(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
As we celebrate Tu Bishvat today, a friend reminded me of our first New Year for Trees in Israel, more than 30 years ago. Our ulpan in Jerusalem had canceled Hebrew lessons for the day so we could attend a tree-planting ceremony.
Being the industrious students we were, we checked where the tree-planting was due to take place and, not quite to our surprise, found it was scheduled for a forest over the Green Line.
The ceremony went ahead without our ulpan’s participation, as the majority of the new immigrants studying there said they were not prepared to take part in any activity in the occupied territories. Given the change in demographics of immigrants from the Western world over the past three decades, such a boycott scenario would be unlikely to take place today.
Indeed, new immigrants today voicing such opinions would no doubt be labeled “little Jew boys,” as was US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, for having the temerity to point out the blindingly obvious in terms of the situation on the ground in the Palestinian territories controlled by Israel.
“Too much [Jewish] vigilantism goes unchecked,” he told a security conference, “and at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians.”
For this, he was fiercely condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Netanyahu’s former aide Aviv Bushinsky, who gratuitously threw in the “Jew boy” insult.
Sometimes, it also seems there are two standards of law inside Israel proper. At the beginning of last week, Oz Segal was convicted in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court of stabbing Ibrahim Issawi, an Israeli-Arab street cleaner employed by the Herzliya municipality. Screaming “death to Arabs,” Segal attacked Issawi with a kitchen knife but fortunately only lightly wounded him.
So how many years behind bars do you think Segal got for this vicious hate crime? Well, “years” is putting it too strongly. Oz only received 21 months for his actions, and he wasn’t even charged with attempted murder, just with committing assault under aggravated circumstance. Oz also didn’t receive the maximum penalty for that (three years, which can be doubled if the aggressor was in possession of a weapon, which Oz was), with the judge citing “mitigating circumstances” for his surprising leniency.
If we turned this case around, and had an Israeli Arab screaming “death to Jews” as he stabs a Jewish Israeli, what do you think the chances are of his getting off with a 21-month sentence due to mitigating circumstances? Assuming, that is, that he hasn’t already been shot dead by passers-by.
SUCH DOUBLE standards, however, are the norm in today’s Israel, fueled by a paranoid Netanyahu who sees anybody who disagrees with him as a deadly enemy.
The proposed non-governmental organizations (NGO) transparency bill, championed by Justice Minister Shaked and due to be brought for a vote in the Knesset this week is another example of the Orwellian environment this government is fostering.
Following the example of that noted democrat Vladimir Putin, the prime minister is seeking to delegitimize NGOs such as Peace Now, B’tselem and Breaking the Silence, by forcing these, and other NGOs that receive over 50 percent of their budget from foreign governments, to declare this fact in every publication or advert or even Facebook status update they make. Despite the European Union being Israel’s largest trading partner and staunch diplomatic ally, Netanyahu wants to insinuate that any NGO taking money from an EU government cannot be trusted.
Netanyahu claims that such legislation is similar to the United States Foreign Agents Registration Act, but as the US embassy here has pointed out, there is no comparison between the two. “The draft Israeli law,” an embassy statement noted, “would target NGOs simply because they are funded principally by foreign government entities. That is not how the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) works.
FARA requires individuals or organizations to register as foreign agents only if they engage in certain specified activities at the order, request or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal – not simply by receiving contributions from such an entity. As a result, it does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law.”
Moreover, the government’s proposed “pro-transparency” legislation is purposely targeted at left-wing organizations as opposed to right-wing NGOs, who mainly receive their undeclared funding from rich overseas individuals, or the Israeli government and other state institutions. As far as Netanyahu and Shaked are concerned, there is no need for transparency regarding this kind of funding, which helps perpetuate Israel’s disastrous hold on the West Bank.
It’s a good job Netanyahu wasn’t in power when my ulpan staged its Tu Bishvat tree-planting boycott. Who knows what loyalty tests he might have added to the curriculum, aside from Hebrew lessons.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.