Saturday, December 25

Racism - a Cancer in Israel

It is unfortunate that there are public servants in Israel of all ranks - ranging from some extreme right wing Knesset members to religious establishment public servants (rabbis) in the various municipalities around the country who are legitimizing hatred of non-Jews.

If this causes many Israel pundits to raise their eyebrows and say that I am anti-Israel, anti-Zionist as well as doing a great disservice to Israel and feeding grist to the mill of Israel's enemies - I disagree! Am I deserving of these epithets when I condemn racism and xenophobia in Israel? The justification for being apathetic to racism in Israel is that it gives ammunition to Israel's enemies. Any positive criticism of racism in Israel is viewed as an anti-Semitic reaction that is denying Israel's right to exist. Does this mean that denying or ignoring the existence of racism in Israel serves Israel's interest?

As mentioned in my previous articles - there is a trend of increasing racism or xenophobia as witnessed a few weeks ago (50 rabbis signed a document against renting out apartments to non-Jews). This had a snowball effect, which spurred on feelings of hate for Arabs as well as foreign workers and the demonstrations by right wing groups that followed.

Incidents of violence against Arabs have occurred in East Jerusalem. Widespread demonstrations also occurred in Bat Yam, and Hatikva Quarter. These demonstrations were aimed at Arabs and foreign workers generally.

The demonstrations were even attended by Knesset Member Michael Ben-Ari - a right wing extremist, who stooped to rabble rousing the masses against Arabs. When racism is legitimized by an MK then we must be aware of the danger signals and condemn this development very strongly. It is unacceptable! It is our duty to condemn this phenomenon. These extremists are giving Israel's enemies an excuse to hate Israel and making comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa more legitimate especially as some of these racist tainted bills makes its way into law.

If we are complacent and allow racism to prevail then we are just as guilty as the perpetrators themselves. If we do not nip this tendency in the bud we are doing just as much a disservice to Israel as Israel's enemies.

The right wing coalition government of Israel has a number of right wing partners headed by racist extremists, whose statements have been giving legitimacy to racism towards Arabs as well as foreign workers where Israel has adopted a "revolving door" policy whether the latter are caregivers of the Israeli aged, agricultural field workers or builders. They come and go depending on the whims of the Interior Ministry headed by Eli Yishai of the racist Shas Party. He is on record stating that foreigners pollute the Jewish people with AIDS and all kinds of diseases, not to mention the fact that they are a threat to the Jewish character of Israel. Does this perhaps ring a bell of an evil era in Germany in the 1930's and 40's?

Must we Israelis not be aware of the danger signals of racism and try to hide it in the cupboard as it could be perceived as serving the interests of Israel's enemies?

Those who are harming Israel are the racists in the Netanyahu Government. Avigdor Lieberman, Eli Yishai and Michael Ben-Ari, the neo-Kahanist, are spewing hatred for the foreigners in our midst. Lieberman reserves his hate for the Palestinians. Netanyahu's condemnation of racism rings empty when the extreme right flank of his government holds racist views.

Another surprising incident was the visit to Vienna, Austria of Likud Deputy Minister, Ayoob Kara. The purpose of his visit was a meeting with Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the far-right FPO Party and praising him at a joint press conference.

This party was founded by former Austrian Nazis in 1948, including many who had served in the SS. This is the party of the late Joerg Haider.

The FPO has "called for the abolishment of anti-Nazi legislation." It is known for its anti-Semitism as well as praising the Nazi regime. The FPO is also on record for supporting notorious Holocaust deniers. Netanyahu received a letter of condemnation of the visit from Ariel Muzicant, the president of Austria's Jewish community. Maybe Israel supporters will say that criticism of this visit is also anti-Semitic!

While considering the increasing racism in Israel and the nature of Israel's right wing government, it should not surprise us that this government would find strange bedfellows in far right wing movements in Europe and elsewhere. Israel is sensitive towards racism directed at the Jewish people but towards the minorities, the sensitivity is somehow lacking and this is exhibited in the quality of Knesset members in the right wing coalition that was voted in by the majority of Israel’s citizens. It has set a pattern that is moving towards racism and fear of the minority non-Jewish groups living in Israel.


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Sunday, December 19

Is Democracy in Israel at the Cross Roads?

Since the right wing coalition government in Israel was elected in 2009 with its macabre collection of partners on the right, there are disturbing signs of erosion of democracy in Israel.

One does not have to be a political scientist to see that democracy in Israel is reaching the crossroads.

In recent weeks we have witnessed some trends in the government orchestrated by Israel Beiteinu, the extreme right wing racist party under the leadership of Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister. This racist party has been at the forefront of the Pledge of Allegiance Bill aimed at non-Jews who wish to become citizens of Israel.

