Criminal Criminology

Lawrence Davidson, 20 May 2011

Part I – “Pink Crime”

For those who might not know, Israel will be holding a conference entitled “Pink Crime–Women, Crime and Punishment” on 30 May 2011. As the title implies it is all about female criminality: women as drug use offenders and drug traffickers, women murders, etc., as well as how the media covers female offenders. This is an international conference, drawing to it not only Israeli criminologists but also scholars and researchers from abroad. The United Kingdom and the United States will each have at least two participants.

One might ask what the big deal is? True, the internationals are ignoring a growing boycott of Israel by various elements of civil society. True, the Israeli criminologists should actually be giving priority to their government’s criminal acts. True, there is something sexist about the entire affair. What is so unique about crime committed by women? Why “Pink”? Still, there is something else that marks this gathering as out of the ordinary. The “Pink Crime”Conference is being held at an illegal Israeli settlement sitting on stolen Palestinian land. It is scheduled for the “University Center” in the settlement of Ariel on the occupied West Bank. To put it more directly, Israel is to hold in conference on crime in a criminal place.

The Israelis do these sort of things– the kind of things that blur the lines between the seemingly normal and the abnormal–a lot. For instance, back in early August 2010, I wrote a piece on the eviction of 200 Bedouin Israeli citizens in the village of al-Arakib. Kicking non-Jews out of their homes is quite “normal” in Israel. Then it was revealed that the Israeli authorities were using busloads of high school aged “police civilian guards” to “extract” the residences’ “furniture and belongings” prior to bulldozing the houses. During this process these kids “smashed windows and mirrors…and defaced family photographs” with apparent impunity. The use of high school kids in this capacity is that added touch of Israeli abnormality.

Part II – Higher Crimes

If Israel’s criminologists want to get serious about their society’s problems there are a myriad number of issues, touching on higher crimes, that they could take up–and do so at any number of sites within Israel’s 1967 border. Most of the outside world would deem those locales legitimate (despite they too having been stolen from the Palestinians). Here is a run down of just a few of the current felonies that should interest a serious Israeli investigator of criminal behavior:

1. The recent revelation by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper of the illegal and surreptitious cancelling of the residency rights of 140,000 Palestinians who traveled abroad between 1967 and 1994. Most of these travelers, legal residents of the Occupied Territories, were going to visit relatives or to study abroad. Upon departure they were required to surrender their id cards. When they tried to return they were permanently denied entrance. A conscientious Israeli criminologist should easily recognize this as criminal behavior under the Geneva Conventions.

2. The collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza. The use of a draconian land and sea blockade against Gaza since 2007 and the drastic reduction of the standard of living of over a million and a half people is so blatantly criminal it just cries out for attention by Israeli criminologists. Yet they can, with apparent easy conscience, prioritize “pink crime” while their own government is replicating the Warsaw Ghetto within easy driving distance.

3. The on-going nationwide campaign to suppress academic freedom, free expression and dissent by a growing number of right wing organizations with friendly government connections. These groups harass and seek the firing of any Israeli educator who is publically critical of official policies toward the Palestinians. If this sort of behavior is not illegal, it certainly ought to be. Asked if he “feared for the future of Israeli democracy?” the Israeli academic Neve Gordon answered, “We don’t have to imagine a dark future, we’re already there. Democracy is severely curtailed, we’re on a dark path, and unless something radical happens….I think that within not so many years, the last remnants of Israeli democracy might be lost.” Given that Israel claims that its government institutions are democratically based, is not the undermining of democracy a criminal act–maybe even an act of treason?

Part III – Inevitable Consequences?

The probability is just about nil that any of the “Pink Crime” criminologists (Israeli or otherwise) will even notice that a) by participating in the conference at Ariel they are accessories to a crime or b) their expertise is desperately needed to check the illegal behavior of the Israeli nation at large. They all appear to be wearing tight fitting moral blinkers that confine their worldviews. What is obviously illegal and abnormal from the outside looking in, is legal and normal on the inside the conferees share. And indeed, as Gordon suggests, the consequences of this tunnel vision lay not in the future. It is with the Israelis right now. A recent poll of Israeli teenage youth found that 60% of them believe that the rule of law is less important than “strong” leadership. Fully 70% see “state security,” which presumably includes maintaining the state’s “Jewish” nature, as more important than “democratic values.” This is a strong indication that Israel’s democracy is fast transforming itself into something much more autocratic for all its citizens, and not just the Palestinians.

