The wheel is turning full circle. Last week the Israeli parliament updated a 59-year-old law originally intended to prevent hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from returning to the land from which they had been expelled as Israel was established.
The purpose of the draconian 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law was to lock up any Palestinian who managed to slip past the snipers guarding the new state’s borders. Israel believed only savage punishment and deterrence could ensure it maintained the overwhelming Jewish majority it had recently created through a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Fast-forward six decades and Israel is relying on the infiltration law again, this time to prevent a supposedly new threat to its existence: the arrival each year of several thousand desperate African asylum seekers. Continue reading →
Benjamin NEtanyahu, Israeli politician (Wikimedia Commons)
Zionist left writes its own obituary
Jonathan Cook in Nazareth, 19 Jan 2011
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, appears to have driven the final nail in the coffin of the Zionist left with his decision to split from the Labor party and create a new “centrist, Zionist” faction in the Israeli parliament. So far four MPs, out of a total of 12, have announced they are following him.
Moments after Barak’s press conference on Monday, the Israeli media suggested that the true architect of the Labor party’s split was the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, according to one of his aides, had planned it like “an elite general staff [military] operation”.
Netanyahu has pressing reasons for wanting Barak to stay in the most rightwing government in Israel’s history. He has provided useful diplomatic cover as Netanyahu has stymied progress in a US-sponsored peace process.
Barak had been happy to oblige as the government’s fig-leaf, so long as he was allowed to hold on to his post overseeing the occupation of the Palestinians. But as Labor became little more than a one-man show, it was racked with revolts, its MPs and handful of cabinet ministers regularly threatening to pull out of the coalition.
Netanyahu, however, has a larger purpose in seeking to draft the Labor party’s obituary — one related to the cementing of a domestic consensus behind the right’s vision of a Greater Israel. The prime minister is hoping to unpick the last strands of the Israel created by the founders of Labor Zionism.
Labor’s impact on Zionism was truly formative. During the 1948 war, the party’s leaders established Israel as a socialist state — even if it was of a strange variety that worried almost exclusively about the welfare of its Jewish majority and carefully engineered systematic discrimination against the fifth of the citizenry who were Palestinian.
For the next three decades Labor ran Israel virtually as a one-party state, centrally directing the economy and its major industries through the party’s affiliated trade union federation known as the Histadrut.
Labor’s political power rested on its economic power. Most of Israel’s middle and working classes relied for their employment on state corporations, the security industries, the civil service and government firms — and that ensured votes for Labor.
But as Israel’s economy began to wane, so did Labor’s electoral fortunes. The rightwing Likud party — home to Netanyahu — won power for the first time in 1977, championing both the settlements and economic privatisation. These moves further weakened Labor.
The party recovered only in the early 1990s, under former general Yitzhak Rabin, who reinvented it as a “peace party”. Rabin adopted the Oslo accords that, it was widely assumed, would eventually lead to Palestinian statehood.
The Oslo process had its own economic, as well as political, logic. The Labor party, which had lost its chief rationale following economic privatisation, now promised that regional peace would open up lucrative new global markets, especially in China and India. The ultra-nationalism of Likud was presented as a barrier to trade and growth.
But peace failed to materialise, and the settlements’ continuing expansion steadily eroded the Palestinians’ belief in Israel’s good faith. Labor’s last shot at peace-making was the Camp David summit of 2000. When Barak, as prime minister, failed to reach a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, claiming there was “no partner”, he killed off Israel’s fickle peace camp and made his party politically irrelevant again.
In the following years, Barak continued to undermine Labor. In joining Netanyahu’s government, he visibly abandoned Labor’s two official missions: to protect the poor and defend the peace process.
With Netanyahu’s help, he now appears to have finished off Labor for good. His centrist party known as Atzmaut or Independence — working inside the government — will replicate the platform of Israel’s large opposition party, Kadima.
Atzmaut’s ideology, Barak has already made clear, will depart from Labor’s. At his press conference he denounced his former colleagues as representing “the left and post-Zionism”.
Avishai Braverman, a dovish and disgruntled Labor minister until Barak’s split, responded bitterly that the new party would be “Likud A at best and Lieberman B at worst” — a reference to Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-nationalist foreign minister.
Labor’s breakup highlights both the continuing shift rightwards in Israel and Barak’s obssessive placing of his personal ambitions above all else. The defence ministry has become his personal fiefdom.
What will now become of the Zionist left in Israel? The few remaining Labor MPs will probably either knock on Kadima’s door, a natural home for a growing number of them, or unite with the tiny other left party, Meretz. Together, the surviving left will struggle to match the paltry number of Arab MPs. At the next election, the Zionist left may all but disappear from the parliamentary stage.
Its demise, however, should not be lamented. It has been in terminal decline for decades.
What its disappearance may do is free up the political landscape for a real left to emerge in Israel, one less tied to the onerous legacy of Labor Zionism and prepared to collaborate creatively with the Palestinian national movements. That is an outcome not considered in Netanyahu’s scheming.
