Israel Crackdown Puts Liberal Jews on the Spot

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Posted on Mar 15, 2010
AP / Muhammed Muheisen

Israeli soldiers take position next to the highly controversial security barrier, which has been used, critics say, to seize Palestinian land and manipulate the population.

By Chris Hedges

The Israeli government, its brutal war crimes in Gaza exposed in detail in the U.N. report by Justice Richard Goldstone, has implemented a series of draconian measures to silence and discredit dissidents, leading intellectuals and human rights organizations inside and outside Israel that are accused—often falsely—of assisting Goldstone’s U.N. investigators. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to shut down Israel’s premier human rights organizations, including B’Tselem, the New Israel Fund (NIF) and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. It is busy expelling or excluding peace activists and foreign nationals from the Palestinian territories. The campaign, if left unchecked, will be as catastrophic for Palestinians as it will be for Israel.

The Goldstone report, which is over 500 pages, investigated Israel’s 22-day air and ground assault on Gaza that took place from Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 18, 2009. The United Nations and the European Parliament have endorsed the report. The report found that Israel used disproportionate military force against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip while failing to take adequate precautions to protect the civilian population against the military assault. The Israeli attack killed 1,434 people, including 960 civilians, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. More than 6,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, leaving behind some $3 billion in destruction in one of the poorest areas on Earth. No Israelis were killed by Hamas rockets fired into Israel during the assault. The report did not limit itself to the 22-day attack; rather, it went on to indict the occupation itself. It examines the beginning of the occupation and condemns Israel for the border closures, the blockade and for the wall or security barrier in the West Bank. It has two references to the right of return, investigates Israeli torture and criticizes the willful destruction of the Palestinian economy.

“The impact of the Goldstone report is tremendous,” the Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein said when I reached him in New York. “It marks and catalyzes the breakup of the Diaspora Jewish support for Israel because Goldstone is the classical Diaspora Jew. He is a lawyer and upholder of human rights and a liberal. He has distinguished himself in the field of law and he is also a lover of Zion. He calls himself a Zionist. His mother was an activist in the Zionist movement. His daughter did aliyah. He sits on the board of governors of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has an honorary degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has said over and over again that he is a Zionist. He believes Jews have a right to a state in Palestine. His is a mostly emblematic profile of the classically liberal Jew.”


Liberal has a distinct connotation,” Finkelstein went on. “It means to believe in the rule of law. It means to believe in international institutions. It means to believe in human rights. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are liberal organizations. What the Goldstone phenomenon registers and catalyzes is the fact that it is impossible to reconcile liberal convictions with Israel’s conduct; too much is now known about the history of the conflict and the human rights record and the so-called peace process. It is impossible to be both liberal and defend Israeli policy. That was the conflict that confronted Goldstone. I very much doubt he wanted to condemn Israel.”

“Israeli liberalism always had a function in Israeli society,” said Finkelstein, whose new book, “This Time We Went Too Far,” examines the Israeli attack a year ago on Gaza. “When I talk about liberals I mean people like A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman and Amos Oz. Their function was to issue these anguished criticisms of Israel which not only extenuated Israeli crimes but exalted Israeli crimes. ‘Isn’t it beautiful, the Israeli soul, how it is anguished over what it has done.’ It is the classic case of having your cake and eating it. Not only were any crimes being committed extenuated, but they were beautiful. And now something strange happened. Along comes a Jewish liberal and he says, ‘Spare me your tears. I am only interested in the law.’ ”

“Goldstone did not perform the role of the Jewish liberal,” Finkelstein said, “which is to be anguished, but no consequences. And all of a sudden Israeli liberal Jews are discovering, hey, there are consequences for committing war crimes. You don’t just get to walk into the sunset and look beautiful. They can’t believe it. They are genuinely shocked. ‘Aren’t our tears consequences enough?’ Aren’t our long eyes and broken hearts consequences enough?’ ‘No,” he said, ‘you have to go to the criminal court.’ ”


