(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The siege mentality that dominates the Netanyahu government recently scraped new
levels of desperation with an Immigration and Absorption Ministry campaign to
convince Israelis living in the United States to return home.
extol the virtues of life in Israel and the opportunities that await returning
Israelis, the campaign focused on the emotion that most typifies this government
and the person who stands at its head: fear.
PM cancels government campaign to entice expats home
The campaign, which included
billboards in cities with large concentrations of Israelis, as well as a number
of mawkish videos on YouTube, has one message: While you’ll always stay an
Israeli, your children won’t.
Fair enough, one might think. A child
growing up in the US will obviously be more American than Israeli. But then, in
one of the videos, the Immigration Ministry makes a giant leap and equates
living in America with immediate assimilation.
In the video, a young
Israeli couple and their little daughter are having a Skype conversation with a
set of grandparents back in Israel. With the Hanukka candles burning brightly in
the background of the grandparents’ house, the grandmother asks the little girl
if she knows what festival it is. With a broad smile on her face, the girl
quickly answers “Christmas!” to the looks of horror on the faces of the adults.
“They’ll always stay Israelis,” a doom-mongering narrator announces in the
background. “Their children won’t be. Help them come back to
This video was removed from YouTube over the weekend, no doubt
following complaints from mainstream US Jewish organizations like the
Anti-Discrimination League who labeled this, and the other set of videos as
“heavy-handed and even demeaning.”
Indeed, this total negation of
American-Jewish life reflects a dangerous, black-and-white worldview, with no
understanding of, or sympathy for, the reality of the multiple Jewish and
Israeli identities that exist in the real world. The last time such a stark,
negative viewpoint was aired was Binyamin Netanyahu’s infamous remarks to Shas
leader Ovadia Yosef over a decade ago, when he evilly whispered into the elderly
rabbi’s ear: “the Left has forgotten what it is to be Jewish.”
Israel, we’re repeatedly seeing evidence of this government’s heavy-handed
approach to anybody who does not agree with its particular (and extremist)
While Netanyahu told a legal conference last week that “democracy
is not just majority votes and majority rule,” a new bill cosponsored by his
Likud party and its major ally, the xenophobic Yisrael Beiteinu, clearly signals
that the prime minister’s words and deeds do not always bear a close relation to
According to the bill’s proposals, non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) that deny Israel’s right to exist, incite racism, support
armed resistance against Israel, support putting Israeli officials on trial in
international courts, call for insubordination in the army and support boycotts
against Israel will be prohibited from accepting foreign government funding.
Furthermore, NGOs that do not receive Israeli government funding will have to
pay a 45 percent tax on any foreign government funding. On the other hand, there
is no restriction on NGOs receiving funding from non-governmental foreign
organizations or individuals.
Given that left-wing Israeli NGOs such as
Peace Now receive funding from European Union grants, while right-wing
settlement organizations raise their money from wealthy individuals, as well as
often receiving money from the Israeli government too, it’s clear that the
effect of this legislation is aimed at drying up funding to left-wing
organizations, at the expense of clipping the wings of Israeli
One of the hallmarks of a democracy is a lively civil society,
in which organizations representing a minority viewpoint have the freedom to
challenge the majority. But despite the prime minister’s fine words, it seems
this government is set on stamping out dissenting voices and penalizing those
groups that have the temerity to criticize it.
This attack on opposition
groups, no matter how distasteful some of their views might be to the majority,
is dangerous. In a postscript to her blistering attack on cabinet ministers and
Knesset members last week for waging a “poisonous” campaign of delegitimization
against the judicial system, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch also warned
of the dangers facing Israeli democracy.
Breaking with the accepted
protocol in which judges do not criticize the government, Beinisch slammed the
raft of recent bills that sought to change the manner of judicial appointments,
noting that these legislative attempts were, in the final analysis, not aimed at
the court itself, but at “the democratic values the court represents,”
particularly the protection the court grants minorities and the human rights
organizations that defend them.
If the prime minister is the democrat he
professes to be, he should take Beinisch’s warning to heart and scrap the
proposed witch-hunt against left-wing organizations.
The strength of a
democracy is its ability to tolerate argument and dissent; in its determination
to muzzle these voices, the government is showing weakness, not
strength.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.