What we’ve learned about the Israeli electorate from the election.

I’m going to focus only on the question of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians and the Occupied Territories. I’m going to ignore economic issues since frankly they have limited interest to most who don’t live in Israel. This is myopic and I’m the first to admit it.

First off, things really didn’t change much. Israel is split pretty much down the center between Left-ish parties and Right-ish parties.

Likud won 25% of the vote which was more than they did last time, the broader right won around 50% which was about the same. For the most part, the broader right shares Netanyahu/Likud’s vision of a greater Israel and settlement expansion in the West Bank. In general these parties believe the two-state peace process is a useful distraction, to be indulged when there’s something to be gained, or a loss to be prevented. The news (if you can call it that) is that Bibi said it out loud into a microphone.

The fact is that Israelis look across their borders and see a terrifying civil war in Syria, and a vicious guerrilla war in Iraq. Netanyahu stoked fears that any devolution of powers to a Palestinian state would bring this state of affairs to the West Bank. I would argue Palestinian society is not really fertile ground for ISIS and their ilk, in the same way Lebanon and Turkey are not (essentially they’re all Mediterranean cultures). Nevertheless, this is a reasonable concern that reasonable people may have. [* See Below]

Whether or not such concerns can retro-actively legitimize a permanent occupation and arrogation of the rights of Palestinians was not a subject of discussion in this election. There was no event that made the Israeli electorate at large sit up and notice the banal injustice of the occupation and how the country has arrived at this juncture. With the exception of the usual suspects on the far left, Arab Jews/Christians and subscribers to Haaretz (who really are suspects or worse in the eyes of many).

Here’s the silver lining. Despite the concern of wider Middle-East unrest arriving to the West Bank of the Jordan, roughly 50% of the population voted for parties that continued to tacitly support a devolution of power to Palestinians and a negotiated withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. This half of the country (including the fifth of citizens who are of Palestinian Muslim and Christian descent) voted for engagement, despite the risks. They did not rush into Bibi’s arms despite his fear-mongering about barbarians at the gates (Hamastan in the West Bank) and enemies within (Arabs voting in droves).

The 2014 war in Gaza and its impact on Palestinians was largely ignored. There was no real discussion of the propriety of Israeli action (including home bombings, indiscriminate shelling and the targeting of designated safe zones) except obliquely from the Joint List and the far, far left. This should not come as a surprise to anyone given the narrative focus on Hamas rockets and “terror tunnels” last summer. Netanyahu’s framing of the war as “Israel’s right to defend itself” is largely unassailable in the public sphere.

* To provide some context. We (as in the USA) are still waging a War by Drone all across the world with many civilian casualties and mum’s the word state-side. If there were rockets (however ineffectual) launched from New Jersey landing on the Upper West Side, I suspect many of my neighbors would be all for pummeling the Garden State into dust. If New Jersey were a Native American reservation (or had the racial makeup of Ferguson), I shudder to think what options might be on the table. All that said, we’ve overcome most of our worst injustices from the past. It took a Civil War and many faltering steps, but the US no longer has that kind of relationship with its indigenous population or minorities. Then again, if FARC were in Pennsylvania (our hemisphere’s rough equivalent), with a risk it might spill over to NYC, I think my liberal bastion of a city might even bring Giuliani back.

A round-up of the punditry I found interesting below:

In Netanyahu won, but Israel was brought to its knees, Ari Shavit writes:

But the tribe known as the “white tribe” is the most primitive political tribe that exists in Israel. Time after time it blindly follows false messiahs and makes incomprehensible mistakes. This happened yet again on Tuesday. The decision of hundreds of thousands of people to vote for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid split the moderate bloc and gave the government yet again to Likud, to the right, and to Gush Emunim. Just as in 2013 Yair Lapid brought Naftali Bennett to power, this time, Lapid gave the power back to Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people, and they deserve him, Gideon Levy writes:

On Tuesday the foundations were laid for the apartheid state that is to come. If Netanyahu succeeds in forming the next government in his spirit and image, then the two-state solution will finally be buried and the struggle over the character of a binational state will begin. If Netanyahu is the next prime minister, then Israel has not only divorced the peace process, but also the world. Piss off, dear world, we’re on our own. Please don’t interfere, we’re asleep, the people are with Netanyahu. The Palestinians can warm the benches at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Israel boycotters can swing into high gear and Gaza can wait for the next cruel attack by the Israeli army.

