Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Shop till you drop

Now elevated to the status of ‘the premier global Jewish advocacy organization’, on 1 December the American Jewish Committee unveiled its latest strategy in the campaign to defeat global anti-Semitism.

“Our collective response to the haters of Israel is to shop,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris, who led a large group to Ricky’s, a store in New York’s Union Square…“Chanukah, when we celebrate our freedom as Jews, is the perfect time to show our support for Israel by purchasing Israeli products,” said Harris.  “We need to speak out and act. Shopping for Israel is the right thing to do."

In an aside attempting to ridicule the BDS campaign, Harris quipped, 

By the way, I can't help but wonder if the anti-Israel boycotters, for consistency's sake, also ensure before using their computers and cell phones, or seeking life-saving medical care, that there are no Israeli products or innovations involved.

What doesn’t appear to have penetrated is that BDS is not just a moral gesture.  With the supine International Community powerless to redress the injustice of Israel’s ongoing occupation of the territories it seized by force in June 1967, Palestinian civil society groups have called on supporters to inflict economic and other kinds of pressure on Israel.  It doesn’t matter what wonderful inventions Israelis have come up with.  What matters is what kinds of actions we consider will have the greatest economic impact at the time and what kinds of forces we can mobilize in support of the campaign, along with other tactical issues. 

Reducing the campaign to a question of some imagined moral consistency evidences incomprehension of what it’s all about.  To be fair, I suspect that it is beyond Harris’s capacity to understand solidarity, at least outside the tribe.

Stick to what you’re good at, David, and shop till you drop.

Informed consent

Yesterday I received invitations to sign two online petitions supporting Julian Assange.

One, from the Australian group, GetUp!, addresses Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder and aims to publish the petition in a full page advert in the NY Times with 75,000 signatories.  Quoting Thomas Jefferson, ‘information is the currency of democracy’, signatories appeal for due process,

If Wikileaks or their staff have broken international or national laws, let that case be heard in a just and fair court of law.

The other, from, with well over half a million signatures so far, calls on some unspecified ‘you’

to respect democratic principles and laws of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. If WikiLeaks and the journalists it works with have violated any laws they should be pursued in the courts with due process.

I beg to differ.  Much as I support the work Wikileaks and Assange have been doing, due process is not the issue.  If, indeed, they have broken any laws, I applaud their civil disobedience and call for the law’s repeal.

As I understand it, if the US indicts Assange, it is likely to be under the terms of the Espionage Act (1917), which casts quite a wide net, drawing in anyone who 'copies, takes, makes, or...receives or obtains...any sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blue print, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, document, writing or note of anything connected with the national defence'.  Furthermore, under s. 5, 'Whoever harbours or conceals any person who he knows, or has reasonable grounds to believe or suspect, has committed, or is about to commit, an offence under this title' is subject to lesser penalties.  The principal issues are probably whether Assange had 'intent or reason to believe that the to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation' and whether the leaked information was ‘connected with the national defence’.  I think it is likely that Assange can mount a persuasive defence on the grounds that his intent was not to injure the US or advantage a foreign nation, but rather to inform the public or the like.  But I’m not optimistic that a judge or a jury of his peers would find such a defence convincing. 

As Jefferson and others have observed, an uninformed electorate cannot exercise even the parody we call ‘democracy’ meaningfully.  Some of Assange’s supporters seem tolerant of the state’s need to keep secrets from other states and even from its real adversary — the people it rules.  There is a tension between their need for secrecy and our need for full information, at least if they intend to maintain the pretence that they rule over us with our informed consent. 

In a system purporting to represent the governed, there is, I think, an implied right to the information the government bases its decisions on, made explicit in the right to freedom of expression.  It’s frightening that the governed are prepared to countenance such transparent infringements of their most treasured and fundamental rights as the Espionage Act and the even more draconian 1918 amendment, known as the Sedition Act, which makes it a crime to

wilfully cause... or incite... insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall wilfully obstruct... the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, and whoever, when the United States is at war, shall wilfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag... or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States, or any language intended to bring the form of government... or the Constitution... or the military or naval forces... or the flag... of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute...

Now that Assange is at the mercy of The Criminal Justice System, he is certainly entitled to due process and we need to defend that entitlement.  But to couch the petition in those terms seems to me to miss the point and to elevate compliance with The Law into a matter of principle.  Any law with the capacity to criminalise the work that Wikileaks is doing demonstrates that The Law is not our friend and what we need to support is that work, whether legal or not.

Sunday 5 December 2010

I pledge allegiance...

