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Monday, September 29, 2014

How Israel Silences Dissent

How Israel Silences Dissent

By Mairav Zonszein
The New York Times
September 29, 2014

JAFFA, Israel — On July 12, four days after the latest war in Gaza
began, hundreds of Israelis gathered in central Tel Aviv to protest
the killing of civilians on both sides and call for an end to the siege
of Gaza and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

They chanted, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”

Hamas had warned that it would fire a barrage of rockets at central
Israel after 9 p.m., and it did.

But the injuries suffered in Tel Aviv that night stemmed not from
rocket fire but from a premeditated assault by a group of extremist
Israeli Jews.

Chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Death to leftists,” they attacked
protesters with clubs.

Although several demonstrators were beaten and required medical
attention, the police made no arrests.

The same thing happened at another antiwar protest in Haifa a
week later; this time, the victims included the city’s deputy mayor,
Suhail Assad, and his son.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no statement
condemning the violence, even though he had previously
stated his primary concern was the safety of Israeli
citizens.

The vilification of the few Israelis who don’t subscribe to
right-wing doctrine is not new.

Similar acts of incitement occurred before the assassination
of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

But now they have multiplied, escalated and spread.

On July 10, the veteran Israeli actress Gila Almagor did not show up
to perform at Tel Aviv’s Habima Theater; she had received threats
that she would be murdered on stage.

In an interview in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot a few days
earlier, she had expressed feeling ashamed after a 16-year old
Palestinian, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped and burned
alive by Jewish extremists.

In an interview during the Gaza war, the popular comedian Orna
Banai said she felt terrible that Palestinian women and children
were being killed — she was subsequently fired from her position
as spokeswoman for an Israeli cruise ship operator.

And Haaretz hired bodyguards for its columnist Gideon Levy
after he wrote an article criticizing Israeli Air Force pilots.

The aggressive silencing of anyone who voices disapproval of
Israeli policies or expresses empathy with Palestinians is the
latest manifestation of an us-versus-them mentality that has
been simmering for decades.

It is based on the narrative that Palestinians are enemies who
threaten Jewish sovereignty and are solely to blame for the
failure to achieve peace.

The Israeli peace camp — which remains obsessively focused on
stopping settlement expansion and pursuing the ever-elusive two-
state solution while ignoring Israel’s failure to separate religion
and state and guarantee equal rights for Arab citizens — has been
incapable of challenging this mentality.

Israeli society has been unable and unwilling to overcome an
exclusivist ethno-religious nationalism that privileges Jewish
citizens and is represented politically by the religious settler
movement and the increasingly conservative secular right.

Israel’s liberal, progressive forces remain weak in the face of a
robust economy that profits from occupation while international
inaction reinforces the status quo.

In their attempt to juggle being both Jewish and democratic,
most Israelis are choosing the former at the expense of the
latter.

Israel has never, for example, genuinely addressed the fact
that non-Jewish Arabs who generally identify as Palestinian
account for about 20 percent of the population (this excludes
the approximately three million Palestinians living under
Israel’s control in East Jerusalem and the West Bank).

Israel has also never clearly defined its borders, preferring
to keep them vague and porous.

Nor has it defined what it means to be “Israeli,” as distinct from
being “Jewish,” leaving a vacuum that has been filled by nationalist
and religious ideologues.

This has allowed the us-versus-them mentality to bleed
into Israeli Jewish society.

“Us” no longer refers to any Jewish citizen, and “them”
to any Palestinian.

Now, “us” means all those who defend the status quo of occupation
and settlement expansion, including many Christian evangelicals
and Republicans in America.

And “them” means anyone who tries to challenge that status quo,
whether a rabbi, a dissenting Israeli soldier or the president of the
United States.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a shock.

For most of Israel’s existence, the majority of Israelis have allowed
the state, in the name of Jewish sovereignty and security, to
violate Palestinians’ basic human rights — including access to water
and the freedom of movement and assembly.

The state has killed unarmed protesters and then failed to carry
out investigations; it has allowed settlers and soldiers to act
with impunity; and it has systematically discriminated against
non-Jewish citizens.

After so many years of repressing those who stand in the way,
the transition to targeting “one of your own” isn’t so difficult.

Now it is the few Jewish Israelis who speak the language
of human rights who are branded as enemies.

Zeev Sternhell, a political scientist and an expert on fascism,
believes that, “radical nationalism” and the, “erosion of
Enlightenment values” have reached new heights in Israel.

“To grieve for the loss of life on both sides is already
a subversive act, treason,” he told Haaretz.

Mr. Sternhell has experienced Jewish extremist violence firsthand;
in 2008, a settler planted a bomb in his home that wounded him.

Israelis increasingly seem unwilling to listen to criticism,
even when it comes from within their own family.

Not only are they not willing to listen, they are trying to
silence it before it can even be voiced.

With a family like that, I would rather be considered one
of “them.”



Mairav Zonszein, an Israeli-American writer, translator and editor,
blogs at +972 Magazine.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/27/opinion/how-israel-silences-
dissent.html?_r=0

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