The Delegitimizers

2011 started with some difficult days for Israeli democracy. Starting Saturday morning, the IDF has been scrambling to explain away the death of Jawahar Abu-Rahmah of Bil’in, who in all likelihood died as a result of IDF tear gas (and probably not hyper-rapid leukemia or the common cold.) On Monday, Ma’ariv gave us reason to believe that Netanyahu’s call for direct talks with the Palestinians on the core issues is less than honest; their sources indicate quite simply that this government is captive to its most extreme elements and unable to serve the majority. In its 2010 annual summary, the GSS (Shabak) describes the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah, Ni’lin, Bil’in, and Nabi Saleh, as “clashing against the security forces.” And speaking of the GSS, the High Court of Justice denied, Tuesday, a petition requesting information on how many detainees the GSS has kept from seeing an attorney (on the grounds that this would “potentially harm state security.”)

It’s been one damned thing after another. And yesterday, the Knesset managed to top it all. I spent the evening trying not to think about it, but today I can think of nothing else.

You see, dear readers, for a while now people in Israel have sensed that our state is losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the world. However, the nationalistic Israeli mainstream can hardly imagine such a thing happening as the result of the state’s actions and character. We were all taught that Israel is a model of democracy, a holy state of utmost morality, and, of course, that there are Antisemites everywhere and anyone who questions Zionism is likely doing this because they secretly think Hitler was a good guy. So instead of realizing that we’re losing legitimacy because of decades of repugnant occupation on the West Bank; instead of seeing that we lose credibility as a state every time our army hurts people and goes through seven different stories in three days about how we didn’t do it, or they started, or they didn’t start it but we were right to do it, or all of the above; instead of seeing that the popularity of populistic nationalistic jingoistic nearly-fascistic politicians makes the world doubt us — instead of all that, people have let politicians and provocateurs convince them that the de-legitimization of Israel is a broad conspiracy of lefties who hijack the human rights discourse as part of some kind of evil Antisemitic plan to destroy the State of Israel, starting by putting IDF war criminals on trial.

This has been going on for a while now and I’m not the first to have said all this. The entire time, my impression has been that the claims of a delegitimization conspiracy are fantasy of the blood-libel variety: lies invented by those fixing to wipe out the opposition. As someone who eagerly reads this movement, all I’ve seen is very open discourse in the spirit of honest criticism and disagreement, with no hint of the cabal mentality needed for an international conspiracy. Besides, the human rights organizations in Israel are models of transparency, as opposed to the groups calling for them to be banned. And besides besides, what the hell does calling for war-crimes trials against a state’s war criminals have to do with delegitimizing it?? The Bush administration should be put on trial for Iraq, but that doesn’t mean the USA is any less legitimate for it.

For the time being, this is a lost fight. Those trying to save the legitimacy of Israel as a moral state and a democracy are now being targeted by the state’s parliament. Democracy has finally turned into a tyranny of the majority (a majority of parliamentarians, that is.) They will be investigated in a context that has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with internal political posturing. As Yossi Gurvitz points out (Hebrew here, English here), if this were a matter of justice there’s a justice system to deal with it. The Knesset is not an assembly of judges, neither by job nor by qualification. As always, they’re out to point to imaginary threats and make believe they’re dealing with them.

There’s bitter and obvious irony here, going after the human rights organizations, one of Hasbara’s last excuses to call Israel a democracy, under the banner of getting rid of those who would delegitimize Israeli democracy. It makes my head spin.

Time will tell whether this is the beginning of the end in a good way or a bad way.

All I am left to do is hope that the people I love will not be hurt in the process. That, and choose which organizations to donate to in this dark hour. I’m thinking NIF, B’Tselem, and Breaking the Silence… I can’t donate much, but you know, if everyone donates a little it might help. (h/t Noa Raz for proposing this [here, Heb]) I wonder who needs it the most. Any suggestions?