Friday, January 21, 2011

Sunday, January 16, 2011

We are not loyal - to a government of racists!

"The Slumbering Majority wakes up" proclaimed large signs as the human river flowed from the entrance to the Gan Meir Park and unto the streets. Later on, KM Nitzan Horowitz would proclaim from the podium, to the crowd overflowing the Museum Plaza: "Look around you: We are not small and we are not weak, and we have no reason whatsoever to despair!".

In recent years, this part of the Israeli society indeed often felt isolated and marginalized. Often, the dominant atmosphere in its demonstrations was of a brave challenge flung out by those determined to swim against an overwhelming tide. Tonight's change in atmosphere was brought about precisely by the most audacious manifestation to date of nationalistic aggression: The resolution to launch an "investigation" of the peace and human rights organizations, which was initiated by Avigdor Lieberman and his Knesset emissaries and passed by a large majority, and which followed upon the "Loyalty Oath Bill" and "Admissions Committees Bill" and various other notorious judicial initiatives which have been proliferated uncontrollably in the current Knesset.

It was their manifest arrogance, their feeling that they can stain Israel's law books with any piece of racist or anti-democratic they choose, which aroused the people who had stayed home in recent years. A sense of urgency, a sense that it might be the last moment to build a counter-force and try to change the direction of the murky stream. "Demonstrate! Get out into the streets - as long as it is still possible!" read the demonstration calls put out by the Democratic Camp, which last week spread rapidly across the net - before published as paid ads in the press.

"No, no, no - Fascism will not pass!" echoed the old familiar chant along King George Street – and was answered with a new and more ominous one: "People, wake up! - Fascism is passing right now!". "Democracy cries out: Help," read a big placard and the next one had "The Murder of Democracy in Israel - a Foreknown Crime!". "Racism? We don't raise our hands!" read the posters prepared by Mossawa Center, one of the organizations targeted in Lieberman's investigation. Another long-threatened group, the New Israel Fund, provided signs with "Investigate me, too!" and "We will not shut up!". A young woman held up a sign with the words "A Leftist in the Crosshairs" with a target board drawn besides. "Yesterday I sat for an hour at home until I made it exactly as I wanted, I always prefer to make my own sign then to have a printed one."

"A Leftist Patriot" read a new sticker made by Peace Now ahead of this demonstration. Israeli national flags fluttered above the marchers, as well as Blue- and-White flags with the Star of David replaced by the big word "Peace." Protesters with a different political orientation raised Palestinian flags, and one of them stopped to wave the flag ostentatiously in front of the Metudat Ze'ev Likud headquarters. (Later, holders of Palestinian flags were detained by police, who apparently forgot that since the Oslo Accords this is no longer a crime in Israel - or maybe the police is expecting new guidelines soon?) And there were in the march the Gush Shalom signs showing the two flags together, Israeli and Palestinian, and the Red Flags of the Communists and the Green ones of Meretz, and drumming by several of the regular demonstrators at Sheikh Jarrah, and someone was also blowing a trumpet. Very prominent in their absence were any marchers with a sign identifying them as Labor Party adherents - though there were probably quite a few among the crowd who had still voted Labor in the last elections.

"I am Yonathan Pollak" read large signs, as did smaller black stickers which many wore on their shirts. The call for the release of Pollak - imprisoned for participating in a cycling protest two years ago – was voiced also by many people who had never come to demonstrate against the Separation Fence in the fields of the village of Bil'in together with Pollak and his fellows. The Hithabrut-Tarabut movement provided signs entitled "Release the Political Prisoners", where Yonathan Pollak was mentioned alongside Nuri el-Okbi, the Bedouin Rights activist sent to jail on charges of "running a business without a license" as well as Israel Bondak of Jerusalem, veteran of the Israeli Black Panthers and the only one, among many operators of "pirate" radio stations, to be sent to prison for his broadcasting activities.

