Jauary 19, 2013

EDITOR: The Mock elections in the Mock Democracy are about to change nothing whatsoever

‘In order that nothing changes”, writes the great Sicilian author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, ‘everything must change!’. So next Tuesday, many Israelis will go to the polls to make sure than nothing changes. They will vote mainly for ‘new’ parties, like Likud Beitenu, Hatnuah, Yesh Athid, Habatit Hayehudi – none of which existed before this election as such; together, these ‘new ‘parties’ will get the most votes, and will make sure that nothing changes in Israeli politics. So, despite the mock protest of hundreds of thousands in Summer 2011, when the tent protest joined the Arab Spring raging all around Israel, a clutch of old and tired faces, in the main, has put forwards new masks, much mascara and facelift, and nothing new. Most of the parties, including the largest, led by Netanyahu and Lieberman, and sure to win this round of mock democracy, have not seen fit to even publish a platform or manifesto before the election. That is not surprising.  Publishing such a document, would be dangerous, if it was to be truthful.

If published, it would have to say that Israel will continue to control the whole of Palestine, never allowing the setting up of the mini-state which was foreshadowed in the Oslo Agreements. It will have to say that the vision of the two-states is dead and buried, never to be revived again. It will state that the Palestinians will never have full human or civil and political rights under Israeli control, and that the Israeli state controlling them will now become a fully-fledged Apartheid society. It will also clarify that all the claims and demands of the protest movements would be disregarded, and that the poor will become much poorer. It will reveal that the Israeli deficit was miscalculated, and is more than twice of what was claimed by the government. Such a manifesto will also reveal that Israel is planning more wars, in Gaza, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, and that the cost of these wars will further improve the standing of the rich, and will further undermine the poor, who will pay for them. It will have to tell Israelis that most of them will pay for the 600,000 settlers, whose life is made especially easy and plentiful by government edicts and regulations, so that they will continue to terrorise the Palestinian population. This manifesto will also reveal that the next Knesset will continue in its attack on democracy, human rights and transparency, and make sure the government cannot be legally or publically challenged when it breaks the law, and that the courts will be emasculated to guarantee that result, especially the Supreme Court; It will have to also tell Israelis that the Palestinian citizens of Israel will loose more of their limited rights, and that the attack on them as the largest minority group in Israel will intensify.

And that is not all. The putative document will also have to reveal that the attack of the environment will continue unabated, with more damage to and, sea and air, and that developers, speculators and environmental criminals will have even an easier time in the future; It will also tell Israelis that the power of the Jewish religious minority will continue to distort Israeli society, and underwrite the unequal values of the Jewish democracy, making it a democracy for Jews only; It will reveal that Israel will continue to invest in death and destruction more than in education and health, and that new technology will be used not to improve life, but to endanger it. It will also tell the public that the dangerous and aggressive foreign policy of the last government will be further intensified by the next one.

In a word, this manifesto which was not published would tell Israelis that there is no hope, that fear and loathing will continue to rule their lives for the foreseeable future.

It is clear enough why such a manifesto cannot be printed and published, and won’t. Yet it is a mistake to think that Israelis do not know the contents of such a manifesto. That is the reason that large sections of the Israeli public plan to avoid voting. In the past, it was the malaise of the Palestinian minority – they have abstained in large numbers, on the understanding that in a democracy for Jews, Arabs can make no change.They were of course right about this. But this time, also many Jews will join them, believing that in a state of the powerful and corrupt, the poor can make no change.

This will of course guarantee that no change is possible. Because most Israeli Jews are supportive of the package of no change, though it deeply damages their interests. They support the status quo, because the idea of change – of a real democracy for all, of social justice, of just peace, of the end of the occupation and apartheid – frightens them beyond belief. Such an idea of change is always frightening to a colon. So it was in Algeria, or South Africa. So, they agree, somewhat begrudgingly, to continue the bad old ways, so the the good new ways would not threaten them.

The Democracy for Jews only is safe for now. It is in the good hands of Netanyahu and Lieberman. It is safe from change, and seemingly also safe from history. A mock election, in a mock democracy, will bring about a mock result. But the price to be paid will be real enough.

Below are some articles dealing with this odd political juncture.

MK Dov Khenin can putt from the political rough: Haaretz

The Hadash party member is an unabashed communist, a far-left radical, an outspoken anti-Zionist – and the best MK in the outgoing Knesset.

By Asher Schechter | Jan.19, 2013 | 9:35 AM

Khenin isn't so much resigned to the political fringe as he is cool with it.

Khenin isn’t so much resigned to the political fringe as he is cool with it. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

So let’s get this out of the way first: Dov Khenin is the best!

No, seriously. It’s really tough to find something bad to say about the Hadash party Knesset member, try as you might.

Just ask his detractors. Sure, they might point out that he’s a communist, which is true. They could claim he belongs to the radical left, which he does. They could snarl that he’s anti-Zionist, and he probably wouldn’t deny it.

