Israel today faces one of the greatest threats to its existence. No, I'm not referring to Iran, nor the Palestinians, Egypt or Syria. The threat comes from within.
The Israeli Knesset has either approved or is considering a raft of legislation that would fundamentally change the democratic character of the state of Israel. It has already passed a law which would criminalize public support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. Other bills would prohibit foreign funding of Israeli nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), declare Israel to be a Jewish state, remove Arabic as one of the country's national languages, dramatically increase penalties in libel suits and allow plaintiffs to recover without having to prove damages, make online publishers liable for comments published at their blogs or web sites, and force Internet service providers (ISPs) to reveal personal information about such commenters to the police.
The Israeli media and press freedom are under threat as never before. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, after Channel 10 aired two highly critical exposés about the business practices of gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson and the ethical improprieties of then-Member of the Knesset (MK) Netanyahu, threatened to withdraw the station's license unless it fired the reporter responsible for the latter program. In fact, Israeli media sources report that Netanyahu has already negotiated a deal and the station's fate is sealed.
Recently, the Israeli police detained the station manager of All for Peace Radio and threatened him with arrest if he didn't take the station off the air. It had tried unsuccessfully for years to obtain a license and Israeli authorities refused to grant one. Its ultimate offense was apparently that it broadcast programming to both Israel and the Palestinian territories that advocated tolerance and peaceful coexistence between the two peoples (including a two-state solution, which the current government claims to support). The station has been silenced.
Add to this a massive increase in violence against Israeli Jewish and Palestinian peace activists, including an organized assault at the Anatot settlement in which human rights activists were sexually assaulted, bones were broken and there was an attempted stabbing. Add arson attacks against mosques and death threats against leaders of the anti-occupation NGO Peace Now, and you have a perfect storm of Israeli authoritarian assault on the foundations of democracy.
There are a host of reasons why this assault is happening now. First is the sense of external threat foisted upon Israelis by their leaders. Israel has turned Iran into its primary existential threat and threatens war regularly in order to destroy that nation's nuclear program. The BDS movement, the international efforts to break the Gaza siege (the Gaza flotilla), the Palestinian statehood campaign before the United Nations (UN) - all have combined to impose a sense of communal threat upon Israel's citizens.
When threatened, it's only natural for a group to retreat into survival mode and embrace behavior it might reject in normal circumstances. Here in the United States, we saw this after 9/11, as the Bush-Cheney campaign against terror morphed into a systematic assault on civil liberties and constitutional rights. Something like that is playing out in Israel.
There is an additional factor at work: Israel has elected right-wing governments consistently over the past 35 years, with the exception of Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, who ruled for a total of six years during the late 1990s. Now, with the essential disintegration of the Labor party and any force to its left, there is no liberal opposition (the second party, Kadima is center-right). This has allowed the Israeli nationalist right to dominate political discourse, frustrate any attempt to negotiate peace agreements, and pursue a hawkish foreign policy regarding Iran and other frontline states.
The legislative agenda I outlined is, I believe, part of an overall strategy aimed at creating a permanent right-wing majority which will replace Israel's democratic system with one that will be, at best, authoritarian - or perhaps worse. Amos Schocken, publisher of Haaretz, wrote a moving column recently in which he outlined the mechanisms of such a transformation:
According to the Gush Emunim [Israeli nationalist] ideology, Israel is for Jews. Not just the Palestinians of the Territories are irrelevant, but Palestinian citizens of Israel too are subject to the same oppression and denial of their citizenship. This is a strategy involving seizure of territory and apartheid.
This ideology sees in the creation of an Israeli apartheid regime something that is necessary to realizing its goals. It has no problem with using illegal, even criminal acts, because its sacred mission is seen as above the law and having no real relation to the laws of Israel. Rather, it depends on a perverted interpretation of Judaism.
It cannot permit opposition or criticism. It must eliminate the latter and frustrate any effort to restrain its actions ... Any actions which are illegal must be made legal by rewriting the law or by reinterpreting existing law so that what was illegal is now redefined as legal. Similar things happened before in other times and places [a distinct reference to Nazi Germany].
The Netanyahu government is grasping an opportunity to radically remake the Israeli political system by removing safeguards for freedom of speech and the press and by weakening the power of civil society initiatives and NGOs to act as a check on violations.
