Israeli Crackdown Puts Liberal Jews on the Spot

The Israeli government, its brutal war
crimes in Gaza exposed in detail in the U.N. report by Justice Richard
Goldstone, has implemented a series of draconian measures to silence and
discredit dissidents, leading intellectuals and human rights
organizations inside and outside Israel that are accused-often
falsely-of assisting Goldstone's U.N. investigators. The government of
Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to shut down Israel's premier human
rights organizations, including B'Tselem, the New Israel Fund (NIF) and
the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. It is busy expelling or
excluding peace activists and foreign nationals from the Palestinian
territories. The campaign, if left unchecked, will be as catastrophic
for Palestinians as it will be for Israel.

The Goldstone report, which is over 500
pages, investigated Israel's 22-day air and ground assault on Gaza that
took place from Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 18, 2009. The United Nations and
the European Parliament have endorsed the report. The report found that
Israel used disproportionate military force against Hamas militants in
the Gaza Strip while failing to take adequate precautions to protect the
civilian population against the military assault. The Israeli attack
killed 1,434 people, including 960 civilians, according to the
Palestinian Center for Human Rights. More than 6,000 homes were
destroyed or damaged, leaving behind some $3 billion in destruction in
one of the poorest areas on Earth. No Israelis were killed by Hamas
rockets fired into Israel during the assault. The report did not limit
itself to the 22-day attack; rather, it went on to indict the occupation
itself. It examines the beginning of the occupation and condemns Israel
for the border closures, the blockade and for the wall or security
barrier in the West Bank. It has two references to the right of return,
investigates Israeli torture and criticizes the willful destruction of
the Palestinian economy.

"The impact of the Goldstone report is tremendous," the Middle East
scholar Norman Finkelstein said when I reached him in New York. "It
marks and catalyzes the breakup of the Diaspora Jewish support for
Israel because Goldstone is the classical Diaspora Jew. He is a lawyer
and upholder of human rights and a liberal. He has distinguished himself
in the field of law and he is also a lover of Zion. He calls himself a
Zionist. His mother was an activist in the Zionist movement. His
daughter did aliyah. He sits on the board of governors of the
Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has an honorary degree from the
Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has said over and over again that he
is a Zionist. He believes Jews have a right to a state in Palestine. His
is a mostly emblematic profile of the classically liberal Jew."

"Liberal has a distinct
connotation," Finkelstein went on. "It means to believe in the rule of
law. It means to believe in international institutions. It means to
believe in human rights. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch
are liberal organizations. What the Goldstone phenomenon registers and
catalyzes is the fact that it is impossible to reconcile liberal
convictions with Israel's conduct; too much is now known about the
history of the conflict and the human rights record and the so-called
peace process. It is impossible to be both liberal and defend Israeli
policy. That was the conflict that confronted Goldstone. I very much
doubt he wanted to condemn Israel."

"Israeli liberalism always had a function
in Israeli society," said Finkelstein, whose new book, "This Time We
Went Too Far," examines the Israeli attack a year ago on Gaza. "When I
talk about liberals I mean people like A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman and
Amos Oz. Their function was to issue these anguished criticisms of
Israel which not only extenuated Israeli crimes but exalted Israeli
crimes. 'Isn't it beautiful, the Israeli soul, how it is anguished over
what it has done.' It is the classic case of having your cake and eating
it. Not only were any crimes being committed extenuated, but they were
beautiful. And now something strange happened. Along comes a Jewish
liberal and he says, 'Spare me your tears. I am only interested in the

"Goldstone did not perform the role of the Jewish liberal," Finkelstein
said, "which is to be anguished, but no consequences. And all of a
sudden Israeli liberal Jews are discovering, hey, there are consequences
for committing war crimes. You don't just get to walk into the sunset
and look beautiful. They can't believe it. They are genuinely shocked.
'Aren't our tears consequences enough?' Aren't our long eyes and broken
hearts consequences enough?' 'No," he said, 'you have to go to the
criminal court.' "

