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Facing Up To Jewish Nationalism and Racist Violence

This piece originally appeared on Electronic Intifada and was co-authored by Joseph Dana.

When we released the now famous and censored video Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem, we were widely attacked and dismissed for daring to publicize footage of college-age Jewish kids behaving like racist fanatics while intoxicated. We argued that our footage revealed a deep sickness within Israeli society and among diaspora Jews who defined their Jewish identity according to extreme Zionist ideology (“Censored by the Huffington Post and Imprisoned By The Past: Why I Made ‘Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem,’” 6 June 2009).

We insisted that Jews should focus their outrage not at us, but at the statements the subjects of our video made, and recognize the extent to which they echoed the rhetoric of leading Israeli politicians, military figures, pundits and rabbis.

In response, Ben Hartman claimed in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that we were “on a mission to humiliate the Jewish people” (“Jews gone wild: Why camcorders and booze don’t mix,” 11 June 2009).

American-born Israeli author Gershom Gorenberg argued on his blog that the statements of “a drunken kid in a bar” have no journalistic value, and therefore we were unprofessional (“Racism, Amalek and Videotape ” 13 June 2009).

Gorenberg even asserted that because some of the people who appeared in our video were American, their racist opinions had no little or no connection to the Israeli situation. At the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ron Kampeas, who has disclosed that he purchased an apartment with an Israeli-government subsidized loan in a Jewish colony in occupied East Jerusalem, wrote that it’s “time for [Blumenthal] to grow up and put [his talents] to good use.” (“Best take so far on Blumen-journalism,” 5 June 2009).

Meanwhile, YouTube and Vimeo banned Feeling the Hate, while the Huffington Post’sRoy Sekoff refused to allow us to publish it, claiming in an email that it had no “real news value,” as though the soft core porn that accounted for the content on his and Arianna Huffington’s (now AOL owned) site each day did.

A year and a half later, hate crimes carried out by Jewish youths against random Arabs are increasingly common in Jerusalem, and throughout Israel (“Never again? Elderly Palestinian women called “whores” on Yad Vashem tour, while racism explodes across Israel,” 30 December 2010).

The most recent attack occurred on 11 February on King George Street, just blocks from the warren of seedy bars where we filmed Feeling the Hate. There, a group of drunken religious nationalist youths attacked Hussam Rwidy, a 24-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, stabbing him while they allegedly chanted “Death to Arabs!” Rwidy and his friend, Murad Khader Joulani, staggered into a nearby restaurant drenched in blood and begging for help. Hours later, Rwidy was pronounced dead (“The final moments of the martyred Husam Rwidy,” Wadi Hilweh Information Center — Silwan, 20 February 2011).

What happened next was eerily familiar to us. After a media blackout imposed by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security police, the Israeli media produced a series of articles dismissing the gravity of the murder (“Did Israeli media sideline racist motives in killing of Arab youth in Jerusalem?” 23 February 2011).

“A drunken brawl gone bad” was how several reports described the killing of Rwidy, parroting statements by the Jerusalem police that his death was the result of a fight. The two main assailants were initially indicted for manslaughter before overwhelming evidence forced Israeli government prosecutors to charge them with premeditated murder. As with the reaction by prominent Israeli media figures to Feeling the Hate, the racist behavior of Jewish nationalists was downplayed as a product of intoxication, if not dismissed altogether, while the incident was portrayed as an aberration. Any reflection about the trend of racial murders inside Israel was officially discouraged (“Murder of Palestinian highlights Israeli judicial discrimination,” 972mag.com, 23 February 2011). And so the band plays on.

With Feeling the Hate, we edited an hour of footage into a four-minute video that focused on the hatred many Jewish nationalists in Israel and the United States felt towards President Barack Obama. Our unreleased footage contains statements by the same kids about Palestinians. The political science major who said “I know my shit” but didn’t know who the Israeli prime minister was told us that the Palestinians should all be transferred to a small corner in the West Bank and kept there in a virtual cage. The boisterous young man with the mesh hat who remarked, “We don’t want any Nazi shit, Obama!” defended Israeli Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman’s proposal to strip citizenship from “disloyal” Palestinian citizens. These drunk kids in bars had a coherent, if very simplistic, ideological basis for their racism. It is called Jewish nationalism.