"Jews and Arabs - Refuse to be Enemies!" read many signs, and the words were shouted loud and clear when the march wound its way up the old section of Dizengoff Street. The blend of accents among the voices testified that these were indeed Jews and Arabs who were chanting it together, again and again and again.

Those who walked in the later parts of the march encountered an unpleasant surprise at the Museum Plaza: police motorcycles parked to make a makeshift blockage and completely sealed off the entrance stairs. "No more allowed in, the square is full. Danger!" announced a grim-faced police officer.

Many of the demonstrators did not accept the prohibition, and they found roundabout ways, climbing concrete fences and pushing their way into the crowd already filling the square. "We already have been fifteen thousand people in the square, we ask the police to stop blocking our friends who want to join" said the voice from the loudspeakers. About fifteen minutes later, the declaration "We are now above twenty thousand!" was greeted with applause.

It was clear that the list of speakers had been assembled with a view to present a wide range of speakers - Jews and Arabs, men and women, moderates and radicals, Communists and Liberals, Zionists and anti-Zionists and non-Zionists.

Lieberman, the racist demagogue Foreign Minister and would-be Putin, was of course the target of an endless flow of condemnation, but almost all the speakers made sure to direct their fire also at the Prime Minister - "Netanyahu, who promotes the racist laws, who backs up Lieberman, who pays salaries to rabbis who publish letters of racial incitement". And the loudest and most sustained boos were reserved for the Minister of Defense: "Barak of the Labor Party and all your fellows, you sit in this most racist of all Israeli Government and you are an accomplice in all its misdeeds, in the racist bills and the rampant occupation and the destruction of any chance left for peace. Lieberman hopes to gain votes in the next election out of his deeds in this government. What are you trying to gain - a few more miserable months in your ministerial seats?" Meretz KM Nitzan Horowitz concluded with a Zionist credo: "I am a Zionist because I believe in the values of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. My Zionism is the aspiration for a sane Israel, an Israel of civil equality and human rights, an Israel which ensures equality to all its citizens regardless of religion, race or gender". In a similar vein, Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now declared his hope to see the day when it would be possible to say with pride the words "I am an Israeli."

"There is no cliche more outworn than 'The Occupation Corrupts' - and equally, there is no truth which is still as clear and pure as on the day it was first uttered" stated Hadash KM Muhammad Barake. "Those who deluded themselves that the suffocating oppression of the Palestinian people would always stop at the Green Line were proven very wrong and mistaken. Now, this oppression is coming here, and we all feel the tangible threat. It is by no means certain that a demonstration such as this would still be possible a year from now. But we who stand here in this plaza, Arabs and Jews, Jews and Arabs together in the struggle against galloping Fascisation, we can win! Yes, we can win, as the people of Tunis just yesterday won a heroic struggle against sinister tyranny!"

Attorney Bana Shoughry-Badarne of the Public Committee against Torture, speaking on behalf of the threatened human rights organizations, gently chided those who did not feel danger as long as its victims were mainly among the Palestinians. "More than a decade ago, when I first started to be active, all the phenomena were already highly visible: political detentions, killing of civilians, the expropriation of land, all the forms of oppression. But some people thought that since they belonged to the dominant ethnic group, the tyranny of the majority will not touch them. Now it is obvious that a country which does not define itself as the State of All its Citizens cannot have real democracy. We did not come here to demonstrate against an ephemeral inquiry, which is supposed to discover sources of funding that are open and visible to anyone bothering to surf the web sites of the organizations concerned. We are demonstrating against occupation and oppression and discrimination, for solidarity and for basic human and civil rights to all". (Prolonged chanting "Human Rights - For All! For All! For All!"

