Saturday, February 13, 2010

The new McCarthyism sweeping Israel.

The reaction of Israeli right wingers to the publication of the Goldstone report is something which many of us are witnessing from a great distance. However, Donald McIntyre is in Jerusalem and he is talking today about the treatment being meted out to Naomi Chaza, a 63 year old university professor and president of the New Israel Fund, which over the last 30 years has disbursed some $200m to around 800 charitable, social and human rights groups.

But in the last fortnight the former Knesset member who by her own account loves her native Israel "without reservation" has been sacked as a columnist on the Jerusalem Post after 14 years, had rowdy demonstrators outside her house brandishing a chilling caricature of her with a horn obtruding from her forehead, and most far-fetched of all, been accused, in a newspaper article circulated to foreign journalists by the Government Press Office, of "serving the agenda of Iran and Hamas".


The NIF's travails began when a right-wing group called Im Tirtzu provoked accusations of latterday McCarthyism by charging that "without the NIF there could be no Goldstone report and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes". It is a charge which Abe Foxman, director of the US-based Anti-Defamation League and no great friend of the Israeli left, told New York Jewish Week was "absurd".

When a country finds itself the subject of international criticism, as Israel does here, there are only two routes which can be taken. The country can either accept that the criticism is valid - something which the government of Netanyahu is simply never going to do - or one sets out to find forces outside and inside of the country to blame for the current predicament. In this case it appears that the Israeli right wingers have decided to lay a disproportionate amount of that blame at the door of Naomi Chaza.

Chaza herself does not claim that what is happening is McCarthyism, although many others do.

But she does explain what she feels the Israeli right are attempting to do.

"Every country has its own version of things but the general climate is very problematic. It's ugly." She said the mood reminded her of the hate-laced run-up to Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in November 1995. "But it's different, because that was an avowedly political disagreement. This is the beginning of a rather systematic campaign against really the very essentials of Israeli democracy."

Ms Chazan cites the arrests of Israelis at demonstrations against the encroachment of Jewish settlers in the Arab East Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah. And the interrogation and fingerprinting last month of her friend Anat Hoffman, of the reform group Religious Action Centre, who for 20 years has challenged ultra-Orthodox control of the Western Wall by seeking to entrench the right of women to pray in shawls there.

"There is an assault on the basics of law and order but most important I see this as part of a very pernicious attempt to stifle alternative voices, and most seriously to equate criticism with betrayal. And there is a very strong political underpinning to that. I would go further ... behind this [is] a group of people who don't want a political settlement. They don't want peace, so they're trying to delegitimise the human rights movement."

She says that Im Tirtzu "expropriated" the term Zionism while "probably acting in the most anti-Zionist way I can imagine. They forgot to read the [1948] Declaration of Independence which talks of equality of all citizens of race, colour, creed, gender, nationality, etc. They also forgot the chapters in the Declaration where Israel extends its hand to its neighbours, they forgot basic democratic principles. They are hellbent to denounce anyone who dissents from the government line. Or dissents from their definition of what being a loyal Israeli is. That is ridiculous. Democracies are all about disagreements."

We saw this exact same reaction in the US during the Bush administration's time in office, when many right wing defenders of that regime thought it was treasonous to question the president's actions, even if there were questions regarding the legality of what he was doing. Indeed, in some quarters, extremely popular right wing writers seriously put forward the notion that it was treasonous to be a Liberal at all.

In Israel this same game is now being played with Israeli right wingers accusing opponents, not of treason, but of the rather more serious charge of seeking to "delegitimise" the state.

It seems to me to highlight how poor ones case is if one has to claim any opponent of your own point of view is a traitor or seeking to delegitimise the entire state.

And it's a dangerous game to play. For eventually, if one makes such charges often enough, one actually robs the charge of any meaning. A recent example of this came about the other day when Leon Wieseltier made the ridiculous claim that Andrew Sullivan was an anti-Semite for daring to criticise Likud policies. As Glenn Greenwald observed:
What's most striking about this attack is how inconsequential it is. It was once the case, not all that long ago, that an accusation of "anti-semitism" was the nuclear weapon of political debates, rendering most politicians and pundits (especially non-Jewish ones) petrified of being so accused. A 4,300-word prosecution brief published by The New Republic, accusing a major political writer of being a Jew-hater, would have been taken quite seriously, generated all sorts of drama, introspection and debate, and seriously tarnished the reputation of the accused.

No longer. Neoconservatives have so abused and cynically exploited the "anti-semitism" charge for rank political gain -- to bully those who would dare criticize Israeli actions or question U.S. policy towards Israel -- that it has lost its impact. Ironically, nobody has done more to trivialize and cheapen anti-semitism accusations than those who anointed themselves its guardians and arbiters.
And what makes this game so dangerous is that real anti-Semitism still exists, but right wingers have almost rendered the term meaningless through throwing it at every person who ever disagreed with them.

Israeli right wingers should take care that they do not do the same with their claims about who might want to "deligitimise" the state of Israel.

Israeli right wingers do not have a copyright when it comes to how one can love Israel. It is perfectly possible to love Israel whilst believing that it would be better for that country to have a state of Palestine existing alongside it. The fact that certain right wing Israelis disagree with that notion is not an example of them loving Israel more. Although I won't be holding my breath waiting for them to appreciate that distinction.

Nor will I be holding my breath waiting for Netanyahu to condemn this nonsense.
Had the Netanyahu government helped to create the space for the right-wing onslaught on the NIF? "Look, it hasn't denounced this vilification; and therefore draw your own conclusions."
This is not the first time that Netanyahu has appeared to welcome such public outcry. 62% of Israelis felt that he should have apologised for his behaviour prior to Rabin's assassination. But here, once again, we find Netanyahu keeping silent whilst the crowd bays for blood.

Click here for McIntyre's article.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.