Because Jewish nationalism is an exclusivist project that defines everyone who exists outside the Zionist spectrum as a potential threat and an obstacle to the ultimate ambitions of Israel, racism directed against Obama and anti-Palestinian racism form a seamless thread. This thread connects automatically to the African and Asian migrant workers who Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “a concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country” (“Netanyahu: Illegal African immigrants – a threat to Israel’s Jewish character,” Haaretz, 18 July 2010).

It is no coincidence that migrant workers in Israel are increasingly targeted alongside Palestinians in racist vigilante attacks. They are seeking a place in a country that views the removal of non-Jews from as much territory as it can gain control over as a national goal (“Police: Sudanese men stabbed by Israeli gang,” Ynet, 12 February 2011).

While young rightists attack migrants in the street, the government may warehouse some migrant workers in what Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has called a “concentration camp” in the Negev Desert (planners from the Israeli Prison Service described the camp as an “accommodation center” in official material) (“Knesset Speaker: Racist rabbi’s letter shames the Jewish people,” Haaretz, 9 December 2010).

Though Rivlin condemned the plan, he has simultaneously endorsed a $1.5 billion shekel proposal to build a wall along the border of Egypt. “The goal is to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature,” Netanyahu said about the proposed wall.

Tzipi Livni, former foreign minister and leader of the opposition Kadima Party, recently warned that an “evil spirit has been sweeping over the country” (“‘Evil spirit’ sweeping over Israel, warns opposition leader Tzipi Livni,” The Guardian, 10 January 2011).

Her words rang hollow, not only because her party had co-sponsored many of the racist and anti-democratic bills winding their way through the Knesset (see “Can’t we all just get along — separately?” — David Sheen’s disturbing 24 February 2011 interview in Haaretzwith Kadima lawmaker Shai Hermesh on the “Communities Acceptance Law”), but because she has personally fanned the flames of extremism through her words and actions.

After the Israeli assault on Gaza in winter 2008-2009, Livni boasted, “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded” (I Lost Everything,” Human Rights Watch, 10 May 2010).

She also praised the Israeli army for “going wild” in Gaza, as The Independent, reported on 13 January 2009 (Israeli cabinet divided over fresh Gaza surge“).

Now that some Jewish Israelis are “going wild” against Palestinians inside Israel, and demonstrating “real hooliganism” in racial attacks, does the opposition leader think she has the moral authority to condemn them? If the hooliganism starts in Gaza, where will it end?

Last summer, while living off of Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, we regularly taped interviews with locals. After the murder of Rwidy, we decided to compile some of those clips into a short video so viewers could get a sense of the atmosphere we lived in. Now everyone can meet a few of our neighbors, like the Birthright Israel alum who believes that if Palestinian resistance becomes too acute, “you gotta just annihilate them.” Or the Canadian lone soldier who joined the Israeli Army’s Kfir Brigade, a notoriously abusive unit that serves exclusively in the Occupied Territories, who believes he’s defending the Jews “from terror, and such,” and that there is no such thing as the occupation (“Kfir brigade leads in W. Bank violations,” Haaretz, 11 May 2008).

Living among droves of heavily indoctrinated extremists on Ben Yehuda Street was not always a pleasant experience. But then again, had either of us been a Palestinian, it might have been impossible. Though many might want to ignore this fact, after Rwidy’s murder, it is increasingly hard to dismiss.

News from Chelm: Knesset discusses ways to pressure performers not to cancel concerts in Israel

Today in Knesset, Ronit Tirosh of Kadima (the opposition party that almost never opposes racist and anti-democratic legislation, and often sponsors it) convened a discussion in the Commitee on Education, Culture and Sport about compelling reluctant pop stars to perform in Israel. The legislators were joined by Shuki Weiss, a big time Israeli concert promoter who has lost thousands from last minute cancellations by artists like Elvis Costello. “The state must intervene,” Weiss said, according to Achbar Ha’ir, an Israeli arts and culture publication (I am summarizing the Hebrew article).

So what sort of intervention did the committee propose? First, Tirosh raised the idea of compensating promoters like Weiss for their losses with some form of state supervision or insurance. This is wonderful idea, but only if you are pro-BDS. One of the key argument against BDS hinges on the specious idea that the boycott targets innocent Israeli citizens. Why should we punish Israelis for their government? anti-BDS people argue, assuming that somehow the people didn’t elect their government and don’t participate in maintaining the Occupation. But if the Israeli government doles out money to wealthy promoters to cover their losses (while the Finance and Housing Ministries bilk, exploit and evict tens of thousands of working class Jewish families — and you won’t hear about their plight from the Z Word or other hasbarist blogs) the cultural boycott becomes a direct means of targeting the state.