"Two weeks ago, Israeli women won a great victory, and the victims of the rapist and sexual abuser Moshe Katzav were vindicated in court. Yet the patriarchal governmental structure which rules over us has chosen this very moment to launch an offensive in a different direction" said feminist activist Dorit Abramovitch. "We have in this country a White Male Jewish regime, harking back to the romanticized comradeship of the 1948 fighters, a regime which was established long before Lieberman or Bibi appeared on the scene. As a feminist I am committed to pointing out the inextricable connection between governmental violence, occupation and sexual oppression. They are all part and parcel of the same. I want to say something that is not agreed by everybody here: There cannot be a Jewish and Democratic state - the two contradict and are incompatible with each other. The Palestinians in Israel never had democratic rights. We should not talk about restoring the glories of an old democracy, we should create a new democracy which until now never existed."

In terms of immediate political impact, the most significant and most unexpected speaker was MK Meir Shitrit of the Kadima Party – which so far had taken, to say the least, a most ambiguous position towards the Lieberman initiatives. "Jabotinsky is turning in his grave to see Likud members support this piece of anti-democratic folly. Jabotinsky always opposed the tyranny of the majority, always declared that the individual who courageously stands against the crowd is a king. What has possessed these Likud people to let Lieberman draw them to the extreme right? The Knesset does not have any authority to conduct such an investigation. You left-wings organizations need not appear, need not to answer any question, you can treat this investigation with the utter contempt it deserves. They have no authority to investigate you! (Applause). True, some Kadima members also voted in favor. It is easier to extract people from the Likud than to extract Likudness from these people. I want to announce here that Kadima decided on a strict party discipline. The next time the issue returns to the Knesset plenum, we will all oppose it, unanimously! (Applause)

"Many years ago I was active on the Left in France," said a mustached, white haired man standing on the side. "Among us in Paris we used to say: When you see the opportunists suddenly come over to your side and join you, it seems that the wind is changing direction."

Social TV video on the demo (Hebrew speaking, but you can see what it looked like)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nuri behind bars, or: how an activist for Bedouin rights is treated

I already had several occasions to write here about Nuri el-Okbi, head of the Association for the Defence of Bedouins' Rights in Israel, a honest and just person whose like cannot be easily found.

Nuri was born, 1942, at al-Arakib in the Negev. As a child he saw the army of the new state arrive at the area, and three years later, in 1951, that army's troops expelled him and his family from their home and their village. Only for six months, they were told, but they were never allowed to return.

After growing up Nuri, like many Bedouins who had lost their lands and traditional life style, went to live in the city of Lod. There he opened a garage in 1964, to support his family - but he never forgot the village from which he was uprooted. A few years ago, no longer young nor in the best of health, he took action: returning alone to Arakib and setting up a tent near the ruins of the house where he was born. There he lived for several years, enduring the heat of the day and the cold of the desert night.

Until the police came to arrest him, and in the Beersheba court he was charged with being "a serial invader of state lands" and his release was conditioned upon his undertaking never again to set foot in the place where he was born. With an effort, his lawyer got for him the right to at least go travel on the road from Beersheba to Tel Aviv, from which that place can briefly be seen from afar. "Thou shalt see the land before thee; but thou shalt not go thither unto the land ..."

Nuri painfully resigned himself to the decree of renewed exile, devoting himself to what he was still allowed to do – to spend some more time with his family, and join the struggle of his people and his community. For example, the struggle of the Arab residents in Lod, whom the municipality considers to be a nuisance and "a demographic threat", in token of which it periodically sends bulldozers to demolish their "illegally built" homes. But also in the city of Lod the law enforcement authorities soon took an interest in Nuri, and he was charged with maintaining a business without a permit – to wit, that modest little garage which was established nearly fifty years ago.

The court ruled that since the Lod Municipality cancelled Nuri's business permit, for reasons which remain undisclosed, he should have immediately closed down the garage, that he failed to do so and that city inspectors found him working there. Nuri claimed that on the day the inspectors carried out their inspection he was undergoing a medical examination at the hospital. Nevertheless, the court found him guilty. The judge noted that prison sentences of up to six months could be commuted to community work and specifically advised Nuri to find a place where he could do such work. Nuri did find a Ramla soup kitchen whose managers were happy to have him.

