1 Sep, 2023


In Netanyahu’s Israel, All Dissent Is ‘Terrorism’

Dahlia Scheindlin

Right-wing accusations of what constitutes ‘terror’ have gone off the rails – but methodically. It is another example of Netanyahu and his accomplices aligning themselves with the very worst autocrats and bigots that the world has to offer

Dahlia Scheindlin

The face of terror in Israel is a threat to behold. He is a lanky young Jewish Israeli with a gentle smile and dark hair the same color as his doe eyes. When you see Alon-Lee Green in the neighborhood, you try to guess if it’s him or his identical twin, Ellie, who runs the cozy vintage bookshop in Tel Aviv that they founded together.

But most of the time, Green is busy co-directing Standing Together – an Arab-Jewish movement building a bottom-up network of young people around Israel to advance shared social and economic causes. Sally Abed, a prominent Palestinian leader of the movement in Israel, is a spark plug of a social activist too. Despite the crushing despair of this region, they keep at it. Oh, and they also oppose the occupation.

Alon-Lee was invited to host a one-time show on Army Radio, to air last Friday. The program was recorded and ready to go when right-wing attack dogs learned that he dared criticize the occupation, and bullied the station to pull the show.

It came from the top. One of the ringleaders was Likud lawmaker Tally Gotliv, who wrote: “How stupid are we to allow the terror supporter Alon-Lee Green to be a presenter on Army Radio? Just look at his support for terrorists and his terrible harm to Israel Defense Forces soldiers and their honor. Mr. defense minister, for your immediate attention.”

She referred readers to Green’s social media posts. In one from 2015, he expressed support for Palestinian women and a teenage girl biting a heavily armed and masked IDF soldier who was restraining the girl’s brother, a 12-year-old with a broken arm. In 2017, the same girl – Ahed Tamimi, then still a teen – slapped a soldier who invaded her family’s yard. She got eight months in prison and Green wrote another supportive post when she was released.

Right-wing accusations of terror have gone off the rails – but methodically. Take the conflation strategy: In 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu practically turned his flagging political campaign around with 40 seconds and seven words of dialogue conflating the Israeli left with ISIS (it really was a clever ad). Itamar Ben-Gvir trained his supporters to say “Death to terrorists” rather than “Death to Arabs,” because apparently making all Arabs terrorists is more palatable than calling to kill them all.

The McCarthyite right-wing group Im Tirtzu has cultivated chain links of guilt by association. It considers all Tamimi family members terrorists – since one of them praised a Palestinian who murdered an Israeli in 2018. Ergo, by Im Tirtzu’s logic, the “terror supporter” designation extends to anyone who supports anyone in the Tamimi family. Such a person becomes “a direct supporter of terror against Israel.”

Finally, there are knock-off types of terror. In 2021, Israeli President Isaac Herzog – once considered left-wing in Israel – spoke of “economic terrorism” because Ben & Jerry’s decided to cease distributing ice cream in the settlements (a decision its parent company subsequently reversed). This week, far-right television personality Yinon Magal of the pro-Netanyahu station Channel 14, said that Israel is facing a terror attack – by which he meant, he explained, “mind terror!” Magal was referring to the widespread concerns of top defense officials that the IDF is losing its preparedness for war due to reservists declining to volunteer to serve.

Meanwhile, the Kan public broadcaster reported on a caricaturist from a kibbutz who published an image showing children planting trees, symbolizing their future, with a cartoon Netanyahu lurking with a chainsaw. Responses on Facebook said the cartoonist was no different from Hamas.

To be sure, the left also makes such accusations. On Sunday, Labor leader Merav Michaeli called the prominent religious Zionist figure Rabbi Tzvi Kostiner a terror supporter. Kostiner didn’t write posts supporting an unarmed teen who slapped a soldier. He personally demonstrated in support of a killer, calling to release the Israeli Jewish man jailed for burning a Palestinian family to death while they slept in July 2015, killing the mother, father and an 18-month-old baby. Their 4-year-old son survived with severe burns and endured 10 surgeries before reentering life as an orphan.

