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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Israel takes another stride towards becoming a Police State

Imagine it. Parliament passes a law that says any organisation or non-governmental organisation which passes information about British war crimes in Iraq or Afghanistan to an international organisation, or which collaborates with an organisation seeking to arrest British war criminals, is rendered illegal. Membership of such an organisation will render you liable to imprisonment and its assets will be seized.

Amnesty International
, which provided information about torture and a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland would certainly have been proscribed. So would the National Council for Civil Liberties. Members of the Troops Out Movement, who worked with Republican supporters in the United States would probably have been prosecuted for treason.

But although Margaret Thatcher, in her more demented moments railed against civil liberties groups and pressure was exerted by David Blunkett, New Labour’s Home Secretary, for the Big Lottery Fund to cut off money to organisations like the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, not even the looniest right-winger, not even Tony Blair, ever proposed criminalising the free circulation of information abroad.

If Israel passes this Bill, as it is likely to do, then it will have taken one long stride into introducing a Police State for its own Jewish citizens. Why do I mention civil and democratic rights in Israel? Because despite its horrendous attacks on Palestinians and Arabs – both in Israel and without – Israel is not a fascist state or a police state, although there are clearly similarities between Zionist ideology and fascism (especially in its worship of the State) and Israeli state practice and a police state.

Israel has had, like the metropolitan countries of the British and French Empires, a limited democracy at home. But now Israel appears to be galloping towards becoming the type of state that outlaws contrary opinions. For sure it can be argued that the Israeli electorate has backed this approach. But then a sizeable (albeit less than in Israel!) proportion of the German electorate backed Hitler. Does this mean that Nazi Germany was therefore democratic? Of course not.

When a national or racial block votes as a block against a minority, that is not democracy but the tyrrany of an ethnic block. It is an ethno dictatorship.
But as Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto over 150 years ago, a nation that oppresses another nation will not itself be free.

Tony Greenstein

News Release, April 29, 2010

Human Rights Groups in Israel Respond to Proposed Bill to Suppress Information about Serious Breaches of International Law: A Danger to Democracy

Democratic values are important to the human rights community in Israel. A new bill proposes to trample these democratic values and undermine the ability to seek accountability for human rights violations. It is with great concern that we respond to the proposed bill: Associations (Amutot) Law (Amendment – Exceptions to the Registration and Activity of an Association), 2010. The bill, introduced yesterday, would prohibit the registration of any Non Governmental Organization (NGO) if `there are reasonable grounds to conclude that the association is providing information to foreign entities or is involved in legal proceedings abroad against senior Israeli government officials or IDF officers, for war crimes`. An existing NGO would be shut down under the proposed law if it engaged in such activity.

Instead of defending democracy, the sponsors of this bill prefer to reduce it to ashes. This bill is the direct result of irresponsible leadership that is doing all it can to undermine democratic values and the institutions that are the backbone of a democracy: the Supreme Court, a free press, and human rights organizations. A public sphere without these institutions operating independently of the government is a public sphere that is crippled and anti-democratic at its core.

The sponsors of this bill would do well to invest their energies in fulfilling their duty to oversee the actions of the executive branch, including the security forces. Where a suspicion arises that war crimes have been committed, legislators should act to bring about an independent, impartial investigation in Israel, according to the standards set by international law. The Israeli government`s refusal to allow the domestic legal system to investigate allegations of war crimes is the very reason that war crimes may be investigated and prosecuted abroad. The bill – which essentially seeks to conceal information or suspicions of a crime – violates international treaties and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which was signed in the wake of the horrors of World War II. It represents an unprecedented moral nadir within the Israeli house of parliament.

This response is issued by the Directors` Forum of the following human rights organizations, all of whom are associations (amutot) registered in Israel:

Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel | Association for Civil Rights in Israel
Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights
B’tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement
Hamoked - Center for the Defence of the Individual

Physicians for Human Rights
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel
Rabbis for human rights
Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights

By Inna Michaeli, Coalition of Women for Peace (Israel)

“Uh-oh, we're in trouble Something's come along and it's burst our bubble”

Just last Wednesday a new poll was published, solicited by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, indicating that a vast majority of Jewish Israelis think that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely. Most of the respondents also stated that Israeli citizens who support international pressure on Israel should be punished, as well as journalists who publish news “that reflect badly on the actions of the defense establishment”. At the same time, 98% of those polled claimed that they believe in freedom of expression.

That was Wednesday's news buzz, but it only took 24 hours for the situation to deteriorate. On Thursday, we faced a new Knesset-led attack on human rights and peace organizations in Israel. More than 20 Members of Knesset submitted a law proposal to outlaw human rights organizations involved in activities to bring Israeli military and governmental officials to international courts, in order to investigate their involvement in war crimes committed in Gaza. Among the organizations mentioned by the MKs were the Coalition of Women for Peace, Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel.

We are still trying to grasp the full meaning of this proposal, backed up by the current militaristic and anti-democratic public opinion in Israel. Human rights organizations are to be silenced, journalists are to be punished for reporting the truth and citizens are to be imprisoned for supporting non-violent international intervention? What are we to expect in the news tomorrow?

The new law proposal did not pass yet and perhaps will not pass at all. Yet, it is just another step in a wild attack on peace organizations and human rights defenders – by Knesset Members, extremist organizations and journalists feeding the Israeli public with distorted half-truths and straightforward lies. No doubt it will be followed by other measures, intended to shut us up.

The aforementioned public opinion poll and law proposal expose the painful double-standard of what is referred to as the Israeli democracy. The belief in democratic values, such as freedom of speech, and the respect for human rights are sincere. Yet they come with a willingness to compromise democracy and human rights any day, for almost any reason. The general atmosphere in Israel is highly militaristic, now even more than ever, and the public seems to support almost any measure against those that bring other voices into the public sphere or oppose Israel's policies of occupation and discrimination.

The anti-democratic racist logic always finds its excuses, explanations and justifications, without renouncing the progressive democratic discourse. Israel committed war crimes in Gaza? Blame Hamas, we are not responsible; discriminating policies are implemented against Palestinian citizens of Israel? They are not loyal enough to the Jewish state; universal jurisdiction endangers Israeli military and government officials? Let's demand that the British government will alter laws and cancel universal jurisdiction (who needs it anyway); the UN calls for a ceasefire for Israel to lift the siege of Gaza? Well, the world hates us, of course.

This powerful logic dominates the public discourse, the education system, the government and the judicial system. It is embraced by many Israelis so strongly and warmly, that one can be easily confused and perhaps even convinced for a moment that Israelis really do believe what they are saying. And they look so Western, too…

This convincing double-standard doesn't work as well in other countries and regions. They have their own double-standards, their own forms of discrimination and oppression to justify. This is perhaps one of the reasons that international intervention is so threatening for the mainstream public and the official institutions in Israel. A strong solidarity movement of the international community and Palestinians and Israelis committed to justice and equality suddenly makes them take the Israeli peace and human rights organizations seriously.

In the new reality created by the ”threat” of international intervention (or rather its first steps), the ability of this dominant logic to solve every dilemma and dismiss every criticism is undermined. Of course, some of us are frightened by what is happening around us. However, in the current political and social reality, it is not about pushing the public slightly to the left, instilling abstract values of tolerance or engaging a few more groups in peace education. The double-standard on democracy and human rights goes much deeper than that. It's about changing the collective state of mind and finally bursting our bubble.

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