Originally appeared in Hebrew on 20/11/2010. English translation by Hava Oz. Where possible links were atltred to point to English sources.
The ideological right in Israel is currently bringing to its culmination an inclusive takeover, which has been in the deteriorating and maturing for the past ten or twenty years (at least). The ultimate goal of the takeover is now more clear; it is to deny the right to express alternative political positions, firstly by redefining what is permissible public discourse, and secondly through legislation and regulations, as I show. I do not proclaim to be an “Institute for Zionist Strategies” neither do I apply the title “comprehensive study” or “report” to the following selection of data. This information is not accompanied by press releases or expensive street advertisements with demagogical slogans, as right-wing organisations did. However, the information below provides a picture, supported by numerous examples, of the manner in which individuals who support peace, equality, human rights, and the curtailing of militarism and warfare in Israel, are made “threatening traitors”. It portrays how the resources of the entire public are confiscated to serve the interests of the far-right activists, and how the left is being shoved quickly outside the perimeter of the law.
Part I – Redefining the Discourse: De-politicisation – Topsy-Turvy – De-legitimisation – De-Officialising
Part II – Infrastructure Control: Above the law – Politicisation – Economic Entrenchment – De-legalisation
It was round about the time that the Oslo accords collapsed, when the Israeli right decided to monopolize the truth, accompanied by a bunch of ‘told you so’ nonsense, which the nationalist left-wing humbly accepted. There were other circles in the left that opposed the Oslo accords for very different reasons to that of the right, but it was mostly the Israeli (and the Palestinian) right that voiced the loudest opposition to the doomed accords. The reason for objection was ostensibly the ‘nature’ of the other side. However, neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian right actually merely ‘prophesied’ the collapse of the accords, they did their very best to fulfill their ‘prophecy’. Through diligent use of violence they succeeded in destroying trust and preventing the implementation of agreements. (In Israel this included violent acts, an increase in illegal settlements, the Hebron massacre and its repercussions, a crafty disruption of agreements, and so on and so forth, to this very day). Both the Palestinian and the Israeli right presented themselves as just, the conflict as unavoidable, the other side as evil, devoid of conscience, violent, ‘no partner’, and its own nation as innocent victim. As the right-wing actions started to have their effect (under the auspices of the various governments), as any chance of avoiding our current dangerous situation was lost, the right-wing also began presenting their ‘prophecy’ as successful. The public accepted it as absolute truism. That is why, even though the settlers were activists responsible for the failure of the accords, the public credits the left with this failure. As a result the right became arrogant and the Zionist-left became apologetic and suspicious, and is eventually gradually disappearing.
Many rubber-coated-bullets have been fired in repressing the Palestinian uprising since. There was even a rerun of the show during the ‘disengagement’. The nationalist left atrophied, while the right gained in force amongst both nations. As was the case amongst Palestinians, in Israel too, conservatives attempt to stop the democratic debate regarding what policy should be adopted. It rather aspires to decide on the policy once and for all by denying the right to a different opinion. It is no longer a debate over left-wing positions; it’s an angry call to deny the very right to express such positions, (given the “present condition”). This process was steadily built in parallel from above (i.e. legislation, and over representation in the military, committees and ministries) and from below (through: activists, movements, neoconservative centers like the Shalem-Centre and The Institute for Zionist Strategies, far right yeshivas, ideological settlers etc.). Although this process is violent, it does not take the form of a military coup. Rather, the right-wing focuses on undemocratic legislation of illegitimate laws and regulations. Prior to this, the right-wing had worked at eradicating the legitimacy of any opposition to war, any criticism of the army, any talk of morality, any acknowledgment of occupation and siege, any gesture of empathy towards non-Jews (especially towards Arabs), and any search for a solution to the conflict that is not based on weapons and demographics, and might actually work (that is, would be considered fair by both sides, and not only by the stronger party). Anyone who disagrees was labeled as disloyal, anti-Zionist, self & nation hating, treacherous, dangerous, mentally-ill and/or dangerous.
The currently completing takeover of the right-wing is the culmination of a long process that was effected through two strategic routes: discursive and infrastructural. The first route is quasi legitimate but surly violent. It limits public discourse by setting up a precondition to participate in it: acceptance of the basic assumptions of the right. The second route is downright fascist in that it prevents political opponents from gathering resources and bringing about social change (through legislation, the appropriation of public resources for narrow political interests, and long term investment in establishing state apparatuses that will work to implement right wing policy for good. This is not about a regular act of a ruling party that implements one type of policy or another, but an attempt to decide for once and for all the borders of the truth, to deny the right of those with alternative suggestions to argue, and to legally prevent the possibility for them to recruit support, contacts, resources in Israel and abroad; through aggressive and unprecedented takeover of institutions, budgets, procedures, and by an attack on the basic principles of society and the idea of a democratic state. As we shall see, both routes continuously complement each other.
Part I: Exclusion from Discourse
Exclusion from discourse is the denial of a political opponent’s right to express an equal position, by making it illegitimate for discussion. The Israeli right-wing has done this in a variety of ways:
(A-) The Naturalization and De-politicization of Right-wing Claims
A Pivotal method for disadvantaging political opponents is changing the “default” in the discussion. Take for example the latest demand, currently being legislated, to hold a referendum in the event of withdrawal from territories held by Israel (from the Golan Heights, to Jerusalem). The trick is clear: the bill takes it for granted that there is no need to hold a referendum regarding staying in these territories; or hold a referendum over their desired legal status, or over the annexation of further territory in the future. According to the bill, a referendum must only be held if there is a change in the furthest right-wing of positions, the position that states ‘all is ours’. (It is of course excluding the non-Jewish residents of the occupied territories in such a referendum). This is a de-politicization of right-wing political position. That is, right wing ideology becomes “default”, natural, transparent, conventional, “normal”; and any opposition is in contrast illegitimate, rift, creating and questionable.
