Category Archives: Meretz

The Brouhaha about the Anti-Boycott Law in Israel

Two days ago two events took place in Israel: 1) the Israeli Knesset passed a law that provides for civil penalties for those who organize boycotts against Israel, and 2), at about the same time, Hamas resumed the firing of Qasam missiles into Israel. And guess what: all the self-described friends of peace in the Middle East — the New Israel Fund, the Americans for Peace Now, and their allies — are outraged, absolutely outraged at event number one, but considerably less so at event number two. In fact, these great friends of peace, to judge by their websites, have not at all noticed event number two. Peace, to these peaceniks, is not at all endangered by Hamas bombardments.

(It seems that Jewish organizations across the political spectrum have expressed criticism of the the anti-boycott law, but the hysteria about it is restricted to the self-styled Left. NGO Monitor has published a very good analysis of the law, including an English translation of its text.)

It may very well be, as NGO Monitor maintains, that this new law is objectionable on a number of grounds, and it also may very well be that it will be overturned by the courts. But in the meantime here are some factors that got lost in the brouhaha:

1) Israel finds itself in an existential crisis. The loftiest of advice is of questionable value when it comes from people far away, who, moreover, do not have to face the consequences of their admonitions. A beau mentir qui vient de loin.

2) Freedom of expression is a vacuous formulation if considered without context. For example, there is no jurisdiction on earth, or imaginable, without limitations to freedom. There are the obvious prohibitions about shouting “fire” in a crowded theater; about libel and slander; about false advertising; and many others. What the limits should be in a given circumstance can only be determined by a close consideration of its particulars. In the case of the anti-boycott law, it is important to recognize the evil to which this law is addressed: the agitation by a number of well financed groups, with the bulk of the money coming from abroad, to delegitemize the state of Israel. That is a problem to which the Knesset obviously had to react. Perhaps the law in this first version is overreaching or otherwise inappropriate, and it seems that amendments to it are under consideration. But to criticize the law without at all recognizing the underlying problem is mindless.

3) The right to organize boycotts, pace the opinion of the hysterics who are discussing this law from afar, is not one of those rock-bottom democratic rights like freedom of the press. It is not a tool of rational discussion but rather a tool of coercion: do as I say or I will try to take away your livelihood. In the United States there are limits to the right to organize boycotts. Unions may boycott employers with whom they have a dispute, but they cannot engage in “secondary boycotts,” i.e. boycott those who do business with these employers. And it is also illegal, in the United States, to collude in boycotts organized by foreign governments. It is similarly illegal to orchestrate boycotts against racial or religious groups where public accommodations are in play. In brief, public policy recognizes that the freedom to engage in public actions must stop where the freedom of others is encroached.

4) The left-leaning groups who are so enraged at what they think is an unjustifiable limitation of freedom here never criticized the Knesset, as far as I can remember, when it banned Kahane’s Kach party in 1988. It seems that these great defenders of absolute freedom are quite happy when it is their opponents who are banned.

In the end, many people in this world, including many diaspora Jews and not only those on the Left, are quite eager to see a mote in Israel’s eye while missing the beam elsewhere.

Dear Jewish Sincere Friends of Peace: Have you Missed this little Detail ?

Poster of the (Israeli) Peace Now movement:
“Each flag needs a balcony”

Israeli public life has many very Sincere Friends of Peace. “Peace Now,” the Meretz Party, many members of Labor, the most influential Israeli newspaper (HaAretz), and many smaller groups, all compete with one another, year in year out, demanding that the Israeli government make more concessions to the Arabs so as to achieve peace. And as for Jews in the diaspora — the U.S., Britain, continental Europe — well, it seems that currently the loudest voices (though not necessarily the most numerous or the most thoughtful) chime in: peace now, make more concessions, abandon the settlers on the West Bank — peace now !

Even people like myself who are unaffiliated with such groups can rejoice in the colorful diversity that such organizations contribute to Israeli and Jewish society. Of course I do not rejoice in the ultras, those who work for the destruction of Israel, but, surely, those are a different kettle of fish altogether.

But to come back to the major “peace” groups. Anyone who has watched them for many decades, as I have, must have noticed a little detail that seems to have escaped them altogether. That detail consists of an absolute absence of any similar peace movement among the Arabs. Even allowing for the fact that there is very little of a functioning “civil society” in Arab societies that would allow for unofficial political movements, it is nevertheless true there is some variety among Arabs in their views concerning Israel. Insofar are we can judge from public opinion polls and expressions in Arab writings and speeches, this variety runs the gamut from the most extreme hostility (Hamas) to somewhat milder hostility.

But, whatever the details, the broad picture is evident. There is no “Peace Now” among Arabs. There is no “Arab Voice for Peace.” There are no “Arabs for a Just Peace.” There is no AStreet that would urge concessions to Israel. Nothing of the sort.

My dear Sincere Jewish Friends of Peace: can you detect a little problem here somewhere ?

