Dany Gutwein, The Elor Azaria Affair is the Struggle of the Black Peon [ssba]

Dany Gutwein, The Elor Azaria Affair is the Struggle of the Black Peon

Four months ago Sgt. Elor Azaria killed a wounded Palestinian terrorist, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif as al-Sharif laid supine in Hebron. Azaria is on trial for manslaughter. But the trial of Elor Azaria has long since become the ‘Azaria Affair.’ Right-wing politicians are divided between those who condemn his action and those who unconditionally support him. Thousands have rallied for his release. The public debate, for the most part, doesn’t focus on whether Azaria should or shouldn’t have shot al-Sharif . Rather Israelis discuss the extent to which Azaria’s ethnicity and place of residence played a role in the IDF’s response to his action. “Is Elor Azaria punished (also) because he is Mizrahi?” reads Haaretz headline. And a father of another soldier remarked “If Azria was a Fishman [typical Ashkenazi family name] from Tel Aviv, it would have been different.”

Azaria’s case was preceded by ‘David the Nahlawi Affair.’ In April 2014, David Adamov, a soldier resident of one of the poorer neighborhoods in Be’er Sheva, was caught on camera cursing and cocking his assault rifle at an unarmed Palestinian kid in Hebron. Like Azaria, Adamov too won massive public support. Itamar Tehar Lev, a Hebrew University sociologist, wrote then that Adamov was receiving the support of the mostly Mizrahi ‘Border Patrol Army’ (which is just as Mizrahi as it is Russian, Ethiopian and lower-class Ashkenazi). Tehar Lev contrasted the ‘Border Patrol Army’ with the upper class Ashkenazi ‘Strategic IDF’ which manages the wars from a distance.

Henriette Dahan Kalev, a political scientist and gender studies professor at Ben Gurion University, writes that “the IDF today consists of elite units (like intelligence, technology and IDF Radio) staffed mostly by Ashkenazim. […] Elite soldiers prefer to see themselves as moral and defenders of human dignity. It’s easier to attribute a lack of morality to those who fighting on the ground. By publicly making a case against Azaria, the IDF is attempting to demonstrate that it has not lost its values—including as IDF chief Gadi Eizenkot put it the “purity of arms.”

The following article is Prof. Dany Gutwein’s attempt to explain some of the perplexing phenomena surrounding the Azaria Affair. Why did the settler Religious Zionist community condemn Azaria while so many others on the Right support him? Why do Leftists demonstrate discomfort discussing the case? And why is he receiving such massive support? Have Israelis all gone mad?

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The trial of Elor Azaria is becoming a watershed moment in the Israeli civil war. “The Azaria trial” has long turned into “The Azaria Affair.” It left the legal system and is happening in the court of public opinion. Increasingly, as the trial throws oil into the political fire, the public dimension overshadows its criminal dimension. The intensity of “the Azaria affair” is demonstrated by the fact that the IDF is one of its main casualties. For many, the IDF has become the target of sharp criticism and intrudes on the broad support it has so far enjoyed.

The IDF was correct to denounce the killing of the terrorist, put Azaria on trial, and allow a court decide whether or not his behaviour was a criminal offense. The following comment, however, relates to the “Azaria Affair”; that is, not to the shooting in Hebron or the trial in Jaffa, but to the causes for the public earthquake it has reverberated throughout Israel.

What makes the Azaria Affair so explosive? Why do so many Israelis identified with it? This question remains unanswered despite the lively public debate. And yet, answering this question is necessary for dealing with the fissures it has unearthed in Israeli society.

The common—yet false—explanation for the waves the Azaria trial has created is that the trial has become symbolic of gaping divisions in Israeli society and has carved a new space for their continuation. Indeed, the Azaria affair has quickly become a site for the toxic battles between the Right and the Left. The Left denounced the “shooting soldier” while presenting him as another victim of the Occupation. The Right, more broadly, has stood by Azaria and presented the trial as political persecution, a surrender to terrorism, the abandonment of IDF soldiers, and other charges the Right lobs against “Lefties.” Moreover, the Right has claimed the Left has sacrificed Azaria on the altar of political correctness, and that there wouldn’t be a trial if Azaria wasn’t right wing, Mizrahi, and from the periphery.

