Reality Check: Stop the anti-Left witch hunt

PM's professed support for democracy is in contrast to a slew of bills put forth by his government.

By
December 4, 2011 22:37
4 minute read.
Netanyahu

Netanyahu 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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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.

Rather than 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.

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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 Israel.”

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.”



HERE IN Israel, we’re repeatedly seeing evidence of this government’s heavy-handed approach to anybody who does not agree with its particular (and extremist) views.

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 one another.

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 democracy.

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.

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