The campaign against Israeli dissidents has taken the form of venomous denunciations of activists and jurists, including Justice Goldstone. It includes a bill before the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, which will make it possible to imprison the leaders of Israeli human rights groups if they fail to comply with crippling new registration conditions. Human rights activists from outside Israel who work in the Palestinian territories are being rounded up and deported. The government is refusing to issue work visas to employees of 150 NGOs operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including Oxfam, Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). The new tourist visas effectively bar these employees from Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation. Professor Naomi Chazan, the Israeli head of the NIF, which has donors in the United States, is being publicly vilified by ultranationalist groups such as Im Tirzu.  Foreign donors to the NIF, as well as other human rights groups, are being pressured by Israeli officials to halt contributions. Billboards have sprouted up around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a grotesque caricature of Chazan, who has been branded by groups such as Im Tirzu as an agent for Hamas and Iran, with a horn growing from her forehead. “Naomi-Goldstone-Chazan” the caption on the billboard reads. Im Tirzu, the front organization behind many of the attacks, includes among its financial backers the John Hagee Ministries and the New York Central Fund, which also support extremist settler organizations.


By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

The purge is under way because of the belief within the Netanyahu government that these groups and activists provided evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza to Justice Goldstone. Israel has no intention of lifting the blockade on Gaza, halting settlement expansion, including the 1,600 new homes to be built in East Jerusalem, or reversing its division of the West Bank into impoverished ghettos of Palestinians. The growing brutality and violence of the occupation, no longer easy to deny or hide, coupled with Israel’s growing status as an international pariah, have unleashed a crackdown against all those within the Jewish state who are blamed for the bad publicity. Yuli Edelstein, the Diaspora affairs minister, summed up the witch hunt when he announced that the Cabinet had been “concerned for a time with a number of groups under the guise of NGOs that are funded by foreign agents.”

The Knesset bill, if passed, will force human rights groups to register as political bodies and turn over identification numbers and addresses of all members to the government. These groups will lose their tax-exempt status. Most governmental organizations, such as the European Union, which is a large donor to Israeli human rights organizations, cannot legally pay taxes to another government, and the new law will effectively end European Union and other outside funding. The groups will be mandated to provide the government with the records of all foreign donations and account for how these donations were spent. Any public statement, event or speech, even if it lasts half a minute, by these groups must include a declaration that they are being supported and funded by a foreign power. Those who fail to follow these guidelines, including local volunteers, can face a year in jail.

“This is the first time the human rights dimension of the Israel Palestine conflict has moved center stage,” Finkelstein said. “It has temporarily displaced the fatuous peace process. It is the first time that human rights reports have counted. There are literally, because I have read them, tens if not hundreds of thousands of pages of accumulation of human rights reports condemning Israel going back roughly to the first intifada to the present. The human rights organizations since the 1990s have been quite sharp in their criticism of Israel human rights policy, but nobody ever reads the reports. They are never reported on, with maybe a couple of exceptions, in the mainstream media. The Goldstone report was the first time the findings of these human rights organizations moved center stage. People stopped talking about the peace process and started talking about Israel’s human rights record.”


There is a growing disenchantment among Israelis with the endless occupation of Gaza and the West Bank as well as endemic government corruption. Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir, the head of the Israeli military’s Personnel Directorate, admitted recently to UPI that increasing numbers of Israelis are refusing to serve in the occupied territories. “Taking into consideration Israeli Arab youth, we’re facing a situation in which 70 percent of youths will not enlist in the military,” the general told the news agency. The discontent, along with the international condemnation, is inhibiting Israel’s ability to muster international support for further attacks.

“Israel attacked Gaza to restore what it called its deterrence capacity, its ability to terrorize the Arab world into submission,” Finkelstein said. “But it actually diminished its deterrence capacity because it can’t attack. If they were to attack now, anywhere, all hell would break loose and they wouldn’t get sympathy.”


