Saturday, June 29, 2013

Zionism and torn papers

A heated debate, polarized positions, a tense vote - and at the height of suspense,  a speaker mounts the podium, angrily and demonstratively tearing up the text of the resolution which had just been approved.

This is what happened a few days ago at the Knesset, during the First Reading of the bill known as "The Negev Bedouins Settlement Act”. But when did we see something of the kind before?

It was quite some time ago, a moment etched in the Israeli collective  memory. November 10, 1975, at the UN Headquarters in New York. Just like Knesset Member Muhammad Baraka and Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi this past week, on that day Chaim Herzog, Israel's Ambassador to the UN (later President of the State) mounted the podium and tore up the resolution adopted by the UN Assembly General. The resolution stating that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”.

The resolution  asserted that  the Government of Israel – like the then South African government - "enforces manifestations of racial discrimination by legislative or administrative proceedings," and that such discrimination stems directly from Zionism, the official ideology of the State of Israel.

Before tearing up the text of the resolution, Ambassador Herzog delivered a ringing speech, praising Zionism as a noble and immaculate movement of National Liberation, and asserted that Israel's treatment of its Arab citizens was a model of fairness and of complete equality.

In passing, on that day the UN also resolved that "The PLO should be invited to take part in all deliberations and conferences, on equal footing with other parties", and that "The Palestinian People should be helped to achieve the status of an independent nation." These resolutions, too, were strongly opposed by the Government of Israel, but Herzog did not go as far as tearing them up.

Swiftly afterwards the cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa all renamed their respective "United Nations Boulevard” as “Zionism Boulevard”. For the next two decades the State of Israel waged a struggle against the UN and against the UN’s anti-Zionist resolution, ultimately achieving its repeal. It is no accident that this repeal took place in the 1990’s, a time when the State of Israel did accept the PLO as a negotiating partner and agreed (at least verbally) that the Palestinian people should achieve the status of an independent nation. It was a time when Israel, claiming to be a member of the club of Western Democracies, was perceived as approaching closer to that club’s current norms of behavior.
Back to this past week in the Knesset and the debate held there this week, The House was split almost down the middle and the bill passing its First Reading by a narrow majority of 43 against 40. The nature of this of this bill - the same bill whose text was torn to pieces by the Arab MKs  - was described by the veteran commentator Shalom Yerushalmi on the pages of Ma'ariv:

”The government’s Bedouin Regulation Plan is based on the following principle: nearly a hundred thousand Bedouins live in illegal villages in the Negev. Part of them will get ownership of lands over which they have filed claims. Everybody else will receive financial compensation. All will move to recognized, modern communities which will be built later, and in the areas which they will evacuate there will be built Jewish communities. Any Bedouin who does not enter the program within nine months will remain without land and without compensations, and if insisting on staying on at his current location would be liable to a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment”.

And why should that be the solution? Why should the Bedouins have to move to “modern communities" which the government would build for them once upon a time? And the plans, setting out  exactly where these modern communities are to be established, have been declared a state secret, anyone revealing what they know about it being liable under the same section in the law as those who expose weapons systems or and war plans of the IDF – and why is that? And why does the government completely refuse to explain which existing Bedouin villages would be destroyed because of being "illegal" and “unrecognized”' and how many residents of these villages will be uprooted from their homes and land - twenty thousand, thirty thousand, forty thousand? And besides, why is the government refusing to recognize these Unrecognized Villages and connect them to water and electricity and sewage and all needed infrastructure and make modern communities of these villages themselves? Why destroy Bedouin villages and move the residents to other locations and build Jewish communities in their place, communities which will  of course get all the services and infrastructure that the State of Israel provides to its (Jewish)  citizens.

Some answer to all these questions were given by Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, a member of Yair Lapid’s new party, the party that promises that There is a Future and that Israel is to witness the advent of New Politics. Meir Cohen is himself a resident of the Negev who often dealt with Bedouin issues, and he undertook to introduce this bill and bring it to a vote in the Knesset. Meir Cohen says he knows the Bedouins and he knows that this bill would be in their favor and for their benefit and all the outcry is caused by the incitement of radical Islamists.

And why did the Parliamentary opposition vote  against the law? Why did Jewish Knesset Members from Meretz and Labor and even Shas mobilize against this bill, almost managing to knock  it off? Welfare Minister Meir Cohen just cannot not get it. "How can they call themselves Zionists and still vote against this bill?" cries out the Minister of Social Affairs.

So here, probably, lies the answer. This is a Zionist bill, and as such Zionists are supposed to give it their support. This is the official and authorized interpretation of Zionism, as provided by the government of the State of the Jews  which was established in fulfillment of the vision of Theodor Herzl. And what if this bill does pass also its Second and Third Readings and duly becomes the Law of the Land in Israel?  What if the Minister of Finance grants the request of the Minister of Public Security to provide ample funds for the recruiting of hundreds of new police officers and the new police forces embark on enforcing the new Zionist law and do it throughout the Negev in front of TV cameras from around the world, and go on doing it for months and perhaps for years?

And what if the UN then embarks on re-adopting that 1975 resolution and again charges the government of Israel with “enforcing racial discrimination by legislative or administrative proceedings," and once again assert that such discrimination stems directly from the ideology and practice of Zionism?