In The Guardian: Netanyahu’s victory is clear break with US-led peace process

Ahead of Tuesday’s election, some Palestinian officials close to Abbas had intimated that a Netanyahu victory – not least in terms of his outright rejection of a two-state solution and his vow to continue settlement construction – would mark a clear break in a US-led peace process that has been on ice since it collapsed almost a year ago.Indeed a common sentiment among Palestinians in recent days is that the election campaign forced Netanyahu to reveal his opposition to a two-state solution.

“The Israeli elections forced Netanyahu to reveal his real position,” said prominent Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, reflecting the views of many.

In The Jerusalem Post: White House knocks ‘divisive rhetoric’ against Israeli Arabs in election:

The White House said on Wednesday that it was deeply concerned by the use of “divisive rhetoric” in the Israeli election that sought to undermine Arab Israeli citizens.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested on election day that Left-wingers were trying to get Arab Israeli voters out “in droves” to sway the election against him.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling on Air Force One that the United States would communicate its concern about the issue directly to the Israelis.

Earnest also told reporters on Air Force One that the administration will evaluate its approach on the Middle East peace process following Netanyahu’s recent statement that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch.

And the Jerusalem Post has noted the American press’s reaction to Netanyahu’s pre-election comments.Or if you prefer, the Guardian is carrying the same story: Obama snubs Netanyahu and criticises Israeli PM’s ‘divisive rhetoric’

Not sure whether it’s just the first stage of grief, but Peter Beinart seems to have changed his stance and writes With Netanyahu’s reelection, the peace process is over and the pressure process must begin

My entire adult life, American Jewish leaders have been telling Americans that Israel can save itself. Just wait until Israel gains a respite from terror, they said; then its silent, two-state majority will roar. Give Israelis constant reassurance; never pressure them. If they know “the United States is right next to them,” Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations promised Barack Obama in 2009, Israeli leaders will “take risks” for peace.Israel has been disproving that theory throughout the Netanyahu era. Now, with this election, Israel has killed it.

This campaign, in other words, offered an excellent test of the theory that the American Jewish establishment has peddled for decades. And look what happened. In the absence of Palestinian violence and American pressure, Jewish Israelis at first pretended the Palestinians did not exist. “As Israeli election nears, peace earns barely a mention,” noted Reuters. During a 90-minute debate in late February, eight candidates, together, mentioned the word “peace” only five times. And three of those mentions came from the Arab candidate.

“Power,” said the great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “concedes nothing without a demand.” For almost half a century, Israel has wielded brutal, undemocratic, unjust power over millions of human beings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And as this election makes clear, Israel will concede nothing on its own. This isn’t because Jewish Israelis are different than anyone else. It’s because they are the same.

Tom Cotton likes Bibi’s Iran “strategy” and hearts collective punishment too.

A letter to the Iranian leadership written by Senator Tom Cotton has offered the opportunity to revisit some of his past statements. This particular gem stands out, referenced in an Op-Ed in the Nation: Meet Tom Cotton, the Senator Behind the Republicans’ Letter to Iran

When, in 2013, a new Iran sanctions bill came before the lower chamber, Cotton introduced an amendment that would “automatically” punish family members of sanctions violators. “There would be no investigation,” Cotton explained during the mark-up. “It’d be very hard to demonstrate and investigate to conclusive proof.” Cotton wanted to punish innocent people; he called it “corruption of blood,” and extended the category to include “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids.”

There was a Huffington Post story at the time: Tom Cotton ‘Corruption Of Blood’ Bill Would Convict Family Members Of Iran Sanctions Violators

The amendment immediately sparked objections from several members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who noted that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees due process rights to anyone charged with a crime under American law.”An amendment is being offered literally to allow the sins of the uncles to descend on the nephews,” Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) said. “The amendment that’s being offered doesn’t even indicate a requirement of knowing violation. … I really question the constitutionality of a provision that punishes nephews for the sins of the uncles.”

