Israel knocked by its nearest allies
* France stands up for Palestinians’ right to demonstrate and declares Bassem Tamimi “a human rights defender”.
* Hillary Clinton is “worried” about women and democracy in Israel.
* US arch-zionist Abe Foxman warns of “Israel’s judicial, press and speech freedoms” being undermined by its governing coalition.
* Israel’s TV ads aimed at its expats in America pulled in panic.
* US Ambassador to Belgium dares to say hatred of Israel is caused by its actions, not by anti-semitism;
* Leading American Zionist Peter Beinart says that until there’s a separate Palestinian state, Palestinians must have the right to vote in the one country that now rules them.
♦ French government declares Bassem Tamimi “a human rights defender”
France has some of the most draconian pro-Israel legislation. It arrests anti-Zionist activists for “anti-semitism”. Now it seems to be breaking ranks, with a letter from its foreign ministry, personally signed by the Minister Alain Juppe, concerning the continued detention of Bassem Tamimi, coordinator of the popular Committee of Nabi Saleh who has been held since March. Juppe says Bassem Tamimi is “a human rights defender” and that charges against him “are based on a military edict which amounts to a denial of the right to demonstrate of all Palestinians under military occupation, a right which is nevertheless universally recognized” and says the EU “supports the right to demonstrate non-violently in the Palestinian territories, and that it regards colonization there as “provocation”.
Might it soon also question the whole apartheid system which has kept 2.5 million Palestinians subject to military dictatorship, military courts and military edicts, even shutting down a Peace Radio station in Ranallah licenced by the Palestinian Authority?
♦ Hillary Clinton is “worried”
Hillary Clinton says she was “worried” about both democracy and the status of women in Israel. A recent incident “reminded her of Iran”, while segregation of women on Jerusalem buses brought to mind American civil rights heroine Rosa Parks who refused to sit at the back of the bus.
In the Jewish Daily Forward Elana Sztokman drew together the attacks on democracy and on women, saying they have in common the inordinate power of the Knesset and the ultra-religious parties that now dominate it, as against the judiciary which is the last line of defence for human rights issues, and for the NGOs and press that might champion them. “Every single one of these laws is intended to restrain power wielded against the government, especially power that comes from the judicial system, by strengthening the executive and legislative branches of government, which are effectively one and the same. This is frightening because Israel doesn’t really have much in the way of checks and balances to begin with. … Some of the most powerful parties are the religious parties. The religious parties undoubtedly support legislative movement towards autocracy couched in language of pseudo-nationalism. But they also have one more major item on their agenda: the gender hierarchy.”
Some of these parties openly exclude women from their lists and will sink any legislation that supports women’s rights.
Sztokman concludes “There are some terrible things going on in Israel regarding women’s rights; there seem to be new restrictions on women’s freedoms and movements happening every day. Increasing gender segregation in public, the erasure of women’s images, the exclusion of women from public ceremonies, the pressure to keep women from singing, dancing, speaking and even attending events — all these things are happening more frequently and freely.”
For those American Jews who have remained impervious to what’s happening to the Palestinians because they can’t wean themselves off their attachment to Israel, Hillary Clinton’s remarks are powerful words coming not from the usual suspects but from one of their strongest champions.
Three heartfelt comments from lifelong Zionists speak for many: one said “I can’t be progressive here in the States and endorse change here and ignore the direction that Israel is moving in. I’m afraid to visit and that I would become further alienated and make it harder to defend Israel. I can’t abide the act of preventing women from singing and dancing in front of the [wailing] wall or anywhere else”. Another said “I certainly won’t send my daughter on Birthright for fear that, as a young woman, she will experience firsthand these horrid developments.” And a third declared “My love affair with Israel, which began in 1967, is over, killed by the same radical religious idiots whose analogues rule Iran.”
It seems that while the democratic issues may seem technical to many, or hard to judge from abroad, the image of women having to sit at the back of a bus or being segregated at a public event can no way be explained away as “complicated”.
♦ Abe Foxman is “disturbed”
While Clinton will always be weighing up different political pressures, that is certainly not what we expect from Abe Foxman, militant Zionism personified and national director of America’s powerful Anti-Defamation League, the main right wing watchdog sniffing out the least hint of an anti-Israel posture to get events closed down and teachers and lecturers sacked.
Writing in the Huffington Post he opens by saying that “There are many reasons why the recent spate of domestic legislation in Israel — regarding non-governmental organizations, the media, Israel as a Jewish State, the Supreme Court — is disturbing.”
While he of course thinks that “the Knesset is addressing real problems” (pesky left wingers, critical press, NGOs that say too much and a Supreme Court that “may have” stood up to the right) he proceeds, loud and clear, to assert that “When … laws are passed that stifle free expression, seek to undermine the independence of the judiciary and, in the name of defending a Jewish state, seek to undermine the rights of Arabs and other minorities, then the very democratic character of the state is being eroded.”
He is, as one would expect, concerned that “the perception of Israel as defending democratic values is crucial to Israel’s good name”. He also says that the “efforts to undermine Israel’s judicial, press and speech freedoms” are potentially “tainting legitimate expressions of hawkish security policies”, and that “democracy has been the glue holding together a disparate community”, i.e. that these new laws will be counter-productive. It really wouldn’t do if Israel’s already dubious claim to be “the only democracy in the Middle East” went up the spout.
But what is most singnificant is that beyond these pragmatic issues he is saying, in this very public forum but unequivocally also addressing Israel’s right wing Likud establishment, that the present Knesset has taken Likud into dangerous waters that can seriously damage even the mainstream political right’s control.
If someone like Foxman speaks in these terms, it’s little wonder that out in the streets of Tel Aviv, on the demonstrations and the online forums, the words civil war and military-religious coup are increasingly heard not as epithets but as serious fears.
♦ Another PR disaster as ad campaign is pulled
Israel is now awash with spoofs of the crude adverts its government has been running in America to warn expats to come home before they and their children get contaminated by living there. The line the ads are drawing between being superior Israelis and being inferior American Jews has, not surprisingly, caused some offense to Israel’s core financial and political supporters. A panic phone call to Netanyahu got the ads pulled, but the damage was done, and was compounded by the extra publicity generated by the abrupt retreat. As one blogger put it, if the Israeli government wanted him to “move back to that Talmudic Disneyland, all they have to do is de-fund the settlement enterprise and enact a separation of church and state”. Now that the ads had let the cat out of the bag, “the goddammed thing is now urinating in the face of every secular American Jew who ever put a penny in a JNF box.”
A defender spoke up for Israel as a country that would “would go to the ends of the earth” to “bring its people home”, but that only raised the question of the indigenous people of Palestine that Israel would go the ends of the earth to prevent from coming back home. And it was also noted that “if only the US Jewish community and establishment would get as upset over Israel’s negating human rights and democracy as it does over Israel’s constant negating the Diaspora we would be much better off…”
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