Actually this outcome is almost inevitable. If you create a country for one narrowly defined group only you are going to end up with a discriminatory psychology and corresponding policies toward out-group elements. The larger the percentage of out-group folks there are in the general population the more strident the discrimination is likely to be. Presently, the Total Fertility Rate for the majority Israeli Jews is 2.90 and for minority (presently around 21% of the population) Israeli Arabs 3.73. Education in support of institutionalized discrimination and, of course, its actual consistent enforcement will, in turn, brutalize the dominant in-group. Since 1917 and the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, Zionists have purposely molded a discriminatory society for themselves. The behavior we now witness, both from the Israeli government and the majority of its Jewish citizens, is the abnormal and often criminal product of that effort. You reap what you sow.

Part IV – The Outside Consequences

But, as we well know, things are even worse. The Zionists, through the use of their lobbies in the United States and Europe, have drawn the Western governments into their world. They have used money and political scare tactics to cause Western politicians and officials to support what the Israelis decree as normal and legal. And since the average voting Western citizen’s default position is one of ignorance and disinterest to happenings beyond their local sphere, there is little or no constituency counter pressure to this process of Zionist corruption. It is not only the “Pink Crime” internationals booking into Ariel who are aiding and abetting the breaking of international law, it is also just about every Western government. Things are pretty bleak.

Alas, none of this is very original. The great 18th century historian Edward Gibbons once commented that “history…is indeed little more than the register of crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind” (Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 2001 edition, page 335, section 6). Does that mean that Israel’s abnormal behavior is really normal? No, it does not. Mankind, even though historically prone to “crimes, follies and misfortunes” still knows them for what they are and can label them as behavior to be avoided and, when possible, punished. We do this all the time on the domestic front. What we need to do is start taking the breaking of international law as seriously as we do the breaking of domestic law. And, do so not just for the trespasses of the small time political crooks of the third world who end up before the International Criminal Court now and again. Enough with the double standards already! Go after the big time crooks, at home and abroad, who have the capacity to intimidate and manipulate our own governments. When it comes to that category of criminals one place to look is Israel.

Dr. Lawrence Davidson

Dr. Lawrence Davidson

Dr. Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University. He is the author of numerous books, including Islamic Fundamentalism and America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood.

The author is a regular contributor to RamallahOnline.com.More articles can be found on RamallahOnline.com, Logos Journal, and Dr. Davidson also maintains an online blog, you can find it at http://www.tothepointanalyses.com

Thoughtcrimes

Knesset Israel 61 years. (PHoto Wiki Commons)

Neve Gordon, 4 Nov 2010

Would Meryl Streep, Spike Lee, Tim Robbins or Susan Sarandon be willing to swear an oath of loyalty to the United States and its policies in order to receive public funding for feature films that they star in, direct or produce? In Israel, the far-right Knesset member Michael Ben Ari has proposed a bill that would require entire film crews to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and to declare loyalty to its laws and symbols, as a condition for receiving public funding. It’s just one of more than ten bills to be discussed during the Knesset’s winter session that several commentators in Ha’aretz have characterised as proto-fascist.

As in most democracies, all new Israeli citizens must declare loyalty to the state and its laws, but the cabinet last month decided to support (22 in favour, 8 against) an amendment to Israel’s citizenship law that would require all newly naturalised citizens to declare loyalty to the Jewish character of the state. In Britain, this would be like requiring Jews, Muslims and atheists who wish to become citizens to declare loyalty not only to the laws of the United Kingdom but also to the Church of England.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has warned that this amendment, which will soon become law, is the tip of an iceberg. Some of the bills now going through the Knesset, which have a good chance of being ratified, would make support for an alternative political ideology, such as the idea that Israel should be a democracy for all its citizens, a crime.

A proposed amendment to the existing anti-incitement bill, for instance, stipulates that people who deny Israel’s Jewish character will be arrested. This extension to the penal code, which has already passed its preliminary reading, incriminates a political view. Another bill lays the groundwork for turning down candidates for membership in communal settlements built on public land if they do not concur with the settlement committee’s political views or are adherents of a different religion. The point of this is to make it legal to deny Palestinian citizens of Israel access to Jewish villages.

Still another bill that has already passed its first reading stipulates that institutions marking the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 will be denied public funds. This is like denying public funding to schools in the United States that wish to commemorate slavery or to memorialise the crimes perpetrated against Native Americans.

Then there is a bill against people who initiate, promote, or publish material that might serve as grounds for imposing a boycott against Israel. According to this proposed law, which has also passed a preliminary reading, anyone proven guilty of supporting a boycott will be ordered to pay affected parties about $8000 without the plaintiff’s need to demonstrate any damages.

