Netanyahu is Israel’s only hope against extremism… on literary prize committees.

It’s not just Iran that Bibi has to deal with, he is also tackling the existential threat posed by aging left-wing elites who keep awarding prizes to the wrong books. While we’re focused on the antics around the joint address to Congress, Bibi’s been busy dealing with these extremists in the only language they understand.

In Haaretz: Netanyahu: Israel Prize judges include too many anti-Zionist extremists

“The composition of the panel that selects Israel Prize laureates must be balanced and faithfully reflect the various streams, positions and strata of Israeli society,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page. “However, over the years, more and more radical figures, including anti-Zionists – for example, those who support refusal to serve in the IDF – have been appointed to the panel and too few authentic representatives of other parts of the nation.”

I’m relieved Bibi has finally put his foot down to let us know who is “authentic” and who isn’t.

The guys at Breaking The Silence illustrate why conscientious objectors (refuseniks) are considered “extremists” and “radicals”.

“The Israel Prize belongs to all of Israel,” Netanyahu wrote. “It is our national asset, and it must represent the entire nation: men and women, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, religious and secular, veteran citizens and new immigrants, Israelis of all stripes irrespective of political leanings one way or the other.”Netanyahu’s remarks follow the resignation of an entire panel of judges – for the Israel Prize in literature – over efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the panel’s composition. The office vetoed two candidates to judge the prize, professors Avner Holtzman and Ariel Hirschfeld.

“This is an unparalleled scandal,” said Yigal Schwartz, a professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and editor-in-chief of the Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir publishing house. “I’m withdrawing my candidacy and urge other candidates to do the same. This isn’t a mistake; it’s a continuation of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deliberate policy of undermining Israel’s elites to gain votes from other groups. This is sabotage that it’s impossible not to oppose. Even this institution, the Israel Prize, which had remained untainted, they have sabotaged.”

Haaretz has an editorial as well: Netanyahu trampled on the Israel prize and the Jerusalem Post covers the issue in Netanyahu: Israel Prize judges’ panel comprised of too many anti-Zionist elements

Continuing the take no prisoners theme (even if they are bespectacled, elbow-patch adorned, Hebrew Lit professors), Chemi Shalev writes about Bibi in: Netanyahu’s Cossack-inspired election slogan: ‘Smite the leftists and save Israel!’

If you like the New Israel Fund, you’re toast. If you support J Street, you’re out. If you’ve ever whispered a word of sympathy for conscientious objection or considered the pros and cons of boycotting settlements, you’re done. If you vote for the Zionist Union, you’re an anti-Zionist. If you read the wrong newspaper, you’re suspect. If you think Obama is right and Netanyahu is wrong, you’re a potential traitor and a self-hating Jew.

It’s a “my way or the highway” mentality, and “if you’re not with us you’re against us” approach. You can support Netanyahu, condone settlements, view Obama as a nemesis and Iran as an existential threat – or cast your lot with the rest of Israel’s evil-wishers. When you vote for a party left of the Likud, according to this logic, you are, in fact, acting against Israel’s better interests:

This is one of the backdrops to Netanyahu’s decision to ignore the protests against his planned Congressional speech and to press ahead, come what may. When the only people you trust are those who agree with your every word, everyone else is automatically suspect, their motivations dubious, their intentions on trial. In fact, the moment you criticize Netanyahu, you are almost by definition exposing your malicious intentions, all the more reason for him to ignore you and go the other way. It’s a vicious circle inside the echo chamber in which Israeli sentiments are forged and decisions increasingly made.

Meanwhile Peter Beinart asses the impact Netanyahu has had on Jewish organization in the US in Netanyahu’s real victim? The American Jewish establishment

Who are Benjamin Netanyahu’s American victims? Not Barack Obama. Despite Bibi’s best efforts, he’s still in office, and retains the affections of most American Jews. Not the left-wing activists who oppose a Jewish state within any borders: Bibi’s settlement mania has been a bonanza for them. “We’ve got to give credit to Netanyahu,” declared BDS leader Omar Barghouti last December. “Without him we could not have reached this far.”No, Bibi’s real American victims are the people who appear publicly to be his friends: The leaders of groups like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress is simply the latest example. He’s destroying the old American Jewish establishment and building a new one in its place.