Labor’s failure offers a potent lesson for this new left. The old party’s success was dependent on offering the Israeli public not just a political vision but an economic one too. Israelis will not welcome the compromises needed for peace unless they believe there are material incentives to make such sacrifices worthwhile.
The new left already understands the power of the stick of international sanctions looming over Israel. But it must also offer a carrot to the Israeli public: a vision in which an Israel at peace with its neighbours will bring about a better quality of life.
That will be the first, formidable task facing the post-Barak left.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.
Palestine Monitor, 15 July 2010
On Tuesday, Israeli ministers voted to strip MK Haneen Zouabi of her parliamentary privileges for participating in the Gaza flotilla. The motion, carried by a 34-16 majority in a special committee, is the first of its kind in Knesset (Israeli parliament) history. Prominent academics and representatives of civil rights groups have condemned the decision.
The ruling is not expected to impact severely on Zouabi’s ministerial duties, but is a reflection of right-wing anger over her travelling on the aid flotilla to Gaza in May. The first female Arab Knesset member has been stripped of her diplomatic passport, her right to have litigation fees covered has been revoked and she is no longer permitted to leave the country.
Zouabi has been the target for hostility since her return from the ill-fated Mavi Marmara , on which nine Turkish activists were killed by Israeli commandos. Her speeches in the Knesset have been marked by chants of ‘terrorist’ and ‘traitor’ from the floor. During one heated exchange this month, video footage showed MKs attempting to physically attack her.
Yesterday, MK Yariv Levin (Likud), who chaired the committee on rescinding her privileges, told Zouabi “you are unworthy of holding an Israeli ID and you embarrass the citizens of Israel, the Knesset, the Arab population and your family“. Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union party, a prominent supporter of the ruling announced “the people of Israel don’t want to see Zouabi in the Knesset.” The attacks reached a farcical level when MK Anastassia Michaeli (Yisrael Beiteinu) presented Zouabi with a home-made Iranian passport, because of her “loyalty to Iran”.
House speaker Reuben Rivlin, who opposed the ruling despite disagreeing with Zouabi’s actions, commented “I believe that everyone should have the right to speak their minds, even if what they say hurts me.”
It is a view shared by Naomi Chazan, former Knesset speaker, MK and current president of the New Israel Fund (NIF), the umbrella group which supports most Israeli human rights groups. “This is the first time in history a Knesset member has been punished in this way, it is unprecedented. You can disagree with what she did but if you suppress freedom of speech and association, it’s a slippery slope. This is part of an increasing, systematic attempt to curtail freedom of speech and because this is a Knesset member its particularly significant. She is representing the opinion of her voters which is precisely her job and if you move away from that principle your entering very dangerous territory.”
Dr. Keudon Rahat, senior political lecturer at the Hebrew university criticised the ruling as ‘undemocratic’. “The danger here is politicians using their power as a majority to attack minorities. I don’t like Zouabi, to me she is as nationalist as (Foreign Minister) Avigdor Lieberman, but she is in no way a threat so the decision is not justified.”
Zouabi herself felt the ruling represented part of a wider campaign against Israel’s Arab citizens, who account for 18% of the population. She recently went on record saying “80% of new laws passed in the Knesset are against Arabs”. Certainly Arab politicians are under increasing pressure. Last week the High Court ordered the expulsion of four elected Hamas officials from their East Jerusalem residences, while Sheikh Raed Salah has just received a five month prison sentence for allegedly spitting on a border guard.
“Israel treats Palestinians not as citizens but as enemies. This hostile dealing comes across all institutions, not just politically or in the Knesset, but also the court system, which is supposed to protect the rights of its citizens,” Zouabi said after the ruling.
First she faced bullets on the Mavi Marmara. Then it was death threats and chants of “terrorist” and “traitor” in the Knesset. The campaign to have her immunity and citizenship taken, even public calls for her to be executed.
Knesset Member (MK) Haneen Zoubi, the first female Palestinian to hold a seat in the parliament
Standing a shade over five feet tall, well dressed and polite, at a glance it’s hard to understand why Knesset Member (MK) Haneen Zoubi, the first female Palestinian to hold a seat in the parliament, has attracted such loathing.
“When I talk about equality, the response in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) is always ’You want to throw us in the sea.’ I don’t. I want to live beside you, that’s why you are racist and I am not,” she tells us.
Zoubi has represented the Palestinian-Arab Balad National Democrat party since 2009. She has become well versed in the double standards and biases of the Israeli government.
“Israel has never been a democracy,” she continues, “because it says No to equality and No to recognition of minorities. It defines itself as a Jewish, zionist state which means it is not ideologically neutral. A Jewish state means it is a Jewish right to confiscate Palestinian land, it means promoting zionist values through every sphere of society, in education and employment laws.”
Zoubi reports that during her time as an MK almost 80 per cent of new laws have been directed against Arabs in Israel, who at 1.4 million people make up 18 per cent of the population.
“There is now a marriage law that says if I marry a Palestinian from, say, Ramallah, I will lose my Israeli citizenship,” she says. “I can marry an American, a Belgian, an Algerian, but not a Palestinian. But any foreign Jewish person from the diaspora can have citizenship in 48 hours.”
