After the U.S. ambassador to Israel questioned the country’s apartheid legal system, Netanyahu shot back: “Israel applies the law to Israelis and Palestinians.” It’s true that Israel does apply “the law” to Israelis and Palestinians, but it’s not the same law.
SEATTLE — While addressing Israel’s leading national security think tank on Monday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro offered a harsh, relatively unprecedented assessment of the country’s apartheid legal system.
Shapiro told an audience of Israeli generals, intelligence chiefs and security analysts gathered at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, that the current Likud-led government was leading Israel toward international isolation. Haaretz reported:
“He noted that the American administration is ‘concerned and perplexed’ in wake of the Israeli government’s policy on the settlements, ‘which raise questions about Israeli intentions.’”
He continued, bemoaning the demise of the two-state solution prized by Western liberals but soundly rejected by the Israeli leadership. And he warned that this eventuality threatened to impose a “bi-national state,” which supposedly none of those in attendance wished.
The criticism that stuck in the craw of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was this:
“Too much vigilantism goes unchecked and at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians.”
After the speech received media coverage in Israel, Netanyahu shot back: “The ambassador’s statements … are unacceptable and wrong.”
Netanyahu and the ‘little Jew boy’
Likud loyalists were apoplectic. In a Channel 2 interview on Tuesday, a former Netanyahu aide used a derogatory ethnic slur, calling Shapiro “yehudon,” the equivalent of “little Jew boy.” Peter Beaumont, writing for The Guardian, explained: “The term is used by rightwing Israelis against other Jews – particularly those in the diaspora – whom they regard as not being sufficiently Jewish or pro-Israel.”
In the interview, Aviv Bushinsky, who served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff during his time as finance minister, said:
“I am ashamed to hold American citizenship—I am, by the way, Israeli. This is a statement, and I say this in the crudest manner possible, this is the statement of a ‘Jew boy.’
No one stood there with a hammer over his head and told him what to say. … Of course he spoke on behalf of the White House. But I see a Jew, Dan Shapiro, saying this. It’s a pattern – it was the same thing with [Middle East envoy] Dennis Ross in his time, and now with [former ambassador] Martin Indyk saying his nonsense. It’s the behavior of Jews who are trying to show that they are more left-wing, more liberal and more balanced [than their non-Jewish superiors].”
In the context of the TV panel, Bushinsky derides Shapiro as a servant of his non-Jewish masters, as someone who “does Jews dirty” because he serves the interests of non-Jews rather than “his own.”
Unfortunately, this type of brutalist rhetoric, characteristic of Likudist Israel, is not unprecedented. Rehavam Zeevi, a cabinet minister assassinated by Palestinian militants in 2001, taunted Indyk repeatedly with the phrase. In 2002, a rightist Knesset member insulted then-Ambassador Dan Kurtzer, who is an Orthodox Jew, with the same epithet.
No one in the Israeli government, let alone Netanyahu, has commented on what could be perversely be called anti-Semitism (or at least anti-diasporism). It’s also worth noting that the insult came from the mouth of the son of Jay Bushinsky, a veteran reporter for U.S. media outlets in Israel and, like his son, a U.S. citizen.
On the face of it, Shapiro’s observation is hardly controversial. It is a matter of fact that Israeli settlers in Occupied Palestinian Territories are ruled by Israeli civil law. Palestinians, however, are not. They are ruled by the Israeli Defense Forces and military law. Consequently, they have few, if any, protections. Even in Israel itself, security detainees face daunting odds from a system heavily stacked in favor of the security apparatus. And those proceedings are conducted under Israeli civil law. Under occupation and military law, the circumstances are far worse.
Netanyahu’s riposte to Shapiro was: “Israel applies the law to Israelis and Palestinians.” This is typical occupation mumbo-jumbo. On the face of it, it is true: Israel does apply “the law” to Israelis and Palestinians. But it’s not the same law.
Consider this example: When a settler underground terror cell murdered the Dawabsheh family in Duma last year, the security apparatus was loathe to pursue the matter.
Facing international pressure, Israel did arrest a number of suspects, all of whom lived in some of the most radical, violent settlements in the West Bank. But the suspects were arrested, interrogated and charged under Israeli law, not military law, despite their living in the West Bank. Though it appears true that the suspects were tortured by security personnel, this was an unprecedented new development, since only Palestinian security detainees had been tortured prior to that.
The Jewish terror suspects were shielded by a gag order which prohibited Israeli news media from reporting their names or the specific crimes of which they were suspected. Protections for the minor suspect were even more ironclad. Under Israeli law, minors have strict rights to privacy. Even without a gag order, media would not have been able to report the identity of the one suspect, Elisha Odess, who was a minor at the time he burned three members of the Dawabsheh family to death. (His identity was reported on my personal blog and by MintPress News.)
