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Red Rag column: Moshe Silman; propaganda film; Olmert`s acquittal; the Levy Report; ugly Israel
By: Gideon Spiro
16 July 2012 (English version published 23 July)


Left alone

Moshe Silman, who set himself on fire at a social protest demonstration on Saturday (14 July 2012), and whose condition is critical as these lines are being written, was desperate. He was in hardship, and requested help from the public system, and the latter, instead of extending him a helping hand, showed bureaucratic obliviousness and turned him down. Based on the leaflet he handed out during the demonstration, it is clear that he was aware of the social injustice that is going on in Israel. The poor turn become poorer, the middle class are struggling not to go down into the deciles of poverty, and the rich are getting richer. He also specifically mentioned the names of the responsible: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Since he was sick and needed medicine, he was aware of the ongoing process of privatising the public health care system and its conversion to private health care. Since he needed help from the justice system to file a suit, and had asked the Justice Ministry for help and was refused, he was aware of the fact that the justice system is becoming accessible only to those of financial means. Since he had to leave the apartment he was living in in Haifa and had sought help from the public housing agency and was denied, he was aware the government’s shortcomings on the issue of public housing. Moshe Silman decided that his self-respect would not permit him to become a street-dweller. And now – how ironic! – after setting himself on fire, if he manages overcome the danger to his life, which hopefully he’ll succeed in doing, he is promised a roof over his head for a protracted period. [1]

“The people demand social justice” is an inclusive slogan, and it certainly represents the social protest. But is it also correct regarding the people themselves? For the people keep voting in elections for those who act against social justice. Over and over again the people vote for the Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Shas, Kadima, Labour and the settlers’ parties, all the parties that act in diametrical opposition to the demands that are voiced at the social-justice protests. Why do people vote against their interests? Why do they shoot their own feet? The answer, or at least part of it, is rooted in the existence of the national conflict – what is called the “security situation”. The parties of social injustice have succeeded over and over in diverting the hostility of the masses of the voters from the hardship classes and the middle class towards the external enemy that “threatens our existence” and those who “collaborate” with them – i.e. the parties of the Left.

The settlements are represented as a defensive wall around Israel As the mayor of Ariel once put it in an interview: Ariel defends Tel Aviv. Hence the absurdity that the only parties that support social justice are excluded from power, and are no different from niche parties that have no influence. From here it can be understood that the decision of those who lead the protest *not* to raise slogans against the Occupation and the settlements that are absorbing vast amounts that are subtracted from social justice, is a mistake.

Ariel College is currently conducting a struggle for recognition as a university. Beyond the basic principal issues the subject raises, such as the meaning of academic life in occupied territory controlled by an apartheid regime, there are also budgetary aspects to the upgrading from a college to a university. Whereas the Finance Minister is a tightwad when it comes to the welfare state, he recently declared that he will transfer NIS 20 million to the college in order to pave the way for its being declared a university. Those NIS 20 million could have been put to much more just use if they had been channelled to rehabilitating the welfare state. Protest leaders, take note.


Propaganda film

On Sunday, 15 July 2012, Channel 10 showed a film about the nuclear reactor in Dimona. The film showed almost nothing new. The newspaper Haaretz (16 July 2012) wrote in its television criticism section that the producers of the film did exactly what Mordechai Vanunu did – that is, they fully reported about the number of bombs in Israel’s possession. But whereas Vanunu used unacceptable means and paid with for it with 18 years in prison, the producers of the film took the authorized route of cooperation with the censor.

That is not accurate. If not for the breakthrough that stemmed from Vanunu’s decision to realize the democratic principle of the public’s right to know about what was going on behind the walls of the reactor, by means of the free press, the film on Channel 10 would not have come into to the world either. Vanunu broke the taboo on everything related to Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

The film was made by Amnon Levy’s programme. Since Levy is also a journalist who knows what a free, independent and critical press is, I had hoped that he would diverge from the usual practice in Israeli films about the Dimona reactor, which are generally songs of praise for the project. For the sake of protocol he included a few words from Sharon Dolev, an activist against nuclear weapons who in my opinion was the only one who said anything worthwhile; but it was swallowed up by words of flattery for the builders of the reactor. I had hoped for a serious discussion of the Israeli decision to create a nuclear arsenal. Is it wise to be equipped with 400 bombs? Did they think in the long term when Israel set the region onto a nuclear arms race? Can Israel maintain its nuclear monopoly forever? If Israel has nuclear weapons, why not Iran, and other states in the region? Is a nuclearized Middle East safer or more dangerous?

