Sunday, January 9, 2011

Israel's witch-hunt against leftist organizations

Numerous public figures and organizations -- from leftists and liberals in Israel and the US, to centrist journalists and mainstream Jewish Diaspora organizations -- have sharply condemned the Israeli Knesset's January 5th decision, passed by a lopsided 47-16 margin of lawmakers, to investigate the funding sources of Israeli leftist organizations. Many of the following commentaries (links below) discuss the bill's alarming ramifications for Israeli democracy, even if the planned parliamentary committee never actually conducts the threatened "investigation." Some see this as a disgraceful Israeli equivalent to the infamous anti-communist investigations of the US House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s and its proceedings against political activists in the 1960s.

Among the views of these commentators: veteran Israeli political activist Uri Avnery points out that many senior figures in the Netanyahu government, including the Prime Minister himself, cravenly absented themselves from the vote. Blogger Mitchell Plitnick, formerly of JPN, argues that the vote is one more sign that extreme-rightist politician Avigdor Lieberman is quickly becoming the gravitational center of Israeli political discourse. Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, one of the targets of the bill, points out that the organization's funding sources are already transparent, so the bill's actual aims have nothing to do with its stated intentions. A number of the commentaries denouncing the bill have pointed out that pro-settlement organizations are funded much more lavishly than Israeli human rights groups by American donors -- in apparent contravention of US tax laws regarding charitable donations to organizations that contravene US political policies. And Israeli blogger-journalist Rechavia Berman issues perhaps the sharpest jeremiad against the deterioration of Israeli democracy and human rights discourse that the bill signals, declaring that he cannot be faithful to a state that so brazenly trammels civil and human rights.

Israeli journalist and activist Roi Maor, in an analysis of the bill, offers one unexpected note of optimism: if the Israeli government is so bent on bullying leftist organizations, jailing non-violent activists (such as Jonathan Pollack), and obfuscating its clear responsibility in the killing of innocents (such as Bil'in activist Jawaher Abu Rahma), then it must feel itself deeply threatened -- a sign that rights-activism is having its effect and must be increased.

Ofer Neiman, who recently came aboard JPN as an editor, articulates another perspective: "Many Israeli human rights activists agree that if and when the State of Israel decides to turn on its 'blue-eyed' dissidents, western public opinion will become more open to calls (emanating from Palestinian civil society as well as from Israeli and international groups) to step-up the boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts against the Israeli economy and Israeli institutions."

Boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts are undeniably appearing with vigor in unexpected places, such as the halls of Israeli academe, as Haaretz recently reported <>, where 155 university and college faculty members have signed a petition calling for an academic boycott of Ariel University, a newly established institution in the Israeli settlement of Ariel.

Commentators such as Plitnick have suggested, in turn, that European sanctions against Israeli settlement activity could be a convenient vehicle for the US administration to exert pressure on Israel indirectly without running afoul of American domestic political realities <>. The Obama administration, as Plitnick and others point out, can send a strong signal simply by not blocking international efforts to nudge the Israelis into a peace agreement -- by, for example, not vetoing a soon-to-be-proposed UN Security Council resolution declaring Israeli settlements illegal. As in other cases where states drag out an occupation due to entrenched interests -- Indonesia's former occupation of East Timor comes to mind -- international pressure can be at once legitimate and useful.

--Lincoln Z. Shlensky

Links to commentaries on the Knesset's recent vote to investigate leftist organizations that have been critical of the government and military:

B'Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights: "The Knesset's decision is what harms Israel's international status"

Mitchell Plitnick: "Is Lieberman the New Israeli Mainstream?"

Roi Maor: "Knesset Committee on un-Israeli activities"

Rechavia Berman: "To such an Israel I shall be a traitor"

The American Jewish Committee: "AJC Urges Knesset to Reconsider Measure"

Uri Avnery: "Hi, Joe [McCarthy]!"

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Ofer Neiman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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