, none of which are on the agenda.

Nobody has stepped forward to place these issues on the discussion table – not the political leadership, not the media, not the educational system, not any sectors of civil society (which barely exists ). Public discourse relates to trivia, to the most meaningless, transient scandals, to army conversions, to the fire on the Carmel, to police commander Uri Bar-Lev. And so what is left for us to do? We must start to say no, no, no. Absolutely not. And to what can we answer yes?

Netanyahu is encouraging Kahanists and rightists: Haaretz

There is a line that the state and its leaders must not cross: portraying the illegal migrants as a danger to our survival, as criminals stealing our livelihoods and spreading disease.
Haaretz Editorial
Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made the fight against illegal migrants from Africa a top priority. Netanyahu considers illegal migration from Sudan and Eritrea a serious danger and has called it a “flood that threatens every citizen, threatens employment of Israelis, and threatens the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel.”

The state must enforce the law, including the law governing entry into the country. The African migrants, who have fled countries stricken by war, oppression and poverty, came to Israel to improve their situation and went from Sinai to the Negev without authorization. Like other developed countries, Israel is trying to heighten its walls to prevent poor and desperate migrants from settling here.

But there is a line that the state and its leaders must not cross: portraying the illegal migrants as a danger to our survival, as criminals stealing our livelihoods and spreading disease. This attitude encourages racism, incitement and persecution of migrants who are staying in Israel until their legal status is clarified. And even if they came without visas, they did not come to undermine the social order.

When Netanyahu talks about a “flood” and “threat to the state,” his words encourage the thugs of the Kahanist right wing and the racist municipal rabbis to declare war on foreigners. Racists have an easy target; migrants who are not citizens have no political representation and the groups that assist them are viewed as radical and undermining the state.

The demonstrations and acts of incitement against foreigners led Netanyahu to release a statement on his Facebook page calling on people to avoid violence. He also pledged to work “with determination to stop the flow of illegal infiltrators from Africa.” Netanyahu asks the street thugs to “let me handle them” but with them helps spread a sense of fear of the African migrants.

Netanyahu’s approach is problematic and dangerous. The migrants from Sudan and Eritrea present Israel with a humanitarian problem but do not endanger its existence or future. Depicting them as enemies of the state, especially by the prime minister, is fuel for the fires of racism and xenophobia.

The tyranny of the Israeli majority: Haaretz

The present political balance of power has created a Knesset that has become an assembly line of legislation that is dragging Israel down to the bottom of the list of civilized countries.
By Zeev Sternhell
In order to deal properly with the diplomatic dead end, we have to accept that the problem is not political in the narrow sense of the concept. It is not a question of right and left according to the common Israeli terminology: The problem is social and cultural, part of the structure of political culture in Israel. Therefore, it is unimportant who will be in the government in the near future, just as there was no importance to the identity of the coalitions that ruled during the Yom Kippur War, the two Lebanon wars and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The exception was the second government of Yitzhak Rabin.

The present political balance of power has created a Knesset that has become an assembly line of legislation that is dragging Israel down to the bottom of the list of civilized countries. In fact, the Israeli usually understands one thing about the concept of democracy: an unrestrained government of the majority. Here the principle of majority rule is considered the right of the stronger side to impose its authority on those weaker than it, without considering the limitations imposed by human rights.

The concept “majority” does not have the same moral and ideological meaning here that it has in Europe, where the right of the majority to rule was an expression of a liberation from the tyranny of the minority, which was acquired after long struggles and became another aspect of the right to freedom and equality and a means of guaranteeing the rights of the individual. That is not the case here: The average Israeli doesn’t even understand why the same majority that elected the MKs is not authorized to decide who will sit on the judge’s seat, or why Basic Laws have to protect the Arab minority from the majority.

The right of the stronger applies also, if not first and foremost, to our relations with the Palestinians. It is not only the settlement-oriented right that fails to understand why a great power like Israel even has to conduct discussions with the Palestinians, who are totally dependent on us. Even in today’s Labor Party, which sees itself as the successor of Mapai, many believe the Jews are doing the Arabs a favor when they are even willing to discuss their demands.

That is why Israeli society is incapable of producing the moral and intellectual strength required to put an end to the occupation. Those who choose to hold on to the territories at any price are the minority, although a large one, but along with those who want to control as large a chunk of the territories as possible, there is a majority of society. Those who favor an apartheid state are a minority, but many have already accepted a situation of apartheid that does not call it by name, existing behind a smokescreen of being “temporary.”