Finally, eight Knesset members are proposing a bill to ban residents of East Jerusalem from operating as tour guides in the city, potentially putting hundreds out of work. The rationale behind this is that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem should not be certified guides because they do not represent Israel’s national interest well enough ‘and in an appropriate manner’.

The sudden spate of these bills at this historical juncture is no coincidence. The struggle between the democratic demand that all citizens be treated equally and Zionism’s hyper-nationalist ideal seems to have been determined once and for all: Zionism’s aspiration to promote democratic values is giving way to its nationalist ethos.

First published in London Review of Books. Neve Gordon can be reached through his website www.israelsoccupation.info

Neve Gordon

Neve Gordon

Neve Gordon is an Israeli academic. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the Watson Institute at Brown University. During the first intifada, he was the director of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. Gordon is the co-editor of Torture: Human Rights, Medical Ethics and the Case of Israel, the editor of From the Margins of Globalization: Critical Perspectives on Human Rights, and most recently the author of Israel’s Occupation. His writings have appeared in numerous scholarly journals as well as in publications like The Washington Post, LA Times, The Guardian, The Nation, Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, Chronicle of Higher Education and The National Catholic Reporter. The Author contributed this article to RamallahOnline.com

The demand of a loyalty oath in Israel has ominous similarities to the demands made by Mussolini’s Italy

"Without loyalty--no citizenship" (Rita Castelnuovo/NYT)
"Without loyalty--no citizenship" (Rita Castelnuovo/NYT)

"Without loyalty--no citizenship" (Rita Castelnuovo/NYT)

Neve Gordon, 18 August 2010

Several weeks ago, hundreds of students demonstrated in front of Ben-Gurion University’s administration building. About a third of the protestors were expressing their opposition to the government’s decision to attack the relief flotilla, while the remaining two thirds came to support the government. At one point the pro-government protesters began chanting: ‘No citizenship without loyalty!’

While loyalty is no doubt an important form of relationship both in the private and public spheres, unpacking its precise meaning in the Israeli context reveals a disturbing process whereby the democratic understanding of politics is being inverted.

As Israeli citizens, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman want us to prove our loyalty to the flag by supporting a policy of oppression and humiliation. We must champion the separation barrier in Bi’lin and in other places throughout the West Bank. We have to defend the brutal destruction of unrecognized Bedouin villages, and the ongoing land grab both inside Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We must support the checkpoints and the silent transfer in East Jerusalem. We are also expected to bow our heads and remain silent every time government ministers, Knesset members and public officials make racist statements against Arab citizens. We must support the neo-liberal policies that continuously oppress Israel’s poor, and we are obliged to give our blessing to the imprisonment of Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million residents.

Hearing the chants at the recent demonstration, I understood that I will never be able to accept this disastrously myopic form of loyalty. I refuse to be loyal to a policy of humiliation, racism and discrimination. And, yet, loyalty is an important issue that urgently needs to be discussed because ultimately there is a firm link between the state and loyalty. The pressing questions that need to be addressed are: What is the meaning of loyalty? And who is supposed to be loyal to whom?

Surprisingly, the answer to these questions is not particularly complex. According to the republican tradition, the state is first and foremost obliged to be loyal to its citizenry and is held accountable for inequities and injustices. Yet we are currently witnessing a complete reversal of the republican relationship between state and loyalty and the adoption, instead, of a proto-fascist approach.

Perhaps the most disturbing feature of this trend is that it is taking place on all levels of Israeli society. From the ongoing attacks against Israeli human rights organizations spearheaded by NGO Monitor and Im Tirzu, through the police response to the peaceful protests in Sheik Jarrah, and all the way to the McCarthyist atmosphere in the Knesset Education Committee, one witnesses how elements within civil society, the executive branch and the legislative branch are all working according to a logic similar to the one that informed Mussolini’s Italy.  All of these elements expect citizens to swear loyalty to the state regardless of the government’s policies.

However, because loyalty is a vital component of politics, we need to strive to ensure that the call for loyalty meet the requirements of a democratic rather than a fascist logic. We must demand that the state be loyal to all of its citizens, regardless of race, color, sex, gender, language, religion, political opinions, national or social origin, property, or birth status.

A state that is loyal to its citizens does not discriminate between Jews and Arabs, does not expropriate land from Muslims and Christians, does not humiliate and trample on the lower classes, and does not brutally oppress the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. A state of this sort protects the rights of each and every citizen and, thus, will not need to demand loyalty because it will receive loyalty on a silver platter.

Yes, I too understand the importance of loyalty. But the appropriate chant is not ‘No citizenship without loyalty!’ but rather “Loyalty to every citizen!”

Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation (University of California 2008) and can be reached through his website www.israelsoccupation.info