Assaf Gavron, a former member of the Israeli Defense Forces, has written an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled Confessions of an Israeli traitor arguing that the harsh occupation by Israel of the West Bank and its brutal treatment of people there and in Gaza is destroying Israel. He said that things have changed a lot since the days when the IDF soldiers responded with merely tear gas and rubber bullets to angry teenage stone throwers. The use of violence against protestors is much harsher and more lethal now.
He describes the rise of Jewish fundamentalism and the current horrendous levels of hostility and intolerance and violence perpetrated on anyone (leftists, Jews, and Arabs) in Israel who challenges the brutal policies of occupation. The inciting rhetoric, led by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has reached levels of absurdity, such as his claim that the idea of exterminating Jews did not enter Hitler’s mind until it was suggested by Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an idea that has been widely ridiculed but is seen as a deliberate attempt by him to inflame anti-Arab passions. And Netanyahu has now said openly what many of us knew for a long time, that Israel has no intention of ever releasing the Palestinians from their current apartheid-like state of subjugation, which means that its already high levels of brutality against the Palestinians will only increase.
Gavron concludes that the writing is on the wall for the Israeli state.
And the increasingly intolerant, boiling, racist tone of the Israeli conversation is — there is no other way to put this — a result of 48 years of occupying another people: of Israelis receiving a message (or at least understanding it as such) that we are superior to others, that we control the fate of those lesser others, that we are allowed to disregard laws and any basic notions of human morality with regard to Palestinians.
The cumulative effect of this recent mindless violence is hugely disturbing. We seem to be in a fast and alarming downward swirl into a savage, unrepairable society. There is only one way to respond to what’s happening in Israel today: We must stop the occupation. Not for peace with the Palestinians or for their sake (though they have surely suffered at our hands for too long). Not for some vision of an idyllic Middle East — those arguments will never end, because neither side will ever budge, or ever be proved wrong by anything. No, we must stop the occupation for ourselves. So that we can look ourselves in the eyes. So that we can legitimately ask for, and receive, support from the world. So that we can return to being human.
Whatever the consequences are, they can’t be worse than what we are now grappling with. No matter how many soldiers we put in the West Bank, or how many houses of terrorists we blow up, or how many stone-throwers we arrest, we don’t have any sense of security; meanwhile, we have become diplomatically isolated, perceived around the world (sometimes correctly) as executioners, liars, racists. As long as the occupation lasts, we are the more powerful side, so we call the shots, and we cannot go on blaming others. For our own sake, for our sanity — we must stop now.
But unlike in the case of apartheid South Africa, the leaders of western nations are actively aiding in Israel’s descent into being an outright racist state by trying to suppress criticisms of it such as the calls for support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
You may recall the grand show of support for free speech after the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists when the leaders of many nations (including Netanyahu) marched in the streets of Paris to show their determination to not allow speech to be censored.
But Glenn Greenwald writes that they do not view all speech the same way, and that while some western nations talk loudly about the right to freedom of speech, they then turn around and criminalize criticisms of Israel. He describes what just happened in France where people were convicted simply for urging the boycott of Israeli products.
The absurdity of France’s celebrating itself for free expression was vividly highlighted by this week’s decision from that nation’s highest court, one that is a direct assault on basic free speech rights. The French high court upheld the criminal conviction of 12 political activists for the “crime” of advocating sanctions and a boycott against Israel as a means of ending the decades-long military occupation of Palestine. What did these French criminals do?
The individuals arrived at the supermarket wearing shirts emblazoned with the words: “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel.” They also handed out fliers that said that “buying Israeli products means legitimizing crimes in Gaza.”
In France — self-proclaimed Land of Liberté — doing that makes you a criminal. As The Forward reported, the court “cited the French republic’s law on Freedom of the Press, which prescribes imprisonment or a fine of up to $50,000 for parties that ‘provoke discrimination, hatred or violence toward a person or group of people on grounds of their origin, their belonging or their not belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a certain religion.’” Because BDS is inherently “discriminatory,” said the court, it is a crime to advocate it.
The French court ruling is part of a worldwide trend. As more and more people around the world recognize the criminal and brutal nature of the Israeli government, its loyalists have been increasingly trying literally to criminalize activism against the Israeli occupation. For that reason, “pro-Israel” activists this week celebrated this French assault on basic free speech rights.
The odious campaign to outlaw activism against the Israeli occupation extends well beyond France. In May, CBC reported that Canadian officials threatened to prosecute BDS activists there under “hate speech” laws, and after those officials denied doing so, we obtained and published the emails proving they did just that. The February Haaretz article described this troubling event in the U.K.: “In 2007, the British University and College Union said it would drop plans to boycott Israeli institutions after legal advisers said doing so would violate anti-discrimination laws.” In 2013, New York City officials joined an (ultimately failed) Alan-Dershowitz-led campaign to threaten the funding of Brooklyn College for the crime of hosting pro-BDS speakers.
So you can freely call for boycotts against Russia or Iran or North Korea and the western governments will even aid you. But call for boycotts against Israel and you could lose your job or end up in jail.
When Gavron calls himself a ‘traitor’, he is not indulging in a rhetorical flourish. He is currently in the US but he says that people like him who have said similar or even milder things in Israel have been labeled thus. What this suppression of the BDS movement and criticisms of Israel is doing is giving the green light to the Israeli government and the most hard line reactionary elements in Israeli society to continue down the path it has chosen to becoming, as Gavron says, a “savage, unrepairable society” where its claim of being a democracy will be seen as increasingly hollow.