3/8/2016 Attack in Israel- Pew Report and much more

This morning the Pew Center for public policy released a report on Israeli Jewish attitudes toward a variety of issues. The most startling statistic in the new study reveals that when asked if they strongly agree/agree/ disagree or strongly disagree with the statement “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel”, 48% either agreed or strongly agreed, while 46% either disagree or strongly disagreed. The answers to the question did not reflect the opinion on any specific policy proposal- none of which exists, but rather reflects the attitude of Israeli Jews on the chances of continued coexistence. The survey was taken between October 2014 and May 2015, in which 3,789 Israeli Jews participated. These views did not develop in a vacuum, and come after a period of increasing tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

During the period that I was writing this article, the relative calm in Israel has been shattered by three attacks. The first, a knifing attack in Petah Tikvah (a Tel Aviv suburb), resulting with the attacker being stabbed to death by one of his victims. In East Jerusalem, a gun-wielding Palestinian fired at two Israeli policeman. A short while later, a knife-wielding terrorist started attacking people in the tourist area of Jaffa, along the water. Ten people were stabbed one an American tourist has died from the wound, others are in critical condition. This attack took place as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited the Peres Center in Jaffa, less than a mile away. That attacker has been captured.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posed a rhetorical question in the Israeli parliament regarding the Arab MKs of the Balad and Chadash parties. Netanyahu asked whether these Knesset members had been dropped on their heads as kids. Today, MK Tamar Zandberg from the left-wing Meretz party stated they too think someone there (i.e. in the Balad and Chadash parties) slipped on their “sechel”, (colloquial Hebrew for brains or common sense.)

So, what caused this almost unheard of agreement between the Prime Minster and one of his strongest critics? Answer: Yesterday’s announcement but the two above-mentioned Arab parties declaring they condemn the statement made by Saudi Arabia calling Hezbollah (the Lebanese para-military force that fired thousand of missiles into Northern Israel seven years ago) a terrorist organization. It should be noted that the U.S. government has defined Hezbollah as a terrorist organization for decades; and believe that together with their Iranian sponsor were most likely behind the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, that claimed the lives of 299 Americans.

The Saudi announcement is a direct result of the war in Syria, and Hezbollah’s involvement in that war. Moreover, the fact that Hezbollah, a Shite, religious-based organization stepped in should not have come as a surprise to anyone; since the Syrian war has forced almost all of the players in the region to take sides and declare their allegiances. However, Arab Israelis are almost all Sunni, and in normal times one would expect them to support their Saudi Sunni co-religionists. Though, these are far from ‘normal times,’ and alliances – whether real or perceived – have become almost impossible to follow.

To many Palestinians, Hezbollah represents, first and foremost, a successful resistance movement. Palestinians see Hezbollah, as the group who successfully convinced Israel to withdraw from Southern Lebanon in May 2000. To many Palestinians, Hezbollah are heroes, and can do no wrong. Many analysts believe Hezbollah’s actions spurred the Palestinian to begin the second Intifada in 2000 (during which Palestinians executed bus bombings and other terrible actions that took so many Israeli lives.) Unfortunately for everyone in the region, in addition to exacting a toll in lives on both sides, the Palestinian choice of violent actions convinced many Israeli that they were not longer a reasonable partner for peace.

Hezbollah’s subsequent decision to begin a war with Israel – after Israel had withdrawn from all of the Lebanon, to what is called “The Blue line” (the U.N. demarcation of the border), is the second of the three factors that pushed Israelis to the right over the course of the the last 15 years. The third factor to push Israeli opinion further rightward has been Hamas’ rise to power, and subsequent missile attacks on Israel – after the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

Despite the fact that armed resistance has distanced the Arab parties stated goal of the establishment of a Palestinian state, Arab Israeli parties seem intent on continuing to glorify Hezbollah and all those who “resist” Israel. Today’s Pew report show the impact of the continued violence, with 45% of Israeli Jews saying that a Palestinian state cannot exist alongside Israel, with only 43% asserting that two states side-by-side is possible.

Over the past two weeks a vigorous, and at times contentious debate has been going on in Israel about the limits of democracy. While many of the issues in this dispute have percolated for months, and in some cases years, (such as the new law to force Israeli NGOs who receive more than 50% of their funding from foreign governments to provide and extra level of public disclosure,) the controversy seems to have come to a head two weeks ago. This, following the visit of several Arab MKs with relatives of Palestinian perpetrators of knifing attacks, (seemingly to express a level or solidarity with the families.) Immediate calls were made to throw the MKs involved out of Parliament; an action for which there is no provision in current law.

Netanyahu became the first to call on the parliament to pass a new law that would empower the Knesset to remove its own members. As a result, the Prime Minister set off a firestorm of criticism, questioning the very fundamentals of Israeli democracy. While many Israelis oppose legislation allowing the Knesset to eject a member for political actions and not because of criminal malfeasance, those same opponents can not comprehend why the Arab MKs chose to show solidarity with knifing attackers. The latest statement by Balad and Chadash parties has further confused critics of the government, who see the recent slew of proposed legislation as undemocratic.

On the streets of Tel Aviv this morning there was widespread incredulity. Why would they, the Arab MKs attack Saudi Arabia for stating what is obvious to almost all Israelis – that Hezbollah who indiscriminately fired rockets at Northern Israel is a terrorist organization? Why in the middle of the fight over the very essence of Israeli democracy would Arab Knesset members continuously fuel the fire? The only answer that makes any sense is that these Arab MKs choices are deliberate; deliberate and calculated attempts to inflame the Israeli government – and public – to take actions that will damage one of its most important strategic assets – i.e. its democracy.

Israelis are proud to call their country a democracy. However, the understanding of the meaning of “democracy” in Israel is limited – as it is in much of the world. Therefore, while it’s hard to attack Israel’s hardened and well defended targets militarily; its soft underbelly, its very democracy, may be a very enticing target – a target that can all too easily self-destruct.