No recent event exemplifies all of these qualities better than a series of settler-inspired price-tag attacks against Peace Now. Several individuals have stalked leaders of the group for years, phoning death and bomb threats to their homes and the group's offices. Death threat graffiti has been sprayed in the apartment building of one leader and vehicles were vandalized. Several years ago, a $300,000 reward was offered to anyone who killed Peace Now's director. The individual thought responsible for this act, Jack Teitel, was later arrested and accused of planting bombs which seriously injured two Israelis, an attack on a Tel Aviv gay community center that killed two and attack on a police vehicle that killed two officers.
In a result all too common in cases involving Jewish terrorism, Teitel was found mentally incompetent to stand trial and consigned to a mental hospital. This allows the Israeli justice system to declare that terrorists are aberrations who do not represent the state or its citizens at all.
The police arrested one suspect in the latter price-tag graffiti attacks (but believe at least one other remains at large) and claim he confessed to committing a series of the attacks. But when he appeared in court, the suspect's father menaced press photographers, demanding they delete the photos they'd taken. He threatened them: "Do you know who I am? I'll take you to jail!"
No one in Israel can publish either the identity of the suspect, his father or the reason for the latter's threat. But I will. He is a Shin Bet official, and publication of the names of intelligence agents is prohibited. In this particular case, a judge has shielded not just the father, but the son as well - though there is no law stating that the children of intelligence agents deserve the same treatment as their parents.
Police detained the 21-year-old suspect for two weeks and then released him to house arrest. As soon as he returned home, he began sending multiple-recipient email death threats to Peace Now employees and members in his own name, using his personal email address. An activist not affiliated with the group sent this to me: (Editor's note: brackets indicate missing Hebrew characters, which could not be translated onto the web page.)
Date: 27 2011 15:45:59 GMT+02:00
"Subject: E. RIP
I will kill you the end is near"
Despite the fact that the recipients and their friends were prohibited from revealing this within Israel, they could tell me. With their help and a lot of other sleuthing by Israelis and Americans across the globe using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, I've exposed a great deal about the criminal suspect.
His name is Dor Oved. He lives with his family in Mevasseret Zion (within the Green Line). His father, Shachar Oved, is a mid-level Shin Bet official and his mother, Aliza, is a police officer.
Until very recently, Dor Oved maintained a Facebook account which featured a profile image of him pointing a gun at the camera. He sports what resembles an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) tattoo on his arm. Though there are a number of Dor Oveds in Israel, he is the only one whose Facebook account notes that he attended high school in Mevasseret Zion.
Though he deleted this account, he now has another Facebook account that doesn't feature his name (though it does contain his personal email address) and which sports a "Kahane was right" logo. [Meir Kahane was an Israeli-American extremist who called for Arab people to be expelled from Israel.] Oved is an ardent supporter of the settler movement and ultranationalism. Israeli TV also featured video surveillance tapes of Oved spray-painting anti-Arab graffiti in the Israeli Palestinian village of Shuafat.
There are a number of reasons I break such gag orders and violate Israeli secrecy rules. First, I believe they are deeply pernicious to good government and the public's right to know. They allow the elite to maintain their hold on the reins of power and sources of information and deprive citizens of the information they need to make informed judgments about who leads them and how they lead.
I broke another gag order earlier in the case of Anat Kamm, a young IDF soldier working in a general's office who leaked 2,000 top-secret documents to a Haaretz reporter documenting targeted killings against unarmed Palestinian militants in violation of Supreme Court rulings. Recently, Kamm was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for her trouble.
The reporter, Uri Blau, still faces the threat of prosecution. He has already lived under such a threat for several years. Anything he publishes is being examined with a fine-toothed comb by state prosecutors to determine whether he violates any further laws that could be used against him.
I only succeeded in breaking the gag order in this case because Judith Miller took an interest in it and publicized it in a post at the Daily Beast and, ironically, on FoxNews.
Such things should not happen in a country that understands and values a free press. While it is true that Bradley Manning faces similar prosecution, as does Julian Assange, who published his material, luckily we haven't prosecuted The New York Times or its reporters for publishing the documents. That is what Israel threatens to do.
In the current case of Oved, neither Miller nor any other mainstream journalist I contacted felt the story justified the attention of their publication and readers. I'm hoping that, just as an earlier story I wrote here about the kidnapping of Gaza civil engineer Dirar Abu Sisi by the Mossad led to a BBC documentary by Gabriel Gatehouse, perhaps this new report will lead to wider coverage of the outrageous affront committed by the Oved family in collusion with the Israeli justice system.