But then they’d have to explain why he is the No.1 legislator in the 18th Knesset, proposing no less than 529 bills in the last four years, of which 27 were approved. They would also have to ignore the awards and honors he’s received, among them the Knight of Quality Government Award from the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and the Parliamentary Excellence award from the Israeli institute for Democracy. They’d also have to admit that he is the most socially and environmentally conscious Member of Knesset there is.

And then they’d have to explain why they cooperated with him on so many bills. Khenin is such an enigma that even his most ardent enemies have a hard time demonizing him. So they just leave him alone.

The point is you can say what you want about Khenin, but you can’t deny he’s probably the most committed, hard-working MK in Israel in recent memory. That’s why unlike his peers, such as Balad’s Hanin Zuabi, Meretz’s Zehava Gal-On or even Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich – it’s hard for the right wing to attack him.

Yes, he is unashamedly communist. He supports nationalizing the banks, the profits from the Tamar and Leviathan deep-water gas prospects and the mineral wealth of the Dead Sea. What of it?

Khenin is so open about his communistic world view that it’s hard to accuse him of being covert. And he speaks just as much about social and environmental issues as he does about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not more, so it is hard to stamp him with the “leftist” label that in Israel dooms you to the fringes of society.

Khenin is already in the fringiest fringe anyway. And he is destined to stay there. And he knows it. And that’s fine. He has learned to make the best of it. In July 2012, Kadima MK (and Hatnuah party candidate) Meir Sheetrit said in a televised interview: “Dov Khenin comes from a small party, but his influence is far greater than all of Kadima.”

Kadima, with 28 seats, was the biggest party within the 18th Knesset. Hadash, with three seats, was one of the smallest.

‘I think I can, I think I can’

It’s not so much that Khenin seems resigned to his marginal status, as that he seems cool with it.

A lot of politicians in Israel would despair of being stuck in third place on the list of a small far-left Arab-Jewish party that has never exceeded three seats in the Knesset and probably won’t this time either (according to recent polls). Many would give up. Many did. But like The Little Engine That Could, Khenin is always forging ahead. It is easy to imagine him telling himself in moments of self-doubt: “I think I can, I think I can.”

The tenacity with which Khenin, married with three children, has engaged the margins of the political debate, and his ability to make lemonade out of some really tart lemons, can be explained by his background. He was born into the political fringes in 1958, his father being David Khenin, a leader of Maki, the Israeli communist party. Khenin is a member of the Maki central committee himself.

His mother, also a communist activist, was a preschool teacher. Young Dov developed a keen interest in politics from an early age, earning his first stripes in Banki, Maki’s communist youth movement, and other left wing youth organizations. Being a communist in Israel, even in socialist Israel, was akin to being a social pariah. In some circles, it still is. Yet he hung on, and stuck to the family tradition. When it came time for him to enter the Israel Defense Forces, he did, but he refused to serve in the Occupied Territories, foreshadowing a lifelong support for conscientious objectors. “I have never tried to hide any detail of my past. I am at peace with everything I’ve ever done,” he told the right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon in 2006.

In 1982, he completed an undergraduate law degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has described his university days as a time of intense social and political activity. One of his activities was pushing for combined Arab-Jewish political activities and agendas. In 1984, he began working as a lawyer at the firm of Amnon Zichroni, famous for being one of the first conscientious objectors in the history of Israel – declaring himself a pacifist in 1954 – and for being the lawyer of Israeli nuclear spy Mordechai Vanunu.

During his first years as a lawyer, an occupation he continued practicing until 2004, Khenin led some influential human rights cases, including that of five left-wing conscientious objectors, known as Mishpat Hasarvanim (“The Trial of the Refuseniks”). During this period, he also received a PhD. in political science from Tel Aviv University, completed post-doctoral work at Oxford, writing about the relationship between environmentalism and social issues, taught at Tel Aviv University, wrote two books and edited various other books and articles and continued with his political and environmental activism. In 2002 he became the chairman of Haim VeSviva (“Life and Environment”), an umbrella organization comprised of more than 100 environmental organizations and causes in Israel.

Since 1990, Khenin has been a member of Maki’s leadership. In 2003, he made his first foray into parliamentary politics, running in the fourth spot on the Hadash-Taal party list. He had originally been in third place on the Hadash list, a slot held before him by the much-admired (and strikingly similar in gaining admiration from all ends of the political spectrum) Tamar Gozansky. But Hadash, a Jewish-Arab socialist party and the de facto political arm of Maki, banded with the Arab Taal party for the elections, winning just three seats and leaving Khenin less than 1,000 votes short of qualifying. It was the first time Hadash had not sent a Jewish party member to the Knesset.

The partnership between Hadash and Taal did not last long, and in the 2006 elections for the 17th Knesset Khenin was placed third on the Hadash list, finally making it to the Knesset and becoming a MK. He was quick to become one of the most active Members of Knesset, becoming the head of the social-environmental lobby, the biggest lobby group in the Knesset, together with the Rabbi Michael Melchior of Memad.

