The Israeli government reaction to the homegrown cultural boycott of the West Bank settlement of Ariel was forceful and blunt: Threaten funding, establish a “Zionist Art Prize” and de-legitimize whoever takes part as fifth-columnists. This should not have been a surprise, coming from a government that has overseen an unprecedented assault on domestic freedom of expression and association. The campaign has been so successful locally that the Foreign Ministry is now trying it on the international stage.
Here’s how the Israeli Embassy in Santiago dealt with reporting about a Chilean tourist beaten half to death in Jerusalem because he resembled a Palestinian:
“The incident has been blown up here out of all proportion also by members of parliament of Palestinian extraction who took advantage of it to accuse Israel of racism after it was reported that he might have been attacked because of an Arab appearence,” [Ambassador David] Dadon told Haaretz yesterday [November 10 2010]. “Following our swift and tough response, the matter was immediately removed from the media’s agenda.”
Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon expects foreign governments to adopt the Israeli standard in its entirety, at least on all things Palestinian. This morning’s [November 15 2010] Yediot reports [full translation at bottom of post; Hebrew original here]:
A severe diplomatic crisis has erupted between Israel and the Norwegian authorities. Israel has accused the Norwegian government of financing and promoting blatant anti-Israel incitement.
The article then lists a series of of Norwegian of cultural projects funded by the Norwegian government that the Foreign Ministry doesn’t like. This has been going on for a while. What brought on the “severe diplomatic crisis”? Hutzpah, apparently. Not only did the Norwegians refuse the Israeli dictate, they had the gall to cite democratic principles:
The Norwegians informed Israel in response that this was a matter of freedom of speech and that the government did not meddle in artistic content.
One can hardly blame the Deputy Minister. In Israel, suppression of information and opinions at odds with government policy has become normative. Ayalon probably thought the Norwegians were sandbagging him.
Apparently, the trigger for the Israeli diplomatic assault was this sinister piece of propaganda:
According to reports that have reached the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the city of Trondheim, Norway, is paying for a trip to New York by a group of high school pupils who are taking part in a play called Gaza Monologues. The play deals with “the suffering of children in Palestine as a result of the Israeli occupation.” The play, which was written by a Palestinian man from Gaza, will be performed in the UN building.
The play’s website lists EED, Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst — Church Development Service, a government-funded association of the Protestant Churches in Germany. The government of Germany is also directly involved in funding the play through DED, the German development service. If Israel’s ire in the case of Norway was sparked by a municipality sponsoring a few kids trip to New York, what can the Germans expect when Ayalon’s staffers discover that the federal government is behind the play?
Eleven days have passed since he was arrested by the General Security Services (GSS aka Shin Bet aka Shabak), but Amir Makhoul has still not been allowed to see a lawyer. With his remand hearing scheduled for tomorrow, both the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Palestinian-Israeli human rights group Adalah issued sharp protests this afternoon (May 16 2010.)
According to a press release on Adalah’s website, Makhoul has so far not been allowed to appear at his own court hearings, during which his remand was extended twice.
Secret information was exchanged between the court and the General Security Services (GSS or Shabak) at the hearings. Questions were asked and notes passed between the court and the Shabak. No information was given to his lawyers about the substance of the investigation or his personal health condition or the conditions of his detention. All this information was classified. Thus the court has in effect only heard the side of the Shabak.
His legal team has taken the unprecedented step of threatening to boycott tomorrow’s hearing:
“Due to the utter lack of respect for due process, the representation of Ameer Makhoul in the detention hearings has become meaningless.”
ACRI has, according to a statement posted on its website, “sent an appeal to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein today, demanding that he act urgently to permit the meeting of arrested political figure Amir Makhoul with an attorney.” In her letter to the attorney general, ACRI attorney Lila Margalit wrote:
“It’s critical to remember that a suspect is simply an individual whose involvement in a crime is being examined. As such, he or she is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Respect for his or her due process rights is intended to ensure that the process aimed at determining guilt or innocence is fair and effective.”
Makhoul, 52, heads Ittijah, and umbrella group of Palestinian-Israeli NGOs. GSS agents arrested him in front of his wife and daughters 11 days ago, during a pre-dawn raid at his home in Haifa. It later emerged, primarily via Israeli bloggers, that Omar Said, 50, a member of Balad, an Arab political party in Israel, was arrested last month. The courts placed a gag order on both arrests, but it was ignored by bloggers and was lifted shortly thereafter.