This week, a woman living in the settlement of Othniel, Dafna Meir, was stabbed to death by a Palestinian. Security forces captured a suspect, Mourad Adias, 16. While Israeli minors have stringent privacy protections, the identity of Adias was immediately reported in Israeli media. Palestinians, whether minors or adults, essentially have no rights or protections under military law.
Even Israel’s supporters can no longer defend apartheid system
This dichotomy reinforces the notion of an apartheid system with one set of rules for Jewish settlers and another for indigenous Palestinians. Shapiro’s address reflected the dawning notion among Western liberals that things are even worse than they feared and that far heavier pressure will be necessary to enact change.
Coming on top of looming EU sanctions and increasing support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, Shapiro’s speech rang alarm bells among Israel’s leadership. It’s perhaps occurring to them that this is a snowball racing downhill at increasing speed — and one that poses a threat to Israeli privilege, Jewish supremacy, the economic domination of Palestine and the entire occupation.
Though U.S. policy remains “dead in the water” regarding Israel and Palestine, there are portents of radical shifts in the making. Last month, a group of pro-Palestine activists led by Susan Abulhawa filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury seeking to force it to claw back billions of dollars in tax-deductible donations from American Jews which supported settlements and even convicted Jewish terrorists.
This issue has been percolating among activists for years. Investigative reports by The New York Times, Washington Post and Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting have documented the financial network of Orthodox and ultra-nationalist groups like the Hebron Fund and Central Fund of Israel, and individuals such as Irving Moskowitz, John Hagee and Sheldon Adelson, which have fuelled this money train to the tune of at least $220 million over the past five years. Some of these funds have even gone directly into the pockets of Jewish terrorists serving prison time.
Human Right Watch reports that as of 2016: “More than a half million Israeli settlers live in 237 settlements throughout the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including in East Jerusalem.” The NY Times puts the total settler population much higher, at 650,000:
…The number of settlers in the West Bank now exceeds 350,000 — including about 80,000 living in isolated settlements like Eli and Ofra that are hard to imagine remaining in place under any deal.
In addition, there are another 300,000 Israelis living in parts of Jerusalem that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed in a move most of the world considers illegal.
This represents a six-fold increase since the Oslo Agreement, which was designed to end the occupation, was signed in 1993.
Abulhawa’s lawsuit is the first formal attempt to address this massive system of financial and political support for Israeli settlements. The law firm taking up the case is recruiting new plaintiffs who are U.S. citizens who oppose U.S. government tax policy which grants nonprofit status to these organizations supporting policies diametrically opposed to official U.S. foreign policy (the U.S. has formally opposed settlements for decades).
Israel seeks to criminalize human rights activism
There are Israelis who are active in the struggle to ostracize Israel for its refusal to end the occupation. They aren’t just your garden variety left-wing activists. They include a former director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Alon Liel. He is collaborating with his European counterparts in their effort to mount the sort of aggressive anti-occupation policy outlined recently by Palestinian-American entrepreneur Sam Bahour and Mousa Jiryis, a proposal writer, researcher and document specialist.
Among the measures Bahour and Jiryis urge are sanctions against the Israeli banking sector which finances settlement construction, sometimes with the assistance of European banks and funding mechanisms. They also suggest, like Abulhawa’s lawsuits in the U.S., targeting European charitable institutions supporting settlements, and advocate for a more proactive approach on the part of European policymakers, who have been quite cautious and largely taken their lead from the U.S. until recently
But there is a furious pushback from ultra-nationalists in the ruling regime. They view such actions, even by a former senior member of the political class, as treason. (And I mean that word literally; there are those who wish they could try figures like Liel and NGO leaders and throw them in prison.)
Liel has been mercilessly pilloried by senior cabinet ministers like education minister Naftali Bennett. The latter ominously stated that there must be something “a problem with the DNA” of the foreign ministry if it could produce a traitor like Liel.
Further evidence of Israel’s collapse into authoritarianism, if not self-parody, is Israeli performance artist Natali Cohen-Vaxberg, whose guerilla art underscores her disgust with all nations, not excluding her own. Her latest activism involved videos of her defecating on the flags of Israel and various other countries, including Palestine. Israel has neither a constitution nor a bill of rights. Though there is a notion of free speech, it is not defined clearly either by law or judicial precedent.
Unlike in the U.S., insults to the national flag are not ipso facto, protected speech. The Israeli right was scandalized by Cohen-Vaxberg’s desecration and demanded vengeance. The police summoned her for questioning and have announced that they will be charging her with flag desecration, an offense punishable by up to one year in prison.
“She was questioned four times, but continued to do this a fifth time as well,” a police source said, according to Haaretz. “It’s our right and obligation to stop her and indict her if she’s violating the law.”