One of the most sinister of all Israeli government ministries is Strategic Affairs, run by a Likudist with raging political ambitions, Gilad Erdan. The ministry operates like a quasi-intelligence outfit replete with scores of former Shin Bet and Mossad operatives playing shady, unspecified roles in rooting out ‘anti-Israelism’ wherever it may be found, and as defined by Erdan and his cronies. Erdan is spending $75-million on this effort, which dwarfs similar activity formerly was conducted by the foreign ministry. It proudly warns that it will “target” anti-Israel activists, sabotage them both politically and personally, and pay for journalism that is panders to its agenda.
In fact, Strategic Affairs has in a number of critical ways subsumed the foreign ministry and surpassed it. This means that Israel is now conducting some of the key elements of its foreign policy through a covert intelligence agency. This is unsurprising to anyone who follows Israeli politics. But to those of us raised in western democracies, such a development is deeply alarming.
The leading “threat” as defined by Erdan is “delegitimization,” by which they largely refer to BDS. In the past, ministers have, in barely concealed manner, threatened to assassinate BDS founder, Omar Barghouti. Now, they likely have the capability to do it. The question is whether they have the political will. I would guess that they don’t–yet. But that this could easily change.
I mention all this in leading up to the news of the day, that Erdan has just announced that Israel will ban both official delegations and individual members of 21 leading international human rights groups from entering the country, as security threats. Among them are well know activist NGOs like CodePink, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Friends Service Committee (which won the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize), and various BDS groups:
“The boycott organizations need to know that the State of Israel will act against them and not allow [them] to enter its territory to harm its citizens.”
“No country would have allowed critics coming to harm the country to entry [sic] it,” added Erdan.
In doing this, Israel has entered territory formerly inhabited only by countries like North Korea, China, and Iran (among others) who treat foreigners as threats to the country’s existence merely for their (non-violent) political views. As I’ve written many times here, such draconian actions bespeak a nation unsure, even confused by its own identity. Only authoritarian countries fear debate with critics within the confines of their own territory. Israel has become such a country.
This statement from Erdan’s ministry is almost breathtaking in its hypocrisy:
The ministry said the blacklist “explicitly excludes political criticism of Israel” as a criterion for inclusion on the list and was aimed at “central figures in key boycott organizations.”
Of course, political criticism of Israel is a critical criteria guaranteeing inclusion on the list. Israel can accept toothless, ineffective, meaningless critcism of the sort levelled at it by liberal Zionists, mainly because it is easily ignored or parried. But it cannot withstand criticism that questions fundamental questions of racism, intolerance and social injustice that are pillars of the State.
I am not a member of BDS or any of the groups blacklisted. But I generally support their goals. BDS will not destroy Israel. Claims that it will are false smears by the Israel Lobby and its advocates. It will transform it into a truly democratic country, which it is not now. BDS is perhaps not an optimal strategy. I would prefer if other means were effective. But Israel has proven immune to other, less drastic means. Which makes the movement a political choice of last, but not least resort.
This means that I am no longer welcome in Israel. I’ve already been informed by an Israeli attorney that I’d likely be the subject of detention and interrogation if I attempted to do so, because of the work I’ve done here in exposing alleged Israeli national security secrets. This post would possibly guarantee me a one-way ticket home or a long couple of days or weeks in an Israeli security cell.
Similar to what Rebecca Vilkommerson wrote in Haaretz, I have a parallel experience with Israel. I attended my very first political rally during the 1967 War, joining tens of thousands of American Jews rallying on behalf of the State of Israel, which we saw (wrongly, as it turned out) as threatened with extinction. In 1969, I spent an entire summer at Camp Ramah’s American Seminar researching and writing a paper on the history of modern Zionism with the support of Rabbi Joe Lukinsky. It was the first time I compared Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians with South Africa’s toward its Black majority. In 1972, I spent my first academic year at the Hebrew University studying Judaica. In 1979, I did my second academic year at the Hebrew University. This time, I completed a year of graduate study before I began a PhD program at UC Berkeley.
Through my study of Bible, Talmud, Jewish history and Hebrew literature, I developed a deep appreciation of Israel and its relationship to the Jewish Diaspora. I studied Hebrew intensively and became fluent. Israel is an important, critical part of Jewish identity to me and many other Jews.
But when such decisions are made by Jewish Savanarolas, they cut Israel off from the root. They create an insurmountable wall with the far more liberal Jewish Diaspora. Liberal Zionist bitch and moan about this, as if Israel’s leaders care about losing their allegiance. They don’t. As recent statements by Netanyahu and his ministers make clear, the strategy for Israel’s far-right is to abandon the Diaspora in favor of new alliances with evangelical Christians and the alt-Right in both Europe and the U.S.
Such an approach is a sharp break with centuries-worth of bonds between Israel and the Diaspora. Some of the earliest Jewish texts tell us that “all Israel is bound up with each other.” Jews have lived and traveled fluidly between the two regions for a millennium or more. Financial support and solidarity has moved from the Diaspora to Israel over the same period. In fact, without the European Diaspora, Herzl could never have conceived of founding a state for the Jews.
Though this momentous break has been discussed in the media, no one has commented on how radical and dangerous a shift it is in the overall scheme of Jewish history. Cutting Israel from its former Diaspora, as Netanyahu is gradually doing, is a gamble with history and Jewish existence. It is a risk he should not be permitted to take.