The campaign against Israeli dissidents has
taken the form of venomous denunciations of activists and jurists,
including Justice Goldstone. It includes a bill before the Israeli
parliament, the Knesset, which will make it possible to imprison the
leaders of Israeli human rights groups if they fail to comply with
crippling new registration conditions. Human rights activists from
outside Israel who work in the Palestinian territories are being rounded
up and deported. The government is refusing to issue work visas to
employees of 150 NGOs operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,
including Oxfam, Save the Children and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors
Without Borders). The new tourist visas effectively bar these employees
from Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation. Professor Naomi
Chazan, the Israeli head of the NIF, which has donors in the United
States, is being publicly vilified by ultranationalist groups such as Im
Tirzu. Foreign donors to the NIF, as well as other human rights
groups, are being pressured by Israeli officials to halt contributions.
Billboards have sprouted up around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a
grotesque caricature of Chazan, who has been branded by groups such as
Im Tirzu as an agent for Hamas and Iran, with a horn growing from her
forehead. "Naomi-Goldstone-Chazan" the caption on the billboard reads.
Im Tirzu, the front organization behind many of the attacks, includes
among its financial backers the John Hagee Ministries and the New York
Central Fund, which also support extremist settler organizations.

The purge is under way because of the
belief within the Netanyahu government that these groups and activists
provided evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza to Justice Goldstone.
Israel has no intention of lifting the blockade on Gaza, halting
settlement expansion, including the 1,600 new homes to be built in East
Jerusalem, or reversing its division of the West Bank into impoverished
ghettos of Palestinians. The growing brutality and violence of the
occupation, no longer easy to deny or hide, coupled with Israel's
growing status as an international pariah, have unleashed a crackdown
against all those within the Jewish state who are blamed for the bad
publicity. Yuli Edelstein, the Diaspora affairs minister, summed up the
witch hunt when he announced that the Cabinet had been "concerned for a
time with a number of groups under the guise of NGOs that are funded by
foreign agents."

The Knesset bill, if passed, will force
human rights groups to register as political bodies and turn over
identification numbers and addresses of all members to the government.
These groups will lose their tax-exempt status. Most governmental
organizations, such as the European Union, which is a large donor to
Israeli human rights organizations, cannot legally pay taxes to another
government, and the new law will effectively end European Union and
other outside funding. The groups will be mandated to provide the
government with the records of all foreign donations and account for how
these donations were spent. Any public statement, event or speech, even
if it lasts half a minute, by these groups must include a declaration
that they are being supported and funded by a foreign power. Those who
fail to follow these guidelines, including local volunteers, can face a
year in jail.

"This is the first time the human rights
dimension of the Israel Palestine conflict has moved center stage,"
Finkelstein said. "It has temporarily displaced the fatuous peace
process. It is the first time that human rights reports have counted.
There are literally, because I have read them, tens if not hundreds of
thousands of pages of accumulation of human rights reports condemning
Israel going back roughly to the first intifada to the present. The
human rights organizations since the 1990s have been quite sharp in
their criticism of Israel human rights policy, but nobody ever reads the
reports. They are never reported on, with maybe a couple of exceptions,
in the mainstream media. The Goldstone report was the first time the
findings of these human rights organizations moved center stage. People
stopped talking about the peace process and started talking about
Israel's human rights record."

There is a growing disenchantment among
Israelis with the endless occupation of Gaza and the West Bank as well
as endemic government corruption. Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir, the head of the
Israeli military's Personnel Directorate, admitted recently to UPI that
increasing numbers of Israelis are refusing to serve in the occupied
territories. "Taking into consideration Israeli Arab youth, we're facing
a situation in which 70 percent of youths will not enlist in the
military," the general told the news agency. The discontent, along with
the international condemnation, is inhibiting Israel's ability to muster
international support for further attacks.

"Israel attacked Gaza to restore what it called its deterrence capacity,
its ability to terrorize the Arab world into submission," Finkelstein
said. "But it actually diminished its deterrence capacity because it
can't attack. If they were to attack now, anywhere, all hell would break
loose and they wouldn't get sympathy."

The numbers of so-called refuseniks are
proliferating with groups such as the Courage to Refuse, Shministim and
New Profile supporting those who will not serve in the Israeli Defense
Forces. It is not that many Israelis lack a conscience, it is not that
many cannot delineate right from wrong; it is that the Netanyahu
government is determined to see that these courageous voices within
Israel will be silenced along with those of the Palestinians.

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