Now, this should give everyone the heebie-jeebies. A duly elected member of the Congress of these United States (who went to law school) is proposing we jettison hundreds of years of legal precedent and the bill of rights, to implement collective punishment in a form we have not known since nations were run by feuding families.

What was representative Cotton talking about? And why did virtually everyone think he’d lost whatever marbles he may have had? Why does what he proposed sound so wrong?

One problem is the “automatic” punishment and “no investigation” proposals, which run rough-shod over the rights of due process, habeas corpus, etc, etc. Some would say we crossed that Rubicon with Gitmo and renditions. But that isn’t all Mr. Cotton is referring to here, he’s actually bringing up something else as old as Habeas Corpus when he talks about “corruption of blood”.

When Cotton says there would be “no investigation” and proposes punishing “parents, children, aunts….” via legislative action, he is proposing a Bill of Attainder, an instrument with a particularly bloody history in English law:

Medieval and Renaissance English kings and queens used acts of attainder to deprive nobles of their lands and often their lives. Once attainted, the descendants of the noble could no longer inherit his lands or income. Attainder essentially amounted to the legal death of the attainted’s family.

Attainder (or tainted) was reserved (mostly) for crimes of treason against the state as embodied in the monarch. It just happened to be a convenient way to get rid of enemies and their descendants. Enriching the treasury was another welcome side-effect, call it trickle up theory? The Brits haven’t passed a Bill of Attainder for over two hundred years and passed a prohibition against them a century and a half ago.

As you can imagine, this kingly privilege was not particularly popular with the nobles. In fact, it was so unpopular that some of the said nobles (or their younger, poorer relatives in the colonies) when fomenting rebellion against their monarch and forming these United States, inserted into their brand spanking new “Constitution” a provision to specifically prohibit bills of attainder by either Congress, or a state. It’s in Article I, section 9, and is a model of brevity and clarity:

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

Many of the founders were notoriously prickly when it came to issues of property (including the kind that could walk and talk), and confiscation of such by the state. That may have played a role in firming up their views. But they also believed in individual, personal responsibility. Or perhaps it was self-preservation. Which reminds me of something Lincoln once said that may apply:

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.

The prohibition against attainder is so firm that I wonder where Senator Cotton managed to form such positive views of attainder. And why is it that these strange claims about latent Congressional powers (to conduct foreign policy or engage in collective punishment) seem to revolve around Iran?

The US does have an ally whose nominally democratic institutions have found a way to practice collective punishment. Our freshly minted Senator Cotton seems to have swallowed whole this ally’s current PM’s view on our dealings with Iran, and memorialized them in an open letter to the Iranian government signed by most of his Republican colleagues.

Then Representative Cotton defended his proposal at the time (Arkansas Times) by saying it would apply only to non-citizens.

The Israeli government’s policy of home demolitions, land seizures and assassination of entire families are all variations on attainder: the punishment of people for the supposed crimes of their relatives. Collective guilt, collective punishment. To get there requires having photogenic demagogues repeat things like this:

Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.

every so often, till they begin to sound reasonable.

That is from an article in the Independent: Why I’m on the brink of burning my Israeli passport quoting an Israeli Member of the Knesset whose party was in the governing coalition. The Israeli MK in question (Ayelet Shaked of the Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home settler party) says her words (she’s actually quoting someone else) were taken out of context and responded in the Jerusalem Post: Exposing militant leftist propaganda. The clarification though, is as bad as the original statement:

A call for the indiscriminate killing of children is a terrible thing. But what if the statement was that any time you kill our children, you’re exposing your own children to the same fate? Still unsettling, but rational when you consider that they purposely use their kids as human shields. It’s not a call for indiscriminate murder.

I believe this is the logic Netanyahu used to arrive at the conclusion that the army he commanded last year was the most moral in the world. I wonder how this logic is applied in the honorable MK’s view of the world. Should the children of someone who kills a child in a traffic accident meet the same fate? Or is it reserved solely for murder, or politically motivated murder, or terrorism, or war?  I’m not sure, but it dredges up an even older legal argument over the law of “An Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth”. Or perhaps all is fair in love and war?

But why should we look elsewhere if the fault (or mote) is in ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that the US prohibition on attainder did not extend to American Indians. Our history is rife with episodes where entire peoples were dispossessed of their lives and frequently massacred to avenge some act of a few (or sometimes by caprice). We engaged in every manner of collective punishment during the colonization of these lands. So maybe Representative Cotton was simply yearning for a more Jacksonian stance.