However, when he arrived at court to hear his sentence, Nuri got another unexpected blow. He was not sentenced to six months but to seven – one month more than the maximum which can be commuted to community service. A pity for the soup kitchen, but Nuri will be seven months behind bars for the crime of continuing the garage whose permit the Municipality of Lod withdrew. In addition, Nuri is to pay a fine of 40,000 Shekels, failing which he would be held for an additional 400 days in prison.

Judge Zacharia Yemini stated explicitly in his verdict the reasons why he chose to deal so harshly with Nuri el-Okbi. Precisely because he is active in defense of the rights of the Bedouins he must be punished far beyond others, so as "to send a message to the Bedouins that they must obey the law".

Adv. Avi Dubin, Nuri's lawyer, asked the court to delay implementation of the sentence pending the lodging of an appeal. As is common in the Israeli judicial system. As was granted on the same week to a rather famous defendant named Moshe Katsav, who was found guilty of several charges a bit more serious than running a business without a license. But the judge conditioned Nuri's release upon the immediate depositing of 30,000 Shekels in cash, a sum he did not have. On the way to prison he collapsed, and spet some days in Assah Harofeh Hospital - under heavy guard.

How Nuri feels you can read in his own words, in two poems which he wrote inside the walls of Ma'asiyahu Prison and dictated over the phone to Haya Noach, activist of the Negev Coexistence Forum.

Sent to Prison by The Law

The man asked for six days off,
Before seven months in prison undergoing.
I'll grant you this, said the Justice
If 30 000 Shekel you instantly produce!
Otherwise, prison for you and no mercy.
Seven months
And also 40 000 Shekels
Or 400 more jail days in jail!
Flu and a heart condition,
Bound hand and foot in hospital
Bound to the bed,
Two prison guards for the patient,
With chains and pistols,
No visitors,
No talking, no friends.
Prison doctor and hospital doctor consult
Conclude: back to jail.
There to wait many days
For medicine and treatment.
Stuffy little cell, full of smokers.
This punishment you deserve
Having worked for publics
With no license of municipal government.

Ma'asiyahu Prison, Ramla, January 8, 2011.

Good morning

Good morning!
People crammed into small cells
Cockroaches running
Industrious vermin
Climbing the walls
Guards shouting
Good Morning prisoners
Count, count they say
Get up, get counted
Hassan and Sameh stand up
Mohammed and Shlomo are sleeping
Guards threaten
Take out red card
Writing report
Hundreds Shekels fine!
Small cockroaches run
Odor of smoke
Report writing
Standing on guard
Stand up, the warders count
Prisoners dressed in orange
Guilty, not guilty
Weak, sick or healthy
Everyone, everyone is equal.

.Ma'asiyahu Prison, Ramleh 01/13/2011

Afterwords: Nuri el-Okbi is still at this moment in his Ma'asiyahu cell. The first of his appeal will be heard on Monday, January 24, 2011 at 10:00 am before Judge Dr. Eliakim Stoller of the Petach Tikva District Court (20 Hess Street, Petach Tikva).

Meanwhile, Nuri's friends and well wishers managed to convince him to let the sum of 30,000 Shekels set by the court could be deposited and his release pending the appeal be gained. Nuri only consented after being completely convinced that the money would only be deposited temporarily, pending the end of the judicial proceedings, and be eventually returned to its owners.

Those willing to participate in raising the bail needed for the release of Nuri el-Okbi are asked to contact Yoav at +972-(0)522-673467,

This afternoon, after having already started writing this blog, Nuri called me from the pay phone in the prison courtyard with an urgent request: "Please call the Animal Welfare Hotline on my behalf. Here in Wing Two of Ma'asiyahu Prison there is among the buildings a wounded little cat. I feed him and do what I can for him, but he needs to be taken to the vet."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

To err is human

On the first day of the new year, January 1, Bil'in resident Jawaher Abu Rahmah died after having inhaled large quantities of tear gas during a demonstration against the Separation Fence on the day before. The army initially expressed regret and said the soldiers did not mean to kill her, and then the army discovered that the Palestinians and the Israeli leftists had been lying and she had not been there, and then the army discovered that they might have made a mistake about that, too, and that after all she might indeed have died from the gas she breathed. And then the issue dropped from the headlines to the great relief of the IDF spokesman who is soon due to be replaced anyway.

