Posts Tagged Tel Aviv
I hear a lot of talk from the Zionist left and right about the abysmal state of the Israeli left. Take, for example, this report by Elisheva Goldberg on the recent Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) march in Tel Aviv:
The trouble is this: when “leftism” becomes an identity element, it makes leftist politics involuntary. It turns marching with ACRI from a political act of free will into a necessary expression of self. It turns human rights activism from a fight for political victory into a fight for acknowledgement and recognition. And—most crucially—it turns the left from a movement of social change into a group of people who love each other, but have given up on winning and instead are just doing their best to preserve their community. Ella’s last comment to me was that “we need to feel that we’re part of something so that we can get up and go to work every day.” These ACRI marchers feel they’ve lost—and so they have. They’ve decided they’re content just to feel loved and appreciated by each other—and so they will be.
There are plenty of explanations for this from both sides.
Ask someone from the right, and they will tell you that the left’s policies failed — Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Hizballah fired rockets for 6 years until a brutal and bloody war; Israel withdrew from Gaza and Hamas took over and fired rockets for 6 years and counting, despite two brutal and bloody wars; Barak sat down with Arafat and made a generous offer and all we got in return was an intifada; Olmert sat down with Abbas and made another generous offer and we got nothing out of it; the Palestinians and Arabs continue to spread antisemitism in schoolbooks, on TV, and everywhere else; the Muslim Brotherhood is taking over the Middle East; they all hate us and they want to kill us like they did in the intifada, so we need to be strong and defend our borders and prepare for the impending apocalypse by buying a camper-van and moving next to Ramallah so we can improve our security by burning down some Palestinian olive trees.
Ask someone from the left and you’ll hear all about how Israel’s continuing occupation of the Palestinians is eroding its moral character and transforming it into some kind of proto-fascist society — everyone goes to the army, and so militancy is being bred into the society; years of controlling the Palestinians and relating to them only as soldier to controlled society has led to them being seen not as humans, but as some kind of lesser creatures; the failure to halt the settlement enterprise has put Israel in permanent control of the West Bank and made the two-state solution impossible, meaning there is some kind of apartheid system in place; the religious-Zionist camp has become increasingly racist and has begun to have more influence over the secular right and over the haredim; Likud is being taken-over by Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin, the Kahannists are the fastest-growing Knesset faction, they all hate us and want to kill us like they killed Rabin, so we may as well just give up and smoke pot in our run-down bauhaus apartment building in Tel Aviv while talking about how much smarter we are than everyone else and complaining that we don’t have jobs.
That’s not to say that there’s no merit in these theories. Maybe we can learn from both of them — for example, I don’t mind the idea of smoking pot near Ramallah and talking about how smart I am.
One thing that I do want to point out is that the two narratives are completely polarised in a way that is quite revealing of their respective mentalities: the Zionist left blame everything on the Israeli right and the Zionist right blame everything on the Arabs.
This annoys me, especially when I read things like this article by Peter Beinart, where he talks about how Obama has given up on Netanyahu without even mentioning that Obama may have also given up on Abbas — because it can’t be Abbas’ fault, the Israeli right is to blame for everything. Likewise for the many articles (I don’t have an example in front of me, but there’s no shortage) that keep talking about how much Israel just wants peace and it’s all the Arabs’ fault, as though the ruling party didn’t just preselect a lot of people who openly oppose a Palestinian state (the part about Danon and Feiglin taking over the Likud is true).
But anyway, that’s beside the point. I am going to posit another explanation for the state of affairs. We have a bad tendency in the Jewish community to think that we are the only ones affecting anything — when really, on a global scale, we are quite minor players. It’s probably some degree of internalised oppression resulting from antisemitic conspiracy theories, but that’s a different discussion.
A while ago, I read this piece on the geopolitics of Israel by George Friedman, which made a point that has stuck with me:
Israel exists in three conditions. First, it can be a completely independent state. This condition occurs when there are no major imperial powers external to the region. We might call this the David model. Second, it can live as part of an imperial system — either as a subordinate ally, as a moderately autonomous entity or as a satrapy. In any case, it maintains its identity but loses room for independent maneuvering in foreign policy and potentially in domestic policy. We might call this the Persian model in its most beneficent form. Finally, Israel can be completely crushed — with mass deportations and migrations, with a complete loss of autonomy and minimal residual autonomy. We might call this the Babylonian model.