“There was a ruling this year that human rights groups cannot send information abroad without permission from the state. There is a new law that doesn’t allow the expression Nakba (the 1948 “catastrophe” when millions of Palestinians were forced into refugee camps) in Arab schools. It has been deleted from the curriculum and any institution that commemorates the Nakba will lose its budget. There are historians and researchers in universities that are forbidden from practising their work.”
And with far-right figures such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in government hostility towards Palestinian-Arabs has intensified.
“He has 15 seats in the Knesset and he has nothing to say except that he hates Arabs,” Zoubi says.
Her characterisation of Lieberman is not without substance. The controversial foreign minister, one of the main advocates of Israel’s bloody Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, famously went on record in 2003 saying Palestinian prisoners should be “drowned in the Dead Sea, as that is the lowest point on earth.”
Zoubi has been criticised by Arabs for her membership of the Knesset, which some see as giving the government legitimacy. She feels her participation is symbolic but necessary.
“I was elected to speak for those who voted for me, not to reinforce the zionist consensus. We are against occupation, the siege on Gaza and oppressing Palestinians. I don’t represent the Knesset, I represent my people inside the Knesset, which is more difficult than to boycott it.”
“I want to demand our national dignity and pride and because of this we must be in the Knesset, but I don’t give up my identity.”
Another motivation for Zoubi is the need to “embarrass” the government, which is what led to her joining the freedom flotilla attacked by Israel on May 31.
“The Palestinians on the boat were the most pessimistic,” she recalls, “but we never thought there would be violence on this scale.
Passengers on the Mavi Marmara before the attack.
“I can tell you there was no planning for violence on that boat. The army say they were protecting themselves, but the people who died were shot in the head and neck, which is not self-defence. It is a trap to say the activists did not defend themselves. It is like when Palestinians resist occupation and they call it terrorism.”
Zoubi supports an international investigation into the attack and says she will not co-operate with the government’s internal inquiry.
“They announced the results before the inquiry. Netanyahu said the committee will show the world we acted responsibly. It has no ability to investigate the soldiers or passengers. How will they investigate without the people who were there?”
Following her release from Ashdod prison Zoubi was attacked again – this time in the Knesset. Taunted with chants of ’terrorist’ and ’traitor’ she had to be given an armed escort to ensure her safety.
Danny Danon, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, called for her to be “tried for treason.” A 7-1 committee vote recommended stripping her parliamentary privileges. Eliyahu Yishai, Israeli deputy prime minister and interior minister, called for her citizenship to be revoked, claiming she “headed a group of terrorists.” A public campaign for her execution has been gathering momentum.
I ask Zoubi if she still has a future in such a hostile parliament.
“I didn’t enter the Knesset to do an easy job,” she replies. “I wouldn’t be there if Israel was a real democratic state. We are there because it’s a hard political struggle. They cannot pull my citizenship or immunity, but they may disqualify my party from the next election. Personal threats are not important, but I am worried the high court may decide to stop us running in the next election.”
Three previous attempts to disqualify Balad, in 2003, 2006 and 2009, were rejected by the high court.
When it comes to the next free Gaza flotilla, due to sail after Ramadan, Zoubi is more optimistic.
“It will send a real message to Israel that even if you kill us we are not afraid,” she says. “The aim was and remains to end the blockade and I think we succeeded because the siege will not drop to the margins again.”
Zoubi is wary that Hamas is using the flotillas for PR purposes, but she feels this is a secondary concern behind the collective suffering of the Gazan population, and a price that must be paid.
She is disappointed in an international community that has “allowed Israel to behave like a spoiled child, believing she can do whatever she wants. No sanctions, no isolation. Israel could not manage a 43-year occupation and four-year siege without silence from the world. These policies will not change by continuing with a ’business as usual’ approach.”
Zoubi holds the Palestinian Authority (PA) accountable too.
“It’s time for Palestinians to say enough to the PA, enough to their Oslo agreement which deepened the occupation, expanded settlements and isolated Gaza. The PA has the responsibility for the daily services of occupation while Israel continues to expand, taking our land, water and resources.”
“If we are weak now, at least let us show steadfastness. If we cannot proceed we should at least stand our ground, not to give up. If we cannot implement our vision at least let us have a vision. We cannot feel that we are less than someone else. Freedom is the most precious value and we cannot give it up.”
However she remains concerned that Israel has no motivation to deliver a just peace.
“Until the end of second intifada there was a feeling that Israel needed peace for stability. For normal life. Now within the Knesset ministers feel there is no need for peace because there is no resistance. The wall, the siege of Gaza and negotiation – these three tools give Israel what peace was supposed to provide.”
Zoubi also believes that prospects for a two-state solution died long ago thanks to the continual expansion of settlements, which today house 500,000 Israelis on Palestinian land.
“I want a democratic, binational state,” she explains. “I don’t like to live with pure ethnicity, I don’t want Palestinian children to grow up hating Israelis and vice versa.
“Whether we like it or not this is the way we are going, so we must work towards it. I want us to live side by side in equality.”