Darling of cats and the coolth of Tel Aviv

Khenin was especially active on social and environmental issues, writing dozens of bills relating to human rights, workers’ rights and women’s rights, as well as animal, environmental and child protection laws. Together with Labor MK Eitan Cabel, he was responsible among other things for the prohibition of declawing cats, which won him the support of, well, the entire freaking Internet.

Then, in 2008, he really made his mark with the Israeli public, going from an anonymous MK from a small party hardly anyone knew to the total darling of Tel Aviv leftists and hipster wannabe-leftists. The event that upgraded his status was his decision to run against Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai in the municipal elections. Khenin, who was not perceived as particularly charismatic then, ran as the mayoral candidate of Ir Lekulanu, a non-partisan Arab-Jewish-Green municipal party established in 2008 and composed of social and environmental, as well as Hadash, activists. Khenin did not have an easy time running against the incumbent Huldai, who was popular and established and enjoyed the endorsement of the Labor party. Plus, the voting rate in the municipal elections in Israel is patently low.

Still, Ir Lekulano gave one hell of a fight, running a viral Facebook (in the relatively early days of Facebook in Israel) and Youtube campaign, directed specifically at young people living in Tel Aviv, most of them in their 20s and early 30s, leaning to the left, riding bicycles and having a hard time dealing with the rise in rental prices that was effectively forcing them out of the city. The campaign recruited many celebrities and created a political, activist climate in Tel Aviv that would contribute to emergence of the social protest movement three years later.

But still, Khenin lost. He gained 34.3 percent of the vote, compared to Huldai’s 50.6 percent. Ir Lekulani, despite losing the mayoral race, still gained the most votes in the municipal elections and won five seats in the city council. To this day, it remains a viable political force in the Tel Aviv political scene, struggling for affordable housing and better public transportation.

After the mayoral elections, Khenin went back to the Knesset, having lost the race but won the affection and admiration of Tel Aviv’s young adults. In the elections for the 18th Knesset, he was placed again in the third place in Hadash. Upon entering the Knesset, he again headed the social-environmental lobby, this time alongside Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz. During his second term as MK Khenin sustained his energetic style, remaining highly involved in issues relating to social and environmental issues, winning the title of ‘most social MK’ twice in a row by the HaMishmar HaHevrati (“The Social Guard”), a nongovernmental organization established following the social protests of 2011 to keep track of the activity in the Knesset and report it to the public.

Singlehandedly, he elevated Hadash’s image with the Israeli left, projecting an agenda that could be mistaken for social democracy if it wasn’t for his candid, outspoken style.

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Palestinian activists set up another tent encampment near Jerusalem: Haaretz

The camp, erected in the village of Beit Iksa, was set up in protest of Israeli settlement and comes a week after a similar camp was erected in the E-1 corridor and later evacuated by Israel.

By  | Jan.18, 2013 | 10:00 PM |  22

Palestinians erecting a tent city in the E-1 corridor, January 11, 2013.

Palestinians erecting a tent city in the E-1 corridor, January 11, 2013. Photo by AFP

Palestinian activists have set up a protest camp in the West Bank to demonstrate against what they say is an Israeli land grab.

They say they set up a mosque and several tents Friday in the village of Beit Iksa near Jerusalem.

In a statement, activists said they were securing land from Israel.

The Israeli military said soldiers were monitoring the area to prevent disturbances.

On Sunday, hundreds of Israeli security forces evacuated some 100 Palestinians from a protest tent camp set up two days earlier in the E-1 corridor east of Jerusalem.

The evacuation – which involved about 500 Israel Police officers and Israel Defense Force soldiers – was carried out despite a temporary injunction issued by the High Court of Justice preventing the state from evacuating the encampment for six days, pending deliberations.

Protesters refusing to evacuated leave were carried down the hill by Israeli officials, but there were no reports of injuries. “Everyone was evacuated carefully and swiftly, without any injuries to officers or protesters,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the evacuation order on Saturday, and by late night the IDF had the area surrounded and were preventing supporters from entering. Activists said they would oppose any attempt to forcibly remove them.

Netanyahu said Sunday that he had ordered the area sealed off immediately after hearing of the tent encampment. “I immediately called for the area to be closed off so there would not be large gatherings there that could cause friction and breach the public order,” he said.

“We will not allow anyone to touch the corridor between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim,” Netanyahu added.

Haaretz has determined that the tents were put up on private Palestinian land. In preparing the plans for area E-1 in the West Bank, the state in 2005 examined the records for the lands on which the settlement is to be built. The plan shows an area of 1,500 dunams (375 acres) out of the total 12,000 dunams (3,000 acres‏) allocated for construction that Civil Administration figures indicate is privately owned by Palestinians, although the land was not registered officially.

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