Naomi Chazan: “Israel’s democracy is Israel’s soul”

This is a guest post by Kubbeh.

Leading Israeli academic, peace activist and president of the New Israel Fund (NIF), Naomi Chazan, was in the UK earlier this month, talking to the Jewish community about her hopes and fears for Israel’s democracy. We’ve all heard the statement that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It may not be perfect (where is?), but it is true. The citizens of Egypt, Jordan, Gaza, Syria, Iran and elsewhere would all benefit from a good dose of democracy – particularly women, Christians, gay men and women, journalists and political dissidents.

Speaking earlier this month to a capacity crowd at Moishe House, a post-denominational Jewish community in west London, Chazan outlined the challenges to Israel’s democracy and what her organisation is doing about it. These reached a peak earlier this year with a well-funded smear campaign against NIF by right-wing pressure group, Im Tirtzu, which attempted to vilify Chazan and NIF as enemies of the state.

“Is there a problem [with Israel’s democracy]? Absolutely yes. Is there a hope? Equally so, she said.

For Chazan, democracy is fundamental to the existence and success of Israel as a Jewish state:

“Israel’s democracy is Israel’s soul. Without Israel’s democracy, there will be no Israel. That is because Israel’s raison d’etre, as embodied in its Declaration of Independence, will no longer exist. The source of Israel’s strength is its democracy.”

Chazan explained how the NIF has been “thrust to the centre” of guarding Israel’s democracy, a role which she sees as crucial to upholding the Zionist dream embodied by the state’s founding fathers: “Jews have the right to self-determination in two senses,” she said. “Collective self-determination, in terms of the right to create a state for the Jews; and individual self-determination, through creating a society which grants individual liberties and social justice to all of its citizens regardless of race, religion or gender.”

She also took a swipe at anti-Zionists and boycotters, many of whom she regularly meets in academic circles, who want to see Israel relegated to the dustbin of history:“I have nothing in common with people who tell me that I have no right to exist. We need to distinguish between the deniers and deligitimisers – and dissenters.”

At a time when Israel is more politically isolated and vilified than ever before and the Islamist extremists of Hamas and Hezbollah continue to stockpile weapons to use against Israeli civilians, the work of peace and civil rights movements like NIF is more vital than ever. Israelis who want to walk the path of moderation have never had it so tough. In Chazan’s words, they are “stuck between those who don’t want to hear it and those who don’t want them to exist.” If, like me, you feel confused and frustrated about how to respond to recent events in the Middle East, then supporting the New Israel Fund is a good place to start.

Crudités

A selection of news and comment.

Ignoblus on Yoav Shamir’s film Defamation.

Via Bob From Brockley: Contentious Centrist surfaces some under-reported news of a separation wall built by Hesbollah and Syria which isolates a Lebanese border region mostly populated by Christians and Druze, and  home demolitions by Hamas; the revolution will not be Tel Aviv’ed – gingerly linking to Spiked to give you Natalie Rothschild; Martin in the Margins on Chomsky refused; Michael J. Totten’s interview with Paul Berman about his book Flight of the Intellectuals.

Off-topic for this blog (but kind of on-topic because I came to it via a Labour parliamentary candidate who, nonetheless worryingly though she was unsuccessful, apparently believes that problematising Zionism will pay off in British politics) Peter Beinhart considers some long-term trends in Israeli society and trends in the attitudes to Israel of Jews outside Israel, calling for an uncomfortable Zionism as alternative to anti-Zionism, a lethargic non-Zionism, or an exclusive and aggressive kind of Zionism.

The Turin Book Fair was targeted by boycotters again this year, but they were rebuffed, and Israeli author Amos Oz won the readers’ prize. Umberto Eco was again (scroll to the L’Espresso translation, 2008) one of those who spoke against boycott. Here is something good from him back then :

“I understand very well what certain friends of the extreme left (who only need to turn 360 degrees to come dangerously close to the extreme right) are thinking when they demand such a thing: we have to direct people’s attention to the ominous politics of the Israeli government, so we can kick off a scandal that will hit the headlines in all the papers. It is true that politicians and advertising companies work like this (and Berlusconi has mastered the art), but what is happening in Turin right now is a bit like the Blue Telephone trying to draw attention to the abuse of children by having some of them whipped in public.”