Neither Makhoul nor Said has been charged as yet. The Shin Bet says they are suspected of “severe security offences including contacting a Hezbollah agent.”
In-depth information and analysis on this issue can be found on Jewish-American blogger Richard Silverstein’s site, Tikkun Olam.
Since the gag order was lifted last Thursday(April 8 2010), the Israeli public debate has been largely engaged in indignant verbal stoning of whistle-blower Anat Kamm and journalist Uri Blau. The most vicious attacks have focused on the treasonous criminality of the theft (Kamm) and possession (Blau) of classified documents. Indeed, Kamm has been charged with “aggravated espionage.”
A few writers (albeit mostly bloggers and Haaretz columnists) have tried to provide some reasonable context. In a country where the army is so closely integrated in society as it is in Israel, classified documents in civilian, certainly journalistic, hands are a very common occurrence. Noam Sheizaf and Amitai Sandy note how a similar incident from the recent past was closed with an ultra-light sentence and little fanfare, Yossi Gurvitch (summarized by Dimi Reider here) provides a catalog of very senior Israeli officials with a proven record of leaking top-secret documents and Yossi Melman reminds readers that the Deputy Chief of the Mossad received a slap on the wrist for a related offense.
Writing in Haaretz this morning (April 14 2010,) Aluf Benn neatly wraps this line of argument:
Let’s keep things in proportion…In a country where everyone serves in the army, all are exposed to sensitive information that cannot be erased or forgotten. Every plane of Israeli tourists abroad carries far more state secrets than Kamm’s lost compact discs…Even the closest-guarded secrets seem ludicrous in hindsight.
Satire should also have made a contribution. Sadly, there is not much of that left in today’s Israel. Eretz Nehederet (“It’s a Wonderful Country”) Channel Two TV’s Friday night program, which occasionally has a biting skit in its lineup, was off last week.
Coteret readers may remember up and coming Israeli journalist Danit Gottfried, who broke the news that Pastor John Hagee was funding Im Tirzu, the group behind the NIF smear campaign. Gottfried is now trying to rectify this situation. Proclaiming “One document found, 1,999 to go” (Kamm reportedly took 2,000 documents), she posted on her Facebook wall a classified document found in the depths of the Ynet website (apparently an old hoax, but, with its uncanny replication of IDF-speak mentality, could easily pass for an original.)
Although it’s stamped “guarded” — second level classification — the memo deals with an incident one would have difficulty describing as secret and still maintain a straight face. Read the full translation below (click on the image to see the original document in Hebrew.) It’s funny stand-alone, but doubly so in the current context. Indeed, as Gottfried’s post spreads quickly on Facebook Israelis are crowd-sourcing comedy with wisecracking comments.
— Guarded [“Shamur” classification”] —
Re: Soldier attacked by peacock during Sunday culture day
a. Description of the event: On September 9, 2005 the regiment went on a Sunday culture day to the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem. During the visit one of the soldiers provoked a peacock on display at the zoo and was attacked by it.
b. The parties involved:
i. Yigal Zaguri 72924690
ii. A peacock from the Biblical Zoo
a. Soldier Yigal Zaguri came on a visit to the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem during a Sunday culture day for the regiment.
b. At the beginning of the visit the soldiers were told to stay away from the animals roaming freely on display at the zoo.
c. While visiting the fowl area the soldier Yigal approached one of the peacocks and began provoking it.
d. The peacock who saw the soldier as a threat attacked him and lightly injured him in the foot.
3. Further findings:
a. The peacock is a male and saw the provocation as a territorial invasion.
b. Soldier Yigal Zaguri is known to be a problematic soldier.
c. During the provocation another soldier was present and threw stones at the peacock.
a. Cause: The attack occurred because the soldier provoked the animal.
b. Points for future attention: Commanders’ alertness to the event and quick treatment of the casualty.
c. Results: A light injury to soldier Yigal Zaguri’s foot.
4. Lessons and conclusions:
a. A safety briefing should be given before any Army visit to institutions where there is contact with animals.
b. Units should be instructed on contact with animals at the base.
c. Soldiers must understand the inadvisability of provoking peacocks.
For immediate distribution in all IDF command courses
Daniel Peleg, Sergeant