And yet, Israeli society doesn’t need new symbols for old divisions, especially after Netanyahu’s performance in the 2015 election. Indeed, it seems these divisions alone cannot explain the schism the Azaria affair has caused, and moreover, this explanation in itself exposes the failures of using the concept of division to analyse Israeli society.

For example, not only can’t the “Right-Left” division explain the public response, but “the Azaria affair” itself fractures the “Right-wing”: Ya’alon, the defrocked Right-wing Minister for Security, firmly denounced “the shooting soldier” while Avigdor Lieberman, the new Right-wing Foreign Minister, stood by him. The usual analysis explained inner contradictions within the Right as tensions between the “old” liberal Right and the “new” nationalistic Right, and yet this case rattled this distinction too revealing divisions within the “new” Right.

On April 19, there was a rally in support of Azaria in Rabin Square. In reference to the rally on the radio, Kalman Liebskind, a leading Right-wing journalists, attacked “the religious-nationalist public for not showing up to the rally.” He accused them of being “disdainful of Mizrahi Israelis and residents of the periphery.” Liebskind criticized the religious-nationalist public and the settlers using the same language the Right uses against the pretentious Ashkenazi Left. He said:

“The symbols and models Bnei Akiva teaches us to follow are always, or almost always, our own. They live in the settlements, graduate pre-military academies, and the best Yeshiva high schools. “The brave and beautiful.” No one ever speaks to us about the soldiers from Kiryat Gat or Be’er Sheva, who were killed in battle next to them. We never recognize the Elor Azarias from Ramleh who were carried away on stretchers.”

Liebskind’s harsh words stand in sharp contrast to Charlie Azaria’s (Elor’s father) expressed desire to unite the Israeli public around the support of his son, and continue looking to the IDF as a symbol of a common Israeli destiny. The elder Azaria stressed:

“We all have relatives in the IDF. I want everyone to know that we have their back. We are a strong people. We won’t let anyone harm us. The level headed people, everyone here, I love you. I love our nation. We are strong. Only together we will win and get to where we need to be.”

Michael Asraf, father of a soldier serving with Azaria, perfectly framed the contradiction between Azaria’s father’s craving “the wonderful nation” who are “all here” and Libeskind’s claim that “(the settlement of) Kdumim and Ramleh share nothing in common.” It is important to listen to Asraf. He stands with Azaria but his main concern is the divisions the “Azaria affair” revealed in Israeli society. He says:

“A while ago I said to my son: Come home. Leave the IDF. And it wasn’t easy for me to say this. I’m a paratrooper. But this isn’t the IDF we knew. There’s nothing left if commanders don’t back their soldiers. In my parachuting unit, I was told you don’t leave a soldier behind on the battlefield. I hear all the Greats talk about brutalization. What brutalization? Who are those brutes we’re talking about? These are our children . . . the best children. They joined the IDF unit they did because they love the flag and the national anthem. And what do we want in return? That the state loves us as much as we love it.”

Asraf’s claims can be summarized with the following: “I feel betrayed for Elor and the other soldiers.” Asraf finds the focus for this betrayal in the difference between the IDF he knew in the early 1980s, when he served as a paratrooper, the “commanders knew everything,” but still gave us full support, and “We weren’t left alone” and now when there is a sense that commanders don’t support their soldiers. Even if some think Elor violated orders, they should still back him up.”

Asraf claims that the discrepancy between “support” and “betrayal” is the framework through which we shouldn’t just think about the IDF, but Israeli society as a whole. This betrayal has a significant class character, even if, as is customary in Israel, he confuses it with identity politics:

“They threw him to the wolves. And do you want me to tell you why it was easy? I will put it in the simplest terms. It’s because Elor is from Ramle. If he was a Fishman from Tel Aviv, it would have been handled quietly. If it was a settler who studied in one of those pre-military academies, they would all be by his side supporting him. But this isn’t the case. It’s “Kfir” Brigade. [The brigade is part of the Judea and Samaria Division and conducts more Occupation duties than any otherץ] Everyone is an Elor Azaria there. A quarter of the guys are Ethiopians. Do you want me to put it more explicitly? It is a Black Peon unit.” [Translation comment: Asraf uses the term ‘Black Laborers’ (פועלים שחורים) which refers simultaneously to the soldiers’ ethnicity and their peon status]

And in a logic that resembles Bertold Brecht’s “Questions from a Worker who Reads,” Asraf states:

“Look at the IDF’s entire illustrious history. All the battles discussed in history books. Who gets featured in these histories? Who gets honorific mention? Who gets the accolades? Only the commanders. They always get the glory. No one remembers their soldiers, the Black labourers, without whom those commanders are nothing. Without whom no mission can succeed. Do you know when we remember them, the Black peons? When a disaster happens. When the army thinks mistakes occurred. Then the IDF finds the Elor Azaria of the day and goes to war against him. Then the commanders are nowhere to be found. The commanders are only there when there are victories.”

