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Red Rag Column
Red Rag Column
By: Gideon Spiro
17 July 2010 (English translation posted 6 August 2010)

Who’s the traitor here?

This week the Knesset took an additional step on the slippery slope towards the elimination of the last traces of ethnic democracy that still exist within the Green Line. For the first time in its history the Knesset punished one of its members for fulfilling her legal function, and deprived her of her parliamentary privileges solely because her outlook is not consistent with that of the Israeli Right.

MK Hanin Zoubi of the Balad (1) faction was punished for her participation in the Turkish flotilla that was transporting humanitarian supplies to Gaza. She participated in the flotilla for the same reason that I participated in an earlier flotilla to Gaza (that did in fact succeed in breaking the blockade) (2) – opposition to the closure and the siege that the government of Israeli has imposed on the million and a half residents of Gaza by military means. She believed and still believes, as do many other good people and as do I, that the collective punishment that has converted Gaza into a ghetto and the biggest prison in the world is not right and in our opinion is not legal either.

MK Zoubi’s participation in the flotilla was completely legal. Nevertheless they decided to withdraw her privileges, which are part of the immunity accorded to Knesset Members, such as the right to a diplomatic passport and the right to receive financing for legal defence. She can live without those privileges, but a precedent has been set here, which, like a substantial part of the attacks on basic liberties in racist Israel, begins with Arabs, but its continuation is likely to affect the rest of us as well.

The irony in the whole affair is that it began with a complaint submitted by MK Michael Ben-Ari of the National Unity party, who as a settler is a party to a war crime according to the Geneva and Rome Conventions. Ben-Ari is a member of the Kach movement, founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, which was outlawed in Israel. Even the Supreme Court, which is infected by more than a few racist rulings, could not remain silent in the face of its ideology and that of its leader, because it saw similarities to Nazism in certain aspects of its ideology.

To this day MK Ben-Ari declares that he sees himself as a disciple and perpetuator of the legacy of Rabbi Kahane. Thus did the king of racism in the Israeli Knesset file a complaint against MK Hanin Zoubi and succeed in drawing the Knesset into sanctions against her.

In the discussion that took place in the Knesset over Hanin Zoubi’s participation in the flotilla, two voices were conspicuous for their violence and extremism. MK Miri Regev of the Likud, the former spokeswoman for the IDF, rhetorically exiled Zoubi to Gaza and called her a “traitor;” and MK Anastasia Michaeli of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu party went so far as to resort to physical violence. She was about to strike MK Zoubi when Knesset ushers blocked her path. This is one of the saddest stories about Israel, which has turned into a home for nationalists and racists. Interior Minister and professional racist Eli Yishai of the Haredi Shas party declared that her citizenship should be revoked.

“Treason” is not only a judicial term, but also a moral one. Former German chancellor Willy Brandt, who was active in the Norwegian underground during World War II, was a traitor to Nazi Germany. Does MK Zoubi commit treason? I very much hope that she is indeed a Willy Brandt-like traitor to racist colonial Israel as I myself am also a traitor to it, along with everyone else who struggles for a democratic Israel that embraces human rights for all.

Meanwhile, while it is still permitted, I declare that everyone who voted to suspend MK Hanin Zoubi’s parliamentary privileges has betrayed the values of democracy as they are expressed in the International Declaration of Human Rights, and has been captivated by racism.

The right wing of the Knesset has been putting in extra hours recently in its attempt to shorten the transition period towards the establishment of a tyrannical regime that will silence dissenting voices. Not a day passes without some new law being proposed in the Knesset. Once it is to withhold the pension of former MK Azmi Bishara, another time it is to bar the receipt of donations from foreign governments that are given mainly to human rights organizations, another time it is to change the citizenship law in order to oblige Arabs to swear allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic” state (an extinct species), another time it is to forbid Palestinian citizens of Israel who marry people from the Occupied Territories from living with their spouses in Israel, and yet other time it is to bar Israelis from signing petitions calling for a boycott of Israel and its products because of the Occupation (including products from the settlements), and to impose a monetary fine on the signers, and so on – whatever the right-wing imagination can come up with.

These new laws are classified under the rubric of “defence of democracy” – another example of laundered terminology along the lines of the “people’s democracies” that we recall from the Soviet period. For the sake of linguistic accuracy it is important to point out that we are dealing here not with a democracy that is defending itself, but with the threatening posturing of an incipient dictatorship.

