Sunday, July 25, 2010

Israel Under Netanyahu: Isolated and Unwilling to Listen.

The Israelis have made it clear that they have no intention of assisting the United Nations Human Rights Council's investigation into the deaths of nine peace protesters killed after the IDF boarded a peace flotilla headed for Gaza, and that they regard the UN as "obsessive".

Israel does not intend to cooperate with the United Nations Human Rights Council's investigation into Israel's interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla at the end of May. The raid resulted in nine deaths.

According to a senior Israeli official, the sense at the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office is that cooperating with the investigative committee would only confer legitimacy upon the UNHRC, which has consistently acted against Israel.

"This is an unnecessary committee," the official said, "which is the product of an obsession with Israel."
When nine people are killed on a peaceful protest people tend to become "obsessive" about finding out what happened. It's known as a quest for justice and it's a pretty common reaction when injustice is perceived.

But then, Israel under Natanyahu is becoming an ever harder place to understand. The laws which this Knesset are proposing are deeply troubling.

The blatant flouting of basic laws and civil rights is a common theme running through every recent bill: the loyalty bill sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu's David Rotem, intended to deny citizenship to those who are not "loyal to the state;" the bill to deny the Islamic Movement's legal status, sponsored by Likud's Ofir Akunis; legislation seeking to deny support to "unpatriotic" filmmakers, sponsored by Michael Ben Ari (National Union ) and Ronit Tirosh (Kadima ); the conversion bill, the Nakba bill and many others like them mock the principles of equality and freedom in Israel's Declaration of Independence.

No other Knesset has submitted so many bills under the guise of "preserving state security" that show open preference to Jews over Arabs in all walks of life.

It seems almost inevitable that, in a country run by Netanyahu and Lieberman, where the Arab is treated like a second class citizen, that a case like this would emerge.

Saber Kushour is under house arrest on appeal of his eighteen month sentence for having sex with an Israeli woman without revealing that he was an Arab. No-one is suggesting that he used force. The woman freely admits that she had sex with him willingly. But, she is arguing that she would not have had sex with him had she known that he was an Arab and that this is, therefore, rape.

"I am paying the price for a mistake that she made," Kushour, 30, told the Observer. "I was shocked at the sentence – it shows a very vivid and clear racism." The message from the judge, he says, was that "because you are an Arab and you didn't make that clear, we are going to punish you".

In his verdict, Judge Zvi Segal conceded that it was not "a classical rape by force". He added: "If she hadn't thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have co-operated. The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls."


Kushour's conviction has transfixed Israel. Some see echoes of a primeval – and racist – instinct to protect "our" women against outside marauders. Others are outraged at what they see as a blatant injustice, pointing to a backdrop of widespread, systematic and – some say – growing discrimination against Arabs who make up 20% of Israel's population.

"This is a most amazing decision by the court," says Tamar Hermann of the Israel Democracy Institute. "Deception is one thing – but to be convicted of rape?" It has, she says, "struck a sensitive chord in the Israeli mainstream of Arabs pretending to be Jews."

The issue of identity is paramount in a land where both communities regard each other with suspicion and hostility.

Yuval Yonay, a sociology professor at Haifa University, in one of Israel's few mixed cities, says Kushour's behaviour "might be improper but it is not rape".

He says that in 16 years of teaching at a university where 20-25% of the student population is Arab, he has "never even heard of a mixed relationship". Discrimination against Arabs is, he says, evident at all levels.

The 18th Knesset is a deeply troubling one, moving further and further to the right. It is dismissive of the opinion of the rest of the world, it is passing laws which are clearly racist, and it is doing so against the will of the majority of Israelis.

And yet Netanyahu remains strangely popular. Why?

An article in Ha'aretz argues that, "when under threat, particularly mortal threat, humans tend to react psychologically by entrenching their worldviews."

Part of the explanation is quite concrete: Two realistic threats have indeed emerged in the last years. The first is the possibility that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, a threat that most Israelis see as catastrophic. The second is from groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, which have moved from suicide terrorism to rocket attacks on Israel. Israel, for the first time since 1973, is faced with security threats to which it has no clear-cut answer. As a result Israel launched massive attacks in Lebanon in 2006 and against Gaza in 2008/9 under the assumption that the price of rocket attacks must be destruction on a substantial scale. This has pushed Israel into unprecedented international isolation.

Israel’s electorate reacted to this sequence of events exactly as predicted by existential psychology: during operation Cast Lead, the Israeli public was unwilling to tolerate any criticism of the massive destruction in Gaza, and in the 2009 elections it moved strongly to the right and effectively erased the Israeli left.

The result is a vicious circle in which Israel feels that its existential fears are not taken seriously. Israel’s electorate moves towards leaders who address but also keep reinforcing its fears. International opinion becomes ever more negative, which in turn reinforces Israel’s isolation which in turn raises existential fears.

Of course, Netanyahu is playing up these fears, talking of a world similar to 1938 and casting all who oppose him as Chamberlains. But he is leading Israel to a fearful place.

Israel, under Netanyahu, is becoming more and more isolated. And, as she does so, she is slipping further and further to the right.

This suits Netanyahu, but it is not in Israel's long term interests. Israel used to pride itself as beacon of democracy in the Middle East, but it is now a place where an Arab can be convicted of rape simply for being an Arab.

One day Israel will look back on it's 18th Knesset with a deep sense of shame.

No comments: