The Israeli Right’s crusade against the Left is gaining momentum. The movement Im Tirtzu (“If you will it”), an unofficial ideological arm of the government, decided to remove its gloves and clip the wings of human rights organizations in a campaign known as Shtulim, meaning implants or foreign agents. The campaign called for outlawing “Breaking the Silence,” an NGO that collects testimonies about military service in the occupied territories. Im Tirtzu received support from the defense minister and the education minister along with tacit approval from other government officials. There’s little doubt that the refusal of the Palestinians to end their mini-intifada has motivated the Right to lash out at everything in its way.
In contrast, consider what happened after the outlawing of the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch; Arab representatives rushed to show support for Sheikh Raed Salah, the branch’s leader, believing that Arab parties could be next in line—with Balad, the nationalist Arab party, as the first. They were mistaken, big time. The Israeli Right doesn’t lose sleep over Balad because it is not seen as an “implant.” Organizations that really worry the Right are the Israeli NGOs working against the occupation.
The Israeli government is in panic mode, shooting from the hip. It began with Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress earlier this year, a speech intended to anger and undermine President Obama. This was followed by a so-called “positive” meeting with Putin and by the exclusion of the EU from the political process after its decision to label products produced by the settlements in occupied territory. Netanyahu mobilized opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Yitzhak Herzog in his assault against the boycott movement (BDS), and he enlisted the far right TV Channel 20 to attack the last revisionist and Likud party member, Reuven Rivlin. At the recent Haaretz conference in New York, President Rivlin dared to share the stage with members of “Breaking the Silence” (Shovrim Shtika), an organization that is a red flag for the Israeli Right. Instead of a peace process, we now see an attempt to gag any mouth expressing dissent with the occupation. As the curtain closes on the peace process, criticism of government policies is becoming more and more relevant, painful, and credible.
However, the right-wing campaign is encountering problems. Outlawing the Islamic Movement Northern Branch was relatively simple – it only required activating the old British Mandatory Emergency Regulations. It was enough for Defense Minister Moshe “Bugi” Ya’alon to sign a warrant, and the group’s offices and associations were closed. This decision was taken with virtually no opposition, since Sheikh Raed Salah’s plans to set up an Islamic caliphate helped form a wall-to-wall Zionist consensus against him. Even opposition leader Isaac Herzog publicly gave his blessing in the Knesset. In contrast, outlawing human rights organizations will require new legislation.
Note the division of labor on the Right. While Im Tirtzu is working to demonize human rights activists, those pushing to outlaw human rights organizations aren’t the “errant weeds” of the Right, but mainstream leaders such as MK Yoav Kish, a Likud member from Tel Aviv and a former fighter pilot.
The truth is that the campaign to delegitimize human rights organizations did not begin today, nor did it originate with the Right. The person who coined the phrase “without the High Court and without B’Tselem” was none other than Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. This was during the Oslo period, when Rabin wanted to justify the delivery of firearms to the Palestinian police: he claimed that unlike Israel, the Palestinian Authority would be able to fight Hamas without interference from human rights groups and the High Court. It was the same High Court, by the way, that upheld the 1992 decision to deport 415 Hamas activists to Lebanon. This statement does not help Rabin’s legacy. While Arafat then, and Abu Mazen today, prove they can fight Hamas in line with Rabin’s expectations, the Right remains unconvinced. They called Rabin a traitor and the result is known. In spite of the Left’s subsequent efforts to mollify the settlers, its joining of right-wing governments, its complete ignoring of the Arabs, and the pathetic attempts of some Leftist parliamentarians to sound more patriotic than the settlers, incitement against the Left has increased.
As the Left distances itself from the Arabs, the aggressiveness and the strength of the Right increases. As the Labor Party and Meretz avoid contacts with Palestinians, the importance of human rights groups in Israel increases too. They now fill the political void left by those who were supposed to stand up to fascism and the virulent Right. In the crosshairs of the Right today are Peace Now (which monitors settlement activity), the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel,B’Tselem (“In the image…”), Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din (“There is justice”),Machsom Watch (Checkpoint watch), HaMoked (the Center for Defense of the Individual), Gisha (the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement), and Physicians for Human Rights. It seems that no wrongdoings of the Israeli occupation go uncovered by an NGO.
While the extreme Right is running the country, the Left, seeking consensus rather than justice, continues making the mistakes of the social protests of summer 2011. Renouncing politics, it prefers to focus on tycoon Yitzhak Tshuva and the natural gas agreement, instead of the occupation.
NGOs and human rights organizations feel unable to influence the decision-making process. Frustration and despair have led them overseas, where they are esteemed and receive a sympathetic ear. They can be proud of the fact that the world is with them and can only hope that the EU and the White House will do what the left-wing parties are not.
But the Right’s attack on leftist organizations also reveals its political and moral shortcomings. The Right wants to kill the messenger, who warns against continued occupation, instead of dealing with the occupation itself. Those who threaten the present right-wing government are not the Zionist Camp (the current name of the Labor Party) or the leftist NGOs, but the four million Palestinians living under occupation who do not buy into Netanyahu’s “economic peace.” Israel in 2015, unlike Germany during the Weimar Republic, is prosperous, a member of the OECD. It is not on the threshold of war and is not setting its sights on additional living space in the East; instead, it is facing an Arab world in massive social and political upheaval. But unlike its friends in the OECD, Israel is weighed down by the occupation, and what is common to both the Right and the Left is that they do not provide solutions. The contradiction between (1) the desire to be a modern country accepted by the community of nations, and (2) the perpetuation of a colonial regime in the occupied territories, undoubtedly threatens Israel’s image and the future of its society.
MK Kish’s proposal to close down leftist NGOs, claiming that those organizations “harm Israel’s ability to defend itself and/or endanger its character as a Jewish and democratic state” is most curious. Has the world been turned upside down? The Right, which was behind the assassination of an elected prime minister and remains in violation of international laws in the occupied territories, is now trampling on freedom of expression and the right to organize. They are the threat to Israel, not those organizations that are acting to protect Israel’s democracy. The country’s international isolation and the obstinate refusal of the Palestinians to accept the occupation are underlying reasons for the impasse within the Israeli Right. Their attack on left-wing organizations reveals panic, helplessness, and the inability to both understand and address the situation.
The place to deal with the Israeli Right is here, not abroad. The way to do this is, first of all, on the political level and not just in the media. As long as the Left steers clear of the struggle against the occupation and continues to try to conquer public opinion solely on “social” issues, the Right will continue to be reelected. The Israeli Left must decide whether it will continue to be dragged along or whether it will be a real alternative. To be an alternative, it must close the crack through which the fascist intruder enters, dividing Jew and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian.
While the Israeli right-wing is weak and isolated in the international arena, the Left feels discouraged and alone in Israel. The way out of this impasse is to establish a determined joint Jewish-Arab front championing two simple banners – No to occupation, Yes to social justice. This is the only way to bring about a social and political revolution that will change the character of the state and ensure peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
- Translated by Bob Goldman