Are we moving towards an apartheid-like society? Where are the checks and balances that should prevent racist legislation being enacted? The Labor Party, which used to be the left of centre party associated with the left wing in Israel has lost its identity and is part of the Netanyahu Government. It is compromising on its socialist ideology for the sake of being in a ruling coalition irrespective of whether it is right or left wing.

When the terrible fire was raging in the Carmel forests, resulting in the tragic loss of 44 lives, Israel appealed for help from overseas. The plea was answered by many countries, including Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, with whom Israel has problematic relationships.

Israel's appeal for help was answered and it was quick in coming. The Palestinian Authority sent a contingent of 21 fire fighters despite the fact that their fire fighting abilities are limited.

What was interesting is that Israel accepted help from wherever it came and even the Palestinian firemen were not subject to massive security checks prior to their entry. However when the community of Usfiya organized a ceremony in their honour, it was business as usual and these fireman were not granted permits to attend the ceremony in their honour. The excuse given was a technical one and an apology was made by Israel for the misunderstanding. Some right wingers made cynical statements that Palestinians were responsible for the Carmel fire tragedy and that the fireman should not have been allowed in the first place.

The signatories to a document against renting homes to non-Jews signed by 39 senior rabbis on the payroll of many municipalities in Israel is also a dangerous signal which could cause problems for democracy in Israel. It also has wider ramifications than most of us wish to believe. What comes to mind is the weakening of the separation of synagogue and state which is the cornerstone of most western democracies.

The declaration of recognition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is in itself problematic. As I mentioned in a previous article, Israel has a Jewish majority and the non-Jewish minorities account for 20% of Israel's population. Bearing this in mind, is it necessary to emphasize this in a Pledge of Allegiance? What purpose does this serve and what benefits can the citizens of Israel accrue. Nobody will deny Israel's Jewish character as this is a demographic reality that does not need to be emphasized ad nauseam.

Today Israel is becoming more of a theocracy rather than a democracy. A theocracy can never be a true democracy. Most Arab states in the Middle East are theocracies. The predominant faith is Islam. There is no democracy in these states and the status of women is poor. If we take Iran as an example, we note that it is also known as the Islamic Republic of Iran. This country is not democratic. If Israel becomes the Jewish Republic of Israel with a coalition of religious parties, the situation in Israel would not be democratic. It is perhaps very different from the evil Iranian Ahmadinajad regime but the threat to a healthy democracy is still present.

Apart from the signatures of racist rabbis mentioned earlier in this article there are also trends that some towns are enacting bylaws to discourage non-Jews from living there.
A report in Haaretz by Jack Khoury on 16th November 2009 stated the following:
 “Less than six months after two northern communities proposed changing their bylaws to make "loyalty to the Zionist vision" a condition of acceptance into the community, a third has just followed suit.
All three locales are small communities where houses can legally be sold only to people approved by a vetting committee. All are also located in the Misgav Regional Council.
In June, after Haaretz's report on the proposed bylaw change in Manof and Yuvalim raised a storm, both communities decided to reconsider the move, and are still in the process of thinking it over. At the time, Arab Knesset members and Adalah, an Arab advocacy group, had charged that the new bylaws were an attempt to circumvent a High Court of Justice ruling barring such communities from refusing to sell houses to Arabs who meet all the other requirements for membership.
Last Thursday, however, another Misgav community, Mitzpeh Aviv, approved new bylaws stressing the town's Jewish and Zionist character - an issue that had gone unmentioned in the old bylaws. In a section titled "goals and powers," the new document lists the community's primary goals as "settlement; Zionism; the heritage of Israel; the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of the vision of the State of Israel's Declaration of Independence; tolerance; and human dignity."
Moreover, it said, "the community's Israeli Zionist essence is emphasized in daily life, by celebrating Israeli holidays communally, organizing activities for the youth in connection with their bar-mitzvah year and having members' children join Zionist youth movements, all while taking part in the Zionist enterprise."
Finally, the section on membership stated that new members must share "the basic worldview and goals of the association as presented in the 'goals and powers' section."
If the emphasis in the future is going to be on Israel’s Jewishness and turning Israel into a state based on Halacha (Jewish Law), democracy in Israel will be compromised and people’s freedom of choice where they may live will be severely compromised especially if they are not Jewish.

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Saturday, December 4

Israel in Flames

A terrible tragedy hit the Carmel Mountains. A forest fire of tremendous proportions had broken out resulting in the loss of millions of trees and wild life. The lives of 40 prison wardens trapped in a bus engulfed in flames were lost. They were on the way to save security prisoners, Jewish and Palestinian, who were threatened by the monstrous fire. Over 40000 dunams of land destroyed.