On the second day of the year, Mahmoud Muhammed Dharaghma from the town of Tubas made a fatal error and walked near an army checkpoint in the Jordan Valley while holding a bottle of mineral water in his hand and the soldiers thought it was a petrol bomb and they had been given orders not to take chances and to shoot first and ask questions later and just in case they shot him eight times and then there was nobody anymore of whom to ask questions. What can we do? Mistakes happen in life, only those who do not act make no mistakes.

And also on the same day died the Gazan student Anas Salah who was critically ill and who wanted to get to the Mukassad Hospital in East Jerusalem for a treatment not available in Gaza and who waited many hours at a checkpoint on the Gaza border and eventually reached the Next World instead of the hospital. And this too was an unfortunate mistake, but after all he was already very ill and might have died also in the hospital and then there would have been no accusation leveled at the state of Israel and its armed forces.

A few days passed and on the morning of Friday, January 7, a military force arrived in the Hebron region to detain members of Hamas whom the state of Israel very much wanted to host in its prisons, and the force was fairly accurately briefed and only a small mistake was made when soldiers were told that the wanted man was on the second floor when in fact the he was on the ground floor. And the soldiers went to the second floor and broke open the bedroom door and saw a figure straightening up from the bed and as we know the policy is not to take chances and to shoot first and ask questions afterwards and the soldiers fired several shots on Amr Qawasme, before he could completely wake up and there remained nobody of whom to ask questions, there only remained a bloodstained bed in the bedroom of the Qawasme Family. And this certainly was a regrettable mistake and General Avi Mizrahi of the IDF Central Command even ordered an investigation into the circumstances of the case and perhaps by mistake some results would even be published once upon a time.

And later in the evening of that day the army received a warning that dangerous terrorists were gathering at the border of the Gaza Strip and immediately a detachment of soldiers was sent there and the sophisticated new computerized targeting system was activated, where you just need to feed in the coordinates of the target and the computer would direct deadly mortar fire to precisely the right spot. And it just happened that the sophisticated computer system made a slight error and the mortar shell flew just off the intended target and Sergeant Nadav Rotenberg was killed by the friendly fire of the army which he had joined with a very high motivation. A mistake, certainly a tragic mistake. Even a sophisticated computerized system may occasionally make mistakes.

A little over seventeen years ago the State of Israel signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization an agreement under U.S. government auspices called the Oslo Agreement. According to that agreement's timetable, the occupation should have ended in May 1999 and by now the State of Palestine should have been nearing its eleventh Independence Day and Israeli soldiers would not have been firing tear gas in Bil'in or standing at checkpoints in the Jordan Valley or controlling the access of patients to the Mukassad Hospital in East Jerusalem or detaining wanted people near Hebron or conducting shooting incidents on the Gaza Strip border. Had this agreement been implemented at the specified time, it is likely that Jawaher Abu Rahmah and Mahmoud Muhammed Dharaghma and Anas Chalach and Amr Qawasme and Nadav Rotenberg would all still be among the living today, as would several thousand others, Palestinians and Israelis.

But the State of Israel has made a big mistake - did not implement the agreement and did not end the occupation and instead did build settlements and roads and fences and walls and hatred. A very great deal of hatred was sown and stored up.

Can we still correct that mistake?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Facing the towers and the powers

Once again a protest outside the Ministry of Defense, with police cordons blocking the way, and enormous towers crowned by a heliport intersecting the Tel Aviv skyline. Towers housing the headquarters of the world's most moral army which managed to kill quite a few civilians all over the Middle East – the latest on the very last day of 2010. Here is the office of the Defense Minister who is also leader of the Israeli Labor Party and who finds it very difficult to explain to his party's few remaining voters why should they vote for this party ever again.