Asraf’s feeling of “betrayal” explains, so it seems, the public’s support for Azaria. From his comment, we learn that Azaria gets widespread support not because of the hate speech against Arabs and Leftists which are used as instruments of political manipulation. According to Asraf, the support for Azaria is a reflection of the betrayal the “Black Peons” feel.

Indeed, Azaria has become symbolic of the Israeli lower classes which the state has left behind during the intense processes of privatization. The feeling of betrayal is the experience of the Israeli lower classes which asks for “support” from the diminishing welfare state which has less and less responsibility for their life and welfare. This is the feeling of those contract employees who are pushed to the end of the line when their bosses rob them. This is the feeling of those who are pushed to the end of the line of the health system because they can’t pay for private medicine. This is the feeling of those who can’t pay for decent education for their children and hopelessly condemns them to a future of “Black peon.” This is the feeling of those for whom the legal system personifies the state after they had failed in the impossible rat race privatization has put them in.

The Azaria case has become a symbol because in all other cases the state cloaked its betrayal of the weak and privatized it: The exploitation of workers was handed over to contractors. Private health insurance companies that rationalize deserting the vulnerable. Private schools use the rationale that certain kids lack talent to mask the marginalization of poor children. In contrast, in the Azaria affair, state institution for the first time explicitly articulated their betrayal: the IDF is the symbol of the state, and therefore it has become the target for the outraged of the betrayed.

Addressing the public element of the “Azaria affair” means dealing with the feeling of the betrayal among the lower classes. It’s a process that can only be resolved by creating Israeli solidarity by way of a universal welfare state that supports the weak. Only neutralizing that feeling of betrayal will allow Israeli society to come to terms with the shot Azaria fired and not as the class symbol his trial has created.

This analysis may explain why the religious-nationalist, settlement based, Right-wing is missing from the support rallies for Azaria. Leibskind argued that this is caused by the fact that “religious Zionism proved once again . . . that it only cares about Religious Zionism.” But why? Over the past few decades the religious-nationalist Right wing—not the imagined elitist “Lefties”—has become the cornerstone of the establishment that betrays the lower classes. Therefore it can’t be part of protests aimed at itself. Class analysis of Israeli politics is the only way to overcome the false façade created by analysis based in identity and culture .

The Azaria affair is a challenge for the Israeli left. Not just in regard to denouncing Azaria, but in creating a new social reality that doesn’t require him as a symbol. This is also a path towards creating the Left as a politically significant player. But the Left refuses to acknowledge that the lower classes are its allies. It keeps returning to the cultural-identity playbook and the irreconcilable contradictions between the Right and the Left. Thus the Left prefers to deal with the lower classes’ nationalist bluster and lack of democracy rather than addressing the regime’s privatization induced inequality as to not infuriate this regime’s upper crust supporters. Once again the “Azaria affair” lays the Israeli Left’s failure in class politics bare. And the clarity of its righteousness, as the Left likes telling itself, is but more proof of the depth of its blindness.

Dany Gutwein is a Professor of Jewish history at Haifa University.

The original article was published in the Hottest Place in Hell.

Translation: Dana Mills, Visiting Scholar at the Hannah Arendt Centre at Bard College

Editor: Sean Guillory, blogger and podcaster at SRB

Introduction: Maya Haber, Partners for Progressive Israel

Ayala Panievsky, Leftists Despair [ssba]

Ayala Panievsky, Leftists Despair

B. Michael published an op-ed titled Why Israelis Are Stampeding to the Right. Ayala Panievsky, a Molad editor and researcher, explains where he was wrong.

“For 50 years (at least), Israel has been experiencing the existence of occupation, a brutal, wicked, unrestrained existence. […] But they don’t want to know that’s the way they are. They want to know – they want to believe – that they are good, decent, honest people, and mainly, victims and unfortunates. […] Voters, who are at the end of the day just human beings, need their consciousness to be escapist. Comforting. They need a leader, a stand-in parent, a super-ego in an armor-plated car to stroke their heads and say, “You’re perfectly fine, my darling. You’re a good boy. They’re the shits. Not you.” […] And therefore, there is only one way to heal: to stop the occupation. All of it. At once.” […] But it’s not going to happen, though. […] Because that is the fate of every occupying society.”