Israel is a small fish in a big pond, but is very strategically located and therefore will always be in someone’s interests to control. When great powers compete over Middle East hegemony (as they tend to do), Israel can either survive as a client state, or be subsumed.
Until fairly recently, Israel was a client of the Western secular left. At the moment, Israel is a client of the Christian right. Europe — dominated by the secular left — has been becoming increasingly anti-Israel for a variety of reasons (and correlated with a dramatic rise in antisemitism throughout the continent). The Western academic left has essentially fallen to the Edward Said mentality and now speaks about Israel as though it were the root cause of everything that is evil in this world. A similar attitude pervades the UN (which is essentially where the academic left go on secondment when they are tired of academia).
Meanwhile, support for Israel in the Christian right has never been stronger. The massive Evangelical population in the US has become fanatically pro-Israel. In response to the growing cultural tensions in Europe and the ‘unholy alliance’ between the secular left and the ultra-conservative Islamists, the European right has begun to shift strongly towards Israel. I often hear remarks in Australia that the conservative Christian right is more pro-Israel than the Jewish community, and I think there is genuinely some truth to that assessment.
What does this mean? Put simply, Israel needs to maintain itself as a client state in order to survive. It can no longer rely on the secular left for support as, in a fit of post-colonial guilt and profound ‘Orientalism’, the secular left has determined that since the Islamists were fighting against George Bush, and they don’t like George Bush, the Islamists must be ‘part of the global left‘. Never mind all that stuff about hanging the homosexuals, stoning adulterers, and killing the women in your family for ‘dishonourable’ behaviour. That part’s not important.
In other words, the Israeli right has huge support from the global right, and the Israeli left is being scorned by the global left. Given the dynamics of Israel, it is small wonder that the left is in disarray.
I was a little heartened when I readt his profile of Sami al-Ajrami by Sarah Topol a few days ago.
Ajrami is apparently the only Palestinian living in Gaza who reports events there in Hebrew to the Israeli media. He has figured out something that seems to go over the heads of pretty much everyone else I ever see who try to push the ‘Palestinian’ line — including most of the Jewish left. My bold:
Ajrami says he tried to create common ground by comparing the Israelis who fled their towns in the south for the relative safety of Tel Aviv to Gazans evacuating their homes in heavily-targeted areas of the enclave. “I can understand your misery, as people, as humans—but you have to understand the message from Gaza,” he remembers saying. “It’s the same misery and there are politicians who rule and govern in a way that makes a lot of civilians dead.”
Israelis are more prone to understanding that message, Ajrami believes, than if he accused the Israeli military of targeting Palestinian civilians. “They won’t understand me, and they will say: ‘What? Fuck, you are launching rockets randomly on our houses!’ They won’t understand and they won’t feel sympathy towards your misery,” he says.
Ajrami’s mission is not to be a one-way bullhorn on the situation. When he speaks as an Israeli expert on local television and radio in Gaza, he tries to explain that Israel is a segmented society, with different factions that should be engaged in different ways. “Let’s separate between Jews and Israelis, and Israelis citizens and Israeli government and the Israeli policy, because I can have the support of a lot of Israelis because they understand and they call for the end of occupation, just like me,” he says.
I wrote last week about the common experience of being shot at and the futility of trying to be The Victim in the conflict. Ajrami understands that. He sees that the way to make Israelis sympathise with Palestinian suffering is not to start telling them how evil they are and how much worse it is for Palestinians than for Israelis, while trying to downplay the impact of Palestinian terrorism. The way to do it is to concentrate on shared suffering and common experiences.
Fear, suffering, and anger are things that Israelis understand. Trying to claim a monopoly on these emotions is what hurts the Palestinian cause the most (the same, by the way, can be said for the people on the Israeli side of the fence who do the same thing).
We need more people like Ajrami, and we need people on the Israeli side broadcasting to the Palestinians in Arabic. In fact, it seems insane that nobody in Israel has thought to do that yet (or at least, hasn’t done it well).
It seems that nobody has been killed, thank God. Also, it is not guaranteed that Hamas carried this out, but Hamas were definitely celebrating it. There are reports that Israel has stepped-up its airstrikes over Gaza and Hamas/PIJ have stepped-up rocket fire in response. Who saw that one coming?
Just to be clear: an anti-war rally in Tel Aviv was cancelled because of this bombing. Everyone in Israel who wanted to end the offensive has just lost their case. All of the Israeli peaceniks that I follow are as shocked and scared as everyone else. These attackers have essentially guaranteed that there is no end in sight to this war.