Huff Post poll finds Opinions On Netanyahu’s Speech Split Along Party Lines

Americans think that it was a breach of protocol for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress, but they still want members of Congress to attend his speech, a HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.In the survey, Americans say by a 23-point margin that it’s inappropriate for a member of Congress to invite a foreign leader to speak in the U.S. without first consulting with the White House, and by a 17-point margin that Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, specifically, was inappropriate. In both cases, about a quarter of Americans said they weren’t sure.

Despite disagreeing with the handling of the invitation, though, Americans were also more likely than not to say U.S. politicians should still meet with Netanyahu during his trip.

Forty-six percent said that their member of Congress should attend Netanyahu’s speech, which is scheduled for March 3, while just 24 percent said they shouldn’t, with another 30 percent unsure. Fifty-eight percent said President Barack Obama should meet with Netanyahu, with only 19 percent opposed and 23 percent not sure.

And then of course, there’s the perennially entertaining “bottle deposit crisis”: Would you buy an empty bottle from this man?

I’ll give him this much, Bibi has a knack for getting under people’s skin and getting folks to talk about him. I can’t think of a foreign leader whose name would be recognized by three-foruths of a random selection of Americans.

Israel plans to build West Bank settlements to house Jewish immigrants from France

Israel’s Construction Minister Uri Ariel is proposing expanding West Bank settlements to house Jewish immigrants from France (Times of Israel). There is some opposition and the proposal is scheduled to be reviewed next week (JPost), which quotes Ariel:

“Israel is the home of world Jewry. At this time when anti-Semitism is once more breaking out, we must act to allow for the smooth absorption of new immigrants,” Ariel said.“There is no doubt that the Jews of France, who already deeply identify with the Zionist settlement enterprise in the West Bank, will want to settle one of the Judea and Samaria communities once they arrive in Israel,” Ariel said.

In the background, there is a lot of discussion over the calls from French Jews to immigrate to Israel:Haaretz: Why Israeli call for French Aaliyah is so Offensive
NY Times: Do France’s Jews have a Future?

To quote the Op-Ed in Haaretz:

The old anti-Semitism that led up to the destruction of a third of all global Jewry was based on the rejection of the concept of the European Jew. Jews were never accepted as equal citizens, be they German Jews, Austrian Jews, Polish Jews or French Jews. When the fascists rose to power, they picked on the eternal otherness of the Jew to demonstrate that these were a people apart, different and despised. The alienation and dehumanization of the Jew was a direct rejection of the Jewish place in the nation state….

Unlike the anti-Semitism of old, the solution is not an abandonment of one’s home. The state is not rejecting Jews; in fact, it is trying to protect them, at least in the case of France. The fact that thousands of police are deployed to protect Jewish schools doesn’t detract from the terrifying reality in the aftermath of the attacks. There are deep systemic problems that need both physical and educational solutions if multiculturalism and pluralism are to win out. But we should not kid ourselves that the violence against Jews today is the same as it was in the 1930s.

This new reality explains why Israeli politicians’ call for French aliyah is so hurtful to France and its Jews. The correct response to the attacks came from President Reuven Rivlin, who should have been the dignitary representing Israel at the Paris unity march instead of politicians jockeying for votes. Rivlin stated that aliyah should be “born out of a positive Jewish identity, out of Zionism, and not because of anti-Semitism.”

For a bit of historical perspective, there’s a piece from March 9, 1960 in the NY Times: American Settlers in Israel Balk at inviting more from the US

The draft resolution that caused the protest called upon “American and Canadian Jews to come and settle in Israel and join the ranks of those who preceded them in building up the country.”Such resolutions are normally adopted automatically in Israel.

“How can we invite people?” exclaimed Arthur Ross, a textile merchant formerly of Brooklyn. “We have no jobs or houses to offer them!”

