Saturday, January 27

The President of Israel and his Accusations

This was an incredible week! The Attorney-General of Israel is weighing the indictment of President Moshe Katzav for rape and sexual harassment. All this is proceeding in the back drop of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Iranian nuclear threat in the Middle East. Those who watched President Katzav’s performance on the podium of the presidential residence must have been left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is empathy for the embattled president (who is still innocent as he has not been charged with any crime), and disgust over the deep accusations weighing against him. It does not matter how one views Katzav’s predicament, it is incumbent on him to resign and clear his name. The fact that he remains in office even though the Knesset had not voted for his removal from the presidency but rather for temporary suspension of his presidential duties makes the presidential office in Israel a joke!

The president is the product of the loutish Likud Party of the 1980s and 1990’s. Who remembers the rowdy Likud Central Committee behaviour of those days during Likud Conferences? The various camps were in evidence then – the David Levy Camp, Shamir Camp and the Ariel Sharon Camp with loutish competition between the camps for taking over the Likud. The violence between the various camps and the throwing of chairs at one another was part of Likud culture.

Naturally, it is the strongest camp that wins and when it came to presidential elections in 2000, the Likud put up Moshe Katzav as their candidate for president against Shimon Peres and he won.

Many people saw Katzav’s victory as a success and a ray of hope for those immigrants from Arab Countries who lived in squalor ridden immigration camps in various parts of the country. At last, “one of their’s” had reached the top of the mountain – the presidency!

As so often happens to those who reach the top, they become victims of their own high positions. They see themselves almost unaccountable to the nation that they represent and above the law. After all, even though the Israeli president occupies a ceremonial position without any real power, he does represent the country on international and national occasions. He is seen as the representative of all Israel’s citizens. Surely, this is a very great responsibility! It seems that what is forbidden to the Israeli citizen by law is allowed to the Israeli president! This is evident by the amount of complaints of many women who were under his employ. They came out of the cupboard and went to the police making statements that he had raped one of them and harassed the others sexually. Surely these accusations are serious enough to warrant the president’s resignation so that he could clear his name from these accusations.

What was Katzav’s reaction? He made a horrendous speech or harangue whereby he accused the Israeli establishment – the attorney-general, the police, and press “with whom the police formed a partnership” to get rid of him. He also blamed the so-called elitist politicians who were not from the same humble mould from where he came for his predicament. He of course is as innocent as driven snow. He maintained that if he would resign that would be tantamount to admission of guilt. Apart from that, he had not been indicted of any crime to date.

If the average citizen was accused of the crimes that Katzav perpetrated, he would be placed under arrest and the chances of bail would be minimal. However, the president is still receiving presidential privileges even though his duties have been temporary suspended. This is ridiculous! The Knesset behaved irresponsibly in their decision. This is not surprising as many Knesset members are also involved in some irregularities with the law. Potential law breakers as well as law makers (which in Israel have become synonymous) these days cannot be expected to vote unanimously for Katzav’s dismissal from the presidency. Perhaps it is a matter of people living in glass houses should not throw stones!

In this situation, is it not surprising that the reaction by Palestinian leaders is one of cynicism toward the Israeli leadership?

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made his first comment on the
Affair during a speech at a conference in Gaza City:
"You can imagine an entity, whose leadership commits adultery and
takes bribes and is dissolving. Would such a rapist leadership be able to
dominate or control this nation and this proud people? Absolutely not,"
Haniyeh said.

Even if Israel would not have been burdened with the Katzav Affair it would have had made no difference in the Hamas attitude to Israel.

The Katzav problem is a symptom of the sickness within the Israel leadership. The cases of corruption that are coming out of the cupboard compounded by the Income Tax corruption scandal is further proof that Israel is becoming a member of an increasing list of corrupt banana republics. Even in sport, the fixing of winning lists of soccer matches for cartels to make money has become widespread! This being the case, the movement towards a peaceful and just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict will recede further onto the political backburner. Corruption in Israel changes its priorities which could spell danger to its future in the Middle East.

Saturday, January 20

Travel Restrictions for Palestinians - is it Justified?

