By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
“Israelis are Judeo-Nazis” – Man who said it wins Israel Prize.
“Turkish activists were murdered [by Israeli soldiers]” – Woman who said it is called “terrorist” and “traitor” to Israel and demands made that she be deported and removed from being a politician.
“The Palestinians would be wise to concentrate their struggle against the settlements…it would also be smart to stop planting bombs to the west of the Green Line [i.e east of the line is acceptable]” – Man who said it wins Israel Prize.
“They’re people who don’t see any way to change their reality and they [Palestinians] are forced to use these means until Israel will wake up a little, until Israeli citizens and society will wake up and feel the suffering of the other.” – Woman who said it called “terrorist”, told she should be deported to Gaza, said she should be in prison and Israel Supreme Court upholds ban from her speaking in Knesset.
Obsession with Haneen Zoabi
On June 29 the Israel Knesset declined into yet another Haneen Zoabi bashing session. Zoabi gave a short speech about Israel’s reconciliation with Turkey, noting that Israel should apologize for killing 10 Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara. “This agreement is the recognition that you killed 10 political activists”, she claimed that Israel’s raid on the IHH owned ship trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza in 2010 was “piracy”and that “hysterical propaganda” had been directed at herself by Israelis because of her presence on the Marmara. “I’ll donate to the next fleet because as long as there’s a blockade on Gaza it is our duty to organize the convoys to break it.”
It was at the use of the word “murdered” to describe what happened to the Turkish activists that almost led to physical attacks on Zoabi.
“You’re complicit in terrorism…you don’t use that podium to speak against IDF soldiers,” said MK Oren Hazan. MK Mickey Levy, a former police commander, tried to rush the podium to remove her. Other MKs shouted “filth” at her and “you belong in Gaza.” After Zoabi and Levy and several others who disrupted the speech were removed, the Knesset condemned her one by one. Ofir Akunis claimed that she was a “neo-fascist” seeked to “destroy Israel” and that she is a “traitor and terrorist”, according to reports.
MK David Bitan said “We need to make sure that she doesn’t stay in the Knesset. She doesn’t represent you like she should; stop backing her up. You can’t call IDF soldiers ‘murderers,’ and we won’t permit it.” Michael Oren claimed Zoabi threatens democracy, “An MK calls IDF soldiers murderers, and she still gets a salary from the Knesset. Does anyone doubt that the suspension bill is necessary?”Another MK said she wouldn’t be allowed to call soldiers “murderers.” A Shas MK named Yacov Margi said that in other countries a ship like the Marmara would be hit with a missile and its passengers sent back in coffins. Perhaps he did not realize there were almost 800 people on board the Marmara, seemingly suggested all 800 should be sent back in coffins?
When I moved to Jerusalem in 2004 to study at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem I was surprised to learn that a professor there had said Palestinians would be “wise” to concentrate their “struggle”, which is a euphemism for attacks, over the Green Line, which all students must pass through to get to the University. “The Palestinians would be wise to concentrate their struggle against the settlements…it would also be smart to stop planting bombs to the west of the Green Line,” wrote Zeev Sternhell in Haaretz. That was my introduction to Israeli society.
So I was shocked when Israelis told me that Balad politician Haneen Zoabi is a “terrorist” and “traitor” for saying the same thing. Zoabi said that the kidnappers of the three Jewish teenagers was not terrorism. Interviewed on an Israeli radio station by Sharon Gal, her comment led to Gal saying he was surprised she was walking around freely and not in prison. Zeev Sternhell got the Israel Prize in 2008. Why not Haneen Zoabi? She says the same thing? But people say she should be in prison, a “traitor”, a “terrorist” and deported. Why is it that her words get her banned from speaking in the Knesset, but if she were named “Ze’ev” then she would get a prize from the same Knesset, the same state institutions? When Sternhell says he sees signs of fascism in Israel he is applauded but Zoabi is bashed for making similar comparisons.
Israeli politician Shulamit Aloni said Israel is an apartheid state and had vicious criticism for Israel’s human rights record, but she was considered the “most influential” woman in Israel, a “courageous” voice. If Haneen had just been born “Shulamit”, perhaps she would be seen as courageous and a role model for women?
Israeli playright Yitzhak Laor whose play ‘Ephraim goes to the army’, and other writings compared Israelis to Nazis, although he has been critiqued, is considered a great of Israeli culture, an icon, loved and admired in Israel. Haneen Zoabi might consider, had she been born “Yitzhak”, she too might be considered a hero of Israeli cultural production and have a weekly column at an Israeli newspaper.
And lest we forget the Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovitz who called Israelis “Judeo-Nazis” and was considered one of Israel’s greatest minds.
In Israel the determination of one’s “greatness” is largely related to one’s origin. When an Ethiopian Jew says the country is racist she is mocked and told to “go back to Africa”, but when the great people who came from Europe to Israel say the same, they are not told to “go back to Europe”, they get an Israel prize for “holding up a mirror to Israeli society” and being “courageous” and “critical.” If you are named “Haneen” and you say Israeli soldiers committed a human rights abuse, you are scorned, hated, deported, called “traitor”, but if you are called Yeshayahu, then you get prizes and credit, and rounds of applause from Knesset members.
I would dare the same Knesset members who shout “traitor” so quickly at Zoabi and “remove her” for critiquing actions of soldiers, to say the same of the Israel Prize, awarded to so many people who claim Israelis practice aparthied, are like nazis and that palestinians should plant bombs in certain places. Ask yourself what is the one defining difference between Zoabi and those who get the prizes? She is an Arab citizen.
Her statements are no more extreme than so many Israelis who are considered great and one has to conclude that her being an Arab is the real threat. Why is it such a threat? Because there is something strange about the idea that Jewish criticism is more prized, in Israel and abroad. For a Jewish Israeli to say “Hamas was originally founded by the Israeli authorities” is considered an “insight”, for an Arab to say the same thing is considered a “conspiracy.” Yet one of Israel’s most regarded academics, Daniel Bar-Tal, said that Hamas was founded by Israel, without anyone noticing. If Zoabi said it, then she would of course be attacked for her “ignorance.” Zoabi, your name isn’t “Tal”, so you’re views are not given the same weight of “insight” and “courage”.
I’ve seen this phenomenon the entire time I lived in Israel. What is forbidden for Arabs to say, is considered a great insight for Jewish Israelis. Apartheid? Well if it’s Mohamed Abu Saad, then how dare he say that. But if its Moshe Levy, then he’s so “courageous”. One gets the Israel Prize, the other “should be deported.”
I understand some of this false bravado over critical courage. Critique of the self is more prized than bashing the other. For Zoabi to attack her own community with the same rigor she does Israel, would result in blowback from that community. But what is ridiculous in Israel is the common regularity with which everyone shouts “nazi” and “fascist” all the time, and still gets patted on the back for originality in their “critique.”
They doth protest too much who say Zoabi is a “traitor.” Why is such loyalty expected from her, but less loyalty expected from the highly paid professors who live behind gated communities and shout “judeo-nazi”? Those wealthy academics who say the Palestinians should bomb their own students, seem far more problematic than Zoabi. But they are heroes. They get prizes. They have “free speech” and “speak out”.