While I’ve been dithering, it’s faded from the headlines.  But it was quite the controversial topic way back in October.

On 10 October, the Israeli cabinet approved a bill by 22 votes to 8 changing the wording of the loyalty oath non Jews seeking Israeli citizenship must take.

The Nationality Law of 1952 provides mechanisms for obtaining Israeli nationality by ‘return’, residence, birth, or naturalization.  The residence provisions only apply to those resident prior to the promulgation of the law.  Only children of Israeli nationals are entitled to nationality by birth — children born in Israel to non Israeli parents apparently have no claim to Israeli nationality.  Jews immigrating under the Law of return are entitled to Israeli nationality under the ‘return’ provisions.

So it seems that the proposal would simply amend paragraph 5(c) of the Nationality Law — the section concerning acquiring Israeli nationality by naturalisation, that is, by non Jews — which provides: 

(5)(c)   Prior to the grant of nationality, the applicant shall make the following declaration: "I declare that I will be a loyal national of the State of Israel."

to read something along the lines of ‘…"I declare that I will be a loyal national of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel."

By nightfall, reports the Jerusalem Post, 150 were demonstrating at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. ‘One of the organizers of the demonstration, Sefi Rachlevsky, said that the protest was held to express their “great anger towards a terrible action taken by a country we love.’

The same day, Ha’aretz’s Gideon Levy wrote, ‘Remember this day. It's the day Israel changes its character… From now on, we will be living in a new, officially approved, ethnocratic, theocratic, nationalistic and racist country.’ 
JStreet immediately called ‘on the government of Israel to pull back from this proposal which runs counter not just to the values enshrined in the country’s Declaration of Independence, but puts at risk the very democratic nature of the state itself.’

On Tikun Olam, Richard Silverstein wrote, ‘If the [Supreme] Court does not reject the law then Israel is sliding down the slippery slope to a racialist state.’

Within two days, Ynet was reporting that the Anti Defamation League’s ‘National Director Abraham H. Foxman explained that "in the spirit of Israel’s founding principles of equality, we urge Israel’s government to adopt further modifications to the proposed amendment to the citizenship law so it will apply to all immigrants to Israel, including those entering under the Law of Return.’

By the end of the week, thousands were rallying against the bill.

Meretz MK Oron also condemned the loyalty oath bill, calling it racist and anti-democratic.

"This anti-democratic attack of legislation was meant to exclude the Arab population from the democratic game and to eternalize an ethnocentric right-wing regime in the government.’

‘…hundreds of Israeli public figures, including Shulamit Aloni, Zehava Galon, Yoram Kaniuk, Ran Cohen’ signed the ‘Declaration of Independence from Fascism’,

A state which forcibly invades the hallowed realm of the individual citizen's conscience, and which imposes punishment on those whose opinions and beliefs do not fit the authorities' opinions and the prescribed "character" of the state, stops being a democracy and embarks on becoming a fascist state.

Behind these stairs where we stand, the state of Israel was proclaimed. The state which increasingly takes Israel's place – a state which fills the country with a variety of racist legislation, promoted by the Knesset and the cabinet – is excluding itself from the family of democratic nations. Therefore we, citizens of the Israel envisaged in the Declaration of Independence, hereby declare that will not be citizens of a country purporting to be Israel and which violates its basic commitment to the principles of equality, civil liberty and sincere aspiration for peace – principles upon which the State of Israel was founded.

On 31 October, the International Jewish Anti-zionist Network (IJAN) released its response, pointing out that ‘The Zionist "Left" is distancing itself from this policy, but the proposed oath is entirely consistent with Israel's racist foundations and continued ethnic cleansing - all of which the Zionist "Left" has played a central role in perpetrating and whitewashing.’

And the next day, Gabriel Ash of Jews sans frontiers further excoriated the Zionist ‘left’,

…Not only is the Palestinian narrative erased and evaded, but the speakers appropriate it. They are the ones whose country has been stolen. Proclaiming that “grievance” serves precisely to appropriate another attack on the people whose country really was stolen… [The] "left" that defends the interests of the settlers and seeks to make the Palestinian national problem disappear is not part of the solution. It is part of the problem.

Tempting as it is to quote more extensively, I’ll leave it to you to follow the link

More likely in response to Foxman than to the Israeli ‘left’, Ha’aretz reported that on 18 October, ‘Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Justice Minister Ya'akov Ne'eman…to prepare a new bill extending the loyalty oath, which is currently aimed at non-Jews, to include Jewish immigrants as well’, quoting the PM,

"There is broad approval among the Israeli public regarding the Jewish and democratic identity of Israel, and that is not incidental. The state of Israel was founded as the sovereign state of the Jewish people and as a democratic state in which all its citizens – Jews and non-Jews alike – enjoy equal rights. Any person wishing to become an Israeli citizen must recognize these two key principals."

The same day, the American Jewish Committee ‘welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to direct the Justice Ministry to prepare a bill that will oblige both Jews and non-Jews to pledge loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.”’ To their credit, J Street’s response to Netanyahu’s suggestion was to ‘remain opposed to the proposal’, albeit ‘for the reasons enumerated in the statement above’ — it risks ‘the very democratic nature of the state’.

To require such an oath of olim would demand more complex drafting of the proposed amendment than the original proposal.  But that should be no impediment to justice and fairness.  AJC Executive Director David Harris

had been concerned about different standards for Jewish and non-Jewish prospective immigrants to Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu has wisely decided, in keeping with Israel’s long-established principles of democracy and equality before the law, that if Israel is going to institute an oath of allegiance, it must be applicable to all.

If nothing else, you’d expect one of Zionism’s shrillest defenders to be aware that ‘different standards for Jewish and non-Jewish prospective immigrants to Israel’ are absolutely fundamental to Israel’s existence and that goyim are not entitled to acquire nationality under the ‘return’ provisions. Accordingly, unlike Jews seeking nationality, they must meet residence and language tests, and pledge fealty, to qualify. Amending the wording of the oath does not change that.

As many have pointed out, there is a contradiction between Israel’s claim to be ‘the national expression of the self-determination of the Jewish people’ and to be democratic in any meaningful sense.  Privileging any ethnicity or religious group erodes the democratic rights of those not so privileged.  So under the new provision, the only non Jews who would be entitled to immigrate and become Israeli citizens are those who are either too distracted to notice that they are swearing allegiance to something that can’t possibly exist or too dishonest or cynical to care.  Extending the requirement to olim would then restrict Israeli nationality by ‘return’ only to Jews displaying those characteristics.

But I reckon there are deeper implications.

In the immortal words of the Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel, ‘The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people - the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe - was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew…’ [my emphasis] 

As I read it, the point is that all Jews purportedly possess a common heritage in Palestine and are therefore equally entitled to live there.  Also, because anti-Semitism is inevitable wherever Jews live outside of Israel, we need to have a refuge we know will accept us when we flee oppression in ‘The Diaspora’. 

Making citizenship for olim contingent on taking an oath (anathema, by the way, to observant Jews) or indeed on anything, seems to me to have one of two consequences.  Either not all Jews are equally entitled to access our heritage and seek refuge from persecution, or they are redefining Jew to include just the distracted and the cynical.

One way or the other, that seemed to me to undermine Israel’s whole raison d’ être. No longer would just any member of ‘the Jewish people’ enjoy an entitlement to our ‘historic homeland’ and to asylum when under threat.

But on reflection, it transpires that whatever the framers of the Declaration might have intended in 1948, by 1950 the Law of return already empowered the Minister of Immigration (amended in 1954 to the Minister of the Interior) to deny an oleh’s visa if ‘satisfied that the applicant:

    (1) is engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people; or
    (2) is likely to endanger public health or the security of the State; or

The 1954 amendments extended the Minister’s power to exclude a third category of applicant — ‘a person with a criminal past, likely to endanger public welfare’.

So Israel has, virtually since inception, been the state not of ‘the Jewish people’ tout court, but only of those Jewish people who meet the Minister’s approval.  And in recent times, the Jewish state has demonstrated no reluctance to exclude unwanted Jews, even as visitors, when it deported Norman Finkelstein in May 2008, and refused entry to Noam Chomsky two years later. 

Since one of the principal tenets of Zionist ideology is that Israel is in fact the state of all the Jewish people and therefore any activity against Israel or Israeli actions, including criticism, constitutes ‘an activity directed against the Jewish people’, I can certainly understand why they might want to exclude critics.  And yet both Finkelstein and Chomsky are proponents of partitioning Palestine in accordance with The International Consensus, which I have argued implies support for the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. So it’s not as if they actually challenge Israel’s fabled ‘right to exist as a Jewish state’.

If the Knesset enacts the legislation mandating a loyalty oath for Gentiles and the Supreme Court allows the law to stand, Israel remains a racist ethnocracy. If it requires the oath for all who seek Israeli nationality, it still remains a racist ethnocracy. And as for the Jews who can’t swear allegiance to a contradiction, we already know that Israel is not our country, anyway.