Israel has faced many security problems because of Palestinian terrorist activity. The construction of the security fence on a very controversial route that encroaches into Palestinian farm lands has been a cause of disagreement for quite a while now. The security fence is a desperate measure to prevent Palestinian terrorist infiltration. It has proved its usefulness and there is no denying that suicide bombings in the main centers have decreased markedly. This does not mean that it will remain so indefinitely. The route of the security fence - following the green line - would have been more desirable and would not have created unnecessary hardships towards innocent Palestinians.

Unfortunately, the moment there is some form of solution to a serious security problem, other problems arise. In this case it is the problem of travel within the Palestinian areas of the West Bank.

Despite the break down of communication between Israelis and Palestinians and the peace process in total ruins, it is essential that all forms of communication between Israelis and Palestinians remain open. This is important for humane and economic reasons. Palestinian people that are restricted in travel and communication will cause further hardships. This will strengthen the extremist non-compromising organizations such as Hamas whose survival depends on the extreme suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation. Apart from that, and not less important, channels must remain open between Israelis and Palestinians to dialogue. This dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians to form peaceful relationships between each other, untainted by politicians, ought to be encouraged. Travel restrictions will make it more difficult for the two peoples to communicate.  

PM Olmert has paid lip service to easing various restrictions such as roadblocks within the Palestinian areas. In practice, nothing has been done and the incredible convoluted routes taken from one Palestinian town to another remains a tortuous ordeal that takes many hours even for a normal 15 minute journey. This has nothing to do with security. It has plenty to do with unnecessary humiliation of innocent Palestinian People, uninvolved in terror activity against Israel.

The justification for security measures can be stretched beyond all reasonable proportions. Nobody can argue against Israel protecting her citizens from terror. The methods that are employed are bordering on the unreasonable. When security rules are made and do not take basic human rights into consideration, it leaves a gray area open to Israel Army abuse. This can be at check points where some Israeli soldiers behave in a barbaric and impolite manner towards many innocent Palestinians.  Palestinians, in need if urgent medical treatment, are subjected to incredible humiliation and delays in getting that treatment. This is unacceptable!

“Security considerations” is an excellent excuse for carrying out abuse on innocent Palestinians at check points. The moment any self respecting human rights activist criticizes Israel Army behaviour for these activities, he is accused of being an anti-Semite or Israel-basher! How far can Israeli paranoia go in order to justify brutal behaviour! There is a hue and cry whenever parallels are used comparing the Israeli occupation to apartheid white South Africa of the past! While the situation is not comparable, the loutish and callous behaviour of the Israeli Security Forces is reminiscent of the behaviour of the white apartheid South African Police of old even though the reason may not be parallel.

Now with the addition of further travel restrictions against the Palestinians, it is becoming more difficult to avoid that odious comparison. When these practices of abuse occur in the territories, what claim can Israel make of being a true democracy? Is it a democracy Bush-style at Guantanamo Prison? The territories seem to be comparable to the US Guantanamo. The new travel restrictions against Palestinians further erodes Israel’s credibility. Even the Israel High Court has not come to any decision on that issue.

A question that should be asked is whether these travel restrictions on Palestinians is based on a de facto security consideration or is it a discriminatory measure. The line between the two aspects is very thin indeed.
Shulamit Aloni, a retired Knesset member and former Education Minister in the late PM Rabin’s Cabinet, stated in her article – “Indeed there is Apartheid in Israel” the following:
“Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what's right in front of our eyes. It's simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population”.

Saturday, January 13

Is Hamas on the Verge of Recognizing Israel?

On Wednesday 11th January 2007, Reuters issued a report that Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader resident in Syria, recognizes Israel.  Naturally, this caused many raised eyebrows in Israel. The raised eyebrows are of total skepticism! Is this possible? If one were to examine the question and answer session held between Reuters and Khaled Meshal, it does not take much imagination to read that it is full of contradictions.

There are hints of a number of conditions before there is any form of recognition:
  1. Establishing a Palestinian state on the June 4 1967 borders, including (East) Jerusalem,

  2. The right of return of refugees from the 1948 war of Independence

  3. Israel must withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders.

There is a grudging non-recognition of the “Israeli Entity”. The reason for this is the total absence of a Palestinian state. It is not clear, according to Meshal, whether the Palestinian State will replace Israel and this will result in Hamas recognizing Israel. This is absurd! The contradictions as far as recognition of Israel is concerned is so numerous in the Hamas approach, that it makes it impossible to come to any conclusion as to what the intentions of Hamas are apart from Israel’s total destruction.