B. Michael has a strange logic: the public is stampeding to the Right because of the Occupation, and it will continue voting for the Right as long as the Occupation persists. So what can we do about it? End the Occupation. But who exactly is supposed to end the occupation? The Right that will forever rule the country? Unlikely. Therefore, the only possible conclusion is that the Occupation will never end, and Israel is finished. Over and out.

This logic is false:

1) The Occupation dangerous to Israeli society and politics. Just as dangerous as those who give up on ending it. The best way to ensure that we will continue to lose is to despair.

2) But the crux of the matter: the public isn’t “turning right”. The Israel Democracy Institute published just last week a survey showing that most Israelis support a two-state solution, and 70 percent oppose settlement annexation, a solution most right-wing ministers advocate.

3) So why don’t Israelis vote for the Left? Despite of years of Rightwing rule and unbridled propaganda against the Left, the Israeli public has not given up on Leftist positions. It is simply fed up with Leftist parties. And it’s understandable. For years Leftwing leaders seem confused, awkward, stuttering, meek and cowardly. It’s indeed very frustrating. But the fact that people have a hard time voting for Labor leader Buji Herzog (BTW the Zionist Camp won 24 seats that’s not a catastrophe) – there is no reason to conclude that the Israeli public is stupid or stampeding to the Right.

4) Many people holding Leftwing positions don’t want to identify as Leftists. Given the political atmosphere, it makes sense. The Left in recent years has been the target of ongoing aggressive demonization. And its political leadership (the Labor Party) refuse to fight back. On the contrary – Center-Left leaders denied the Left and joined the chorus turning it into a national punching bag. Why would anyone vote the for such a Left?

5) Truth be told, we need better political leadership. A leadership that knows its agenda and is willing to fight for it. The Left shouldn’t apologize for the Mapai’s sins, crawl to the right, hide, or beg the world to save us. The Left should convince the public that we have a plan and it’s better. This is politics.

6) How do we know it’s possible? Take the example of settlers. They have been doing it for 20 years and more vigorously since the disengagement from Gaza. The settlers are about five percent of the population, but in a coordinated effort they injected themselves into the centers of power and decision-making (police, army, education system, media, and public sector) and built a powerful political lobby. Today five percent of the citizens are dictating the agenda of the Right and the country.

7) The Rightwing rule is not the result of some force majeure. The question is what can we do to end it. The first answer: don’t give up. Both because it’s divorced from reality and because it’s not effective. This is the time for every leftist to decide if s/he would rather decry the horrors of the Occupation, or do whatever it takes – even getting your hands dirty in politics – to end it.

The original Hebrew text.

Translation: Maya Haber

Zehava Galon, They Stopped Trying to Show They Care [ssba]

Zehava Galon, They Stopped Trying to Show They Care

Two children were orphaned on Friday. In a split second the few memories they had of their father became the only memories they will ever have of him. They’ll have to make up the rest from stories and photos, and from the void in the lives of his relatives.

I don’t know what happened near the Ofra Settlement on Friday and why the Iad Zacharia Hamid was shot to death. Yedioth Ahronot explained that the soldiers felt threatened because Hamid got too close to the secured booth in which they were stationed. It might be true. But two children lost their father, and someone, probably an 18 year-old, has to live with it now.

Just recently Reserve General Uzi Dayan described how he had covered up the killing of five unarmed Palestinians, and everyone was fine with it. This week an unarmed Palestinian was killed in El Fawaar and 32 were injured, mostly in the knees. Some will never walk again. Perhaps the soldiers felt threatened there too. It is hard to judge a kid who enters a Palestinian village and fears for his life. But the media and politicians gave this incident almost no attention.

We and the Palestinians live in an insane routine. Both sides pay a hefty price. Though there is no doubt that the Palestinians pay a heavier price. Over the last few weeks we’ve gotten reports of more raids and more injured. Not all the injured were armed. I understand that people have given up on solving the conflict, but too many times it seems that politicians have given up as well. Every week more people die and more get injured. Every year or two we have a military operation in Gaza. But at the moment the only thing the government cares about is a scandal involving the Minister of Transportation. They’ve stopped even trying to show that they care.