If things go on like this, then the day will not be far off when we witness the materialization of MK Ahmad Tibi’s hair-raising scenario: by 2022 laws will be passed in Israel that will forbid Arabs from walking on the same sidewalk as Jews, they will be obliged to sit on special seats on buses and they will be barred from living in the same house with Jews. The apartheid regime in the Occupied Territories will conquer all of Israel.

I do not agree with Balad about everything, and so I did not vote for it in the last election. But if Balad runs candidates in the next election and puts Hanin Zoubi in a realistic spot on the list (at least number two), I will vote for the “traitor,” for “a traitor unto a traitor utters speech.” (3)

Oy, Obama!

Yonit Levy, the new anchor on Channel 2, the most watched channel in Israel, chalked up a journalistic accomplishment with her exclusive 20-minute interview with President Obama. In the interview Obama reaffirmed his policy of coddling Israel as was expressed in the last visit of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to the White House. In the interview, President Obama showed himself to be more Zionist than Ben-Gurion and Herzl combined.

Yonit Levy did not ask challenging questions, but instead lobbed softballs that allowed Obama to show himself to be a lapdog instead of a Rottweiler. Obama exhibited understanding for Israel’s “special situation” due to its being in a state of conflict with its hostile surroundings, he emphasized that he has been a friend of Israel since time immemorial, he highly praised Netanyahu as a “wise and peace-loving” politician, he emphasized that his Administration gave Israel more security assistance than any previous Administration and he even displayed understanding for Israeli racism when he stated that he understands that the suspicion of him stems from his middle name, Hussein – the lesson being that it is every Hussein is a legitimate object of suspicion until the opposite has been proven. In summary: a classic case of the tail wagging the dog – or alternatively, maybe the Israeli empire taught Obama a genuine lesson. The settlers and the Kahanists who had enjoyed abusing Obama with terms like “nigger” [Heb. kushon - trans.] must now choke back their anger.

The Israeli Left, which had placed such high hopes on Obama, is now hanging its head in shame. There are those who try to console themselves with the thought that this is only a tactical move to appease Israel in the run-up to the Congressional elections in November because of the importance of the Jewish vote (under the mistaken assumption that all Jews support the State of Israel). Don’t worry, they add: the heavy pressure on Israel to make concessions will come. We have already waited 43 years; we can wait a little longer.

Learning from the Nazis

Hadassah Ben Ito is a retired district judge who is serving as the president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. Hadassah Ben Ito participated in a conference that took place recently in London with Jewish lawyers that dealt with improving Israeli propaganda [Heb: hasbara - trans.], and in her speech she said that Israel must adopt the tactics the Nazis used in their promotion of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the courts. (Ynet website in English, 7 May 2010: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3915394,00.html

This is not the first time that public figures in Israel have urged study of Nazi practice. A senior officer in the Israeli Occupation army once declared that the Israeli army must study the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising by the Nazi army in order better to suppress the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

The bifurcation in Israel today is clear. There are those who learn from the Nazis, and they are members of the ruling Establishment. And there are those who learn from those who resisted the Nazis, and they are among those who espouse human rights.

Eliminating the poor instead of eliminating poverty

It is incorrect to say that Israel has no international successes. For example, Israel is a star on the global stage when it comes to the gap between rich and poor. There are about a million children in Israel who live below the poverty line. The minimum wage in Israel today is about NIS 3,800 per month. That is a wage that does not accord a family a decent existence. The government of Israel, followed by the Knesset, has recently rejected a proposed law to raise the minimum wage by a few hundred shekels, which, if it were passed, would have raised a substantial number of families above the poverty line.

The Finance Ministry and the Bank of Israel frightened the public with terrible scenarios according to which the economy would collapse if the minimum wage were raised. They did the same a few years ago when the minimum wage was raised to the present level. None of that happened. Following the last raise there was even an improvement in employment and economic activity.