On Frankie Boyle, Jews and Israelis

It’s now common-place for people who think they’re being to-the-point about matters concerning Israel to then go on to confuse Jew, Israeli and Zionist, implicating them interchangeably in Israel’s policies, often with intense hostility.

You might assume an honest mistake but if, on being corrected, they become indignant and start going on about being gagged, speaking truth to power and so on, then you have to entertain the idea that they’re labouring under an aversion to Jews imperfectly contained in a more socially-acceptable aversion to Zionists and Israel.

Frankie Boyle, dispensing with the figleaf, proposed that his audience should think of Palestine as a cake punched to bits by a Jew and then, when lightly reprimanded after a complaint was upheld, accused the BBC of capitulating to a “lobby” and with startling sincerity disclosed that he had written the jokes in support of Palestinians.

A Richard Herring tweet got me to this by The Man Who Fell Asleep.

He talks about the difficult relationship many Jews outside Israel have with Israel, exacerbated by Israel’s policy towards Palestinians, and continues:

“What really annoys me about Boyle’s letter to the BBC is the tone. This is the pathetic self-pity of a man who courts controversy, who happily laughs at down-syndrome kids but feels that he can take the moral high-ground when the BBC rebukes him for villifying a minority. He continues his letter by explaining that he once watched a documentary about Palestine, sounding like nothing more than David Cameron explaining that he once met a black man. Well, you’ve watched a documentary about Palestine! Brilliant! That certainly makes you an expert, or at least cool enough to stride around Dalston in a Palestinian scarf, high-fiving those who wish the destruction of Israel.

Oh, and of course he talks of “well-drilled lobbying,” which plays into the hands of those who believe the Jews control the media. Is there are pro-Israel lobby? Of course there is, just as there’s a pro-Palestinian lobby and a pro-Iranian lobby and a pro-American lobby. All sides have their lobbies.

He continues with more self-pity: “…I cried at that [the documentary] and promised myself that I would do something. Other than write a few stupid jokes I have not done anything. Neither have you.””

There’s something really ugly about seeing a person’s sense of their own cosmic impotence curdle into vindictive blame.

Hat tip: my other half (who must be Richard Herring’s most devoted fan).

Stand up for NIF, stand up for Israeli democracy

A guest post by Progressive Zionist.

A smear campaign was launched last week against leading Israeli social justice organisation, the New Israel Fund. In what Meretz MK Haim Oron, described as a “show trial,” NIF has been blasted for apparently being the “life-force” behind the UN’s Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead and the delegitimisation of Israel in the international court of opinion.

But this campaign to discredit NIF and its grantee organisations amounts to nothing less than an attack on freedom of speech.

So what did NIF do wrong?

On 29 January 2010, Israeli tabloid Ma’ariv published the findings of a report by right-wing student group, Im Tirtzu, claiming that over 90% of allegations against the IDF in the Goldstone report came from 16 NIF-funded Israeli NGOs. The following day Im Tirtzu organised a demonstration outside the Jerusalem home of NIF president, Prof Naomi Hazan (pictured), with dozens of activists dressed as Hamas terrorists, as well as running an advert in the Jerusalem Post depicting a demonic Prof Hazan wearing a horn.

It didn’t take long for Im Tirtzu’s “research” to be debunked and dismembered. Anshel Pfeffer did a good job in Ha’aretz:

What is being said here? Im Tirzu is not claiming that any of the information supplied by these organizations was false. It is simply questioning the very legitimacy of free speech in Israel.

In support of Israeli democracy

NIF is a philanthropic organisation that funds over 300 organisations working to make Israel a better country, in line with the vision of its founding fathers. NIF grantees pursue social justice, civil and human rights, religious pluralism and safeguarding the environment.

