The Guardian january 26 2016
Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel – an American Jew who speaks Hebrew and who does not hide his deep bond with the country – made a simple observation last week: Israel, he said, seems to have “two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians”.
This is a simple fact. While he probably did not mean to call Israel out for its two separate systems of law – but rather for not enforcing the law as effectively when it comes to Israeli culprits as it does for Palestinian ones – everyone interpreted it this way. It is, after all no secret that Israel invented an intricate military-legal system for regulating its control over the Palestinian population living in the lands occupied in 1967 precisely in order to entrench separate systems for Israelis and Palestinians.
Not only were Shapiro’s comments condemned by Binyamin Netanyahu as “unacceptable and wrong”, but a former spokesman for the prime minister called Shapiro a “Jew boy” on an Israeli talk show – a derogatory term that essentially accuses him of being a self-hating Jew, a sellout, a traitor. Shapiro was personally and publicly attacked for uttering not his opinion, but a basic description of the reality on the ground.
This incident is emblematic of the crackdown on Jewish dissent that has become commonplace in Israel. Human rights organisations and activists who document aspects of Israel’s demonstrable system of occupation, discrimination and human rights violations have become the targets of a concerted campaign of delegitimisation – including parliamentary legislation to inhibit their operations, public denunciations by political leaders, incendiary videos, and the accusation that they are foreign moles and liars.
Moreover, activists in groups such as Breaking the Silence and Ta’ayush (which tries to protect Palestinian residents of the South Hebron hills from settler and military violence) face infiltration by rightwing imposters, who secretly filmed them for years in makeshift “sting operations.”
Breaking the Silence, an organisation of former IDF soldiers whose raison d’etre is – as its name suggests – to speak out about their service in the occupied West Bank, has been banned from speaking in high schools and to soldiers, and there is now a proposal to outlaw them. A state-funded pro-settlement organisation hired a private investigator to spy on the attorney Michael Sfard, whose law firm represents Palestinian clients and advises Israeli human rights groups. Two Israeli Jews active with Ta’ayush were arrested this month, initially barred from seeing their lawyers and held without any charges on shaky suspicions. As of now their arrests cannot be seen as anything but political persecution.
Being anti-occupation is now deemed synonymous with being anti-Israel and anti-Jewish, the treasonous stance of an enemy of the state. This of course has always been the case for Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation, whether those who live on the West Bank and are therefore non-citizens, East Jerusalem residents whose residency can be revoked at any moment, or citizens of Israel who suffer from systematic discrimination and whose citizenship is increasingly called into question. Now this has spilled over to Jewish Israeli dissidents. The witch-hunt against the tiny Israeli left is palpable. Working to end Israeli occupation, or even just exposing its facts, makes you a target. It can pursue you whether you are a human rights activist, an artist, an academic, a former soldier or even the country’s president: Reuven Rivlin has been the target of rightwing incitement for months, most recently for speaking at a Haaretz conference in which Breaking the Silence also participated.
This crackdown comes at a time where there is no alternative to the right’s hold on power, despite the fact that it is patently failing. Israelis are being stabbed on an almost daily basis and have been for months: the government has no idea how to end the bloodshed. There is no political strategy for ending the conflict, or even a single proposal to change the status quo. The total lack of vision leaves those in power with only one option: attack those who challenge their narrative and by doing so, divert attention from their own incompetence. As a human rights lawyer put it recently, the process of public delegitimisation of the left provides “democratic cover for an undemocratic move”.
For most of its existence, Israel has been providing democratic cover for an undemocratic reality. This is what the right is so busy trying to keep under wraps, and the more permanent and entrenched occupation becomes, the more work they have to do. Israel, after all, cannot be a democratic, liberal and free society while it exerts systematic, unaccountable control over millions of people. As the left saying goes: The occupation corrupts the occupier.
Israel already uses an extensive arsenal of military, legal, social, cultural and economic tools to suppress Palestinian nonviolent resistance. It is now doubling down its efforts to normalise its policies of oppression, inequality and intolerance by openly applying these tactics to Jewish citizens. But the truth of occupation is undeniable. No amount of name-calling, intimidation or violence can ever change this reality.