Ariel Markus, formerly of New York commented that immigrants might suffer a little, “but it won’t hurt them.”

and on October 24, 1949 in the NY Times again: Israel, Charging Iraqi Persecutions, Urges U. S. and Britain to Intervene

Israel has made urgent appeals to the United States and Britain for their immediate intervention against “persecution” of Jews in Iraq, it was announced here tonight. The Government said that anti-Jewish acts in Iraq were “liable to rekindle the flames of conflict in the Middle East.”…

Reports of a pogrom in Iraq, which the Israeli Government said it has confirmed, coincide with a reported offer by Iraq to exchange 100,000 Iraqi Jews for a similar number of Palestinian refugees.

most of the rest of the article discusses the arrest of Iraqi Jews on unknown charges and their detention in “Abu Grib” prison (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Both are worth a read if you have access to the Times archives.Meanwhile, there’s another debate brewing about Defending France and Free Speech (Bloomberg piece on prosecutions of “support for terrorism”:

In schools last week, there were about 100 incidents where (mostly Muslim) students refused to take part in a minute of silence to honor the magazine’s dead. Forty of these cases were referred to the police for potential prosecution, according to Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, because the words spoken amounted to “glorifying terrorism.”

The NY Times writes in French Rein in Speech Backing Acts of Terror.:

But French law does prohibit speech that might invoke or support violence….

The accused did not have to threaten actual violence to run afoul of the law. According to Mr. Cabut, who brought the case in Bourgoin-Jalieu, the man shouted, “They killed Charlie and I had a good laugh. In the past they killed Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Merah and many brothers. If I didn’t have a father or mother, I would train in Syria.”

If you’re going to prosecute “speech that might invoke or support violence”, every person carrying a “support our troops” bumper-sticker is liable for prosecution, as is anyone supporting the police shooting suspects. And what do you do about a six-year old threatening to beat another six-year old up in the playground? Perhaps statements supporting violence by the state are “protected speech”?This is why regulating speech is fraught with so many issues and the rushed prosecutions in France are likely a mistake.

A few other tangents below the fold:

Ilene Prusher wrote a very nuanced piece in Haaretz: Why did Hamas condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks?

To date, Hamas has so far limited itself to national aspirations only. It may think global, but it acts local. It hasn’t carried out known acts of terrorism beyond Israel, and has not participated, at least from any discernable account, in the global jihadist ideology that calls for the reestablishment of the caliphate.In fact, Palestinians who find themselves unsatisfied with Hamas’ “limited” nationalist goals have sometimes left the movement for Islamic groups with a more global focus, such as Hizb Ut-Tahrir, founded by a Palestinian from a village near Haifa. And, of course, some Palestinians and even Israeli-Arabs have joined radical jihadist groups with an even more violent outlook, including the Islamic State and al Qaeda in Iraq.

“Hamas condemns the desperate attempts of Prime Minister Netanyahu to link our movement on the one side, and terrorism throughout the world on the other side… These miserable attempts are doomed to fail,” Hamas said in a statement. In the Hamas release, provided in French to Agence-France Press, the group said that it “condemns the attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine and insists on the fact that differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder.”

Hamas has been lobbying for more international legitimacy as a way to get funds to the Gaza Strip, and is worried about the slow progress on this front. There have been reports surfacing in the past week that Hamas leader Khaled Mashal was asked to leave Qatar and is seeking a new base. Hamas denies those reports. But it is clear that Qatar, once seen as a moderate country, was beginning to take on the taint of an extremist Gulf outpost because of its backing of Hamas, and seems keen to back down from that image. All of this adds up to a Hamas in which political expediency is much more attractive just now than jihadist ideology in Europe.

I’m wondering whether the columnist’s analysis above would count as “supporting terrorism” under the French law?At the always perceptive 972mag: U.S. Consulate desegregates security staff, Israeli guards quit in protest

A number of Israeli guards working for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem quit in protest of a decision to arm and train Palestinian guards employed by the Consulate recently, according to Ynet.Unnamed “sources,” presumably the disgruntled Israeli guards themselves, accused the Consulate’s chief security officer of “raising an armed militia of Palestinians,” according to the report.

