Monday, December 26, 2011

Another Day--Just One--In the Life of Our Very Own Jewish State, the Only Democracy in the Middle East

Ten stories from Haaretz, December 26, 2011:

*Akiva Eldar, "Netanyahu's On the Way to Kosovo."  Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent notes the close parallels between the recent speeches of Benjamin Netanyahu and those of Slobodan Milosevic, in which "the two leaders used familiar myths, stressed the past suffering of their peoples and sowed fear of the threats the future poses, based their stances on the 'historic rights' of their people and ignored the national and territorial aspirations of the neighboring people. Netanyahu pointed to extreme fundamentalist Islam as the enemy of the Jews, Americans and the West; Milosevic recalled....the background to the Kosovo confrontations between the Serbs and Albanians, who are mostly Muslim."

*Nurit Elstein, "Partial democracy."  The writer, a former Knesset legal adviser and currently a lecturer in parliamentary law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, notes that about a year ago Shlomo Avineri (one of Israel's most prominent political scientists) wrote that Israel could not be viewed as a fascist state.  Elstein quotes Avineri: "In a fascist state the regime monitors citizens, imprisons them without trial, restricts movement and runs a propagandistic education system."

Elstein then observes: "This year the Knesset pushed through the Boycott Law, which delivers a mortal blow to basic principles such as freedom of speech and freedom of punishes anyone who calls for boycotts. The imposition of sanctions on a call for action, a call that constitutes free speech, is stunningly anti-democratic. The law's operating assumption is that it is forbidden to disrespect the state. This is a dangerous thought….Such developments in the history of political thought provided inspiration for the totalitarian state."

"Politicians do not operate in a vacuum. They are well aware of the public's mood. Any public-opinion survey will find that there is widespread support for restricting civil rights. Public discourse is fraught with extremist statements denouncing Arabs, leftists and others. Knesset legislation converts cultural trends into legal norms."

"Israel prides itself on being a democracy, but it lacks a constitution and a democratic tradition. Was there ever a democracy in this state? There was a partial democracy for some of the state's Jews. With the increase in violence in the public square, the left is now experiencing what Arab citizens have endured for years."

While Elstein does not comment on the other components in Avineri's definition of fascism, all of them--regime monitoring of citizens, imprisonment without trial (the preferred euphemism is "administrative detention"), restrictions of movement, and a propagandistic education system-- are becoming increasingly common in Israel.  And it is hardly uncommon for Israeli dissidents and commentators to point out the parallels with fascism.

*Asaf Weitzen, "Until Our Hearts are Completely Hardened."  The writer, an official responsible for refugees at the Israeli Center for Assistance to the Community of Foreign Workers, charges that growing number of Africans seeking to find refuge in Israel from deadly civil wars in Eritrea and Sudan have been classified by the Israeli government not as refugees--which under international law would require Israel to accept them--but as "migrant workers," which means they can be deported.

Weitzen notes that in order for the fleeing people to be granted refuge until they can safely return to their countries, they must first apply to the Israeli Interior Ministry to be officially recognized as refugees.  However, Weitzen dryly observes,  the ministry "refuses to examine the asylum requests of Eritrean and Sudanese citizens [so] the government claims that they are not refugees because they have not been recognized as such."

Weitzen continues: "The only reason is that the claim that they are migrant workers is aimed at hardening our hearts against the distress of these people, who have fled their homes in all kinds of ways. It's the kind of distress we should be well aware of [emphasis added]. When our hearts are completely hardened - and the mood shows we're near that - [the Interior minister] and his cronies will be able to do with the refugees and asylum seekers whatever they wish, including locking them up for years and deporting them back to hell. The High Court of Justice will not dare intervene and the public will remain silent. That must not be allowed to happen; certainly not in a country that was set up as a country of refuge." .

*Amira Hass, "Israel Allows Gaza Athletes To Cross Into West Bank, But Bars Outstanding Academics."  Haaretz's award-winning chief correspondent on Gazan affairs observes that Gazan athletes are routinely allowed to participate in sports in the West Bank, but that students are not allowed to study there.  There are two reasons, Hass writes: the Israeli government considers students to be potential terrorists--"students around the world are of the rebellious type," an Israel official tells her.  Nor is the effective ban on Gazans moving into the West Bank for any extended period a result of the Hamas takeover of Gaza; as Hass observes, the Israeli "policy of de facto disconnection...began 15 years before Hamas took power in Gaza."