You can find the original post here.

Translation: Dana Mills

Bar Heffetz, The 2014 Gaza-War was Netanyahu’s Soft Underbelly [ssba]

Bar Heffetz, The 2014 Gaza-War was Netanyahu’s Soft Underbelly

It’s been two years since the end of Operation Protective Edge (2014 Israel–Gaza War) and we must admit that we failed.

Israel’s government didn’t fail. It was actually quite successful. It’s easy to be successful if your only goal is to survive, live through another month, and make it to the next election without a war. In the period between elections, the government can ramble on about the construction of dangerous tunnels, checkpoints, the Turks, and occasionally play “who has the bigger cock” with Hamas.

The media also met its goals: everyone knows that Gaza isn’t sexy, the Gaza envelope is far away, and people don’t want to know or understand. At least until there’s a war. And wars are good for ratings. Next time we’ll also all unite around our screens, declare “Quiet, we’re at war,” and fake collectivism.

The IDF might have failed a little. But there’s a new Chief of Staff, and there’s new tech to deal with the tunnels . . . So what if a few residents on the Gaza border no longer believe a word the army says?

So who really failed? Read More »

It’s STILL the Occupation… [ssba]

It’s STILL the Occupation…

I’m sure many of my readers enjoy the eclectic and erudite essays of Michael Koplow, disseminated as “Ottomans and Zionists” and also by the Israel Policy Forum, of which he is the policy director.  I generally agree with his point of view, though I’m often convinced  that he doesn’t take his own logic sufficiently far.  This feeling was so strong with regard to his current column that I had to write this rejoinder. (I’ll pause while you read his article.)

As you just read, he strongly critiques the unique standard Israel is not infrequently held to in international forums.  In this case, an Egyptian judoka refused to shake hands with an Israeli competitor after a match and was sent home.  I should emphasize that I absolutely agree with Dr. Koplow that this is outrageous and the reactions to it should have included some of the further societal critiques he suggests.

But there is one crucial aspect of the context missing from his critique; namely, the word “Occupation.”  In my view, that is the primary (though by no means sole) reason for this phenomenon of singling out Israel and Israelis for this treatment.  This is the 50th year of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, and no one sees any likelihood of it ending any time soon.

Now, the Occupation in no way justifies this behavior, nor is it one of the major atrocities in the world today.  I know that Dr. Koplow does not support it, and the IPF is engaged in a new campaign to try to end it.  But the fact that this salient aspect of the situation that gives rise to the all-too-common treatment of Israel goes unmentioned is itself curious.  In fact, it plays into the hands of the current Israeli government in ways that I am sure Dr. Koplow doesn’t at all support, but his article nevertheless gives aid and comfort to a pernicious worldview.

That worldview is the updated version of the “lachrymose” view of Jewish history; namely, that they (i.e., the whole world) hates us (the Jews), and will always hate us, and that there is nothing Israel (or the Jewish people) can do about it.  We have to simply keep our own counsel, do what we feel is necessary, and recognize that we will always be attacked whatever we do.

That is clearly the message that is put out overtly, in increasing measure, by Prime Minister Netanyahu and many of his coalition partners.  They have no doubt that Israel will always be “a nation that dwells alone,” so why not expand settlements, spit in the world’s eye, and increase the pressure on foreign support of NGO’s, since “they” will always hate us.

In fact, it is the Occupation that is now the overwhelming source of anger against Israel – and ending it would liberate Israel from its psychological, human, military, and financial costs, as well as ending most (certainly not all) support for BDS and other anti-Israel measures.

Now, I do not want to overstate the case.  There is undoubtedly a core of genuinely anti-Israel sentiment that would reject the end of the Occupation and see it just as a step on the way to Israel’s eventual demise.  Israel would remain under threat; ending the Occupation would not really affect that hard core.

But the vast majority of those whose resentment against Israel has grown considerably in the last 15 years would turn their attention elsewhere.  Europe, for example, is labeling and boycotting products from the settlements.  It has no other major dispute with Israel.  The Sunni states, which are now Israel’s de facto regional allies, cannot make their relationship overt and public because there first must be a Palestinian state.  As they have repeatedly made clear; after that, all options are open.

