The week in brief, 10-16 January 2011 – a summary of recent postings

January 16, 2011

jfjfpThe polarisation of Israeli society continues apace. In Israel Yisrael Beiteinu seems firmly in the driving seat, with Avigdor Lieberman labeling groups like  Breaking the Silence and B’tselem “terror supporters”, and his colleague MK Michael Ben-Ari referring to members of such organizations as “traitors who must be persecuted at any cost”.

Gisha and Btselem respond to these absurd and dangerous Knesset attacks on human-rights NGOs. “Civil society organizations”, says Gisha, “are at the very heart of a democratic society, and their role – our role – is to bring the actions of the Israeli authorities up for public scrutiny.” And Uri Zaki, U.S. director of B’Tselem, pulls no punches: “Last year, we witnessed a surge of anti-democratic, and often racist, legislation and rhetoric. Now, in the first week of 2011, the Knesset has launched a witch hunt against Israel’s human rights community.”

The racism rampant in Israeli society (previously we’ve reported on the rabbis’ call for Jews not to let rooms to Palestinian Israelis, and for Jewish girls not to go out with Arabs) grows apace. Max Blumenthal chronicles some of it on his blog; here we pick up his report on the verbal assault by young Israelis on elderly Palestinian women visiting Yad Vashem, abused as “whores” and “sluts”.

Many are sickened by it all. Richard Silverstein tells us that: “Amnon Danker, former editor of one of Israel’s most popular dailies, Maariv, has written a scathing essay excoriating Israel and the current political situation there. The terms he uses are savage and unsparing.” Danker writes, for example that: “It seems that things that were repressed within the Israeli soul and well-hidden through shame are suddenly bursting forth with a sense of liberation, dancing obscenely in the public square.  It’s now acceptable to be overtly racist and to be proud of it.”

Neve Gordon comments that under the proposed laws before the Knesset it will become “a crime to support any ideology that poses alternatives to conservative interpretations of Zionism, such as support for the notion that Israel should be a democracy for all its citizens”.

David Shulman, a prominent Ta’ayush activist often working in the South Hebron area, reviews the recent Breaking the Silence publication Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies 2000-2010. He says “To read them is to see the profound moral corruption of the occupation in all its starkness.”

Two views on the role of the NGOs appear in Ha’aretz: Don Futterman providing a spirited defence of Israeli human rights organisations as the patriotism card is played against them; while Yagil Levey fears their role in unintentionally entrenching the occupation by helping the army, which has difficulty controlling its units on the ground, to do just that: “In other the words, the organizations whose activity the Knesset wants to restrict are part of the army’s control system over its forces.”

Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, has raised the stakes, describing the illegality and the punitive violence of the occupation as nothing short of “state terrorism”. And in another intervention, a UN press release chronicles the onslaughts on Palestinians since 1st January, events that in Falk’s words, “demonstrate a general and unacceptable Israeli disposition to use excessive force against Palestinians”.

A new confidential report shows that the EU is increasingly angered by Israel’s human-rights violations, particularly in East Jerusalem.

A week ago we carried the Gaza Youth Breaks Out manifesto in a posting Gaza: a cry from the heart. In a London Review blog posting long-time activist and respected academic Karma Nabulsi takes them to task for reframing “the issue of justice for Palestine in vacuous and unthreatening terms, casts the method by which change may occur into virtual space, and empties the Palestinian body politic of the thoughtfully articulated demands of its millions of citizens…” Many commentators on her blog disagree.

Uri Avnery traces the history of Lebanon from C19 in order to understand the current crisis and its significance for Israel and the region. He sees it as a warning: the Christian state set up by the French insisted on the Greater Lebanon option, incorporating substantial Muslim areas within it which had no desire to be included: “The short history of Lebanon consists entirely of a struggle between the communities which were joined together against their will, like cats in a sack.” Avnery sees a clear parallel with the notion of Greater Israel.

Recently the Board of Deputies organised the publication of Zionism: A Jewish Communal Response from the UK, with essays by the leading rabbis in the Masorti, Reform and Liberal Jewish communities –  Rabbis Wittenburg, Bayfield, and Rich – and also one by Dan Rickman, with a foreword by Board President Vivian Wineman. It argues that “both Jews and Christians – including Palestinian Christians – need to acknowledge the depth of each others’ historic and religious connections with the land of Israel if progress is to be made towards peace”. We will link to reviews of it as and when they come to our attention.

Finally, we in JfJfP, as part of our policy of boycotting the occupation, support the campaign to boycott Veolia in the UK where it is a major provider of municipal waste collection services. The North London Waste Authority is moving towards awarding a new contract and plans are afoot to lobby its members…

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