**Update** at least 21 injured. Police say it was a definite terrorist attack
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There are breaking reports of a bus bomb in Tel Aviv, the first attack there since 2006. From what I can gather from Twitter and elsewhere, it was a female terrorist who threw a bomb onto the bus and then left the area. The police has arrested one suspect and are looking for another. There were over 10 injured, three critically. Luckily, the bus was mostly empty at the time.
Most importantly/disgustingly, Hamas is busy celebrating this as a ‘victory for Allah’ over the loudspeakers in Gaza. Celebratory gunfire heard throughout the strip.
This pretty much puts an end to any hope of a ceasefire agreement. What Hamas have just done is won themselves a long-protracted ground war.
A bus exploded in central Tel Aviv on Wednesday, wounding at least 10 people, three of them seriously.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blast on the No. 66 bus on the corner of Shaul Hamelech and Henrietta Szold Streets, but Israel Police suspect it was a terror attack. Passersby were ordered to keep their distance from the scene.
Large police forces were deployed to the area, and opened a manhunt after two suspected terrorists. Eyewitnesses say they saw a person plant an explosive and run away. Al-Arabiya reported that at least one of the suspected terrorists was a woman.
“A bomb exploded on a bus in central Tel Aviv. This was a terrorist attack. Most of the injured suffered only mild injuries,” said Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Chaim Eckstein thinks that the Tel Aviv municipality has gone too far in not suspending their bike rental service on Yom Kippur:
Suspending the bike rental service on Yom Kippur does not constitute capitulation to the religious community, and it has nothing to do with religious coercion. Why? Because Yom Kippur is not a religious day; it is an Israeli day. It is one of the state’s symbols.
You do not have to observe the Torah and the mitzvahs to deem Yom Kippur a holy day. Even avid seculars fast on Yom Kippur. Even those who regularly eat bacon with cheese feel uncomfortable upon hearing that an Israeli who plays for a European basketball team took part in a game that was held on Yom Kippur. Eat falafel, go to a barbecue but also fast one day a year – this is what it means to be Israeli in modern times.
That may be true, but these avid seculars may also want to ride a bike while they are fasting. Or maybe the 30% of Israelis who are not Jewish may want to ride a bike around Tel Aviv on a day when you can’t really drive. Or perhaps the tens of thousands of tourists that keep the Israeli economy running may want to ride a bike around Tel Aviv on that day.
Either way, who the hell is Chaim Eckstein to tell them they can’t?
It is hard to put into words what I feel about the events in the South Tel Aviv suburb yesterday with the bitterly ironic name of Hatikvah. That said, putting things into words is what I do. So here goes.
I’ll begin with someone else’s words: Ha’aretz journalist Ilan Lior, who was actually there and watched the whole thing play out. Here is how he described it:
I have been a journalist for ten years. I’ve covered terror attacks, funerals, car accidents, and protests. I’ve seen fury, frustration, despair, and sadness in a variety of places and forms. But I’ve never seen such hatred as it was displayed on Wednesday night in the Hatikva neighborhood. If it weren’t for the police presence, it would have ended in lynching. I have no doubt. Perhaps a migrant worker would have been murdered, perhaps an asylum seeker, or maybe just a passerby in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Israel’s asylum seeker problem
I have written in the past on how Israel provides its African asylum seekers with a safe haven that is unmatched by any other country that side of Europe, but also that they still face difficulties. The situation that they find themselves in is depicted very well in this piece by Daniella Cheslow and I recommend clicking through and reading it, but in essence: Israel has no policy.
Tens of thousands of people have been fleeing for Israel over the past decade, primarily from Sudan and Eritrea. The horrors that they face at home and during the journey do not bear thinking about. Amongst other things, they are hunted for their ethnicity, quite literally shot on sight by Egyptian forces, and often abducted by Sinai Bedoins, held to ransom and then tortured to death when they can’t pay (African refugees do not tend to have a lot of money).
After weeks of travelling through harsh deserts, often on foot, they cross the border into Israel – where they are greeted by the Israeli border guards, given food and medical attention, taken to a detention centre in South Israel so that Israel can figure out who they are, and then given a one-way bus ticket to Tel Aviv.
That is the end of Israel’s plan for them. They arrive in Tel Aviv with absolutely nothing – no working visa, no knowledge of Hebrew, no friends, no family, no support network. There are now 60,000 of them – almost 1% of Israel’s entire population – and the Israeli government has had no policy at all to deal with the issue. For reasons outlined here by Shallya Scher-Ehrlich, this is in breach of international law.