According to Meshal, the issue of Israel’s existence and recognition only complicates the Palestinian struggle for independence and an end to the occupation. On the one hand Meshal states that Israel is a fact but the Palestinians are not required to recognize Israel. He states that not all international relations are based on recognition. What does this mean in practice? Does this mean that one can have international relations with a country that does not exist? Where is the logic?

When confronted with the question whether Hamas will formally recognize Israel, Khaled Meshall responds:

“We as Hamas and as Palestinians do not talk about recognizing Israel or accepting it as a reality. As a Palestinian today I speak of a Palestinian and Arab demand for a state on 1967 borders. It is true that in reality there will be an entity or a state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land. This is reality but I don't deal with it from the point of view of recognizing or admitting it. It is a fact that was the result of historical factors”.

This is strange logic indeed! It is like admitting that a state does exist in reality but this does not mean that we must admit that it exists! Hamas is running away from reality and is fantasizing that the reality of Israel is a figment of the imagination. This is indeed a very dubious way of discarding the reality of Israel’s existence.

According to Zvi Barel of Haaretz 11/01/07, there is a basic shift in the Hamas position. Khaled Meshal's declaration outlines a Hamas road map toward recognition of Israel. According to this outline, Meshal recognizes that the State of Israel is a "fact," but this "fact" still requires formal recognition. It is not clear what this entails.In practice, Meshal is trying to create an equation in which sovereign states recognize one another; but, for this to occur, we must first wait for the establishment of the Palestinian state, so that a similar legal entity can recognize its neighboring state- Israel.

There is no mention of even recognizing Israel in the future or changing the Hamas Charter to come to terms with Israel. Khaled Meshal is not prepared to face the fact that Israel’s is an integral part of the Middle East and that if he does not face this fact, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state will just not be a possibility.

How can Hamas negotiate with Israel based on respecting Palestinian rights when Hamas is not even prepared to negotiate with Israel on anything? It is not enough to claim that Hamas has a mandate from the Palestinian People in an election that was held a year ago. Hamas’s record of accomplishment on Palestinian human rights is flawed. Apart from that, they have achieved nothing for the Palestinians whom they are supposed to represent. They talk about the armed struggle against the occupation. There is a civil war between the more pragmatic Fatah and Hamas.

Hamas leaders make statements about Israel giving them nothing and just taking. How can Israel give or take from the Palestinians when there is no recognition of Israel’s right to exist from the Hamas side? The murmurings of recognition of Israel from Khaled Meshal are nothing but a smokescreen and a tactic to delude the world that Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist in a very obtuse way. The Palestinians are in a very severe economic depression. They need foreign currency and investment urgently. If this does not arrive then the Palestinians will face even more severe economic hardships.

Even if Israel withdraws to the pre-June 1967 borders, and declares Jerusalem to be the capital of two states as well as agreeing to the right of return of refugees, it is unlikely that Hamas will recognize Israel’s right to exist.

The statements of Khaled Mashal are not convincing and there is caginess as far as recognition of Israel is concerned. This does not bode well for the future of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Unless Hamas changes its strategy and ceases to send out ambiguous mixed messages about recognizing Israel’s right to exist, it is obvious that Hamas has not changed. There is no doubt that if Hamas does become pragmatic and recognizes Israel’s right to exist, there will be a basis for negotiations towards an end to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside Israel.

Hamas does not serve the interests of the Palestinian People by its implacable and obstinate attitude. There is no unity in Palestinian ranks with Hamas and Fatah killing each other in street violence.

The Palestinian people must realize that Hamas is a plague on their society. They can only survive in a violent environment of killing and intrigue. Surely, Hamas is a cancer in Palestinian society which will achieve nothing for the benefit of the people they claim to represent.