The numbers of so-called refuseniks are proliferating with groups such as the Courage to Refuse, Shministim and New Profile supporting those who will not serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. It is not that many Israelis lack a conscience, it is not that many cannot delineate right from wrong; it is that the Netanyahu government is determined to see that these courageous voices within Israel will be silenced along with those of the Palestinians.

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Hi Basil
obviously the occupation is a huge moral problem both for liberal Jews in Israel and US and liberals in general.
it is a personal moral issue for me all my life. I been fighting the right wing in Israel all my life and I can tell you that for a few years now we reached to a place that the majority in Israel understand that the settlements are illegal and should go.
my biggest disappointed as an Israeli left wing supporter was form the other side the Arab side the side that I can not control , today I understand that its a proses, we in Israel can not give the Palestinians a state, the Palestinians need to create their own state, I can not control that and part of the proses of creating the Palestinian narrative is to create an "anti Israel" voices , all Israelis left wing and right. there are no voices of peace form the Arab side at least not as we would like to have, and there should not be either, as Chomsky say the US still does not recognize the UK to this day.

I cam give the Palestinians a word of advise.... building a state is easy dealing with the history is hard
Basil you are right I went out of my way and talked about the Arabs.

I can tell you that I did not suffered from nationalism in Israel I am a nationalist my self I am 100% supporter of Israel. I do not agree with the right wing in Israel about many issues, economic issue , cultural issues and so on... I think that regarding the Palestinians the left wing and all the way to the center right even likud in Israel today have the same ideas.
now Jerusalem is the most impotent place to the Jewish people for many many years way before you and me way before Arabs and way before Islam , yet almost 41% in Israel understand that east Jerusalem needs to be Palestinian and that is before we even started talking and before the Arabs had to give any thing... so consider the situation I think you should be optimistic.

the Palestinians might be occupied but the Arabs are not they are a powerful force and an American ally. they should have been more active, they do have solid diplomacy they do know how to talk to the west and do business with Europe and the US. until 1967 Israel was not fighting the Palestinians we were fighting the Arabs nations. thats all ...
Basil I am not an american
the Palestinians are suffering , the Arab world thou is not a victim . I think there is a lot of hypocrisy in the way the Muslims and the Arab world demands others to respect them yet they not respecting others. I think there is racism in the EU and the US against Arabs today , you can not compare it the discrimination against Arabs in Israel for example or to the racism against Jews in the US and Europe.

in most Arab countries antisemitism not only is popular but some times even part of the school programs , it is racism but I see it in the context of the conflict

these are all different issues .

its been a long time since Israel and Palestinians can talk with each other.

I am glad that you agree to the two state solution you do understand that there is something the Palestinians will have to do too, especially if you demanding all Israelis to support giving up on the unity of Jerusalem . two state meaning the end for the conflict
There are ways of helping others to build their countries and communities. It is called "community development" and it is an important job these days. Facilitators from outside the country or community are often important catalysts in change and development
Hi Ohad and Basil,