The only other idea that Tirosh and the committee could come up with was to do hasbara, or officially sanctioned propaganda, on Facebook and social media sites to encourage artists to make good on their plans to perform in Israel. This seems to be Israel’s answer to all its problems, as though commercials filled with bikini-clad girls on Tel Aviv beaches can distract from or paper over the crimes those same girls commit while in IDF uniform.

Of course, if Israel wanted to improve its international reputation, it could give unlimited permits to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to attend concerts in Israel. Why are illegal Jewish settlers from Hashmonaim able to see Macy Gray perform in Tel Aviv while my friend Said Amireh, a 19-year-old from the Palestinian who lives a few hundred meters away in Nilin, imprisoned behind a giant wall, can not? The answer is that the state is built on a foundation of discrimination. Because it does not intend to change, it must prepare for worldwide castigation.

Weiss went on to predict that things will get worse for Israel, especially in the age of social media-inspired revolutions in the Arab world like the one in Egypt. On this point, he is completely correct. The Dizengoff Command Band’s semi-satirical hit from Israeli in 1970, “The Whole World is Against Us,” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mike Huckabee speaks “very Zionistically” in Israeli Knesset, condemns Egyptian uprising

Avowed Christian Zionist Mike Huckabee is a natural ally of the Bibi-Barak-Lieberman government

Avowed Christian Zionist Mike Huckabee is a natural ally of the Bibi-Barak-Lieberman government

Mike Huckabee was in Jerusalem today on an important junket related to his likely presidential campaign. He used his speech before the Knesset to denounce the Egyptian uprising as a threat to all humankind, warning that “the situation could threaten the world and all those who seek peace and security. The real threat to Israelis is not the bomb but the people behind it, not weapons but the madmen behind them.”

Bibi has essentially muzzled his cabinet ministers, warning them not to make any public statements about the uprising. It is not easy for so-called “only democracy in the Middle East” to say that it wants to keep it that way. So Huckabee was left with a golden opportunity to channel the sentiments of the Israeli government and mainstream Israeli society in an address carried to the Israel public as a top story on radio and TV news (I listened to the speech on Israeli national radio today while riding a minibus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem).

Huckabee’s speech earned praise from Yisrael Beiteinu’s Yulia Shamalov-Berkowitz, who said Huckabee spoke “very Zionistically.” MK Tzipi Hotovely from the governing Likud party echoed Huckabee, declaring that ”the conflict in this region is not a matter of territory, but simply Islam against Judaism, not 1967 borders but the very formation of the state in 1948.”

The language of religious warfare is not exclusive to the Zionist right. MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer, a leader of the shrinking and essentially moribund Labor Party, warned that the Egyptian uprising signals the beginning of renewed conflict. “There will be a new order in the Middle East,” he said recently, noting that he has been in discussions with Mubarak. “It will become more extreme, militant and radical towards Israel from an Islamic point of view. The conclusion that we will draw is that we did not take advantage of the potential for agreements when the Middle East was more moderate.”

Given the statements of Bibi-Barak-Lieberman proxies and supporters like Huckabee, it is not hard to predict Israel’s behavior after Mubarak finally capitulates. The Israeli military-intelligence apparatus and its public relations ancillary are almost certainly crafting a tentative plan to destabilize their neighbor, or simply touching up a dusty, well-worn blueprint. They know that if Zionism is to persevere in the heart of the Middle East, and to continue to besiege and colonize Arabs — Huckabee also called for more settlement building in the West Bank — the political aspirations of Egypt’s people must be crushed, again and again.

Huckabee’s visit marks the opening of what would be the first element of any plan to destabilize Egypt: a rhetorical campaign carried out by sympathetic media and political figures (the American right-wing, heavily influenced by Christian Zionist theology, is a natural ally) to delegitimize whatever comes after Mubarak as a radical Islamist regime that not only threatens Israel, but the Western world as well.

Feeling the Loyalty to the Jewish State of Israel

The Israeli Knesset is debating a bill proposed by David Rotem of the extreme right Yisrael Beiteinu party that would require all Israeli citizens to swear loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” This bill is targeted at increasing pressure on the twenty percent of Israelis who are Palestinian citizens while forcing the ultra Orthodox Jewish minority who reject the legitimacy of any state not based on Jewish biblical law to accept Zionism. If passed in its proposed form, citizens unwilling to take the loyalty oath would be at risk of losing citizenship.