The fire has been raging for a few days now and we are witnessing the total impotence of the Israeli Fire Brigade. I have seen reports about the lack of allotted budgets for the fire brigade. The fire brigade commanders have demanded a budget increase from all the Israeli Governments past and present over the years but nothing was done. The only time when moneys are allotted is when there is a fire literally but in actuality the crippling network of Israeli burocracy has always been a big obstacle to overcome in just about every important civil necessity.

The budget that should have been allotted to essential civil services has somehow made its way to partisan parasitic yeshivas in coalition religious deals that somehow seem to get their booty with the minimum of burocratic red tape. All this is done for the sake of placating the parasitic Shas Party to remain in the coalition to wreak hell and brimstone havoc in the form of political blackmail to gain disproportionate funds for their yeshivas.

The fire brigade is the responsibility of Interior Ministry under Eli Yishai the Shas Party leader. The ultra Orthodox Shas Party’s price to be in the coalition is to get money for their yeshivas. This explains the ill-equipped and largely ineffective fire brigade services. The fact that they are able to function is due to the dedication of the firemen despite the tremendous odds against them. We must raise our hats to them in humility. They are working round the clock facing indescribable difficulty.

We are facing a natural disaster of incredible proportions with damage to property, loss of lives including wild life that will take a long time to rehabilitate.

I think of the time, prior to the mega fire, wasted on issues that antagonize a large section of Israel's minority. I think of the paranoiac attitude that the Israeli Government has towards the outside world that criticizes Israel for its settlement policies in the occupied territories. The cries of anti-Semitism are quick in coming whenever Israel is condemned for Palestinian human rights abuses. The fire brigade is the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior. This Shas Party inflated Ministry seems to be more concerned in preserving racial Jewish purity (endless energy spent on xenophobic attitudes towards foreign workers and pledges of allegiance by non-Jews to Israel as a Jewish state are some examples of wasted energy) by the plethora of costly bills to ensure that goal rather than being accountable for essential services that citizens are entitled including the fire brigade.

It is a case of Nero fiddles while Rome burns. Nero is the Likud leader, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, while Rome is the burning Carmel forests.

Many people in Israel say that this mega fire could have occurred under previous governments but it was just unfortunate that it happened under the present government. This may or may not be true. What is true is that there have been fires in the Carmel forests over the years but the responsible bodies took no heed in beefing up the fire brigade once the fires were put out. Instead they had numerous commissions of enquiries with inconclusive results swept up in an insurmountable web of Israeli Government burocracy that did nothing.

Israel appealed to the world community for aid to extinguish the fire. Help was fast in coming - even from so called "hostile" countries like Turkey. PM Erdogan whom Israelis claim hates Israel played his part in sending two fire fighting planes to help in containing this natural disaster. Even the Palestinian Authority had sent in aid to Israel to help extinguish the fire. 

The cause of the fire is from Isfiya, the Druze village. It was started by the negligence of two youngsters. It was not arson. There are pyromaniacs who have been lighting fires as well causing new fires in the area. The police are investigating and have made some arrests.

However, some lessons can be learned from this. What comes to mind is the failure of Israel's fire brigade because of lack of modern fire-fighting equipment. Israel's appeal to the international community for help in extinguishing the fire never went unheeded and the response was gratifying beyond expectation.

So much time had been wasted on passing racist bills against Israel's non-Jewish minorities led by two racists, Avigdor Lieberman the Foreign Minister and Eli Yishai the Interior Minister. All this was done in order to maintain a right wing coalition. All these racist bills pale when the terrible disaster occurred. Israel was caught with its pants down in its inability to extinguish the fire without outside help.

It also reinforces the fact that Israel is part of the world community and we are all dependent on each other especially in times of disaster. Lately Israel has been very arrogant and going against the wishes of the international community in its opposition to the extension of a settlement freeze in the occupied territories.

After the fire is put out, there will be a commission of enquiry. What is obvious at this early stage is the pathetic ineptitude of the Interior Ministry under Eli Yishai the Shas Party leader. He has proved to be a disgrace and totally useless. He must resign and shoulder some of the responsibility for this tragedy. This would be the correct thing to do.

Israel has always sent teams on rescue missions to countries that have had natural disasters. They have built field hospitals in countries like Haiti with great success. They helped Turkey when it suffered a massive earthquake about 24 years ago. However, on their own turf, their fire fighting ability is poor and they had to rely on outside help. This is unfortunate and our hearts go out to all those families who lost dear ones in this disaster. The ecological disaster area in the Carmel will take many years to rehabilitate.    

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