One need not agree with every position of every organisation that NIF funds, which range from Breaking the Silence and B’tselem to Friends of the Earth Middle East and the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. But supporters of democracy should stand up for the New Israel Fund – and many already have, including journalists from Ma’ariv itself.

Ori Nir from Americans for Peace Now said it succinctly:

The New Israel Fund is an asset to Israel‘s democracy, as are its grantee organizations. Attempts to silence them should not be tolerated by the Israeli public and by friends of a free and democratic Israel worldwide.“

But this sorry episode has left me with a feeling of déjà vu.

One thing that struck me is how many NIF grantees would find themselves boycotted by anti-Israel activists here in the UK. For instance, Israeli groups that promote cooperation between Jews and Arabs.

There’s an uneasy parallel between the recent McCarthyist attacks on NIF and the British Left-Islamist coalition’s campaign to silence and boycott those who fail to tow their party line of an Israel-free Middle East. It seems that the two sides have more in common that they would like to admit.

See also my Greens Engage post, New Israel Fund needs international solidarity; Jews outside Israel need theirs.

A smear campaign was launched last week against leading Israeli social justice organisation, the New Israel Fund. In what Meretz MK Haim Oron, described as a “show trial,” NIF has been blasted for apparently being the “life-force” behind the UN’s Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead and the delegitimisation of Israel in the international court of opinion.

But this campaign to discredit NIF and its grantee organisations amounts to nothing less than an attack on freedom of speech.

So what did NIF do wrong?

On 29 January 2010, Israeli tabloid Ma’ariv published the findings of a report by right-wing student group, Im Tirtzu, claiming that over 90% of allegations against the IDF in the Goldstone report came from 16 NIF-funded Israeli NGOs. The following day Im Tirtzu organised a demonstration outside the Jerusalem home of NIF president, Prof Naomi Hazan (pictured), with dozens of activists dressed as Hamas terrorists, as well as running an advert in the Jerusalem Post depicting a demonic Prof Hazan wearing a horn.

It didn’t take long for Im Tirtzu’s “research” to be debunked and dismembered. Anshel Pfeffer did a good job in Ha’aretz:

What is being said here? Im Tirzu is not claiming that any of the information supplied by these organizations was false. It is simply questioning the very legitimacy of free speech in Israel.

In support of Israeli democracy

NIF is a philanthropic organisation that funds over 300 organisations working to make Israel a better country, in line with the vision of its founding fathers. NIF grantees pursue social justice, civil and human rights, religious pluralism and safeguarding the environment.

One need not agree with every position of every organisation that NIF funds, which range from Breaking the Silence and B’tselem to Friends of the Earth Middle East and the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. But supporters of democracy should stand up for the New Israel Fund – and many already have, including journalists from Ma’ariv itself.

Ori Nir from Americans for Peace Now said it succintly:

The New Israel Fund is an asset to Israel‘s democracy, as are its grantee organizations. Attempts to silence them should not be tolerated by the Israeli public and by friends of a free and democratic Israel worldwide.“

But this sorry episode has left me with a feeling of déjà vu.

One thing that struck me is how many NIF grantees would find themselves boycotted by anti-Israel activists here in the UK. For instance, Israeli groups that promote cooperation between Jews and Arabs.

There’s an uneasy parallel between the recent McCarthyist attacks on NIF and the British Left-Islamist coalition’s campaign to silence and boycott those who fail to tow their party line of an Israel-free Middle East. It seems that the two sides have more in common that they would like to admit.

:: New Israel Fund UK on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/newisraelfunduk?ref=ts

:: New Israel Fund (Israel website) http://www.nif.org/

:: coteret.com Hebrew news from the Israel media in English

:: Prof Naomi Hazan sacked by Jerusalem Post. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1147998.html

Stephen Sizer, The Police And The Barbra Streisand Effect

More details from Modernity here.

New fronts

Jogo, a correspondent, points us in the direction of a piece on the Institute for Global Jewish Studies on Holocaust Denial on Facebook, the online social networking site. As at Comment Is Free, ‘freedom to …’ butts up against ‘freedom from …’.