Then why is Israel, whose transgressions are far less violent than, to make a random and far from complete list of vicious states, singled out?  (Any such list would of course include North Korea’s treatment of its own people, China’s treatment of Tibet and dissidents, Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and support for terror, the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s aggression, Erdogan’s wholesale oppression in the wake of the failed coup, etc., etc.) For many the only acceptable answer is anti-semitism.

But that is the wrong answer, or at least constitutes only a tiny part of it.  It is that Israel holds itself out as – and in many ways is – a modern, progressive, westernized nation recognizing the rule of law and rejecting discrimination.  That is partly true.  But Israel’s Occupation and repression of Palestinians flies in the face of that.  No other country on the (admittedly incomplete) list above is in that position.  Yes, there is a double standard, and Israel benefits tremendously from it.

But there are costs to the double standard – and one of them is that ruling over another nation without rights to vote or control its own destiny, is unacceptable today.  Israel has transgressed that rule for 50 years.  That is at the root of Israel’s isolation.  End that and most (not all) of the anti-Israel rhetoric and activities would dry up – as well as benefiting Israel itself in a variety of ways.

There are at least two points I am making that will likely be distorted, so I will reemphasize them:

1) There is no justification for the behavior that Dr. Koplow rightly criticizes.

2) All opposition to Israel will not cease the moment the Occupation ends.  But the mass support will fairly quickly fade away.  The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are the poster child for Israel’s repressive policies.  Once there is a credible, viable Palestinian state, Israel will not be perfect, but its issues will not stand out as they do now.

It is still the Occupation, and ending it must be the chief goal of anyone who cares about Israel.

Daniel Ben Simon on the Rift between Mizrahim and the Israeli Left [ssba]

Daniel Ben Simon on the Rift between Mizrahim and the Israeli Left

In 1997 Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak asked Mizrahi Jews to forgive the party for its treatment of the 1950s North African immigration. He got the idea from Daniel Ben-Simon’s book Another Country which tells the story of Benjamin Netanyahu’s 1996 victory. Ben Simon recalled a conversation between Shimon Peres and Shas’ leader, Aryeh Deri. Dari told Peres that “The Moroccans don’t like you. They don’t forgive the Labor Movement for its treatment of them in the 1950s” and advised him to ask for forgiveness. “Mind you, he told Peres, they are not in the Likud’s pocket. On the contrary. They are moderate and tolerant people.” Barak called Ben Simon the night he decided to apologize. Ben Simon thought it might work

I asked him why Barak’s apology was did not help heal the wound. “Barak wanted to steal the oriental vote from the Likud,” he said, “and he won the election. He won the election because the Orientals voted from him in 1999. He had a huge victory. But after the election he went back to being Barak, the Israeli army general who promised change of priorities and did nothing for it. […] He was busy with the Palestinian issue and eventually those orientals saw him as a person who couldn’t keep to his word.” Ben Simon argues that what had to be done then and still hasn’t been done is “a Marshal Plan for the development towns.” Read More »

Kfir Cohen, The Failures of the Liberal View of Democracy [ssba]

Kfir Cohen, The Failures of the Liberal View of Democracy

In “Zeev Sternhell’s Fetishist Democracy” published in Haoketz (August 13, 2016) Kfir Cohen argues that liberals fail when they discuss the Right’s assault on democracy.

Israel was never a liberal state

Tribalism and hostility to liberal democracy, which we tend to identify with the Right, the religious and often with Mizrahim, were inherent to Zionism and to certain entities that call themselves Left. Since its birth, Zionism has always been tribal, irrational and particularistic. Since 1933 and later in the state, Zionism was a one-party movement. Mapai’s unchallenged rule over the economic, military, education, academic and the legal spheres – was not unlike authoritarian states in Europe.

If Israel has never been a liberal, what’s the new threat on Israel’s democracy?

Liberals view democracy through its formal institutions: separation of powers, freedom of the press, autonomy of the judicial, legal equality for all citizens, free elections, etc. Thus, a threat to democracy is a threat to its institutions. What is new today is a threat to Israel’s democratic institutions, for example, limiting freedom of speech, narrowing steps of the Supreme Court, etc.
Cohen notes that there are reasons for concern about the Right’s attack on democracy, but sorely missing is an understanding of the endemic obstacles of indirect power embedded in democratic structures. The Liberals’ failure becomes clear when we realize that they believe the democracy and equality exist when the institutions are unthreatened.