Another recent illustration of this is the rage directed at the Secretary of State, saying she was “interfering with internal affairs” by supporting an extension of the settlements building freeze (although it is not done is Israel, even according to Israeli law). The right would have praised her with the same audacity had she supported Israeli settlement in the territories. (May I remind you that Netanyahu himself said, he does not hesitate to intervene in internal American affairs). In short, to do something right-wing is un-political, and legitimate; to oppose something right-wing is political and illegitimate. Right-wing actions are repeatedly and readily accepted as the norm without the slightest bit of discussion, while alternative actions meet with political hurdles or are drawn out interminably in lengthy discussions – at best, or are subject to severe clamp downs – at worst.
This trend becomes more serious when it infringes on the right of Israeli citizens to be political, and express their views. Only recently the Minister of Culture stated that ‘the artists’ boycott of the settlements will cause a rift in the nation’ and even that it is ‘undemocratic’. Here too, the right-wing position is presented as natural, and deviation from it is scandalous. According to Limor Livnat, establishing settlements and holdings in a military zone does not create a ‘rift’ in the ‘nation’, (even though some are built illegally, and probably without the knowledge of most of the public; and even though neither the definition nor the future of the territories were ever determined by the public or the parliament). And this is regardless of the fact that in any democracy the public is inevitably ‘rift’ about something.
Think for a minute, what exactly did the boycotting artists say? That they will only perform within the legally-recognised borders of the country?! Big deal. Is it not the case, that according to Israeli law, the West Bank is under martial law? If Ariel is really a part of Israel, let’s see Livnat daring to work towards its legal annexation. She and her colleagues are the ones not acting in a legal and democratic manner, for facts continue to be established on the ground by the settlers, for the past couple of decades in a by-pass route of democracy, even though there is of yet no consensus, or legislation on the matter. They are the ones forcing us to adjust to suit them. But for Livnat, all this creates no ‘rift’ (or maybe there never was a rift?). Only appeals against their right-wing actions (for whose results we are all responsible) cause ‘rifts’. Thus Livnat: not performing in Ariel is a political statement, but performing in Ariel is not a political statement. For the same reason, as she calls for a separation of culture and politics, (even though her very ministry welds the two together), she herself “encourages” Zionist art. Apart from the disturbing fact that Livnat prefers artists who suck up to the state, a practice well known in the former USSR, Zionist art is not political in her eyes, only art that she disapproves of is invalid. Q.E.D.
It seems that stupidity has a field day regarding the artists’ boycott. Generally speaking, I do not support a boycott on the residents of Ariel, because I do not think they are more responsible for the occupation than the residents of Tel-Aviv. However, I do support everyone’s right to carry out a consumer boycott, or to choose where not to work. I also don’t think that decreasing the availability of culture (instead of extending it to include the Palestinians) is the solution. However, it is definitely the right of the artists to decide their own moral boundaries. Either way, the most important thing here, is that the right-wing should also be concerned regarding the requirement for artists to create non-political art. This is a ridiculous demand bordering on the terrifying. Many works of art carry a message of sorts, not necessarily left wing, and in a democracy this is a means of expression that should be welcome, because it makes people think. The medium whether photography, dance, theatre or painting, doesn’t matter. (This may have something to do with the argument of some that mainstream Israeli music and culture has become significantly shallower and less political). And if Livnat’s indirect denial of citizens’ (and artists’) right to be political (that is – to be not right-wing) weren’t enough, she openly and politically threatens their right to create.
(B-) Down is Up
Another method for creating one truth is: turning reality upside down. This tactic was only recently used by Netanyahu, when he called for negotiations without preconditions, while he himself established a few impossible preconditions: (1-) continued building of settlements with no limitations, (2-) acknowledgment by the Palestinians that the goal of the negotiations will be the acknowledgment of Israel as a state with privileges for Jews. A more classic example of reversed reality (widely believed abroad) is the portrayal of the West Bank as mostly Palestinian territory (e.g. “We’re here; they’re there”), as if settlers are only a tiny exceptional minority. It gives one the impression that the borders only require a minor readjustment and we can solve the whole thing anytime. But in un-reversed reality, almost the entire West Bank (81%) is governed directly by Israel, including prohibitions explicit on construction, on movement, expropriation, settlements etc. In addition, one out of ten Jews in Israel live beyond the green line; a third of the drinking water in Israel is taken from the West Bank; and only 19% of the West Bank lands is governed by the Palestinian Authority (and this too only partially).
Indeed, ‘Mapai’ was a good Orwellian example. While violently dispersing workers’ protests, it called itself “the laborers’ party”. Today, it is far-right groups that proclaim to be center-parties and the true representatives of Herzl. But these are really only marginal curiosity, because Orwellian policies have taken a much stronger foothold. We don’t seem far from the officially adopting the slogan of the party from “1984”: “War is peace, Freedom is slavery, Ignorance is strength.” Reversal is so prevalent in Israel, that sometimes it seems to many that it is not Israel that controls the lives of the Palestinians; rather that Israelis are dominated by the Palestinians… It’s as if checkpoints are erected from Acre to Safed; as if Palestinian settlements are annexing the land and water of Tel-Aviv and Rishon Le Zion; the separation wall is cutting off Kfar Shmaryahu from its assets, where Jewish houses are being demolished; as if Ashdod was suffering from limitations on industry and export; as if it was the Palestinian army that wakes the residents of Afula, Hadera, and Eilat every night; as if the residents of Holon were expectantly waiting for the tens of thousands of captives held in Palestinian prisons; as if the residents of Zichron Yaakov were all day laborers in the exploitative Jenin industrial area. This is not reality. However you look at it, Israel dominates the Palestinians, not the other way round. Israel is the military power in the region.
The reversal technique is also used to explain the “un-Zionist” tendency in the academia. This reversal is achieved through re-focusing. The right zooms in on the most critical minority in the academia, then, instead of dealing with their assertions in a reasonable manner, tags them with various labels, changing them from legitimate opposition to a dominant threat. (I recommend reading this, and this). The demand to restrict the academia is most dangerous, because academic success should not be based on popular mood swings, but on anonymous peer review, sometimes international, which aspires to encourage a multitude of opinion, and looks for well based truths, and fresh insight, based on universal standards. If we shut the door to unpopular positions (as was done once to those who asserted the world is round) we will never change mistaken concepts, and we will never adapt to new information, such as was recently uncovered regarding the wars in 1973 and 1948.