Israeli leaders committed to a classic secular political Zionist platform have always fought at all costs to guard Israel’s “Jewish character,” even while they reveal their inability to properly define exactly what it is. The loyalty oath and push for a two-state solution are the most profound examples of the insecurity that has roiled beneath the surface in Jewish Israeli society since the state’s inception. Without a Jewish majority exhibiting clear legal and political dominance over the non-Jewish or non-Zionist minority, the Zionist movement becomes meaningless. So as the Palestinian-Israeli minority actively resists its dispossession and the ultra-Orthodox stubbornly reject the concept of a Jewish state, the Israeli establishment feels increasingly compelled to seek draconian measures to salvage its vision of Zionism.

The loyalty oath was one of the main platform issues for Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s far right Yisrael Beitenu party when it campaigned in 2009. “No citizenship without loyalty,” was among Lieberman’s most effective campaign slogans (his other slogan: “Only Lieberman speaks Arabic”), helping guide his party to an astonishing third place, with 15 of the 120 seats in Israeli Parliament. The draft bill currently debated in the Parliament would allow the Interior Ministry to strip even native Israelis of their nationality if they refused to swear allegiance to the Jewish state and “its symbols and values,” and failed to profess their willingness to perform military service. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has expressed support for Yisrael Beiteinu’s loyalty crusade.

After the proposed law failed its first reading in the Knesset due to opposition from a handful of liberal members of the ruling Likud party, Yisrael Beiteinu released the following statement: “Yisrael Beitenu will continue to act for Israel’s basis as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and will fight against disloyalty and the negative exploitation of Israeli democracy.” In July, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet has approved a similar bill requiring all new citizens to take an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state. The measure would make attaining citizenship nearly impossible for Palestinians residing inside Israel.

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Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin’s admission: Israel “expelled Arabs” across Palestine in 1948

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin is cursed with a penchant for intellectual honesty

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin is cursed with a penchant for intellectual honesty

In a little noticed article on page 19 of the September 1 edition of Maariv, the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, assailed the actors and artists who have refused to perform at the theater in the Jewish settlement of Ariel. As a proud advocate of Greater Israel and professed friend of even the most fanatical members of the settlement enterprise (see his remarks at the recent funeral of murdered settlers in Kiryat Arba), Rivlin’s attack would not have been significant if he hadn’t revealed some uncomfortable facts in the process.

Seemingly lost in his anger at the lefty artists, Rivlin conceded that the founders of Israel, the cream of the kibbutznikim, had carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing to a massive degree. “I say to those who want to boycott – Deer Balkum ['beware' in Arabic],” Rivlin said to Maariv. “Those who expelled Arabs from En-Karem, from Jaffa, and from Katamon [in 1948..] lost the moral right to boycott Ariel.”

So according to one of the most powerful politicians in Israel, the official story of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which denies that Palestinians were forced from their homes in 1948 (they “abandoned their homes…at the request of Arab leaders,” the ministry’s website claims), is false. The Nakba happened after all. But in Rivlin’s view, those who carried out the Nakba no “moral right” to oppose settlement activity because they stole more from the Palestinians than the settlers intend to steal.

As it is said, there is no honor among thieves.

Here is a complete translation of the Hebrew-only Maariv report (thanks to the great Aki Orr for translation assistance):

Rivlin castigates the boycotting artists (“Ma’ariv” Sept. 1, bottom of page 19)

Rubi Rivlin, Chairman of the KNESSET, yesterday viciously attacked Israeli artists, players, and writers, who imposed a cultural boycott on the town of ARIEL, due to its location beyond the “Green Line” [in territories conquered in 1967]

“I say to those who want to boycott – Deer Balkum [“beware” in Arabic] Those who expelled Arabs from En-Karem, from Jaffa, and from Katamon [in 1948..] lost the moral right to boycott Ariel” said Rivlin to “Ma’ariv” yesterday.

Rivlin described the artists’ call for a boycott as “lacking intellectual honesty” adding that those who settled in Ariel and other places in Judea and Samaria [the official Israeli name for the occupied West Bank] did so “due to the orders of society, and some may say – due to the orders of Zionism.”