That is why the only significant argument between the left and the right was and remains primarily technical: How far, in terms of Israel’s foreign relations, can we stretch the rope? As long as the gentile only barks and doesn’t bite, there is no need to hurry. In that sense Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Revisionist boy from Rehavia, is a copy of another prime minister, Golda Meir, the “socialist” pioneer and the refugee from the land of pogroms in Russia, who arrived in Israel via Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Our American ally is not necessarily naive. Like President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in their time (see the article by Aluf Benn, “Better than Wikileaks,” December 15 ), President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton know that Israel will not budge from its positions unless it feels that it is being bulldozed. Nixon and Kissinger wanted an Israel that was weakened and in mourning, but strong enough to enter negotiations with Egypt. Is it proper, is it worthwhile to wait for the day when Obama and the Europeans also reach the conclusion that it will be possible to talk only to an Israel that has suffered a stinging failure?

Bat Yam protest proves something in Israel’s democracy isn’t working: Haaretz

The demonstration in Bat Yam was an important event in that it demonstrated that hatred and racism – or fear and defensiveness, if you prefer – have spread throughout the country.
By Alon Idan
Bat Yam borders Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The name Tel Aviv-Jaffa is connected by a hyphen, as though it were one city. But a hyphen comes between space, and Tel Aviv and Jaffa are not one city; in every way, they are two cities. The differences between them can be seen in a short journey down Jaffa Road, the main thoroughfare in Jaffa.

A ride down Jaffa Road is a ride into a separate reality. Cars race about without any attention paid to the posted signs, put up at a time when somebody still cared; pedestrians traverse narrow streets; vendors and stalls are stationed on the sidewalks; forbidden transactions are made in back alleys.

A short trip on Jaffa Road evokes the feeling that you are no longer in the state of Israel. Welcome to No Man’s Land. Bat Yam does not border Tel Aviv. It borders Jaffa. Only Jaffa. Jaffa Road is the continuation of Bat Yam. Jaffa is Bat Yam’s old girlfriend; Jaffa is Bat Yam’s old enemy; and, more than anything, Jaffa is the roadblock that separates Bat Yam and Tel Aviv.

It is the reason why Bat Yam seems like it’s in the periphery, even though it is really close to Israel’s center. It is the periphery of the center. Relations between Jaffa and Bat Yam have over the years occasionally been able to forecast the country’s near future.

On May 24, 1992, Helena Rapp, 15, was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist on Bat Yam’s promenade. This murder was one of the stabbing attacks Israel endured at the start of the 1990s. The response to the killing was angry anti-Arab demonstrations staged by Bat Yam residents.

I remember that a few meters from my home, enraged residents searched for Arab workers, and when they found one they beat him to a pulp. A gang seized a car belonging to Arab laborers and rocked it back and forth, finally tipping it over. At night, tires were burned, and people chanted “death to Arabs;” thousands of residents headed toward Jaffa, before being stopped by security forces. A sense of war hovered in the air.

Those demonstrations expressed deep revulsion about Yitzhak Shamir’s government. People were so disgusted with the Likud that when Shimon Peres visited Bat Yam, he was welcomed warmly. A month after the murder, elections were held for the 13th Knesset. The results were that 15 years of Likud governance drew to a close, and the Labor party, headed by Yitzhak Rabin, took power.

Bat Yam is a venue where Israel’s transformations occur before the rest of the state digests what is happening. Hence, the demonstration staged on Monday in Bat Yam against the entry of Arabs into the city and against relations between Arab men and Jewish women should be taken seriously.

It was an important event in that it demonstrated that hatred and racism – or fear and defensiveness, if you prefer – have spread throughout the country. The demonstration showed that withdrawing from those who aren’t like us is the leading motif of this era. And it showed that something fundamental in Israel’s democracy isn’t working.