Once right-wing positions are ‘natural’ and once reality is put on its head, it follows effortlessly that left-wing positions are pure madness with not a trace of reason. It is no surprise, that the right-wing developed the method of, ‘don’t argue with a claim, simply deny its right to be expressed’. Livnat is not alone in this endeavor. Others have also made threats on ‘deviant’ art and philosophy works (see also this and this), that criticises political and military thinking. In many cases the exclusion from public discourse becomes a direct denial of a democratic right (revocation of citizenship, closing of organisations, etc). Even though it’s a still growing trend in the parliament, in private companies and governmental institutions it’s quite an old practice. For years, right wing individuals and public representatives have been abusing their authority, by preventing the left from airing its views, and even by preventing professionals from reaching alternative conclusions.
For example they rejected a television and radio advertisement by the center-left ‘Ha-Mifkad Ha-Leumi’ that merely called for a discussion of the future of Jerusalem, just shortly before a different broadcast by a right-wing foundation opposing such an act was approved. Their excuse was that “[only] when a broadcast calls for discussing the division of Jerusalem, the matter is ‘controversial'” (i.e. naturalization of right wing positions). It happened again with the refusal to broadcast an interview with representatives of Yesh Gvul on Galei Zahal. And again with the decision of the advertising agency of Egged, that almost holds the monopoly on bus advertising in West Jerusalem, to avoid left-wing advertising.
Sometimes one doesn’t even need to silence directly; it is enough to control the information and prevent access to it. The state of Israel has a history of concealing information from its citizens about its failures. These are a few instances hiding facts form the public: experiments on soldiers, official data on police violence, the Lavon Affair, the Qibya massacre, Kafr Qasim massacre, the murder of hostages, the accident in the nuclear plant, lands theft, and many more. Often the public doesn’t know, of knows too late. That is why we are only starting to find out now, after almost 40 years (!), about the failures of the 1973 war, and what was wrong with the government and military of the time… As if we could now send Golda, Dado, and Dayan home… Wouldn’t knowing what happened in Lebanon and Gaza be more relevant? But we don’t know, and it is doubtful that anybody even cares. Only recently were we informed officially that archives that were legally supposed to be opened to the public – will not be opened. We will all remain blind and ignorant (despite the few clues we have, linked in this article). Hiding facts is the corner stone of non-democratic states. If the people don’t know, they can’t criticize. No criticism, no ‘problems’. Instead of knowing talking about facts, incorporating the data, and learning from it, we will just open our mouths wide and eagerly swallow whatever is fed to us next.
(D-) Propaganda: Speaking for ‘everybody’
The last effective method I will dwell upon is evasion of the opposition, through ignoring it. To be honest, this method defines the entire political culture in Israel, not just the right. The Knesset speaker, Rivlin, already correctly pointed out that the Knesset is losing its (limited) ability to hold fruitful discussions, and instead is falling for gimmicks and populism. Whenever a politician is found to be corrupt, or an organisation is found to be messed-up, or when functionaries are found to have acted negligently; they never admit it, rarely work to repair failures, and they certainly never accept responsibility. On the contrary, consultants whisper in their ears: ‘Deny, adamantly and consistently. There is no problem’. They invest incredible effort into creating a counter offensive media image and blame everyone around them. (For example, see the police’s response regarding the abuse of innocent civilians, or the military response to the killing of civilians, which it later admits).
This is true also for Israel as a state, which has established what Orwell called The Ministry of Truth. in other words, Hasbara (the publicity/propaganda office; which includes the Hasbara Ministry, spokespersons, embassies, right wing organisations throughout the world, etc.). “Hasbara” is central to erasing the left, because it makes use of official information and posts for a narrow agenda. It portrays Israel as driven to justify its mistakes, as united around a right-wing policy, and outwardly homogenous. (It is interesting to note that the only rebel against the official line is the person who was first to have demanded it). The propaganda mechanism will never allow for the possibility of a mistake. According to Hasbara philosophy there are no ethical problems or wrong actions and decisions, there are only ‘marketing failures’. It assumes that our “poor image” abroad is not due to decades long domination of a disenfranchised nation, imprisonments without trial, house demolitions, lands confiscations and resource theft, or frequent use of military solutions – rather it is due to a failure to adequately express ourselves. That’s it. If only we knew how to market the occupation, the siege, torture and settlements, they would have been 100% kosher. This deficit is supposed to be handled by a giant battery of spokespersons – and it is no accident that this is called ‘Hasbara’ (=explanation) in Israel. This body explains to Israeli citizens and to the world at large the one and only truth.
Moreover, the government does not only represent this narrow truth to the world, but also “educates” citizens to accept right-wing positions. Again, the right-wing government publicity body is no longer interested in discussing current policies, rather it is taking advantage of citizens’ patriotism to demand their “loyalty” to its policies, and dictate to them and for them the exclusive essence of their country. Even though there is no consensus in Israel regarding the future of the occupied territories, even amongst the Jewish citizens, the state cooperates with the extreme right, gives extensive authority to non-citizens that are identified with it, and even establishes front companies abroad. The new Hasbara takes a right-wing stance par excellence. It uses the opportunity to present controversial issues as decided, and to run a political right-wing campaign for our exclusive right to the territories, in the name of the entire public, ignoring the Palestinian residents. The implications of this right-wing propaganda campaign taking place under the auspices of the government are that left wing citizen positions are being de-legitimized, through a use of resources that actually belong to the entire public, for a narrow political goal.
Part II: Use of Public Resources for Favoring Narrow Political Groups
And here we already touch on the second effort, which is not just about discourse, but about resources, legislation and institutions.
Apart from the (even if imperfect) Basic Laws, the Zionist left has never succeeded, and perhaps never even tried to bring about broad social, economic, or political reforms. On the other hand, the right-wing, and settlers in particular, have succeeded in doing so both within the government and without. It is not about legitimate prioritisation and implementation of policies, rather it is about bold and unprecedented long term economic, constitutional and institutional changes, that make joint public resources (that are usually thought to be a-political) political and circumscribed. Their achievements in this arena are more important and more significant than their achievements in the discourse exclusion arena. Their aim is to prevent people who hold other opinions from accessing resources. In this way, the right-wing denies others’ right to economically and politically operate in society. Below, are some of the ways in which the ideological right deals with the left legally and institutionally, instead of through democratic debate.
