A Hopeful Opposition In Israel: FMEP Interviews MK Ayman Odeh

In 2015, Israel ushered in the most right-wing government in its history. But the same election produced another notable outcome: for the first time, Arab parties joined in a bloc with the sole Jewish-Arab party, Hadash, to form the Joint List. The bloc garnered 13 seats in the current Knesset, making it the third largest party and second largest in the opposition.

Ayman Odeh is the Chairperson of the Hadash party and the head of the Joint List. In these roles, MK Odeh has established himself as a respected leader, bringing a principled voice to the Aymanopposition while balancing the diverse and sometimes contradictory politics of his own List. It is not always easy, and MK Odeh has managed to keep his coalition together while positioning himself as a leader of a progressive movement within Israel. While other opposition leaders such as Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) have largely backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in many of his policies dealing with both internal security and the Israel-Palestine conflict, MK Odeh has given voice not only to the views of minority groups within Israel, but also to moderates all over the world who support peace, Palestinian rights and a two-state solution.

In December, MK Odeh embarked on a groundbreaking visit to the United States, his first as well as the first of its kind for a political leader of Israel’s Palestinian community, where he met with many politicians, community leaders and activist groups. The trip, which was supported in part by the Foundation for Middle East Peace, demonstrated that there is a significant opposition in Israel, and that Palestinian citizens of Israel, like MK Odeh, believe themselves to be a part of the country and instrumental to charting a better future for both the citizens of Israel and the Palestinians living under occupation.

FMEP conducted this interview with MK Odeh between December 23, 2015 and January 2, 2016.  Continue reading at FMEP’s blog, “Facts on the Ground.”

VIDEO: Yuli Novak of Breaking the Silence, A Brilliant Interview

Appearing on Walla! TV in Israel, Yuli Novak, the Executive Director of Breaking the Silence lays out, in a clear manner, the case Breaking the Silence is making. She takes on the tough questions of why the group speaks abroad and its attitude toward BDS, and shreds the opposition’s arguments about Breaking the Silence’s EU funding.

It’s worth praising Walla! as well. This is the sort of TV journalism we do not see in the United States. The interviewer asks the tough questions in a respectful manner, and neither party shies away from the issues. Yes, the voices are raised, but anyone who has been to Israel knows this is standard fare.

The interview is in Hebrew, but the accompanying English subtitles are very good. Yuli Novak, and the rest of Breaking the Silence are the best of Israel. It says a great deal not only about radical rightists like Im Tirzu, but also about the Netanyahu government itself that they are hostile toward or ashamed of Breaking the Silence. They should, instead, be treated like the patriotic heroes they are.

Is Lieberman the New Israeli Mainstream?

(Note: This was cross-posted at Meretz USA’s blog.)

In an interview given to Newsweek, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made the following, quite chilling statement: “I am the mainstream. When I started with my vision, I was really a small minority. Today we’re the third [largest] party in Israel.”

Lieberman is certainly no stranger to bluster, so it’s easy to dismiss this as more of Yvet’s (as he is called) hubris. But is that really the case? There’s a good deal of evidence to suggest that Lieberman is absolutely right.

Avigdor Lieberman

Each piece of that evidence is another massive blow to the teetering ship that is Israeli democracy. The latest was a proposal introduced this past week by Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, to set up a Knesset committee to investigate the funding sources of progressive, and only left-wing, NGOs.

Israeli journalist and blogger Yossi Gurvitz likened the event to the burning of the Reichstag, implying that this was the point where Israel slipped from democracy to fascism. Gurvitz may be overstating the case (I’d certainly say he is), but he is not exaggerating how anti-democratic this action and this Knesset are. Nor can it be reasonably denied that, whether Gurvitz is right or not today, if Israel continues on its present course, there is no doubt he will be someday and probably not in all that distant a future. Continue reading

The Perversion of Herzl

Delving into the truly horrifying developments in Israel regarding the attacks by the contemptible group Im Tirtzu abetted by some friends of theirs in the Knesset and the daily newspaper, Ma’ariv. Fortunately, in the Knesset, cooler heads seem to have prevailed, but it’s worth noting that the major incitement there came from a Kadima MK while the properly legal view came from ministers further right. The article in Zeek can be found here. And thanks to new friends at PalestineNote.com, you can also follow my articles there.

Israeli NGOs under assault

In a post in this space about a week ago, I discussed how occupation erodes democracy in Israel. We now have an even starker example of how the Israeli mindset, in the leadership and in a significant and growing sector of the public, is showing the effects of nearly 43 years of occupation.

Of course, one needs always to remember that Israel is a country that has always lived in fear of both international de-legitimization and attack. But now there is a new angle here. If those who truly hate Israel and wish to see its demise are smart, they’ll just stop taking any action and sit back as the increasing attacks on dissent and democracy in Israel

Im Tirzu's horrific ad attacking Naomi Chaza from the JPost

destroy it from within.

The Israeli government has increasingly involved in what one might call “NGO wars.” Partnering with the extremist right-wing group, NGO Monitor, Israel has been actively trying to undermine its own human rights community, rather than trying to confront it in the court of public opinion. The government has also tried to block foreign funding to such groups (something which must be understood with two facts: one, that Israel does not have a network of foundations as exists in the US to fund NGOs, nor does it devote significant resources to such things as they do in Europe; and two, this attempt was very selective, not a principled stand against foreign funding of NGOs in general, but, like NGO Monitor, only targeting NGOs that might be critical of government policies).

But now the Israeli right has sunk to new depths, and there is some speculation here, they are getting help from someone in the IDF and/or Shin Bet to pursue it. Im Tirzu, a group which laughably calls itself centrist when it is clearly far right in most matters, has taken vicious aim at the New Israel Fund and its head, Naomi Chazan in particular. The scurrilous nature of their campaign is easily visible in this picture that appeared in the Jerusalem Post. Continue reading