EDITOR: The old formula of two sides in conflict…

Todd Gitlin sits in New York, so he is correct when he points the finger at Obama as the reason for the failure of the recent “peace talks” charade. Did he not realise this before? He certainly does not see the deifference between an occupier and the occupied in thois conflict:

Obama, earn your Nobel Prize: Haaretz

The Israeli government is locked into futility, and so are the Palestinians. In the warped politics of pain, the only degrees of freedom are America’s.
By Todd Gitlin
Like two punch-drunk fighters hanging onto each other, arms flopped around each other’s necks, having made an intimate habit of their tiresome failures, the two belligerents are locked together in a static tableau. Failure is their shared way of life. They live and die by it. They talk about talking. They talk about talking about doing something different, but too many decades of stupidity, blindness, weakness and cowardice in varying proportions have brought them to the twisted embrace that they have come to consider normal. They clutch one another for dear life, these intimate antagonists, Israelis and Palestinians, who know each other so well and so little – each too weak to put an end to the agony, each too frightened to want a way out badly enough.

They are tediously, banally, wretchedly stuck. All hold their breath. Nothing moves.

Palestinians, the weaker party, talk about time running out. Even as the Palestinian Authority consolidates its quasi-state apparatus, settlements go on and on – declarations of confidence that facts on the ground will overwhelm wishes. In East Jerusalem, Dr. Nazmi al-Jubeh, who chairs the department of history at Birzeit University, told me recently that “only a limited time remains for a two-state solution. In two, three, five years, we will move to the next stage: one man, one vote.” To some Israelis, such talk is bluster. To some, it can be read as a threat. To Palestinians, it’s obvious.

Israelis, albeit with sad or stiff smiles, accommodate themselves to the occupation as if it were a permanent – unavoidable, even pleasant – state of affairs. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lives with, and by, the status quo. They rule. Their friends prosper. Their party adversaries are feeble, lost in fruitless maneuver. Only reason provides an incentive to do anything different (the demographically declining prospects of a Jewish state ), but reason’s rewards are mental, not sufficiently visceral. To the winners among Israel’s political class, the status quo might even be the best of all possible worlds.

Of course, not all Israelis find the status quo bearable. On a visit in October, I met many who were depressed, worn down by it – especially elders, people of my generation, who know how abnormal is this veneer of normality. They feel its eeriness, and the eeriness of denial in which their countrymen and -women are gripped. The Palestinians, of course, know the abnormality as abnormality, and feel the ground rumbling beneath their feet.

So how to break out of the shared prison? “There’s nowhere else to look but the U.S.,” Nazmi al-Jubeh told me. “The U.S. has to gamble.”

What should Barack Obama do, I asked Saman Khoury, once a leader of the first intifada, now general manager and deputy chairman of the board of the Peace and Democracy Forum in East Jerusalem. “Be more courageous,” he said. “For the sake of America, for the sake of the world. For the sake of progress, he should move with more vigor.

“We don’t want them to rebuke Israel in front of us or the world,” he added. “We don’t want to humiliate Israel. But we want them to recognize that Israel must end the occupation.”

In Ramallah, the Palestinian co-chair of the Geneva Initiative, Nidal Fuqaha, told me that, given manifest dangers of a confrontation with Iran, Israel would be foolish indeed if it failed to avail itself of a Palestinian alliance.

And on the other side of town, a weary retired Israeli agronomist told me: “Obama should come to Jerusalem, speak to the Knesset, offer American security guarantees in exchange for a two-state solution. Change Israeli public opinion as Sadat did. Change the game.”

There are heaps of reasons for Obama to demur. He has, to put it mildly, his own political problems. He took a “shellacking” – to use his word – in the off-year elections. Talking over Netanyahu’s head to the Israeli public would make enemies in both the Republican and Democratic parties. But the Israeli government is locked into futility, and so are the Palestinians in their own way. In the warped politics of mutually assured pain, the only degrees of freedom, as statisticians say, are America’s. As a leader of Palestinians in Washington told me later, what Obama has to gain is nothing more or less than a historic achievement.

By ordinary calculations, the costs of an American initiative look more conspicuous than the benefits. On December 9, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to renew the status quo when she reiterated that “negotiations between the parties is the only path that will succeed in securing their respective aspirations,” while adding a diplomatic nudge: the U.S. “will push the parties to lay out their positions on the core issues … will work to narrow the gaps asking the tough questions and expecting substantive answers … will offer our own ideas and bridging proposals.” Hardly enough to jolt anyone out of stagnation.

“Negotiations between the parties” is a prescription for nothing. Obama needs to do more than take a hand. He needs to take command. He has a prize to win – retroactively.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and the co-author, most recently, of “The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election.”

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