(A-) Shares in Sovereignty
Hijacking resources and bending the law to suit narrow political purposes, characterized ‘Mapai’ during the first years of the country. Mapai was known for corruption and for maneuvering through satellite parties and the police in order to make it difficult for political opponents to play the democratic game fair and square. But that was then. Today the right is the new Mapai; it responded to its exclusion in the 60’s by becoming the reflection of Mapai today. It uses similar rhetoric and undemocratic tactics of diverting resources (but without the long term strategic vision). From the early days of settlement in the ’67 territories, and especially since the establishment of Gush Emunim, ideological settlers have knowingly become the greatest collective law-benders in Israel. It is they who repeatedly bring the state to its knees, forcing it to protect them and their delinquency, despite the fact that the state often did not send them to the territories, and even forbade their presence and tried to evacuate them. Each consecutive government bows to the political-terror of the settlers, and treats them as if they were above the law. Sometimes, the state does adopt and encourage raids – invasion, expropriation, illegal construction, selective law enforcement, concealment, diversion of public resources, and the establishing of facts on the ground. Endless number of reports show how the law is not enforced in the territories on settlers, soldiers and police attacking Palestinians and left wing activists; and numerous stories of how they get away with it. In other words, with the help of politicians, right wing activists have managed to cause the state and its representatives to compromise the state’s sovereignty (i.e. the right for authority).
The state has also compromised its sovereignty to right-wing activists by: handing over the investigative right of the parliament to questionable groups with narrow interests; granting spokesmanship authority to far-right organisations; allowing the establishment of a separate educational system, in which rabbis often instill their right-wing ideology in their students; and by turning a blind eye to the fact that the military rabbinate also imparts right-wing ideology to young Jewish citizens.
A common definition of state is “holder of the monopoly on means of violence”. Given this definition, sovereignty was clearly compromised with far-right activists – Israel compromises its exclusive control over the means of violence, law enforcement and weapons. For decades the state has issued arms licenses to the settlers (and more than once have the licenses been used illegally).Furthermore, commanding authority is granted to paid armed settlers (ravshatzim), who can order their subordinate regular soldiers. Despite the fact that the political debate on the status and future of the territories was never decided, this money, that belongs to all of us, is budgeted for creating an irreversible controversial fact, partially illegal (in Israeli terms). (By the way, this trend spills overinto the ‘green line’). Keep in mind that the settlers are not agents of the country; they are a political pressure group. There is a difference between their demand for territorial expansion and the army’s agenda. Mostly the army just doesn’t want any trouble from the settlers (and therefore chooses not to confront them or deal with their delinquency). The settlers should also be differentiated from the civil police, who are intentionally stationed in small numbers in the territories (and they too are not quick to come into conflict with the radical settlers). Even though the state and the settlers do not have a common agenda, the state today is built in such way that part of its authority regarding law enforcement and security are managed by radical settlers (specifically because their bullying ways).
(B-) Diverting public resources
Other apolitical public resources are also being used for the benefit of narrow right-wing political goals, aiming to bring other long term results. Below are a variety of areas and examples:
- Security and Law Enforcement – Next time you meet an Israel ask him/her to imagine what would happen if one day while driving, instead of seeing the music tank of the Na-Nachs (you know the sub group of Breslov Hasidim who stop the traffic and dance in the middle of intersections) they saw a car of Muslim dancers who “just wanted to make people smile” to the sounds of Arabic music…? I guess you know what they’ll say. Similarly, the bias of the enforcement forces (where Arab rates are close to inexistent) does not require much explanation, because it makes complete sense (although I did expand on the theme here). While only 2.4% of employees in the Ministry of Internal Security (and police) are Druze and other Arabs (and about 6% of public service employees excluding security agencies; not even close to the 20-30% they make of the general population), it is well known that today there is a disproportionate representation of settlers and religious extremists in the army. They choose a military career – not for professional reasons, heaven forbid – but in order to politically influence, from the inside, the one body that should really not be political. This investment pays off particularly well, since the Israeli public still attributes a unique and disproportional status to its military, and blindly(!) believes its PR press releases. Amongst the many influences that can be enumerated one can mention: prevention of left-wing demonstrations, supporting illegal actions of settlers, influencing decision makers, and establishment of local partnerships between the police and right-wing extremists (for example, Hebron, Silwan, and Sheik Jarrah).
- Immigration Mechanisms – The legal status quo of immigration rights for Jews to Israel (Aliyyah), translates significantly influencing the political scene by strengthening the Jewish ultra-Zionists, and weakening the civic, democratic and egalitarian approach. While enthusiastic Zionist join in, others leave, and this have long term implications. I wrote on how immigration is one of the most political things in Israel, on why it serves the right-wing, and on how it is outside the scope of political discourse here. (Even New Israeli Fund also donates to projects similar to “Taglit”).
- Parliament: From fruitful discussion, through heated debate, to expulsion and denial – As in the case of the tendentious use of institutional power regarding ‘Hasbara’, and in the broadcasting authority, and in the army; the parliament too should be free of interests. Even so, right wing parliamentarians totally break the gentlemen code and ethical rules of the game, and exaggerate in their abuse of authority, especially when they are appointed chairs of committees and the assembly. Despite the requirements of their official task, they repeatedly exclude opposing MKs and invitees from the discussion, often force them out or close their microphones, and even revoke their rights, thus threatening other left-wingers from sounding their opinions or participating in political activities. Even though the Knesset is in no hurry to deal with the criminal offences of its members, and while right-wing politicians participate in conferences of illegal movements (such as Kahana) and in illegal outposts; left-wing political activity is quickly considered grounds for massive revocation of rights, and exclusion from the discussion.
- The Educational System as an Opportunity for Political Brain Washing – Reforming the school curriculum is an important means of domination. The educational system is supposed to serve the entire public. It is clear to all that it should not be used to further one particular narrow political agenda, rather it should support a broad democratic view. It is supposed to cultivate educated and civically active individuals, not ignoramuses who do what they are told. The assumption of democracy is that no one has a monopoly on justice, therefore discussing and questioning should be supported. The right of people to hold another opinion to that of the government should be protected. Freedom of information and freedom of the press should be protected.