Jawaher Abu Rahmah of the village of Bil'in died this morning after yesterday inhaling a large dose of tear gas in a demonstration against the Separation Fence in the village fields; she was 36years old. At the top of these towers sit the commanders of the commanders of the commanders of the soldiers who shot that gas. It is the normal type gas, routinely used by the army every week in Bil'in. It does not always cause death, but the risk of a lethal effect is always present. That is why European countries have long since stopped using this type of gas. But in the areas which the State of Israel is holding under occupation over the past 43 years, use of this gas continues and there is no intention of stopping it.

Yesterday there was an especially large demonstration in Bil'in, and the army used an especially large amount of gas against this demonstration, gas of the type which on some occasions can cause death. Yesterday was one of these occasions.

Upon hearing this news, hundreds of protesters arrived at the sidewalk in front of the locked gates. Tel Avivians and Jerusalemites and residents of Haifa and of many smaller places who had traveled through clogged roads in order to get here on time, Knesset Member Nitzan Horowits and former Knesset Members Uri Avnery and Mossi Raz, and the drummers from Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations who for hours drummed and drummed and with each beating the drum loudly called out " Down with the Occupation! Down with the Fence!"

And for hours hundreds of protesters chanted at the sealed and locked gates "Democracy is not built on demonstrators' dead bodies!" / "Barak Barak, hey hey hey, how many demonstrators did you kill today?" / "The blood of protesters is not cheap, dismantle the fence, bury it deep!" / "We will neither kill nor die in the service of the settlers'!" / "No more killing, no more bereavement, the fence must fall!".

After an hour they started going off the sidewalk and sat down on the asphalt and physically block the traffic on this road in the heart of Tel Aviv at the foot of the tall towers of the Ministry of Defense of the State of Israel. And they continued to chant and chant and chant full throated, "Barak Barak, how many did you kill today!" Police reinforcements arrived, because order must be kept and protesters must not block roads even when their government and army are killing civilians. And eight protesters were dragged into the police patrol cars, and fomer MK Mossi Raz who does not any longer enjoy Parliamentary immunity, also got several slaps from the police while being taken into detention.

A flashback

Actually, all of this should have been completely unnecessary - the demonstrations and protests and the violent end of Jawaher Abu Rahmah's life. Already more than three years ago, the Supreme Court judges published their ruling on the appeal of the villagers of Bil'in.

Already then, in September 2007, the court provided a detailed and reasoned verdict, making clear that it was not the needs of national security which had dictated the construction of the "Separation Fence" along a route separating the residents of Bil'in from their lands and source of livelihood. Far from it - the route of the fence, several kilometers east of the Green Line, was determined by the needs of the huge, ever-expanding ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modi'in Illit (and by the need of building contractors to turn a nice profit out of erecting ever-new Modi'in Illit neighborhoods). Already then, in September 2007, the judges ordered the army to move the fence westwards and return to the Bil'in residents at least the land on which the settlers had not had time to build, yet. Then, in September 2007, Jawaher Abu Rahmah attended with her fellow villagers the celebrations to mark the Supreme Court victory.

So, the residents have won in court, and the judges gave the army a clear and unequivocal instruction to move the fence. Yes, they definitely gave such an instruction. The army took a long time to plan and plan and design the new route to which the fence is to be moved, and once the planning was done it was taking an even longer while to begin implementation. There are very many projects that the army must implement, all of them important and vital, and priorities must be defined and determined. In 2008 there were no budgets available for moving the fence in Bil'in, nor was the manpower available. The same in 2009 and in 2010. Who knows what would happen in 2011, which has just begun, and in 2012 and in 2013. Don't worry; at some point in the hazy future the army will locate the needed budgets and mobilize the needed manpower and actually move the fence. For the time being, the fence remains exactly where it always was, and the residents of Bil'in continue to protest each week together with Israeli peace activists who share in the struggle. One thing the army is never short of is soldiers standing at the line of the fence with unlimited stocks of tear gas at their disposal...