Student protester arrested on Israeli Campus

bgu protestThis piece, by Mel Bezalel, is from Jpost.com.

A student distributing leaflets expressing opposition to the new anti-Nakba Day Knesset bill outside the Ben-Gurion University campus in Beersheba on Sunday was arrested by police.

The arrest resulted in a student protest later that night that took place alongside a ceremony attended by the school’s board of governors and VIPs being awarded honorary doctorates.

Noah Slor, 27, a master’s student in Middle Eastern studies and a teaching assistant, was handing out fliers along with four Arab student activists on Sunday afternoon. After being asked to stand at least a meter away from the school’s gate and taking up the issue with a university security guard, she was arrested by police for trespassing and humiliating a public official – the security guard – and questioned at the Beersheba police station for three hours.

The incident is the latest to occur as part of a broader dispute sparked by the university’s plans to constrain student demonstrations with bureaucracy and fees.

“Arabs in Israel are a bit afraid to go against such orders, because they always have something to lose,” Slor told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “For me as a Jew, it’s easy, so I tried to make a couple of phone calls… and I was told I was standing in a private area in which we’re not allowed to distribute fliers, which is nonsense.”

Slor was then informed by security that if the group did not move, the police would be called. The activists remained and within 15 minutes, the officers arrived and arrested Slor.

Slor said she believed the university realized its actions were “getting out of hand” but couldn’t stop the chain of events once they had begun: “They realized they made a mistake, but it was a matter of ego and they had to do something, and charging Arabs would be perceived as racist, so I think I was the right person at the right time.”

After two-and-a-half hours of questioning by police, the university’s security team called the station to drop the charges, on the direct orders of university president Rivka Carmi. Slor thinks that Carmi’s action was a direct result of pressure from professors who voiced outrage at her arrest.

Despite the charges being dropped, she was informed that a criminal file was still outstanding. Slor must now begin an extensive, bureaucratic process to have the file closed. She also intends to file a complaint against the security guard and is lobbying for his dismissal.

Sixty students incensed by the arrest held a demonstration in the evening, outside the university ceremony.

They stood for an hour, with tape covering their mouths to signify being gagged by the university, and holding placards reading: “Security department = secret police.”

University president Carmi told students she would meet with them, but failed to appear.

Some of the university’s governors conversed with demonstrators, along with artist Dani Karavan and actress Gila Almagor, who both reportedly shook hands with students.

University spokesman Amir Rosenblitt commented on Monday: “Yesterday afternoon, political activists distributed fliers against the government decision about the Nakba. University regulations permit the distribution of fliers on the condition that it’s done off campus. The activists, who were distributing fliers in an area considered part of the campus, paid no attention to security guards who tried to get them to stop. The police were called and detained one female activist and one security guard to give testimony, and afterward both were released.”

As a result of recent university security clashes with students, an open panel discussion on the topic is to be held next week, spearheaded by Prof. Neve Gordon, head of Ben-Gurion University’s department of politics and government.

This piece, by Mel Bezalel, is from Jpost.com.

Protesting the Israeli police’s disruption of PalFest

This illustrates as clearly as anything the dereliction of any restrictive or punitive policy based on who, rather than what.

Daily Kos:

“Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza struggle to live a normal life while penned in by checkpoints, surveillance, and violence.    Palestinians in East Jerusalem are isolated from their brothers and sisters in Ramallah.  Bethlehem is cut off from Nablus.  The elaborate system of checkpoints and Jewish-settler only roads in the West Bank have barricaded one Palestinian community from another.  In addition the deep economic, educational and personal grief this swiss-cheese prison has produced, Palestinian cultural life struggles to survive despite all the odds.”

J-Voices:

“The festival began as a call from Edward Said, to “reaffirm the power of culture over the culture of power.” As participants were gathering, the Israeli policeshut down the theater. The French consul who was in attendance, offered the French Cultural Center as a new venue in the moment, in order for the festival to continue.”