       Hass continues: "the second pillar of the segregation policy, which is not declared openly, is the 'fear of settling down,' as defined for me by the same official of the system's implementing arm. After all, universities across the world are also hotbeds for making new acquaintances, falling in love and even getting married. And then, the fear of the Israeli system is that residents of Gaza will move their 'center of life' to the West Bank, find work there, have children and settle down."

        That's the real problem, of course: Israel is not interested in taking over Gaza but it intends to further its expansion into, and control over, the West Bank--for which, the fewer the Palestinian residents, the better. 

*Oz Rozenberg, "News Crew Assaulted By Ultra-Orthodox Rioters."  A television news crew was assaulted, a camera newsman was thrown to the ground, and a soundman was grabbed by the throat "when they attempted to record footage of a sign that instructs women not to walk past a synagogue."

*Ilan Lior, "Israeli Textbook Slammed For Calling Homosexuality a Disorder."  Lior writes: "Mental health experts, educators, and members of Israel's gay community are protesting the use in the mental health curriculum in a number of academic institutions of a textbook they say presents anti-homosexual positions."  In some cases, homosexuality is presented as an "emotional disorder" that should be treated by psychotherapy, or a "symptom of a borderline personality."

      The story further notes that the textbook was published by a university press and was compiled by four leading Israeli psychiatrists.  In the words of a dissenting psychiatrist: "the chapter on homosexuality not only constitutes a declaration of homophobia, but it educates future therapists and educators to be homophobic."

*Anshel Pfeffer, "Right-wing U.S. Group Holds Hanukkah Party at IDF Base."  The Israeli army officially approved a "Hanukkah party" held by United With Israel, a far rightwing U.S. group that, in Pfeffer's words, "organizes events in support of the Jewish settlement in Hebron and in Jerusalem-area settlements, and also conducts pro-Israeli public relations."

In addition to the stories above, on the same day Haaretz published a number of articles about the discrimination against women in Israel, prompted by two recent events: the insistence by Haredim (ultra-orthodox) Israeli men that women on buses that largely serve their communities must ride in the back, and Haredim cursing of, and even spitting at, seven and eight year old Israeli school girls whose dress is deemed by them to be immodest. 

The most recent incidents of this kind have caused an uproar in Israel, especially among the secular majority--but three columns by Israeli women point out that women have long been excluded from top positions in all fields.

*Lital Levin, "Beyond the Bus."  Levin writes: "It's only been a few weeks since the phrase "exclusion of women" became a staple of the news pages... Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [and other government officials] have condemned the phenomenon. It almost seems as if the exclusion of women were a specifically ultra-Orthodox hang-up, that in Israel, full equality exists between the sexes, threatened only by sex-segregated bus lines. But many of the women protesting the discrimination reject Netanyahu's statement that it is a 'limited phenomenon that does not reflect the entire population'....The true exclusion is in the law and the economic and social structure, not least in its most liberal outposts."

"If we focus the fight on the ultra-Orthodox alone," said a clinical psychology student, "we're liable to forget that women are excluded from all public arenas."

*Tsafir Saar, "Not Only the Ultra-Orthodox Discriminate Against Women in Israel."  Saar writes: "What everyone nowadays is calling exclusion of women is nothing less than ...sexism that's deeply rooted. And this sexism, this widely practiced and multilayered discrimination, is not the purview of the ultra-Orthodox alone....It's so easy to condemn and be horrified by 'those benighted Haredim' and at the same time nonchalantly ignore the sexual violence that is the lot of women of all stripes, secular and religious; the wage gaps between men and women; the fact that most of the poor are women, and many other social phenomena that prove the depth of the problem..."

*Merav Michaeli, "'Exclusion of women' in Israel is Nothing New."  Michaeli writes:

"What has changed? I mean, the exclusion and discrimination are far from new. Not on the buses, not on the billboards, not in the streets of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods or in secular and perfectly Tel Avivian spaces - in the army, in the Knesset, in the government, in the print media and television, on various public committees and in the workforce. It is exhausting to bring up time and again, as part of the ongoing struggle of decades, the income gaps, the low status of housework and raising children, the poor representation of women in the public arena, the stereotypical portrayals of women in the media, the sexual exploitation, the small number of female representatives in the Knesset and the even smaller number of female cabinet ministers, the physical oppression, and the number of women who are murdered by abusive partners every year."


Well, at least the rightwing Christian fundamentalists--and every Republican candidate for the presidency--still adore us.  However, as David Ben-Gurion famously said, "What matters is not what the goyim say, it's what the Jews do."

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