For example, when the Knesset passes a law that allows residents to prevent citizens (i.e. Arabs) to build a house in a certain community due to “the candidate’s incompatibility to the social fabric of the community.” Here is a violation of formal equality that has compromised democracy. Formal equality means that any citizen has a right to buy a house anywhere. We’ll call it “freedom of ownership.” Now let’s take another example and ask how can we understand this freedom, when certain citizens are prohibited to live in Tel-Aviv because housing is too expensive. The formal law guarantees them the right to “freedom of real estate,” in reality they cannot exercise this right. There is no direct power to prevent them from living anywhere they choose, there is however an indirect power that is doing precisely that.”

We are so used to thinking that this inequality (which concerns millions of people) is natural, that we don’t realize that it violates the principle of democracy and freedom. You may argue that we should rephrase freedom of ownership as: a citizen has the right to live where he wishes as long as s/he can afford it.” OK. This means: “a citizen has the right to live where he wishes so long as s/he is rich.” How is this sentence different from: “a citizen the right to live where he wants as long as s/he is a Jew”? Why does the first sentence make perfect sense, while the other makes us think of fascism and the end of the world?

Cohen offers other examples, “in democracy, all citizens have the right to equal access to education. In reality, however, 50% of Israeli youth 17 years of age do not graduate high school. In democracy, higher education is open to all, yet effectively, if I am not mistaken only a quarter, or third of citizens have a B.A. In democracy, citizens are entitled to equal pay for equal work, in reality men earn more than women for the same work. We can go on piling examples but the underlying principle is clear… the liberals however notices failings of democracy only when formal institutions are attacked.

Let’s rephrase the liberal logical failure: In practice, the majority of citizens do not enjoy the democratic equality. But the liberal notices it only when it harms formal institutions. As long as the Knesset does not pass racist or anti-democratic laws, democratic institutions can continue discriminating against citizens.

For liberals, democracy does not have to exist in the entire political space, but only in those spaces that embody it allegorically (Knesset, the court, journalism).

Translated by Ayala Emmett and Maya Haber

Zehava Galon, The Insanity of Investing in the South Hebron Hills [ssba]

Zehava Galon, The Insanity of Investing in the South Hebron Hills

Haaretz discovered that Israel Vows to Advance ‘Strategic Plan’ to Develop South Hebron Hills. Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank is discussing a massive investment in the construction, including industrial complexes, a medical center and housing units. A huge investment of money and blood for a fantasy.

How many of you have ever been to the South Hebron hills? Would you move there with your children? Probably not. In fact, only 8,000 Jews settled in this dangerous area. Two of the four areas in which the security fence has been compromised are in the south Hebron hills. And settlements there are a major target for terrorist attacks. Dafna Meir was murdered in Atniel and Hillel Ariel was murdered in Kiryat Arba. When the Knesset’s Foreign and Security Committee members visited the area, residents told them that their children have difficulties sleeping at night. They cannot even get into bed without checking that all doors and windows are locked. Imagine that. A local doctor told the Knesset committee that adults there take far more anti-anxiety medication than in the rest of Israel. ​​The terrorists who carried out the recent attack in Sarona in Tel Aviv came from there. So did the terrorist who murdered Hillel Ariel. Read More »

Tammy Zandberg, The Israeli Progressive Camp Needs Your Support [ssba]

Tammy Zandberg, The Israeli Progressive Camp Needs Your Support

Knesset member Tammy Zandberg (Meretz) told us how Conservative American Jews influence Israeli politics by investing in think tanks and social media campaigns. She explained how the NGO transparency law allows the conservative camp to continue influencing Israeli politics without interruption – while targeting money going to progressive organizations.

Not Exactly Start-Up Nation [ssba]

Not Exactly Start-Up Nation

The Article was originally written for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Israel.

Shlomo Swirski, Academic Director, The Adva Center

Israel, established in 1948 and with a population of 8.13 million (2015), belongs to the self-defined group of developed countries. In 2010 it was accepted into the OECD – the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the prestigious “rich countries’ club.” With a GDP per capita of $33,200 (based on Purchasing Power Parities [PPP]) in 2014, it ranked 22nd out of 34 OECD members (Germany, with $44,800, ranked 10th). It ranked even higher – 19th out of 187 countries (in 2013; Germany ranked 6th) — on the United Nations Human Development Index, which takes into account not only economic performance but also performance in the fields of health, education and gender equality. Read More »