Israel is a state that is ruled for all practical purposes by ten wealthy families. The managers of publicly-traded companies in Israel earn sums that are unacceptable in much richer countries. A million shekels a month is not unusual among the wealthy Israeli elite. An attempt that was made recently by several Knesset members with a social conscience to set a maximum wage for managers of publicly-traded companies, according to which the CEO of a publicly-traded firm could earn no more than 50 times the lowest wage in the same company, was not passed. A committee of ministers headed by the Justice Minister that is discussing the subject is toying with the discussion and refuses to decide. This is not surprisingly, considering that the Israeli Justice Minister, Yaakov Ne’eman, is a member of the wealthy elite, a partner in the law firm that represents the Israeli nobility of wealth, and his monthly earnings soar into the millions.

Israel has turned into a society without solidarity that crushes the poor and embraces the rich. The Occupation has raised a generation of people who enrich themselves without moral inhibitions, arms exporters who are willing to sell to every wolf and leper, and their accounts continue to swell.

Poverty in Israel is not poverty on the level of the Third World. Many children in Israel do not receive adequate nutrition and live under substandard conditions, but we do not see here hungry children with swollen bellies like in famine-stricken areas in Africa. Poverty in Israel is relative to the standard of living in Israel. That fact permits the diversion of dissatisfaction and the resentment towards the external enemy. “It’s bad for you because of the security problems that the Arabs impose on us,” they say – and many of the Jewish poor buy that fraudulent merchandise, and a situation is thereby created in which most of the poor vote for the Right, because “they know how to deal with the Arabs.”

Twenty per cent of the citizens of Israel are Palestinians. In official statistical language the division is between Jews and Muslims, Christians and Druze, that is, a religious classification with the objective of obscuring national affiliation. The percentage of poverty among the Muslims, who constitute the majority of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, is much higher than it is among the Jews. The poverty in that sector does not particularly interest the government and does not excite most of the Jews, for after all those people are considered “the enemy within.” If it were up to the Jewish majority, then we would just “let the Arabs die” (a popular expression). Here too does racism raise its ugly head.

The government is thereby succeeding in driving a wedge between the Arab poor and the Jewish poor and in preventing a joint struggle against the rule of wealth and in favour of a more just distribution of the national income.

Don`t compare!

In a recent article Tom Friedman, the famous columnist with the influential newspaper The New York Times, a Jewish journalist who is usually classified as a friend of Israel, likened Israel’s actions in the Second Lebanon War and the Gaza War to the actions of the Syrian army in Hama (the Hama massacre in 1980).

Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN, who is close to Netanyahu, rejected the comparison in an article in Yediot Aharonot. “You cannot compare” is a claim that is repeated over and over again when comparisons are drawn between Israel and other oppressive regimes. But indeed you can compare, and Friedman is right, for in both places a massacre of civilians took place.

Yonatan Shapira, an air force pilot who refused to take part in the bombing of Gaza, visited Poland and took part in an Israeli-Polish protest action in which he sprayed the words “Liberate all ghettos” and “free Gaza” on the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto. Immediately voices were raised in Israel, crying “how can you compare!” Well you most certainly can, because there are points of similarity between all ghettos – especially when a state that is supposed to represent the victims of the Warsaw ghetto sets up what is in effect the biggest ghetto in the world.

When comparisons are made between the apartheid in the Occupied Territories and that which was the practice in South Africa under the White minority regime, the Israeli parrot repeats the mantra “you can’t compare,” but the victims of Apartheid in South Africa themselves thought it was possible to compare when they visited Israel and the Occupied Territories. For indeed in both places there is judicial discrimination between the residents of the same area: privileges for members of the ruling caste – there the Whites and here the Jewish settlers – and denial of basic rights – there from the Black majority and here from the Palestinian majority.

When comparisons are made between the mass detention camps in which Israel detains thousands of innocent Palestinians and the detention camps that the British set up in Cyprus for Jews who tried to immigrate to Palestine, the cry is immediately heard that “you can’t compare!” Why can’t you? After all, both here and there innocent people were jailed who wanted nothing but national independence.

When comparisons are made between the torture-chambers of the Israel Security Agency [ISA – Shin Bet – trans.] in which were thousands of Palestinians have been and are cruelly tortured, to the torture-chambers of Franco’s Spain or the Generals’ regimes in Argentina and Chile, they cry out, “you can’t compare!” Why not? Is it more fun to be tortured by a Jew than by a Spanish Falangist? In both places the victims of torture are political prisoners who seek freedom from an oppressive regime.

Does this mean that there are no differences? Of course there are, but the points of similarity are conspicuous. It is both possible and necessary to compare, for otherwise we cannot learn from history. Israel is not a satellite in outer space to which nothing can be compared.