It seems to me that Senator Cotton is so enthralled by neo-con rhetoric that he is blind to the very same constitution for which he professes much love and reverence. Does that make him a “conservative” or a radical?

PS. Unlike Senator Cotton, I Am Not A Lawyer. But I do know morally repugnant ideas when I see them.

eHistory: The invasion of America

Stumbled across the eHistory project today.  It has an interactive map of the Invasion of America which is described as:

Between 1776 and 1887, the United States seized over 1.5 billion acres from America’s indigenous people by treaty and executive order. The Invasion of America shows how by mapping every treaty and executive order during that period. It also contains present-day federal Indian reservations.

The interactive map and exploration of the various treaties and orders is fascinating.

They have a number of other projects, including a visualization of the spread of smallpox across North America. Most of the team is at the University of Georgia and some of the projects are less than fully-fledged, but they’re all interesting.

Free Israel & Palestine in 3 easy steps

Israel announced last week that it would annex 1,000 acres of land owned by Palestinians to build a city for Jewish citizens. The state department noted this is “counterproductive… to a two-state solution”. Someone should let the State Department onto a secret. The two-state solution is dead, and has been dead for almost 40 years.

It died when Menachem Begin’s very first Likud government dramatically expanded settlements in the West Bank. No Likud government since has deviated from this path. No Palestinian leader will ever tell their people they should give up Jerusalem or the Jordan Valley, and nor should they. The Israeli electorate is not ready to make peace either, since they’ve been told a fairy tale about the expulsions of 1948. The hard right has begun to fantasize that they might be able to get away with another mass expulsion.

The only real question facing Israelis and Palestinians is one of timing. When will the Palestinian population be granted equal rights in the one state that has existed for 47 years.

This will happen when US policy changes (unless Israel decides to become a Russian client state like Assad’s Syria). US political institutions are not sympathetic to Palestine. Individual politicians may be sympathetic, but in their official capacity they cannot be. They cannot be supportive while the American population at large is uninterested. Remedying this will take three steps.

1. Stop talking about a “two-state solution”

Outside of diplomatic circles in Geneva, New York and DC, no one knows what the “two-state solution” is. Most Americans certainly don’t. Every failed summit costs the Palestinian people more years under a brutal military occupation. Worse, if Israel decided to give up the entire West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza tomorrow (how likely is that), the resulting Palestinian state would cover 22% of Israel-Palestine, be split in two unconnected pieces, and need to support over half the people (not counting refugees outside Israel/Palestine).

Israel’s government is content to participate in “Peace Talks” that go nowhere while building settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. It’s time to change the dynamic.

2. Speak in terms Americans understand like “Equal Rights” and “Freedom”.

Tragically, not enough minds will be changed by images of dead children and innocent civilians. That did not work in the 1982 Lebanon war, it did not work in the Intifada, it does not work in the dozens of West Bank towns that stage protests every week, it did not work in Gaza in 2009 or 2012 nor in 2014.

But the Palestinian cause does resonate strongly with American ideals like: “Civil Rights”, “Equal Opportunity”, “Voting Rights”, “All Men are created Equal” and “Freedom”.  “Liberty” is a term co-opted by the American right, and Bibi Netanyahu is far more effective at speaking to them than any Palestinian will ever be so it isn’t ideal. Israel’s official policies carry negative connotations, and they should described as “Jim Crow Laws”, “Separate and Unequal”, “Housing Discrimination”.

Terms such as “Right of Return”, Green Line” or “Pre-67 Borders” are not part of the American experience and we tune out when we hear them.

To have an impact, the Palestinian struggle for freedom must be presented as:

  • A Civil Rights Movement: To gain a vote in the government that controls your lives and the right to travel, live and work where you wish in your country.
  • Jim Crow on the Jordan: Palestinians and Israelis live under two sets of unequal laws that are enforced unequally, point out how similar this is to South African Apartheid or the American South prior to the 1960s. Talk about institutionalized housing discrimination and routine home invasions.
  • Native Americans in the 1900s: The treatment of the Negev bedouin is very similar.
  • American Revolution: This is perhaps the most powerful image. Come up with your own list of Israeli grievances, like the Declaration of Independence.