While Critical and independent thinking is the corner stone for any democratic discussion- as in it lies the hope that we will be able to discuss possible mistakes, change our opinions, and improve – the right-wing’s education towards political exclusion is the complete opposite. One example is the stubborn denial (on part of the state, rabbis, and ministers) of the existence of “the green line“, despite its legal status both in Israel and abroad. This is precisely the eradication of the possibility to argue. The controversy over borders is a central matter in political debate in Israel. There are those both from the left and the right, who oppose using the green line as a basis for the resolution of the conflict, but the decision to not teach that it exists is idiotic. This concept will be central in the students’ adult lives and it is of legal and historical importance. Although the official approach to the green line is characterized by simultaneous acceptance and denial, legally speaking, it is the line on which the state jurisdiction ends, and martial law begins (therefore its Arab residents are not citizens). Historically, it is the armistice line, which was Israel’s border for 19 years. So even a right-winger should agree that this is an important historical concept that should be taught, together with the debate surrounding it.
Other examples of the takeover of the curriculum for narrow, long-term goals are: concealment of many historical events from students, strengthening of controversial right-wing values (here, here, here, here, and here); twisted rewriting of civics books; concealment of competing ideas; supervision of academic ideas; demand to fire left wing academics; and transfer of funds to Judaism studies through a reduction in the budget for civics studies, and the closing of the department of education for co-existence. I emphasise: this is not about enforcing bible studies instead of sciences; it is about causing citizens to be ignorant of the importance of their active participation in civil society, and preventing them from understanding the political and systemic functioning of a democracy, and the political debate. In other words, it is about the creation of a unified front instead of plurality.
- The Legal System – Here I also want to take the opportunity to dispel two myths, or at least to question them: does the left really control the media and the justice system. According to both myths, even though Israel has had a right-wing government for the past 15 years (with a small break of a year and half with Barak); even though the left shriveled up and became totally marginal; despite the hatred towards the left felt on the street; and even though the left is far from having any majority in the parliament, in the public, or in institutions; somehow people are confident that the left still controls everything, and at least (1-) the Supreme Court of Justice and (2-) the media. This belief seems to come straight out of Orwell’s 1984:
But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police. He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State. “
Now, let us return to the world of facts. First, committees for appointing judges are representative of the parliament. That means, that the smaller the left gets, the right has more influence on the appointment of judges, and that appointments are far from being strictly professional. This will have a huge effect in the long run on public trust in the system. Similar indications can be seen in the selection of inquiry commissions, whom are supposed to serve the truth and the public. However, An Israeli blogger name Tom did a fabulous examination of the Turkel Committee, where he reveals that the committee was very comfortable for its subjects of investigation (i.e. politicians and army men), while the experts it called to give witness were humiliated and preached. There is significant reason for concern that such committees’ have their conclusions leading the research and not the other way around.
Secondly, the very rulings of the Supreme Court make it hard to support any claims of serving the left. True – since the enactment of the Basic Laws in the mid-nineties the Supreme Court has often ruled in favor of individuals seeking liberal-tactical equality. Rulings did indeed help Arab individuals achieve equality in some cases, but the laws also protected women, Ethiopian migrants, soldiers, and…. even Kahana activists. This is precisely a liberal principle, and not a leftist principle.
It is the Supreme Court that has made the occupation possible for the past decades; that prevents discussion over ‘who is Israeli’, allows the duality of the situation in the territories; allows the unilateral annexation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem; authorised the fence and its route in many cases; okayed assassinations, torture, deportation; permitted the revocation of residency; permitted the evacuations (and demolitions) of homes; permitted the siege on Gaza; permitted the splitting up of families; permitted the continuation of the emergency laws; and made some of the most-right-wing decisions in the history of Israel. Whenever the word ‘security‘, whose definition is broad and unclear, is used in a discussion in the Supreme Court, especially coming from the mouth of the army or the secret service, judges stand silent and nod. And on top of it all, non-right-wing Supreme Court rulings are often not implemented (see: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Soon they are also planning to bypass the Supreme Court and revoke its legal authority. (Especially worrying is this legislation, which should rob any Israeli citizen of their sleep).
Thirdly, the fact that the majority of judges are Jewish, alumni of the security system, and don’t speak Arabic, has a great deal of significance to the bias against Arab citizens. This is not necessarily an ideologically motivated bias; rather it springs from the ordinary experience of being a Jewish-Israeli. For example: In a case where Palestinian citizens were arrested during a demonstration, they were brought to the court for extending their arrests. In the discussion, they argued that they didn’t do any wrong, and the police presented a video tape of the exchange between the arrestees and the cops as evidence. Although nothing criminal was seen in this exchange, in the background crowds of demonstrators were heard and seen marching with signs in Arabic, and shouting out slogans in Arabic. I can’t guarantee whether the translation was better or worse than the sloppy one I witnessed in West Bank military courts, but it is clear that the court translators can’t translate everything. They only translated for the judges what the arrested demonstrators said. But it was clear as day that the impression the judges got was based on the image of a policeman standing in front of crowds of protesters shouting slogans in Arabic, despite the fact that the slogans and the signs actually called for peace and non-violence. (By the way, in this case, their detention was extended, but later, after a week in custody, all charges were dropped). This is only one demonstration of how the Jewish identity and military background of the judges affects their world view, “common” knowledge and understanding, and also what they don’t know or understand.
- The Media – The same goes for the media. The myth of the ‘left-wing media’, which is repeatedly taken as an axiom, also requires some challenging. It should be mentioned that feelings of political discrimination in favor of the ‘other side’ are robust not only amongst the right, and not only in Israel. One explanation for this phenomenon is that each side ignores the instances in which reality is represented according to its own world view, because this seems normal, but pays more attention to cases in which reality is represented differently than the way they perceive it. And so, (almost) every academic study on mass media (locally and globally), using various methodologies, repeatedly show that even though the public ascribes a left-wing bias to the media, in reality, as with every commercial media in the world (and in Israel it’s mostly private and commercial), the media is not interested in showing a side, but first of all in providing a product and making a profit. That is why they usually use known stories that sell, and not stories that might challenge what is known to us. They would prefer to broadcast things that people like to hear (like how successful IDF units are), and tend to avoid critical surveys of military failures, or occupation actions, or to show fair/favorable coverage of most of the Palestinian demonstrations. The Israeli media depends on a consumer population of Jews, and if they don’t read/surf/listen/watch, it means a drop in income. On the whole, Irritating the consumer, is bad for business (although sometimes it creates drama, a common enemy, or a ‘happy ending’).
