A litmus test of Israel’s character

If you don’t live in Israel, you don’t have the right to criticize.

If you live in Israel but don’t serve in the Israeli army, you don’t have the right to criticize.

You mustn’t shut down Israeli speakers – don’t you believe in freedom of speech?

You mustn’t boycott Israel – instead, come engage with us, come have a dialogue with us.

These admonitions have been repeated by spokesmen for Israel, professional and amateur, for decades. And they’ve been hugely successful in shutting up would-be critics of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

But just hold those Israeli “principles” up against the treatment that Netanyahu and his henchmen, or in this case henchwomen, gave Breaking the Silence earlier this week. Netanyahu refused to meet with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel when the latter insisted on also meeting with the anti-occupation soldiers’ NGO (and with the anti-occupation human rights NGO B’Tselem). Then the Likud deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said on Army Radio that Breaking the Silence “is an enemy that harms Israel. Unequivocally.” Then Likud Culture Minister Miri Regev asked the mayor of Haifa to shut down a gathering with Breaking the Silence at a local art gallery.

This is just the latest in the full-court harassment of Breaking the Silence by the government, which is trying to hound it out of the Knesset, the army, the schools, the community centers – to hound it out of existence, with law after regulation after directive.

Breaking the Silence is an organization that was started by Israeli reserve soldiers and has taken testimony from over 1,000 IDF combat troops about the abuse they’ve seen the army deal out to the Palestinians.

Do they live in Israel?

Do they serve in the Israeli army?

Are they Israeli speakers?

Yes, yes and yes, and the Israeli government, followed obediently by the mainstream media and most of the Jewish public, hates Breaking the Silence like it hates no other anti-occupation movement.

It hates them not just because they go after the country’s holy of holies, the army, but because they do it with unimpeachable credibility. They’re telling what they saw with their own eyes and did with their own hands. They’ve proven their patriotism – they’ve risked their lives for Israel. They have no reason to lie. And there are more than 1,000 of them.

Breaking the Silence provides a litmus test of Israel’s character, a test this country has failed abjectly. If Israel can’t listen to the truth from Breaking the Silence, it can’t listen to the truth from anybody – yet not only can’t Israel listen to Breaking the Silence, it’s Breaking the Silence that drives Israel the craziest.

Nope, it doesn’t matter if you live in Israel, if you serve in the army or even if you’ve been a combat soldier for the occupation – if you level serious moral criticism at the way this country treats Palestinians, you are a traitor and an enemy in this country’s eyes. In fact, if you’re a combat soldier and you speak out against the occupation, you’re the biggest traitor, worse than the Diaspora Jewish liberals and our goyishe “friends.”

You mustn’t boycott Israel – instead, come and engage with us, come have a dialogue with us. Really? Look how Israel treats its own fighting men and women who do engage and seek a dialogue with it. So take a lesson – go ahead and boycott. If Israel calls you a traitor or an enemy, you’ll be in good company, in fact the best.


Breaking the Silence website





Too bad Tzipi Livni didn’t have to answer to Scotland Yard about war crimes

Tzipi Livni

When I read this week that Knesset member Tzipi Livni had been summoned by Scotland Yard for questioning on suspicion of war crimes (the summons was canceled after Israel complained to the British Foreign Office), I felt uncomfortable. I immediately tried to think of reasons why she shouldn’t be treated this way. After awhile, I decided there were no good reasons, and I was just afraid of thinking what seemed a disloyal thought, a traitorous thought, and when I considered it logically, without fear, I conceded that justice would have been served had Livni been questioned over her role as foreign minister during Operation Cast Lead, the onslaught in Gaza at the turn of 2009. Indeed, justice would have been served even better if she’d also been indicted, convicted and imprisoned.

You won’t agree with this, of course, if you don’t also agree that 1) the occupation is a historic injustice and 2) nothing is being done to stop it. But if you do go along with those two points – and any number of liberals worldwide, notably Jewish ones, do – then why shouldn’t Livni be held accountable for one of the occupation’s worst excesses? (About 1,400 Palestinians dead compared to 13 Israelis dead, awesome devastation in Gaza, all in the name of punishing Gazans for fighting back against Israel’s suffocating blockade of the Strip and military rule over the West Bank. Here’s the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead, the Amnesty International report on it, the Human Rights Watch report, the B’Tselem report and Breaking the Silence’s report.)

Livni, by the way, wasn’t just some apparatchik during the war; she was its enlightened, charismatic saleswoman in the West. When the French proposed a “humanitarian cease-fire” a few days after the bombing began, Livni said in Paris, “There is no humanitarian crisis [in Gaza] and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.”


The only arguable point to be made against imprisoning Livni for war crimes is that it would be unfair because so many worse war criminals are walking around free. That’s true – but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve punishment. And the thing that legitimately makes her a prime candidate to be held culpable is that she is Israeli – because Israel gets away with abuses of other people like no other country in the world except maybe Saudi Arabia – and nobody in the West defends the Saudis like they do Israel.

The West imposes harsh economic sanctions on Russia because of its conquest of Crimea – which most Crimeans welcomed – but gives billions upon billions of dollars in aid along with free trade agreements to Israel, whose occupation is welcomed by no Palestinian. There are 146 countries under various sanctions – including sanctions against individual government officials in many of those countries – imposed by the U.S., EU, individual European countries and/or the UN Security Council. On that list of 146, Israel does not appear.

So hauling in Tzipi Livni in London would have made a modest start to leveling the playing field. And it would have had a powerful effect on Israelis, top to bottom, showing them that the West might finally be ready to start treating Israel like it does the world’s other malefactor countries, many of which are guilty of far lesser crimes than the occupation. If Scotland Yard had questioned Livni on the matter of war crimes, it would have been some teachable moment.

But of course it was missed; all it took was probably one well-placed phone call from Jerusalem. The point, though, is for people who lament the occupation and its durability to ask themselves: What is so terrible about holding Israel’s leaders accountable for it? What is so terrible about “radical” actions like that, or like BDS, or like fighting Israel in the UN? Is it better to stick with the current methods and tone of the “opposition,” or the “peace camp,” or the “international community,” which don’t lay a glove on the status quo? For the Palestinians’ sake, for Israel’s sake, is it better to watch this shit go on forever?