What will be the result of a nuclear war that breaks out due to an incorrect reading of the adversary? Did the leaders give thought to the ecological dangers posed by the reactor? What will happen if a 9-on-the-Richter-Scale earthquake takes place? Will the reactor, which sits on the Great Rift Valley, rupture, a radioactive cloud cover Israel? How to they deal with the nuclear waste? Have the ground-waters in the area of the reactor been contaminated? Is a Middle East free of nuclear weapons an alternative that will provide more security as well as saving the billions that are spend every year to make and maintain the bombs? Is there an insurance certificate against the appearance of the commander of a submarine carrying nuclear missiles who goes crazy and gets direct messages from God (as do the “repentant Jews”), [2] to launch Armageddon? These and other questions were not discussed. Instead of that we got a propaganda film of glorification and praise for those who created the reactor. The producers of the film concluded it by expressing thanks for those who took part in the construction of the reactor. It is a film worthy of a totalitarian state.


A knave is acquitted

The trial of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a court in Jerusalem came to an end when the three judges acquitted him on two out of three of the main charges, and convicted him of the remaining one. We now have a former prime minister who has a criminal record. A man in such a situation might be expected to be humble and seclude himself in his home for a period of soul-searching. But this being Israel, Olmert appeared like a victor despite the conviction, and the vast majority of the news media celebrated with him, while heaping praise on the court.

Olmert was acquitted of the Talansky Affair: the accusation that while a Knesset member and minister he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from the American businessman Morris Talansky and kept similar amounts in cash in a safe with his friend and former partner, the lawyer Uri Messer, all without reporting it to anyone. Olmert was also acquitted of the affair of Rishon Tours, the company that dealt with his flights. The accusation was that he accepted additional financing to the tune of 92 thousand dollars. Olmert would fly abroad to raise money for various organizations, and collect multiple reimbursements for one flight from several organizations for which he had raised money. From the surplus, private flights were financed for himself and members of his family.

There was no disagreement between the prosecution and the defence over the facts. The judges (President Musia Arad and Yaakov Tzaban and Moshe Sobel) affirmed most of the facts that were written in the indictment. In coming to their decision they determined that counter to Olmert’s denials and his convoluted testimony, he had accepted envelopes of cash on the order of magnitude of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Talansky and that he kept a secret safe with his friend and former partner the lawyer Uri Messer. At the same time as he accepted money from Talansky, Olmert gave him letters of recommendation to advance his business interests in the US. One hand washes the other. This behaviour is not proper, said the judges, but it does not rise to the level of a criminal offense. If these findings are not a criminal offense, then what is? This legal interpretation renders a legal decision corrupt because it permits the corrupt to continue their misdeeds with impunity.

In view of Olmert’s acquittal in the Rishon Tours affair, the conviction in the same affair of the director of his office, Shula Zaken, is particularly egregious. This is the “sentry syndrome” all over again! [3] A woman who worked for Olmert by arranging his flights pays the price, while the one who benefitted from her work is laughing all the way to the first class section of the airplane. The reasons the judges gave – that Olmert was not aware of the theft and that the office-manager was operating independently – do not hold water, because there are notes in Olmert’s handwriting in the correspondence related to his travels. This acquittal too is a reward for corruption.

There is another possibility, according to which the judges decided by means of their verdict to avenge the prosecutor, Uri Korev, who had called the judges “donkeys” in a lecture to students. As if the judges said to the prosecutor: “We’re donkeys? Now you’ll eat it”, and drafted a verdict that called for conviction, but then they acted like donkeys and acquitted Olmert. Judges too are human beings with vengeful inclinations.


Sharing the burden

In Israel today a struggle is being waged by members of the armed forces reserves for what they call “sharing the burden”. They are demanding the cancellation of the exemption from military service enjoyed by tens of thousands of young Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) who are studying in yeshivot (Jewish religious schools) that receive generous subsidies from the government. A rally in Tel Aviv was attended by tens of thousands of people. Where the recruitment of yeshiva students is concerned, the barriers fall between most of the Establishment parties in Israel, and a united front is created from the fascist Right to the Zionist Left. Several former generals could be found among the demonstrators, including outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

The consensus at the demonstration was the following: we, the seculars, are “breaking our butts” in the army, both in the regular force and in the reserves. We are bearing the burden of the defence of Israel, while thousands of healthy Haredim of military age are excused from service. The message was also expressed by spokespersons. The main spokesman was the outgoing head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), Yuval Diskin (who should be put on trial along with his Syrian counterparts for torture and extra-judicial executions), along with National Student Union head Itzik Shmuli. That same Shmuli, who last year was one of the leaders of the social protest and declared at the million-person demonstration that “we are the new Israelis”, proved to be a very old Israeli on the matter of military service.