3. Be prepared to act.

The current Israeli administration will not easily accept a single, “bi-national” state in Israel-Palestine with equal rights for all. They will try to Palestinians that a shrunken West Bank could become San Marino and Gaza could turn into Monaco. They use every argument to limit the independence of any Palestinian state and shrink its territory.

If you do manage to change American opinion though, then Israel will be forced to negotiate and stay till there is a resolution. Before this happens, the Palestinian people have to know what they want. Do they want a state in 20% of the land your grand-fathers inhabited?

In my view, a partition will eventually lead to more bloodshed because neither Palestinians nor Israelis will be satisfied with it nor should they.

A just solution is one where all Palestinians and all Israelis are treated as human beings who have the right to live and work in their land where-ever they please. This was the original aim of the Palestinian resistance. This was the dream of many Zionists till the few who dreamed of a state with a Jewish majority became ascendant. Of course, that state had to be built on the rubble of Palestinian villages and neighborhoods, it has to be sustained by a system of inequality and a military occupation. A single state is the only for Palestinians to save themselves from oppression and rescue their Israeli brothers and sisters from becoming oppressors.

Chief Joseph’s dream

Hinmaton-Yalaktit (Nez Perce: Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain) more commonly known as Chief Joseph (March 3, 1840 – September 21, 1904) was chief of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce Indians during General Oliver O. Howard’s attempt to forcibly remove his band and the other “non-treaty” Indians to a reservation in Idaho.

What does he have to do with this election?

Barack Obama’s victory means a great deal to African-Americans. But it also has enormous significance to every other group who’s dream of complete inclusion in American society has been advanced. Amongst the many injustices that have stained the legend of America’s rise is the story of its native peoples.  Their disposession is not unique in the world’s history, or indeed in that of the Americas.  But it is particularly heartbreaking since it was so recent and such a contrast with the ideals professed by newer settlers and their constitution.

On Sunday, I made some calls for the Obama campaign in New York at a phonebank, one of the volunteers at the event was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Chief Joseph and a quote.  I began to choke up, as I always do when I am reminded of his remarkable story.  If you haven’t already, you may want to watch the PBS/Ken Burn’s documentary The West, a moving and lyrical account of the American West’s settlement.

Chief Joseph had a simple dream, best expressed in his own words.

Do not misunderstand me, but understand fully with reference to my affection for the land. I never said the land was mine to do with as I choose. The one who has a right to dispose of it is the one who has created it. I claim a right to live on my land and accord you the privilege to return to yours.

What he wanted, for himself and for the people he represented or led were the most basic of rights.

Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself — and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.

Now, I’m well aware that we have not in one fell swoop eradicated all bigotry from this land, it has always existed and in some form will always exist.  But I do think one of Chief Joseph’s hopes is closer to realization today than it was yesterday:

Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we shall have no more wars. We shall be all alike — brothers of one father and mother, with one sky above us and one country around us and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above will smile upon this land and send rain to wash out the bloody spots made by brothers’ hands upon the face of the earth. For this time the Indian race is waiting and praying. I hope no more groans of wounded men and women will ever go to the ear of the Great Spirit Chief above, and that all people may be one people.

And I hope that in the spirit of reconciliation and advance, President Obama and Senator McCain will work together to further the advance of Native Americans including the substantial population in Senator McCain’s home state.  Their’s has been a story of neglect and exploitation, and they hold out great hope for change under an Obama administration.

Too many misinterpretations have been made; too many misunderstandings have come up between the white men and the Indians. If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them the same laws. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect all rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect he will grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of earth and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented nor will he grow and prosper. I have asked some of the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.

Hinmaton-Yalaktit was an eloquent speaker, and enjoyed the benefit of good translators.

As the republican party and its supporters mull over their defeat, they will be thinking many thoughts.  And there is a “nativist” wing of the party that seethes with rage, in my view without reason or cause.  They might wish to remember that on October 5, 1877 after suffering far more pain, loss, disposession, disappointment and heartbreak than they can begin to imagine, Chief Joseph had the grace to wish for peace, even if it was an unjust peace, and said:

I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the Sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.