Shir Regev: Occupation refuser

Here is something for those in search of encouraging news: Shir Regev, a young man aged 20, refuses to be a soldier in the Occupation army. He was recently sentenced to a third prison term of 34 days, which he has begun to serve in Prison 6. He is not willing to be an instrument in the hands of the army’s jackboots (4). A long time ago the Israeli army turned from being a defence army to an Occupation police that preserves real estate for the settlers and tyrannizes defenceless Palestinians. The man, like his name (5), is an inspiration to every poet who is committed to human rights.

A letter I sent to the judges of the Supreme Court

12 July 2010-08-01

To the Honourable Miriam Naor, Hanan Meltzer and Yitzak Amit, Judges of the Supreme Court

Shaarei Mishpat Street
Ha-Kirya
Jerusalem

The Haaretz newspaper (11 July 2010) published an article by Amira Hass under the headline “For your information, Mr. Obama,” and it contained a report on the Supreme Court appeal of the lawyer Fatima Sharif of Gaza (through Naomi Hagar of the Gisha organization, which concerns itself with issues involving freedom of movement), in which she requested that you order the Defence Minister to permit her to leave Gaza in order to study for her Master’s degree in Human Rights at Bir Zeit university in the West Bank.

Very shamefully and disgracefully, you once again submitted to the military regime (the Minister, the ISA and the Occupation army), and rejected the appeal. You accepted the claim of the representative of the State, who mouthed the words that the ISA and the army dictated to her to the effect that people can be permitted to leave Gaza only for “urgent humanitarian reasons;” and the study of human rights, apparently, does not fall under the category of humanitarianism and has no urgency.

In your ruling you regurgitated the same dangerous text that the State representative regurgitated. Thus was the food chain of the Israeli regime of oppression perpetuated, starting with the junior military ranks, through to the higher ones, from there to the Minister, from him to the Prosecution service and from it to you, all under the canopy of the ISA, of which you are the indentured servants.

Attorney Fatima Sharif is a worker in the human rights organization Al Mizan. There is nothing more dangerous to an oppressive regime than the study of human rights, for after all, if she increases her knowledge in the field of human rights, that will increase her dangerousness to racist colonialist Israel, because she will be able to enhance the struggle against the Occupation. That fear is a well-known phenomenon among oppressive regimes. Just ask the human rights activists from the former Soviet Union, most of whom have tragically forgotten what they learned in those days, and have joined the Bolsheviks of racist nationalist Israel.

Considering the fact that your ruling was made in the name of “justice,” your tyrannical ruling soars to new heights of hypocrisy. If you were called the High Court of Wickedness instead of the High Court of Justice, at least there would be some congruity between the institution and its ruling. Your pretension to use the word “justice” and to use it as cover to hand down an unjust ruling and to abuse people is a fraud and a judicial crime that calls not only for condemnation but also for punitive measures. There is a provision in the criminal law called “subversion of justice,” and it applies perfectly to rulings like the one that is the subject of this letter.

Your decision to reject the appeal of Attorney Fatima Sharif is to “justice” what the North Korean Democratic Republic is to democracy. I am not sure what is the right course of action: to propose that you sign up for continuing studies in Pyongyang in order to learn still more wicked and shameful techniques of oppression, or whether representatives of the North Korean regime should be invited here to take courses in order to learn how you have managed to deceive so many for so long into believing that injustice is justice.

Gideon Spiro

Cc: Supreme Court President Beinish and Attorney General Weinstein.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

Translator’s notes

1. “Balad” is a Hebrew acronym for the National Democratic Assembly, an Arab political party in Israel. The word also means “country” in Arabic.

2. In October 2008. An English translation of the author’s account of the journey was published in Occupation Magazine on 14 November 2008: http://www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=30176

3. Psalms 19:2: “Day unto day utters speech,/And night unto night reveals knowledge.”

4. Heb. qalgasim. A word based on the Latin word caligas, (http://marius70.no.sapo.pt/caligas.gif
which literally means “hobnailed boot.” The word has historically been used in Jewish texts to refer to cruel soldiers in the armies of enemies of the Jews, such as Roman Legionnaires or Nazis, but may also refer to brutal soldiers in general, including Israeli ones.

5. “Shir” means song or poem in Hebrew.

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