Rory McCarthy, The Observer:

“Shortly before the opening event was due to begin, a squad of around a dozen Israeli border police walked into the Palestinian National Theatre, in East Jerusalem, and ordered it to be closed.

Police brought a letter from the Israeli minister of internal security which said the event could not be held because it was a political activity connected to the Palestinian Authority.

Members of the audience and the eight speakers were ordered to leave, but the event was held several minutes later, on a smaller scale, in the garden of the nearby French Cultural Centre.

Israeli police were deployed on the street outside.

“We’re so taken aback. It’s is completely, completely independent,” Egyptian novelist Soueif, who is chairing the Palestine Festival of Literature, said.

“I think it’s very telling,” she told the crowd at the French centre. “Our motto, which is taken from the late Edward Said, is to pit the power of culture against the culture of power.”

“This is the policy being implemented with regard to any events which are either organised or funded by the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem,” he said.

He added that previous Palestinian events in the city, including the press centre for the pope, had been closed under the same policy.

However, Rafiq Husseini, the chief of staff to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who was in last night’s audience, was dismissive of the Israeli actions.

“It shows how the Israelis are not thinking, he said. “This is a cultural event. There is no terrorism, there is nobody shooting. It’s just a cultural event.”

Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive:

“Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif gave this account at palfest.org.

“I saw 10 old friends in the first minute, all the Jerusalem cultural and academic set were there, a lot of Internationals, a lot of press,” she wrote. “We stood in the early evening light, by the tables laden with books and food and flowers, nibbled at kofta and borek and laughed and chatted and introduced new friends to old. . . . Then we started moving towards the auditorium and I heard someone say quietly, ‘They’ve come.’””

Alex Stein, on Harry’s Place:

“…those in the diaspora who campaign long and hard against a boycott of Israeli culture should be raging with anger at this latest disgrace.”

PalFest is ongoing – follow Palfest‘s organiser and author blogs, videos and pictures.

Israeli universities protest High Court’s decision to allow IDF to exclude Palestinian students from Israel

Six of the seven universities, including top officials from the Technion, the Hebrew University, the Feinberg Seminary of the Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University, the University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University also protested the army’s criteria for granting permits.

In a letter sent to Defense Minister Ehud Barak on May 12, the universities charged that the criteria for considering granting entry permits to Palestinian students accepted by Israeli universities “constitutes a gross and harmful intervention by military elements in purely academic considerations.”

Read the whole report in the Jerusalem Post.

Mira adds:

On the basis of national identity, Palestinian students are still being denied opportunities to pursue educational opportunities in Israel. A blanket ban was widely opposed within Israel and internationally, and was eventually overturned by The Israeli Supreme Court. However, the military continues to arrogate decision-making on who enters Israel to study which subject, with students in some subject areas (particularly physical sciences) subjected to reportedly almost unmeetable criteria.

An update from Gisha, the Israeli legal centre for freedom of movement who petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court, includes the following:

“Prof. Alon Harel of Hebrew University, who asked to join Gisha’s petition along with four other professors, said at the end of the hearing: “We are being forcibly prevented from accepting students who can make a decidedly valuable contribution to higher education in Israel. I call upon the Court and the defense establishment to respect academic freedom – the decision whether or not to accept a student needs to be the exclusive decision of the university, while the military should be limited to performing a security check.”

The Israeli Supreme Court invites Palestinian students who are being prevented from taking up their places at Israeli institutions to pursue their case, whether or not they meet the criteria established by the military, but clearly this hurdle is likely to deter or defeat Palestinian students from taking up their places.

The thing to do is to support the Israeli universities in resisting the imposition of non-security criteria, as described in the piece that David linked to above. And it’s worth reading Jon Pike again on why boycotters are so sluggish about pursuing academic freedom for Israeli academics and for Palestinians who want to study in Israel.

Jacqueline Rose, Jonathan Freedland, David Hirsh ***TODAY***

logoJonathan Freedland, Jacqueline Rose and David Hirsh, chaired by Ned TemkoClick here for details and tickets.

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