Secondly, these things are especially true in Israel because of the uniqueness of the language. That is, the Israeli media is dependent on Hebrew reading consumers who only exist in Israel, so it is particularly careful with them. Think about it, if there is a critical article regarding the Australian army, it will be published in English. So, even if it’s not a popular item in Australia, it will still be published in the international media, and be consumed in Britain, the USA, Ireland, South Africa, Scotland, Canada, etc. If there is criticism in Arabic regarding the oppression of the Egyptian government, it may still find publishers in many other Arabic-speaking countries. Citizens of Australia and Egypt are also exposed to many other sources (as does readers of French, German, Russian and more). In the case of Hebrew speakers, we ‘suffer’ from our uniqueness: because Hebrew is only used in Israel, it sustains a bubble effect, which cuts us off from the rest of the world, strengthens our ethnocentrism, and makes criticism more difficult.
Thirdly, there are also structural reasons for why (commercial and state-owned) press is dependent on the establishment. The reason is that journalists constantly need information, and it is the state that produces the majority of information, and most regularly. Therefore, even those against the disengagement found it relatively hard to deal with the government spokespersons, at the height of their protest. Due to the nature of their jobs, Journalists become dependent on their relations with governmental and military spokespersons. Journalists depend on them because they control state data and declarations, and because they are the ones who can provide/approve/prevent access to places and events. Every journalist, especially of military or criminal affairs, will think twice before confronting a spokesperson they work with on a regular basis.
Fourthly and finally, let us not forget that the media-discrimination myth brought new order among right activists. This motivates them to never leave the press or the internet for a moment. It works with the press using the stick and carrot method. Every journalist who dares to write something non-right-wing, is familiar with the phenomenon of email flooding, and disturbing calls and faxes (from Israel and Abroad). Right wing activists wear down journalists and editors if and when they dare think differently, or if they report about improper acts or disturbing facts. However, sometimes they throw you a ‘carrot’. Right-wing activists court journalists by inviting them to ‘fun days’ and schmoozing. They work day and night on organising tours, and sucking-up. Only recently did the following visit the settlements: Walla News, all writers of Maariv, Yair Lapid, Irit Linor, Blazer, Avri Gilad, and other celebrities. This is legitimate and reasonable on the part of the settlers, but here the reporters, (who are supposed to report impartially) are usually not so quick to travel to Palestinian villages or meet left wing activists in the field. Neither do they listen to them with the same readiness with which the go to a ‘fun day’ in the settlements, and they themselves don’t come to see what is happening in Bilin, Niilin, Al Nabi Saleh, Al Maasra, Beit Omar, and hardly ever go to Sheik Jarrah or Silwan. Their information on these matters is heavily dependent on press releases from security forces and the settlers, and only in rare cases do they report on injury of a protestor (usually only if there is a video or the injured party, or if they are Jewish).
While there is a de-politicisation of the discourse, practices are politicisied.
(C-) Entrenchment and Infrastructure Mechanisms
Right-wing agenda can be summarised to ‘continue to settle’, with no clear plan for the future. The religious amongst them, even hold that it is not necessary to have a plan for the future, because they believe (for over a century now) that we are living at the end of times. (It is interesting to speculate for how many more decades the barren discussion will continue over the identity of the heretic view. Is this really an age of redemption? For how long will we leave our fate up to chance, without planning ahead, in the hope that soon the Messiah will solve everything for us?). Therefore, they are working in order to tie state apparatuses at all levels to a policy of control in the territories, so that any attempt to undo the cords of occupation becomes impossible, or at least expensive and painful. They successfully create more and more mechanisms, procedures and norms to strengthen the facts that they have established for us all on the ground, undemocratically, and for an unspoken purpose.
The most striking and well known of the entrenchment methods is establishment and expansion of settlements (sometimes illegally and with the support of the state). This strengthens the right in a number of ways: by economically encouraging innocent citizens to move to the settlements, they are then obliged to become right-wing supporters out of circumstance; by pressuring the public to provide a variety of services such as security, transport, schools, health services, roads, electrical and water infrastructures etc.; and by creating mechanisms that bring them special public services. The IDF supports the illegal takeover on the ground, and through concealing it from the public, and by turning a blind eye to laws that it itself created. Despite the fact that it has still not been democratically decided what the future of the territories should be, settlers enjoy economic benefits, which citizens living within the recognized boarders of the country are not eligible for (they even dare to demand more). They assume that time is on their side, and the longer there is no democratic decision, the better. It only allows them to create history on the ground.
Meir Ariel, one of the most popular lyricists in Israel, wrote that all this is done: “like a thief in the Judean underground […] by possible deception, on suspicion of plunder, under cover of darkness, with the protection of governor”. But it’s not only the Palestinians (and the world) they are cheating, but the general Israeli public. There is a variety of examples of how investment in settlement is done in an unkosher manner, through undeclared means, that it will bound the state, and not unintentionally. Take for example the National Lottery which doesn’t publicise the fact that it patrons community buildings in the settlement, even though building there is still controversial and strengthens the political pressure to stay there. When a national apolitical body such as the National Lottery, which is also a monopoly, becomes partially invested in the occupation, it exploits the profit it makes of being a monopoly, without asking its citizen-consumers. Once more, funds are transferred without declaration for the strengthening of the Israeli hold on the territories, whose status is still undecided, and to create jobs and welfare in a territory that is not part of the country (and without building for the welfare of the Palestinians living there).