Israel demands that armed non-American guards be IDF combat veterans, according to the report.

The American consulate, like a host of other countries’ consulates in Jerusalem, primarily serves the Palestinian territories and its officials regularly travel to Palestinian areas in the West Bank.

perhaps this has something to do with this incident: Israeli settlers stone two cars belonging to US consulate staffLastly, Yassi Sarid in Haaretz asks: Israel, Do you remember what you did last summer?. He’s wondering why all discussion of the destruction wreaked on Gaza has disappeared from the public sphere in Israel.

A “political pyromaniac” shaping a “future apartheid state”

The Israeli press is far harder on Israeli politicians and policies than media state-side. This weekend’s Haaretz for example has the following opinion pieces.

Zeev Sternhell writes in What Israel’s founding fathers never imagined:

Contrary to the prevalent assertion that what protected Israeli democracy in the states early days was ambiguity on fundamental constitutional questions that arose at the time, ambiguity was part of the problem, not the solution. The policy of obfuscation that David Ben-Gurion decided upon for reasons of political convenience allowed the Arabs to be kept under martial law for the entire period of his rule. The shame of the Shin Bet security service state was lifted only in 1965, though Arab inferiority was perpetuated.

Another aspect of this early failure is the fact that the founders made laws for themselves, not for human beings as such. They never imagined that the Feiglins and Elkins would have ruling power in the most persecuted nation in modern history. Their great foe was Jabotinsky, whom Ben-Gurion and Katznelson knew, and against whom they fought for power and for the means to achieve their common goal, but not for the goal itself.

No one ever envisioned the actual possibility that power would fall one day into the hands of people with the demeanor of masters, for whom the oppression of another nation was second nature. Who ever imagined that the Jewish community might one day turn into a colonialist entity and lay the foundations of an apartheid regime as a permanent condition, and would want to engrave that shame in its law books on top of that?

The gravediggers of liberty and equality of our time are dragging Israel down toward the violent and fanatic Third World that surrounds us. The politicians of the centrist parties would do well to draw their own conclusions as the election approaches, and use all the energy and honesty that they still have to prevent the disasters that are on their way.

Meanwhile, Haaretz’s editors plead: Israelis, listen to the world:

No election campaign can blur this new international reality, which clearly indicates that the world has had enough of the Israeli occupation and the settlements that strengthen and deepen it.The world’s message must become an important issue in the election campaign. Israelis will be required to choose between a government that increases Israel’s isolation and one that brings Israel back to the family of nations. The end of the occupation is crucial, of course, for internal reasons as well – freeing resources for Israelis’ welfare and reinstating the state’s democratic and moral character.

Gideon Levy writes Netanyahu shaped a different, darker Israel: In his own image:

Even when he hid his beliefs, he did so in order to advance them. Netanyahu never believed in peace with the Arabs — and he removed peace from Israel’s agenda. He never believed in the rights of the Palestinian people — and he destroyed the two-state solution. He genuinely believed that Jews are the chosen people — and he brought Israel closer to a future apartheid state modeled on his beliefs, including in its constitutional aspects.

Once there was an Israel that subdued its racism and was ashamed of it; that did not alternate only between rivers of hate and waves of intimidation. Where Arabs were not only suspicious objects and where war refugees were not only “infiltrators.” Where Judaism was not only for ultranationalists and the flag was not waved only by the settlers. Once there was hope, but it disappeared; someone severed it.

To top it all off, Yoel Marcus pleads with voters to Stop Israel’s political pyromaniac

If an alien from another planet were to visit us these days, he would probably ask himself: What? Netanyahu’s still here? What’s going on with Israel? How did this nice, tiny country – whose values and survival abilities were so admired by most of the world – morph into a monster that is endangering everyone’s welfare?