What should be the stance of a proponent of human rights and opponent of the Occupation on the issue of recruiting Haredim into the army? There is no one binding solution. My position is the following: I am in favour of exemption from military service for reasons of religion and conscience. That is a universal approach. In addition, in the local context, the recruitment of thousands of Haredim into the army would increase the reserve of manpower that can be used to serve the Occupation and the apartheid regime. The army will prepare them to be brutal soldiers; but what I want is to make it more difficult for the army to carry out that mission. The more the personnel pool at the disposal of the army diminishes, the more difficult it will be to maintain the Occupation. And so people of good will should support the continuation of the exemption.


The Occupation is over

Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a committee to look into the issue of the settlement outposts. The committee was headed by Edmond Levy, a former judge of the Supreme Court, who retired not long ago when he reached the age of 70. Whoever appointed Levy knew exactly what conclusions the committee would come to, just as if you went to a tailor to get a suit made to your measurements. Levy, a zealous right-winger in everything to do with the Territories, made his way to judgeships from politics. He was the deputy mayor of Ramle for the Likud, and afterwards he was a judge at the military court. From there he transferred to the civilian justice system, until he got to the Supreme Court, where he represented the Mizrahi and religious demographics.

The report finds that the Territories are not occupied. This is of course an ideological finding that has no relationship to the real judicial situation. If the Territories are not occupied, what has the army been doing there for 45 years? Why is the area subject to a military governor? [4] Why is there a system of military justice for the civilians in the territory that is alleged to be not occupied? The fact of the Occupation does not derive only from the fact that the territories were conquered in war, but also from the fact that its Palestinian residents are subject to the authority of an army of conquest. [5]The Occupation can, of course, be removed, either by withdrawing from the Territories or by annexing them to Israel and giving full rights to the Palestinians.


Ugly Israel

Israel is now at the height of the process of expelling asylum-seekers from South Sudan. They are being expelled into the unknown. Interior Ministry inspectors are searching for refugees, to make sure no South Sudanese – God forbid! – are left behind. Whoever is caught is arrested. The inspectors work with diligence, arrest them and show no mercy even to children. At the airport scenes are enacted which leave no dry eyes. Some of the children of deported families were born in Israel and went to Israeli schools and forged ties of friendship with Israeli children, who go to the airport to take leave of their South Sudanese friends, whom they will almost certainly never see again.

The deportations are sometimes done overnight. Knowing this, South Sudanese are taking advantage of the days before their arrest to collect their wages from their workplaces. In the new reality to which they are travelling, every cent counts. And now it emerges that there are employers who are exploiting the deportations and the helplessness that goes along with them to refuse to pay what they owe. Not enough that they paid a pittance, without social benefits; now they try to steal even the “poor man’s lamb”. [6] Government agencies that are supposed to help are negligent, and the vacuum is filled by the NGO “Kav Laoved”, which tries to help the workers collect the pay they are owed. What is occurring here is beyond swinish capitalism, it is metaphorically cannibalistic capitalism, which must be brought to its final end.


Translator’s notes

1. Moshe Silman died on 20 July 2012. On 22 July 2012 another Israeli, 45-year-old disabled IDF veteran Akiva Mafa’i, set himself on fire in Yehud. He was burned over 80 percent of his body: http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/disabled-idf-veteran-sets-himself-on-fire-in-yehud-1.452777

2. Hebrew: “Hozrim bitshuva: literally: “those who return in repentance”: newly-religious Jews who have figuratively “returned” to the religious fold.

3. The “sentry syndrome”: the tendency to hold low-level functionaries responsible for mishaps, while letting those higher up in the hierarchy off the hook. The term comes from the Israeli government’s initial response to a Palestinian attack on an Israeli military base in northern Israel in 1987, called “the night of the gliders”, when an armed Palestinian entered Israeli territory from Lebanon by motorized hang-glider and killed six soldiers in an Israeli army base, after which the only person held criminally responsible for the negligence that made the attack possible was the soldier standing guard at the main entrance of the base – i.e. the sentry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Gliders

4. Officially called the head of the “Civil Administration”. The current Civil Administration head is Brigadier-General Moti Almoz.

5. The Hebrew word kibush means both occupation and conquest. So “occupied territory” is the same as “conquered territory” in Hebrew.

6. I.e. robbing the poor of the little they have in order to accommodate the greed of the rich who are unwilling to part with even a small share of their wealth: 2 Samuel 12:4: “And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man`s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.”

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

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