See also David Reeb's video

Everyone is equal before the law

Something momentous happened in Israel. Moshe Katsav, the former President, former First Citizen of Israel, was put on trial and found guilty of rape and other serious offences. The prison authority is already considering the practical details of keeping such a personage behind bars for several years.

A sad day for a country, when it revealed that such a person was its President for seven years. A happy day for a country which demonstrates that everyone is equal before the law, and no offender is immune from punishment for misdeeds. Not even the President.

No offender is immune? Not exactly. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed was summoned by the police, to come tomorrow morning and be interrogated about his repeated racist proclamations. He announced that he would not come.

In Rabbi Eliyahu's eyes, discriminating against the Arab citizens of Israel and refusing to rent them apartments is not racism at all. In general, Arabs are not citizens with equal rights, but foreigners whose presence in the Jewish state is a regrettable aberration. Such are in his eyes the teachings and commandments of Judaism, and so he would continue to preach in public, and organize more and more rabbis and rabbis' wives to lend their public support.

Democracy? Where could Rabbi Eliyahu have heard this Greek word which does not appear in the Torah? Equal Rights? The Rule of Law? The police? Which policeman would dare to interrogate Rabbi Eliyahu? Do they think they are dealing here with a mere president?

"The President is not above the law – nor is the Rabbi of Tzfat!" will be the main slogan at a demonstration to be held tomorrow, Sunday, January 2, 2011, at 15:30, at 16 Rothschild Boulevard 16, Tel – Aviv.

A bit more about the rabbis

Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu is Chief Rabbi of the city of Safed (Tzfat), formally appointed by the State of Israel and receiving a generous salary from the taxpayer's pockets (also of the Arab taxpayers...) He was joined by dozens of other rabbis, the Chief Rabbis of dozens of other Israeli cities. Or rather, the rabbis whom the state of Israel has appointed to be the rabbis of these cities allocating generous salaries to all of them.

Also the person known as the Chief Rabbi of Holon, the city where I happen to live, has added his signature to the letter stating that the Arabs are foreigners in this country, and that it is forbidden to rent them apartments, and that this is a danger to life and also lowers the value of the apartments, and that anyone who does rent to Arabs should be boycotted and excommunicated. Not that I have any idea who the Chief Rabbi of Holon is, or ever had a special desire to know him, even before he added his signature to this particular letter.

This week Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and his rabbinical colleagues held a conference in Be'er Sheva, expressing their determination not to allow the state authorities to persecute them or gag their mouths or deny them the right to continue issuing fiery racist manifestos fully paid by this country's Jewish and Arab taxpayers. With the police and courts and state authorities the rabbis will not cooperate (other than the authorities in charge of paying their salaries). If, God forbid, one of them gets fired or prosecuted, all his colleagues would then and there resign, with the specific aim of bringing about "The total collapse of the entire rabbinical system." So did the rabbis declare officially and solemnly, and let it be published in the various publications and bulletins favoring their cause.

A total collapse of the entire rabbinical system? Yes, please.

Choose your own rabbi

For two thousand years, Jews all over the world maintained large and small communities without asking or desiring the financial support of the country where they lived. For two thousand years there had not be any such thing as a Jewish Pope, to direct everybody's religious life from the top down. Every community took care to appoint the rabbi of its choice, and also took care to maintain and pay him. The time might have come to restore this old Jewish tradition in today's Israel. Those who want a racist as their spiritual guide – and regrettably, we seem to have such people among us – should at the least be asked to dip into their own pocket and help pay his salary. Those who want a rabbi who isn't a racist – hopefully, there are such, too – would take part in maintaining the rabbi of their choice. And those who see no need of any rabbi's guidance would be free to spend their money on things they consider important.

(Perhaps in this way we would still see in this country also rabbis to whom enlightened people would be interested to listen.)