What happens next is quite obvious: they serve the same functions as large groups of illegal migrants anywhere else. They work in below-minimum-wage jobs for people unscrupulous enough to employ them in these conditions, they live in crowded accommodation in the poorest neighbourhoods and, out of desperation and because criminal gangs are one group that do not exclude them for the colour of their skin, they often become involved in crime (although reports of them massively increasing crime rates are highly exaggerated).
The areas that they moved into were previously (and in some cases still are) the ones predominantly inhabited by Israel’s other marginalised groups – Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and from Ethiopia, or ‘Mizrachim‘. How the old residents have reacted was captured quite well in a profile by Ben Hartman on Sophie Menashe, a Mizrachi Jew who found herself to be the last Jew in a building now inhabited by African migrants:
Despite the descriptions of a gilded past, these neighborhoods were never upscale and had a persistent reputation for being crime-infested. However, the influx of Africans has added racial conflict to the already troubled social dynamic and has left many veteran residents feeling foreign and outnumbered. …
The apartment was once a source of pride for Menashe. …
Over the years, her neighbors grew older and died or moved out, and more and more foreigners moved in; first foreign workers, mainly from West Africa and East Asia, and over the past five or six years, East African migrants and asylum- seekers.
The sentiments that Menashe expressed toward the African migrants left little room for nuance: They carry AIDS and other diseases, are violent drunks and might be part of a plot hatched by the Jewish state’s enemies to flood Israel with African Muslims, creating a demographic threat to bring down the country from within.
Although such views would offend a wide swath of polite Israeli society, they come from a place of fear and frustration, and from long days spent cooped up in her apartment, afraid to step out into a world that has shifted beneath her feet – where Menashe now feels like a stranger.
These tensions have recently started coming to a head, and the government is finally reacting as a result – building a fence along the border to Egypt and building a massive detention centre to house the asylum seekers. In many ways, it seems as though they are taking a leaf out of Australia’s book.
Whatever your views on mandatory detention, one particular leaf that Israel has now taken is unambiguously disgusting, hateful and unjustifiable. That “leaf” is the 2005 Cronulla riots, which in many ways were mirrored by yesterday’s events in Tel Aviv.
I began the post with Ilan Lior’s eyewitness report of the incident and another, by Hagai Matar, can be read here. The worst part is undoubtedly the fact that the crowd was fuelled mostly by Members of the Knesset.
Hatikvah was a riot
Let’s be clear though, while some of these were government MKs, the protest was against the government’s policy. The protesters and the speakers were complaining that the government has not been harsh enough on the refugees. What the parliamentarians said, however, was disgraceful. Lior quotes Michael Ben-Ari, a Kahannist, saying, “there are rapists and harassers here. The time for talk is over.”
Wore still was the quote from Likkud MK Miri Regev, which I feel the need to emphasise in bold:
“The Sudanese are a cancer in our body. All the left-wingers that filed petitions in the Supreme court should be embarrassed – they stopped the expulsion.”
As a few have pointed out, this is precisely the kind of abhorrent, racist rhetoric that Iranian leaders use to refer to Israel and Jews, rightly drawing condemnation from most of the world.
Even worse, it is the kind of language that Sudanese President Omar Bashir uses when he’s busy inciting genocide against the black Africans in his Arab-ruled country. This is precisely what these people fled in the first instance, hoping for a haven in Israel, yet they are met with the same revulsion. It’s sickening.
Even this was not quite the evening’s the low point.
Ben-Ari, Regev and Major Karnage favourite Danny Danon managed to rile the crowd enough that they transformed into a mob and began attacking the journalists mentioned above for being “traitors” and allegedly “throwing rocks at checkpoints” (which, needless to say, both of them deny ever doing).
The mob started chanting “Sudanese to Sudan!” and making their way towards the largely African neighbourhoods. What ensued was beyond harrowing. The mob went around South Tel Aviv, smashing the windows of African-owned businesses, looting African-run shops and attacking passers-by who happened to be black.