Saturday, January 6

Corruption in Israel

We are now in the post Zionist era of Israel’s development. There are those people who view the post Zionist period in Israel’s development as the period when Zionism has ceased to be relevant. In a previous article I compared corruption in Israel with that of South Africa. That article was written before the news of the Income Tax corruption scandal in Israel made headlines. The conclusion that one reaches is that the rot has set into Israel’s corridors of power and influence. This rot filters down from the President, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, “run of the mill” party political hacks, who are Knesset Members, and directors of government departments. The rot filters down like a cancer and even crosses religious barriers. Establishment Judaism and its political ramifications in corruption are not immune. The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi enjoys good hotels free while the Sephardic Chief Rabbi does not know what his wayward son is doing when it comes to assaulting a non-approved boyfriend of his daughter.

Eyebrows are raised at the mention of the term “post-Zionism”. Why are these phenomena occurring in Israel whose establishment was so noble? A disease runs in Israel, crossing political lines at a rapid rate. This disease is the “cartel syndrome” (known as “combinot” in Hebrew). Israel society is divided into two main groups:

  1. The Cartels (combinot) – these are groups of people, usually politicians and their business friends who seek political influence in high places for profit. They form strong connections and use public money for their own financial advancement at the tax payers’ expense. Their motto is “This is due to me!” (Hebrew – Magiah li!)

  2. The Suckers (Hebrew “friarim”) – these are the unfortunate citizens of Israel, especially those who are deprived economically. They pay the price for governmental corruption of all shapes and sizes. They pay the taxes and the Tax Authority directors and their shady ilk ensure that their pockets are not empty. The sucker never dies; he is always replaced at the click of the “judicial” finger!

The cases of corruption in Israel are increasing at an alarming rate! Israeli society has become more materialistic and less caring. The cartel is the result of people forming groups in order to keep to the old maxim: “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours!” They regard themselves as being immune from the law. All these attitudes are the result of a flawed educational system that has failed to educate the young. Results are seen in the general behaviour of people in public places including the formation of “cartels” for jumping queues. Vehicle driving patterns on the roads are part of the same syndrome of loutish behaviour and lack of consideration that is so rampant in Israeli society! Fatal accidents cause death and taken a step further it will destroy Israel! The Palestinians are not a danger to Israel’s existence – nor is Iran. The danger to Israel’s existence is “the corrupt cartels”! They undermine Israeli society and values from within. They will hasten the conversion of Israel into a bi-national state as Jewish values are rapidly becoming history. This is post-Zionism!

Even some members of the Police Force are not immune from the “cartel”. Appointments are made on a political basis rather than on the person’s talent for the job in many government departments. The Income Tax Authority Chief , Jackie Matza, is now under arrest for suspected bribery and corruption and authorizing tax rebates for members of the powerful cartels in the corridors of power. If the Income Tax Authority is corrupt, then the future for legitimate state revenues from law abiding Israelis is in question. Israelis are amongst the highest taxed citizens in the world! The return for their taxes is poor. Could this be due to the “Cartel Syndrome”?

This is all indicative of the beginning of the post-Zionist era in Israel. Blatant materialism and the desire to form cartels in order to get rich quickly has now become the way of life in modern Israel. This method of personal enrichment at the tax payers’ expense brings a message loud and clear to the tax payer. Why pay taxes if the money goes to members of cartels in their motivation of enriching themselves financially?

This spells danger for the survival of Israel as a Jewish state. It might as well become a bi-national state. Jewish values are disintegrating, being replaced by fundamental materialism. This is not the society for which to strive. Its values are disintegrating and this will result in the destruction of democracy.

Under these circumstances it may be a good idea to ponder the idea of a bi-national state representing all of its citizens – Arab as well as Jewish. A corrupt Israel will never be able to deliver the peace that we need. This has nothing to do with corruption in the Palestinian Authority. If the leaders of Israel are unable to contain corruption and are even part of the system that promulgates this evil by default, then something is rotten in its leadership! Perhaps a bi-national, democratic, secular state with built in mechanisms that minimizes nepotism and corruption is the answer to Israel’s existence. Corruption in Israel will eventually result in Israel joining the unenviable club of third world banana republics.

Perhaps the only optimistic aspect of this scenario is that the rot has surfaced due to the public media in Israel which remains free. The rule of law is still evident as illustrated by intense police investigation into the Income Tax Authority scandal.