There is a brewing media scandal in Israel that has received scant attention. Let’s try to change that. Earlier this week, a fictitious settler group published an ad in Haaretz supporting price tag attacks. One point they made in their support was the claim that price tag attacks are civil disobedience in the same sense that Ilana Hammerman’s group, We Do Not Obey, is. She is the activist who began a protest movement by driving Palestinian mothers and children from the West Bank into Israel in order to take them to the beach, amusement parks, zoos, etc. For her efforts, she’s been rewarded by three police summonses for questioning including a warning of criminal prosecution. It is illegal both for Palestinians to enter Israel without proper permits and it is illegal for Israeli citizens to bring such individuals into Israel.
We Do Not Obey acts in ways that are totally non-violent and designed to promote tolerance and peaceful co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians while price tag is a violent, abusive and illegal form, not of civil disobedience, but of hooliganism and even terror. The very comparison of the two is an act of outrageous chutzpah.
What is even more shocking about the ad than the bogus logic of the argument offered in it, is the fact that the ad purported to be signed by settler women who support the price tag acts of vandalism and defacement of Palestinian mosques, cemeteries, etc. It also listed the purported settlements in which each endorser lived. In reality, every woman’s name included in the ad is a member of Ilana Hammerman’s group of peace activists. In other words, the individual who created the ad engaged in an act of fraud and Haaretz abetted the fraud by accepting the ad and asking no questions to verify the authenticity of those names. Nor did it verify the authenticity of the fake group which purported to sponsor the ad.
CORRECTION: The information in the following paragraph was provided by sources close to this story. But it was incomplete. Haaretz’s weekend supplement editor had told Ilana before the ad was published that she would not be asked further to write about her activism in that section, which is the most popular and widely read. This decision was independent of the ad controversy and did not effect her publishing for other sections of the paper, which are still open to her.
Further, after Haaretz discovered it had been duped, it notified Hammerman that it would no longer accept any op-ed pieces by her about her work with We Do Not Obey (as it had in the past). It appears that Haaretz, instead of blaming the person who perpetrated the fraud, is washing its hands of Hammerman and her entire movement. A clear case if there ever was one of blaming the victim. Instead of showing respect for fairness and freedom of speech, and apologizing for their error in helping defame these women, Haaretz takes a typically liberal approach and absconds from the entire controversy.
We now know who is the author of the fraud. He is Benny Katzover, a notorious settler activist. Here is the audio transcript of the interview in which he took credit for the ad. Among his recent claims to fame (or better yet, infamy) is an interview he published in a Chabad journal, claiming the Israeli democracy had outlived its usefulness and should give way to a state governed by Jewish law (“We didn’t come here to establish a democratic state”). Does anyone besides me find it ironic (or possibly sociopathic) that a radical settler who rejects Israeli democracy defends price tag attacks as legitimate forms of civil disobedience?
We don’t know who paid for the $1,000-1,500 cost of the ad. Haaretz knows, but I doubt they’re going to tell. A source I’ve consulted who is knowledgeable about the story believes that the funding came from either a settlement or a settler agency, which may mean that the State itself paid for the ad (either directly or indirectly). In fact, a statement on the group’s Facebook page declares the ad was likely paid for through public funds. This would mean that this act of fraud was actually endorsed and paid for by a government entity and the taxpayers of Israel. Further, it would mean that public funds were used to endorse the acts of hooliganism and lawlessness represented by the price tag movement. In the event that this claim is true, it would mean that while Israel’s leaders are publicly decrying price tag pogromism, other parts of the Israeli government or its public agencies are actually endorsing it. Does this surprise anyone?
It also shouldn’t surprise anyone the government would smear Hammerman since her activism is considered a prime example of delegitimization, the right-wing concept du jour. Yuli Edelstein’s Hasbara ministry is charged with combatting delegitimization and Edelstein himself is a prominent settler leader. It wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility that his agency could’ve played some role in the attack, though I’m still exploring this angle of the story.
The women of We Do Not Obey have been consulting an attorney to decide how to proceed. It’s ironic that the draconian proposed defamation law that may shortly pass the Knesset and become law would greatly aid these women in their pursuit of justice. It would allow them to personally win substantial financial compensation of up to $75,000 each (for 40 women) from Katzover without having to prove any financial damage to them. The Israeli far-right devised this cockamamie law to use against the Israeli NGO and peace activist community. It never occurred to them that it could be used against them as well by the Israeli left. That’s how smart these dullards are.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.