I cannot think of any epithets that even approach how repulsive this is. Jews Sans Frontiers, a group with whom I do not often agree, compared it — not unjustifiably — to Kristallnacht. Watching some of the footage, this is exactly what comes to mind:
Danon’s response? Well, he figured that he’d pen an op-ed. This was published in the Jerusalem Post the morning after the riot:
We are at a critical crossroads with a strategic demographic threat developing within our borders that may upend our country’s very character as a Jewish and democratic state. It is nonsensical that such large numbers of illegal infiltrators from Africa are settling permanently in our country and so little is being done to rectify this problem. This is especially highlighted when taking into account that the crime rate among the infiltrators is almost double the rate of that in the general population. The desperately necessary solution is a three-pronged program to end this dangerous phenomenon: stop, arrest and deport.
A threat to Israel’s “character as a Jewish and democratic state”.
The rhetoric that Danon was supporting and that pogrom he incited is exactly the sort of persecution that Israel was created to prevent. The Zionist dream was formed when Jews had to regularly endure this kind of treatment and longed for a place where they would be away from it, where they would be able to live without fear — not a place to import the violent prejudice that plagued the countries from which they fled.
The concept of a “Jewish state” may be difficult to define, but it was definitely not meant in the same way that the Nazis spoke of a “German state”. Whatever some anti-Zionists may choose to believe, Israel was never intended to be a land “cleansed” of non-Jews. It is supposed to be a homeland for the Jewish people, that to some extent embodies Jewish values.
This riot was about as far from Jewish values as anyone can possibly stray. Where is the “light unto the nations” now? Who is “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you?”
It is not the African migrants that are eroding Israel’s Jewish character, it is Danon, Regev and Ben-Ari. They are the cancer that is eating away at Israeli society, propagating this vile racism — not to mention trying to unravel the Constitutional basis for Israel’s democracy.
If there is some hope left to find in Hatikvah, it is in the fact that these MKs did manage to unite the Jewish people — against them. Jewish organisations around the world condemned what happened. Similar for everyone in Israel beyond a handful of extremists.
Even someone like Neil Lazarus — who has literally made his career out of defending everything Israel does — has come out strongly against Israeli racism as a result.
Moreover, the critical voices include members of the Government who are much more important than Danon:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on Wednesday’s violent protests in southern Tel Aviv and made it clear that “there is no room for the actions and expressions witnessed (in Tel Aviv). I’m saying these things to the general population and the residents of southern Tel Aviv, whose pain I understand.”
[Knesset Speaker Reuben Rivlin said that t]he people “may demonstrate and protest and demand the government formulate a solution, but there should be no incitement – and it is forbidden to use the same tactics anti-Semites used against us [in the Exile].”
“We suffered greatly from incitement and harassment,” Rivlin said. “We must be committed to sensitivity and finding just solutions. The main problem is not the infiltrators and refugees, but the lack of a clear policy from the government of Israel.”
It is important to maintain perspective. As Michael Koplow pointed out, there were only about 1,000 people who attended the rally, and fewer still who actually rioted.
Also, while I did use the word “pogrom”, this is not like the state-sanctioned pogroms that the Jews of Eastern Europe were subjected to. Happily, no one was killed or seriously injured on the night – thanks in no small part to the heroic actions of the Israeli police. Israeli society has overwhelmingly condemned what went on and it has been made clear by the Prime Minister and the President that this kind of thing has no place in Israel.
In that spirit, I strongly believe that the Members of Knesset who were involved in the affair should be forced to resign. What they said and did is absolutely unacceptable and their parties should not countenance that behaviour.
Also, I will be donating money to the African Refugee Development Centre in Tel Aviv, I suggest that you do the same.
I will leave you with some words from Adam Ibrahim, a leader of Israel’s African migrant community:
If you don’t want us here, don’t turn your rage at us, because we have no choice. I have nowhere to go. I just want to live in safety. I agree to be deported to any African country, other than Sudan. I just want to live with dignity, without people talking about the color of my skin, and I want to stop feeling hostility on the streets.
It is important for me to say that we are not a burden on society. We work for less than minimum wage in jobs that Israelis wouldn’t want to do themselves anyway. We pay rent, and make do with organizations that we established ourselves. It is hard for me to hear Eli Yishai’s statements in the media. Their impact on Israelis is tremendous, since in Israel everyone listens to the news.
The state is spreading negative propaganda against us – they say it is unsafe here because of us. I feel that the Jews are doing to us the exact same thing the Germans did to them. Don’t talk nonsense – we are in the 21st century. Don’t talk about skin color, don’t talk about slaves and don’t say that I stink. We want to see a real democracy – not only words.
I know that I will never have equal rights here. I just want to receive the few rights that I do deserve as a refugee.