The difference, though, is that each type of right-wing exploitation of “terror” terminology has a specific aim. Netanyahu conflated the left with terror to traduce political opponents and win elections. By 2021, he had moved from persuading voters to undermining a legitimately elected government by slander. That year, he orchestrated incessant recitations of the lie that United Arab List, the first independent Arab party to join an Israeli governing coalition, supported terror. The entire government, under the guilt by association tactic, became terror supporters. The government collapsed within a year.

The current government hopes to use “terror” to stop Arabs from even reaching elected office. It’s not new. Back in 2002, lawmakers passed a law to bar candidates who support terror. (Apparently the law does not apply to Ben-Gvir, who has literally been convicted for supporting an anti-Palestinian terror organization, then elected, crowned minister and is set to lead an anti-terror task force within the police – against Palestinians.)

At present, anyone convicted of a minimum of seven years for committing terror or serious security offenses must serve the sentence and wait another 14 years before competing in elections. One Likud lawmaker submitted a bill this year to bar such a person from ever running for office. In February, the Knesset passed a law that can strip the citizenship of those convicted of terror; another bill would put them to death.

Let me be clear. Actual terror – attacks on civilians for political aims – is depraved and must face severe punishment. But it is folly to think that Israel’s leaders would ever adhere to the accepted definition; Israelis can’t even avoid the word for Palestinian attacks on armed soldiers, on active duty, in a military conflict. Maybe one day ice cream terrorists, caricaturists and mind terrorists should also be barred from running in elections, stripped of citizenship or put to death.

If that seems far-fetched, consider that just last week, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich tried to freeze funding from academic preparatory programs helping East Jerusalem Palestinians integrate into Israeli universities. He claimed that the university environment turns them into “extremists” – all Israelis know that’s just a step away from terror. It’s hard to think of anything closer to Southern-style supremacy than collectively discouraging Arab higher education for the hypothetical crime of “extremism.” Smotrich lied, of course: Israeli security authorities agree that higher education reduces extremism.

Perhaps the Israeli right is feeling embattled on the issue; even the U.S. State Department has recently branded both Palestinian and Israeli attacks on civilians as terror. If that seems unfair, maybe they should just stop killing Palestinians. If Tally Gotliv plans to slander occupation critics as terror supporters, she might want to stop making pilgrimages to actual terror suspects who shoot Palestinian civilians.

It hardly bears repeating that Israel is aligning itself with bad company. Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine of terrorism after snatching Crimea in 2014. It also recently slapped another 19 years of prison time on Alexei Navalny – the most serious opposition figure to President Vladimir Putin – and might add another 10 years for Kremlin-conjured terror accusations. Hindu nationalist leaders in India harass Muslim communities with claims of terror, including “COVID terrorism,” “economic jihad” and laws against interfaith relationships, so-called “love jihad.” Egypt uses loose terror accusations to suppress political dissent, as do Gulf states, including Israel’s hoped-for new best friend Saudi Arabia, which sometimes executes people for “terrorism-related” convictions.”

These may be better comparisons for Israel’s democratic collapse than the go-to examples of Hungary and Poland. In an ominous analysis, Tel Aviv University sociologist Anastasia Gorodzeisky thinks Israelis are giving themselves a break with comparisons to the latter.

Unlike Israel, she observes, those countries have constitutions, they belong to the European Union with its courts and human rights standards, and they have at least some separation of religion and state. Moreover, Israel is engaged in ongoing conflict. Should Israel’s current path continue, she says, “we’ll be in a much worse situation” than Hungary or Poland.

Indeed, the exploitation of “terror” is not only a grave offense to its true victims. It’s a reminder that in permanent conflict, truth is a permanent casualty.

In Netanyahu’s Israel, All Dissent Is ‘Terrorism’ – Israel News – Haaretz.com

Share This