The dilemma of a democracy

Over the years numerous Europeans have been involved in clashes with Israeli security forces resulting in arrests, unintentional injuries and even unintentional deaths.

March 31, 2018 21:29
4 minute read.
A Palestinian family scuffles with an Israeli soldier in the West Bank

The Tamimi family scuffles with an Israeli soldier as they try to prevent him from detaining a boy during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, August 28, 2015. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

Israel is a democratic and sovereign nation responsible for its own security. At times the country’s security needs can seem to challenge its democratic values. This conflict was revisited recently when I met in my community of Efrat with a group of pro-Palestinian solidarity activists from Ireland.

Among the views expressed within this delegation

 • The Jewish people’s ancient claim to the land is specious since the Israelites murdered the indigenous inhabitants, such as the Canaanites.

• The Jews’ justification for reclaiming Palestine 2,000 years after their expulsion is (quote) “ridiculous.”

• The Jews expelled hundreds of thousands and murdered thousands of Palestinians in 1948 to steal their land and create a state.

• Palestinians had to be killed to establish Efrat.

Absurd? Outrageous? Not to this group, to whom these beliefs are axiomatic.

Adding to this litany of false historical grievances was the group’s unpleasant experience of being detained and interrogated by airport security personnel for seven hours upon their arrival, something that undoubtedly further fueled their contempt for the Jewish state. This debacle was responsible for one woman asking indignantly: “Why doesn’t the government of Israel want people to meet Palestinians?” No doubt she was referring not only to her own group’s experience, though after being thoroughly scrutinized at the airport they were permitted to enter, but also to this past February when Israel officially blacklisted the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign along with some 20 other pro-Palestinian foreign activist groups.

Contrary to her contention, thousands of tourists harboring pro-Palestinian sympathies do visit Israel. I meet with a few hundred each year because they are curious to visit a “settlement” and confront a “settler.”

They travel unencumbered throughout the country as well as in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas.

They hear from a range of Israelis and Palestinians including political activists who openly promulgate the Palestinian narrative. Following their visit, they return home with a still skewed understanding of the conflict.

Tuvia Tenenbom, author of Catch the Jew, after months of undercover fieldwork in the PA-controlled areas and Israel, discovered that European leftists, both official NGOs as well as less formally organized solidarity groups, are more responsible than other foreign visitors for inciting Palestinians, leading to greater resentment of Israel and sometimes violence.

Over the years numerous Europeans have been involved in clashes with Israeli security forces resulting in arrests, unintentional injuries and even unintentional deaths. Tenenbom’s observations reflect the research of Jerusalem’s NGO Monitor that has identified some three dozen European- based NGOs actively hostile to the Jewish state. Thus, it was in February when the government of Israel finally responded to this situation and banned entry to the most egregious of these groups.

What price does the state of Israel pay for this policy? How does it benefit? Israel’s action triggered a number of negative responses in mainstream media in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. But the criticism was short lived. Vitriol expressed on anti-Israel social media sites was just more of the same. No country threatened sanctions, nor did tourism suffer. In short, apart from the familiar name-calling, “undemocratic,” “fascist,” “stifling freedom of speech,” Israel suffered no consequences.

The banned organizations, like the group with which I met, find every opportunity to mine proof of the Zionist state’s complicity in racism, apartheid and other forms of social injustice.

Photos, film clips, even snatches of conversation from their visits to Israel and the PA are altered to present deceptive images to live audiences and through the media. As unethical as this practice is and as unwanted as these people are this should not serve as a criterion for approving one’s visa.

And the benefits? Verbal bashing is one thing but security is another. The government of Israel is obliged to protect its citizens from both imminent and potential harm. While most foreign protesters remain within the law, a minority cross the line to engage in violence. Who crosses that line and when is unpredictable.

Security experts throughout the world, and especially in Israel, depend upon profiles created from personal information gathered about persons of interest. The methodology is not perfect but it has arguable merits. Its use to prevent potential agitators from entering Israel is a legitimate tool of national defense. Those who charge that the practice is merely punitive or vindictive misunderstand its purpose or use it as another opportunity to accuse Israel of civil rights abuse.

Similarly, Israel is often criticized for its military checkpoints and particularly for building the security barrier that runs mostly along the 1949 armistice line. These measures, implemented following the deadly Second Intifada, impede the movement of all Palestinians, whether innocent or not.

Critics favor the wholly inaccurate, hyperbolic and castigatory phrase “collective punishment.” These methods do not offer a perfect solution but have undoubtedly saved many innocent lives.

So it is with a categorical visa restriction on belligerent foreign groups.

Such restrictions inevitably affect individuals who pose no threat to Israel’s security but share affiliation with others who might. Confronting this situation presents a dilemma to a democracy. The insidious nature of terrorism has forced Israel to apply an assortment of policies and practices to defend its citizens. None of these is perfect, but neither is a democracy.

The author lives in Efrat. He is a writer and public speaker and is the director of iTalkIsrael.

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