Another example: the disguising of Ariel College. Here is the story of how a make-believe university was created out of public money for a narrow right-wing agenda. The story starts with the establishment of a college in the settlement Ariel, which then asked to be up-graded to a university. Only, the professional body (The Council for Higher Education) decided that there is neither need nor funding for founding a university there, and that the academic level is not adequate. The right-wing found a way to bypass this decision: with the help of public money, they established ‘The Council for Higher Education: Judea and Samaria’. Then, they changed the college’s name to the misleading ‘University Center Ariel’, and finally, even though the level is not sufficient, and even though there was no public need for it, they finally made it into a university, to attract students under false pretenses with low admission criteria. (Interestingly enough, the driving force behind the effort was the minister Livnat, that today says Ariel is part of Israel, even though not too long ago, when she was acting for the establishment of the Higher Education Council: Judea and Samaria, she said Ariel is not part of Israel).
Another incident that did not receive much publicity, is that dozens of guides from the Ministry of Education, that have a state monopoly on leading thousands of students a year on guided tours of the Knesset and the Supreme Court, were obliged to register as employees of Ariel College as a condition for their employment. Here too, it is actually the body that has a monopoly on guided tours of democracy, that forces its workers to register as employees of the settlements, and thus strengthens the college and the principle of settlement. Exactly like the National Lottery case.
Another example is archeology. Dozens of archeological projects in the occupied territories are operating under government and academic sponsorship (and the trend has been growing in recent years). In some cases archeological permits or access is granted to right-wing extremists. The state authorities operate or permit them to dig in sensitive locations, intentionally under private houses, under controversial houses, and in no man’s land. They are even allowed to manage official tourist sites. Thus they succeed in expropriating land and property, and to realize the vision of the transfer, while receiving public funds for it. This method is well known in east Jerusalem (in Silwan, in the old city, by the Temple Mount, in Zedkiyahu’s cave, etc.) but also across the West Bank. Some of the excavations really are of academic interest, and only receive financial aid, some have no archeological significance and some already decided that they will use their findings in a partisan manner; in order to prove the superiority of the Jewish claim on the land, over different historical periods. However you look at it, we are talking about the use of large amounts of money, contracts and agreements of the state, that give presents for aiding narrow political goals, for those who force us to bear their political policies. Additionally these sites often ‘require’ ‘security’ and this is where private security agencies come in. Some of these agencies are generously funded by the public, and the employees are often ideological settlers from the area.
As with archeology, the academia, or the national lottery, so too all governmental ministries take part in countless ways in the right-wing project of creating facts on the ground, without bringing the question of the future of the territories to the entire nation to decide. There are so many examples the mind boggles: they heavily finance tourist projects in the territories; they declare national heritage sites outside of the legal borders of Israel (and here); they transfer assets to extreme right-wing groups in Jerusalem and take part in the upkeep costs; they mine and export West Bank’s land resources (include the Dead Sea, marvel, water etc.); they establish exploitative industrial sites; build railways; encourage residence in the West Bank, particularly to residents who need housing within the country; and more, and more… Again, this is all done without calling for a democratic decision to be made regarding the future of the territories, or by legally annexing them, and it is often done without openly stating the narrow political goal.
All these actions are accomplished by scores of bureaucrats big and small, daily, within a mechanism that is so smart you cannot trace the path of an action, because it is spread everywhere. There is good reason why these actions are made untraceable. Right-wing activists invest a lot of effort in covering tracks. As they erase and deny the green line, so too the settlers deny their deeds, for example through “Hebrewfication”. This is done to create the feeling that the Arabs never were there. They gave Hebrew names already in 1948 to hundreds of towns, and not all of them going back to the biblical era. For example the names ‘Azor’, ‘Kfar Saba’, ‘Metulla’, and ‘Beit Dagan’ were given to these towns just for a Hebrew sound. There were never such towns in those locations during the biblical era, and the source of the names is actually Arabic (Yazor, Kafar Saba, Um-Tula, and Bet Dajan respectively). There were many others. Since then, the trend has expanded to include street names, and then train stations in Arab villages, and now even the check points will gain a Hebrew name, so that we will never ever know instinctively that what is going on here is a political act. For the same reason, they plant forests in places were villages were (and are being) destroyed, and neighborhoods and infrastructures are built so as to fall on both sides of the green line, so that we will never ever be able to trace it. Just like a thief covering his tracks, or a tyrant rewriting history.
In recent years, vast and unique resources are being stretched to the limit as the entrenchment effort becomes more determined (and concealed from the public). A special effort is being invested in economic entrenchment. Vast areas have been added to the jurisdiction of the regional settlements councils, vineyards and organic farms have been set up, mineral resources worth billions are being mined, a dependence on the water resources of the West Bank is being cultivated, large industrial sites belonging to Israeli companies are built, and security authorities have been privatised. Especially interesting however, are companies whose express goal is the maintenance and development of the entrenchment of the occupation. Make no mistake; the Binyamin Development Organization and the Samaria Development Organization do not work for the benefit of the largest concentration of population that already lives in these areas (Tul-Karem, Jenin, Hebron, and Ramallah). They only work for the benefit of the ‘regional council’. These companies also provide various services to the state and to the army (such as transport: here and here), and their revenues contribute to the development of political settlements. This would have been okay if the company would tell this to its clients, and if her clients weren’t the state. But, when the army orders busses from the Samaria Development Company with its money, that is, our money, we are all forced to donate to the establishment of an Israeli hold in the territories which is at the heart of the nation’s political debate. A third company, called “The East Jerusalem Development Company” operates in a similar way. This company too is not really concerned with the Palestinian residents, although it belongs directly to the state and the municipality of Jerusalem. Here too public money is being transferred to raise projects in East Jerusalem for the benefit of Jews only.
(D-) Prohibiting Left-wing Positions
The final phase, in which we are currently caught up, is the outlawing of the left, through the widespread recruitment and use of public support. It began with the kind of arrogance of trying to educate one’s political rival with phrases like: “you should be ashamed of yourself”; and quickly moved on to the application of pressure, rage and blatant threats and incitement towards journalists, benefactors, book stores, publishers, artists, Wikipedia, activists, and even to an elderly man who rents his house to Arabs. From there, it opened into an incitement campaign against the Arab public, voluntary associations, and soldiers who dare to tell their expreiences, in order to wear down the freedom of speech (of others). Finally, it has matured to legislation that will forbid left-wing activity in a large number of cases. There are already signs of use of the law in order to prevent entry of left wing activists or human rights activists (here, here, here, and here; and other cases that were not reported by the press).