The Radical Chic of Ms. Naomi Chazan; or Pride Precedeth the Fall

Ms. Naomi Chazan
President, New Israel Fund

Mada al Carmel, another group funded by the NIF, authored the “Haifa Declaration.” Here are a few gems from that document: “Towards the end of the 19th century, the Zionist movement initiated its colonial-settler project in Palestine. Subsequently, in concert with world imperialism … it succeeded in carrying out its project, which aimed at occupying our homeland … The Zionist movement committed massacres against our people … the State of Israel enacted racist land, immigration, and citizenship laws [a reference to the Law of Return] … Israel carried out policies of subjugation and oppression in excess of those of the apartheid regime in South Africa.Israel Harel, Haaretz correspondent

Old Leonard Bernstein had a funny thing going — a spot of radical chic — with muscled Black anti-Semitism. More recently, a Jewish American university and a Jewish American college president did it with an anti-Israel Palestinian group in Jerusalem.

But now a new radical chic scandal has exploded in the Israeli press. It seems that the New Israel Fund , an ostensible pro-Israel charitable group, has diverted substantial funds to a number of radical anti-Israel groups. The details are given in a long, detailed, sober Report issued by the Zionist organization Im Tirtzu. (The IT report includes only groupings that contributed to the notorious Goldstone Report but does not mention other anti-Israel groups supported by NIF, for instance Mada al Carmel.) In turn, Im Tirtzu is being denounced, almost comically, by the NIF and its political supporters: McCarthyism !Fascism !

[OK — I cannot resist a small aside on the idiocy of these two epithets. 1) Those who use “McCarthyism” today, generally ignorant of the historical context of 1950’s Soviet espionage and the crude backlash against it, imagine that the “victims of McCarthyism” had been totally innocent, totally loyal Americans. 2) Those who use the term “Fascism” here: what in fact do they think ? That right-wing Israelis today, like the Italian confederates of Hitler in WWII, are out to destroy democratic government ? It is true that some criticism of NIF has crossed the borders of good taste, but this hardly amounts to the capital crimes alleged by the extreme Left ]

Pride goes before ruin, arrogance before failure… (Prov. 16:18, new JPS translation)

But back to the NIF and Ms. Naomi Chazan, its current president. Some ten years ago I sat in an audience of American Jews whom she addressed in Jerusalem. Her message, as I recall it, was that Israel alone is to be blamed for the failure to achieve peace with the Arabs. She was impatient with us. At one time she explained that she is a political science professor and that therefore she can tell us a thing or two about how things really are. Nobody was much impressed with that argument, but the academics in the audience could hardly keep from laughing out loud.

Now, after much criticism of her handling of NIF funding, the consequent cancellation of her visit to Australia, and her dismissal from the Jerusalem Post, she again insists on her professorial authority: “As a politics professor, I know how to read reports,” she says to Haaretz, denouncing the IT study. But in the same interview she also makes an assertion that completely destroys her credibility, as it destroys the credibility of those of her supporters who make the same argument: “We really don’t support every single thing these organizations say, but we support their right to say it.”

The reference here is to Voltaire, who is often thought to have said, but apparently never did, that
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire or not, this is a noble sentiment which is more often quoted than followed. And it is sometimes used disingenuously, as it was by Chomsky in his connection with the Holocaust-deniers. It is used disingenuously here by Ms. Chazan:

1) There is nothing in the tradition of Voltaire, nor in that of the First Amendment, that suggests an inherent right to be financed by those who disagree with you. Does the right to free speech involve a right to receive money from your opponents ? Surely a professor of political science knows the answer to that one ? The Voltaire principle, in other words, cannot explain NIF financing of kooks.

2) If the Voltaire principle demands, as Ms. Chazan tells us she believes it does, the financing of unpopular viewpoints, she would be obligated to finance right-wing viewpoints as well. But where in the list of NIF recipients are there groups of right-wing settlers on the West Bank ? Where are the followers of the late Rabbi Kahane on NIF lists ? Again, it is obvious that the Voltaire principle, pace Ms. Chazan, cannot in fact be what motivates her or her followers.

Then there is the business of NIF financing by the Ford Foundation. Millions go from the FF to NIF each year, five million in 2008 alone. Part of this money is (indirectly) US taxpayer money, which the FF receives in great quantities through a variety of tax benefits. It is obvious to me that without such US-based funding, many of these far-left groups in Israel could not exist at all.

Ms. Chazan won’t like me for this, but I do think that old Henry Ford, wherever he may be up (or down) there, might not be altogether unhappy to see where his money is going today. Long before Adolf Hitler was heard from, old Henry published “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in his Dearborn Independent.

UPDATE (Feb. 17, 2010) The Organization “NGO Monitor” calls on the New Israel Fund to draw “red lines” to prevent the financing of anti-Israel propaganda. See the NGOM request HERE

UPDATE (February 24): Read the comprehensive report by David Bedein in the Jewish Week on the NIF scandal. Click HERE

READ: Professor Gerald M. Steinberg’s analysis: NIF And the Addiction to Power