I write this as an Australian Jew who believes in a Jewish State of Israel but like many others absolutely deplores the outragous policies of the likes of Netanyahu,Lieberman and the extreme right who now represent the government. I have nothing but admiration for those in Israel and the Palestinian territories , who against all odds and by non violent means attempt to fight the status quo, unfortunately with little success. I was born before the establishment of the State of Israel, the son of survivors of the holocaust. I believed and still do that the Zionist dream of providing a homeland for the Jews in a state that could be a moral compass for an immoral world - " a light unto the nations" - was a worthwhile and very needed ideal. I am afraid that 62 years later that dream is rapidly fading. Unfortunately, after watching a debate today between representatives of Hamas and Fatah it became extremely clear that unless the Palestinians become a united body politic with one voice, the process of achieving statehood will take longer and longer. In my opinion, if the Hamas and Fatah could iron out their different agendas, assuming of course that Hamas would control its militants and renounce violence as a political tool they could unilaterally declare an Independent State of Palestine in the very near future. If militant violence could be contained, and a policy of non violence declared, in spite of Israeli provocations, this new state would be immediately recognized by at least the European Union and of course the Arab World. Then the argie bargie of exact borders, right of return, mutual recognition etc would be negotiated. In the meantime it is important that somehow grass root bridges between Israelis and Palestinians continue. I believe the time has come for Palestinians to unilaterally declare their own state. Do not wait any longer as a people without a state to negotiate with a very powerful sovereign State of Israel.
Edwin Israel is not a moral compass to the world nor it should be. it should be a state like any other state. and be judged as one.
it is has its flows but it is also not the worst country in the world , and this is irrelevant.

Israel is a democracy and the right wing as much as like you I do not agree with the ideas has it place in Israel.

for example as I see it a liberal left wing government could never make decisions in Jerusalem and if you look at history it was always the right wing that was able to give out land for peace.

I agree that the Palestinians would be better negotiating as a state and I wish we had a Palestinian state already created at the same time as Israel .

I also agree that a united Palestinian gov. would be better for the Palestinians but this is a decision they should make
Thank you Ohad for your prompt reply. As I said earlier, I speak as a non resident of the area, who because of that fact finds it very difficult to criticize the policies of a government I was not involved in electing. There is no doubt that most of the concessions, if not all, were implemented by conservative governments - the Sinai with Begin and Gaza with Sharon being the main examples. But these were very pragmatic leaders, who understood that it was clearly not in Israel's interest to maintain governance over these areas.
Unfortunately because of the current political and agressive dominance of a minority of Haredim, the current extremely vulnerable Government is making ill timed decisions regarding settlement expansion and continues to follow the 100 year old policy of creating new facts on the ground. When I said that the vision of Israel was predicated on the ingathering of the exiles, it has to a large degree achieved that end. A new state was born after the Holocaust at a time when the majority of the community of nations finally accepted that because of the tragic history of the Jewish diaspora, a national homeland for the Jewish people was needed. All this at a time when the rest of world's powers, were decolonizing. So Israel was really an experiment in national governance. And Israe,l despite all the wars and hostile neighbours succeeded beyond all of its aspirations. After its success in the 6 day war of 1967 it inherited an indigenous population of over 1 million Arabs, who up until then had been governed by Jordan and Egypt. Jordan, quite cleverly disowned the West Bank leavin Israel to take over the governance of that population. Thats when the mistakes started and continue until this day.
As fas as Israel not being the worst country. Of course it is not - it depends on which country you want to compare it to. As a matter of fact I believe that Israel probably behaves better that any other 1st world country would, given the same set of problems.
As far as the Palestinians are concerned, of course any course they choose should be up to them. My issues are as much with the Palestinian's very fragmented leadership as they are with Israel's Government. If the Palestinians want to be taken seriously they must cease violence as a means of attaining political objectives - not because it is moral to do so but because violence against a far more powerful, exceptionally well armed sovereign state is patently counter productive. Ghandi realized this very early in the struggle against the British in India. It should divert all of its resources in developing their institutional infrastructure, health, education, roads, housing etc. But as you say that is up to the Palestinians. I've rambled enough for now.
Ed Adamek
I can tell you the me like most Israelis read and heard Bibi many many times, I am absolutely not agree with him on many subjects but I do believe that he is an intelligent man and a realistic one.
recently it seems like Bibi does not have control on his own coalition but I wonder how much of that was an accidents and how much was planed . from the humiliation of the Turkish ambassador to Jerusalem all of these accidents had the complete opposite effect of what the right wing "wants" .

still a right wing gov. is still a right wing gov. but elections at the moment is bad for Israel at least in my opinion, its important that this gov will be able to finish its four years period



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