Whilst the media focuses on racist laws, the anti democratic laws threaten to remove Israel and the press with it, completely out of the ring of democracy. Even though Israeli citizens don’t know, and don’t want to know, soon we may need to acknowledge the following rules:
- To say: ‘man, this is a screwed up country’ could get you a year in prison.
- The state could arrest, interrogate, torture, convict and imprison you, without the need for presenting evidence, without documentation, without a fair trial, without your loved ones knowing, and for a wide variety of accusations.
- And if you are (or want to become) teachers, doctors in a hospital, cleaners in the Ministry of the Environment, lawyers in public defense, or even a journalist in the broadcasting authority, you will have to pledge allegiance to the right-wing position regarding the privileges of the Jews in the country. (By the way, this also signifies that unlike in every democratic country, where the greatest chance for minorities, women and immigrants to have fair representation is in the public sector, in Israel the minorities will continue to be barred from the public sector, but this time with a little legal help).
And for desert, the new legislation is planning on shutting down left wing voluntary associations and human rights organizations, (and with them possibly the foreign press as well). How? Why? Two particularly salient bills I found are ‘The Law of State Values’ (whose very name lets us understand that values should be static and not up for democratic discussion) according to which any voluntary association that opposes the privileges of Jews, or calls for their end, will be shut down; and ‘The Law for Boycott Prevention’, according to which organisations and associations that do not take part in the concealment effort, and/or that call for any sort of action on the matter (publicity, consumer boycott, sanctions, letters, etc.) will be closed down and imprisoned. Even now the limits on civic associations are un-democratic and unreasonable. For example, in one case, an Israeli civil association had the opportunity to buy crutches and wheel chairs for children in Gaza, but couldn’t get the funding, because the benefactor was on the black list, as a suspicious Islamic association. This is despite the fact that the Israelis would buy the medical goods themselves, and it would also have to be security screened before entering Gaza. Now, however, we are talking about even crazier steps: now, every donation/demonstration against the selling of gear for injuring civilians, or for the mere-marking of products from the settlements, or publishing/translating/uploading of information about improper actions of the IDF or settlers (N.B.: ‘positive’ stuff is allowed), or even a map of the settlements and outposts, or any refusal to visit/participate in a an event in the settlements (and we can go on…) – will simply be illegal.
Furthermore, the occupation of journalism has no legal status in Israel, there is no legal distinction between a journalist and any other citizen (with the exception of a partial press immunity provided by the court). Therefore, it is not clear what the repercussions of the law will be on the press. For example: will the publication/broadcast of relevant stories in a foreign language be forbidden by law? Will foreign editors and journalistic units be liable to enter prison for publishing information, or will they become the only refuge for Israelis who cannot know? Either way, it’s hard to believe that supporters of human rights and journalists will simply skip over Israel in their surveys. It is more likely that the political system, in which room for action has been found up till now, will make them illegal, and itself illegitimate.
Should these bills pass, appeals to Supreme Court will soon follow. Then we have two scenarios. In the unlikely event that the court approves it, we can expect to see the development of a resistance to the regime itself. Just in case, the government is already preparing for that eventuality as well. Already today the Secret Service keeps left wingers and rights activists under surveillance, threatens them and hassles them in Israel and at the airport. Like in every dark regime (and some scandals elsewhere) it is already explicitly managing a vast database of information on citizens and foreigners who are involved in activities that are “too leftist”. If the law will take effect, we are likely to see the arrest of known public figures, closing of bank accounts, etc., but as with every totalitarian state, it too shall end. The second scenario is that these bills will eventually fall, or will be cancelled by the Supreme Court. But then too, they will leave a significant stain of criminalisation on left-wing views and activities. IN fact, the very proposing of such bills denote a grave misunderstanding of the basic democratic rules and rational.
As we have seen, the right has only been elected for 4 years, it adopted the IDF slogan ‘who dares, wins’. Given that Israel has no constitution, they dared to create a legislative revolution, with fascist undertones. The right altered its goal from political confrontation with the left to, delegitimisation of any political confrontation. In this it aspires, and succeeds, in committing what Kimmerling calls (on a different occasion) ‘Politicide’. Negation. Nullification. Annihilation. Irrelevantisation. Political destruction. This was done partly on the discourse level, i.e. criminalisation of left-wing thought and action as treason, then by preventing access and abusing public resources and state authority, and eventually by criminalization in practice, i.e. outlawing.
Results are apparent for the past few years already. In Israel there is a complete change in what was once called the ‘political center‘ of the Jewish-Israeli public (Likud-Merkaz-ultraorthodox-Avoda and sometimes also Zomet/Liebermann and/or Meretz). Since the end of the 90’s any differences between their agendas became history. The only thing that differentiates them is casual partisan and sectarian interests. Can anyone remember what it was like when there actually was an active parliamentary opposition? Ideological opposition to the military and economic logic, or to the demand for a demographic “Jewish majority” no longer exists, and only marginal democratic groups are left in Israel, and their time is running out. Nevertheless, the fact marginalisation doesn’t leave you any choices.
More than 1948, it is the occupation from 1967 that was the source of this. Almost 5 decades old, it has been with Israel for most of its “life”. Like Palestinians, most of us too were born into it, and never experienced living without it. Resistance to the occupation took many forms: armed, grass-roots, non-violent, negotiating and more; but the occupation learnt to recognize and contain the resistance to it. Like a pressure cooker that needs to regularly release a little steam in order to contain the immense pressure inside, Israel always allows some resistance. You could always find protests and publications against the occupation. However from a temporary project, the occupation has become a permanent problem. The occupied understand that it’s all about buying time (as Barel forsaw; including the illusion of a solution, the disengagement, economic offers, etc.). The opposition has no choice but to break the rules. Instead of trying to struggle to make the system ‘efficient’ or more ‘just’, it was decided to ban it and collapse it. Following the occupied, the occupiers also broke the rules. The former turns to international boycotts against the occupation and dispossession, and hope for salvation from outside, and the later try to outlaw and oppress this action. With the radicalisation of the opposition to the government and military oppression, the occupiers swiftly upped the nationalist criteria to an absurd level, which will in the future bring down the existing mechanisms, and change them beyond recognition.