Underneath all this outrage is a palpable nervousness as centrist and left-of-center Israelis evaluate their prospects in the upcoming Knesset elections.

Or as someone once told me, Haaretz is just a leftie paper no one in Israel pays any attention to, that’s why it’s circulation is dropping like a rock.

Grassroots peace: Israeli settlers and Palestinian villagers talk it out

Haaretz published a piece on West Bank settlers and Palestinian villagers reaching out to each other for dialog. To quote one of the leaders, Shaul Judelman:

Our goal here is empowering moderate voices on both sides to be able to stand with their communities and look beyond the other side as a pure enemy and see that our destiny here in some way is together.

and one of his Palestinian partners:

We want to show the children another side of the enemy. At the end of the day, they are the ones who pay the price for the conflict. They are not responsible for what the grown-ups are doing. They are just the victims of the grown-ups and their lack of responsibility. We want to encourage them to have hope for the future.

There are many more who think like this and will be able to look past the fear fomented by politicians on both sides. It’s the reason a single state solution can work and may be the best option in the long-run. Do your small bit and sign the White House petition asking Obama to make it a policy option.

Absent a move towards equal rights for all, Israel-Palestine is likely to descend into  a version of Jim Crow on the Jordan. You already have two sets of laws. One for Israelis, one for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. They’re not enforced equally either. This will lead to further calls of Apartheid, Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions.

The settlers quoted in the article recognize this, and they see clearly what this is doing to their own communities:

…it’s also an awareness that we’re not getting here from equal places at all and there’s a lot of work to do within both of our communities for that vision to come alive, and we both have a lot of responsibility to make a lot of change.

The settlers have become one of the most ostracized bad words in Israel. Nobody talks to us. The more our communities feel vilified, we play the role. I really see that happening.

If you truly respect the rights of Israeli Jews to settle in what they consider their ancestral homeland, you should also respect the equal-rights for Palestinians including their right to return to Jaffa or Haifa if they’re from there.  That’s why the one-state solution is the only just option.Sadly, extremism on both sides is undermining hopes for peace of any kind. Here in the US we hear a lot about Hamas terrorism, rocket attacks, kidnappings and hate. But the same sort of forces are gathering on the Israeli side as well, and you see hate crimes, mobs attacking Palestinians, arrests of anti-war protesters and callousness towards the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian children.

But that is not the whole story, and not what we should focus on if we want to see peace. These settlers recognize that as well and don’t like what it’s doing to their children:

Our children need to know that to hit an Arab because they are an Arab is the same as to hit a Jew because they are a Jew.

Part of this is because of how segregated the two populations have become. To quote one of the settlers:

I said I never thought I’d talk to a Palestinian. He said he never thought he would talk to a settler. He described to me how my kippa to his children is a symbol to be feared. I described to him how for me his village was a place you go and don’t come back. He tells me how afraid the Palestinians are of the settlers. I say: You’re afraid of me? I thought I was afraid of you.

Moderate voices who want to live in peace together deserve our support.

I’ve spent the last four years meeting Palestinians, hearing their side and learning how they see us. I realize, of course, that they hate us. They don’t believe that Israel is connected to the Jewish people. They think Israel is a colonial entity from the outside with no connection to this land. They construct a narrative of us just like we construct a narrative of them. For me it’s very important to bring people who are connected to this land to tell the story of what it means to be in the area of Bethlehem to Hebron for us. It has to be part of a dialogue.

We believe the Jewish people have a connection to the land. We believe in some sense that it’s right and proper that we’re here. But at the same time we know, or we’re coming to realize, that other people are here also, and we have to balance those conflicting truths. When you only live among your own and only know your own narrative, you are naturally very suspicious of the other who is just an intruder and just a thorn in your side and something that doesn’t belong there. But when you open up your heart and you see the other, you begin to see the truth is complex – that my truth is true, but it’s a partial truth and there’s another truth that’s also partial and I have to learn to put them together and make the larger truth. I believe we can do that.

I say amen to that. Or ameen if you prefer.