Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Since the Buck Stops Elsewhere...

A panel of politicians up for re-election yesterday banned two Arab lists from participation in those elections. While this doesn't mean what it seems to mean at first glance, is is nevertheless sheer idiocy.

About 20% of Israelis are Arabs. They enjoy full legal equality, including of course the right to vote and be elected. In the present knesset there are three Arab lists, with, if I'm not mistaken, 10 seats from a total of 120; this demonstrates that most Arabs in Israel don't vote for the Arab lists, but many do. (About 10% of the voters of the ultra-orthodox Shas party are Arabs, which is an interesting story for another day). Blocking their parties from participation in the elections would be the wrong thing to do from whatever perspective you choose. Back in the 1980s Meir Kahana's party was banned from running, and indeed the whole party was dismantled for being racist, but that was a different matter. Arab Israelis are full citizens, and must be allowed to express their reservations about their country even when we don't like to hear it.

But of course, the Arab parties will run in the upcoming elections, because the final say is the court's. The decision of yesterday's panel is certain to be struck down. This certainty is actually what enabled the stupid decision to be made in the first place:
"It's true we said we wouldn't ban, but [Balad leader MK Jamal] Zahalka's statement that he was in touch with Bishara led me to think that we must draw the line somewhere," he said. "I'm making no apologies because I fight more than most in the Knesset for equal rights for Arabs. I know it won't stand up in the Supreme Court, and rightly so, because there is no evidentiary basis for the [committee's] decision."
In other words, yesterday's vote was pure theatre, a win for all sides. The right-wing politicians who initiated the ban showed themselves fierce defenders of Zionist hard-wingery; the Arab MKs got to shout their worst on national TV, hoping this will encourage a larger percent of their own potential constituents to support them. The Left, most vocally Merertz, had the opportunity to distance themselves from the mainstream, which they're having a hard time doing these days because on the main issue, the operation in Gaza, they can't afford to be too critical since even their voters support it. Whoever dislikes the court will soon be given yet another reason to decry how it intervenes. A fine day was had by all.

Except of course that Israel was put yet again on the wrong side of the story. In Gaza, we're doing important things no matter what the Quardianistas say; this minor story in the Knesset was something we could have done without.

Lest you think, however, that stupid politics is something played only by the Right, consider the story of ACRI, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. For various personal reasons, this is an organization I know very well, from close up. A few days after the fighting began, they started churning out declarations about how Israel must do this, refrain from doing that, dare not do the other, and in no case do the fourth. You can fill in the blanks yourself, it doesn't need any imagination. Some of their documents reek of condescension, which is a nice way of saying they're snotty arrogant pricks. No sooner had they heard, for example, that IDF ground forces were arresting Hamas fighters, but ACRI sent out a letter to the Minster of Defense and everyone on their mailing list (I'm the second) explaining the laws of detention and interrogation. Not, mind you, that they know Israel had done anything wrong (which it apparently hasn't, otherwise we'd have since heard about it). No: this was preventive protest: Just in case, so to speak. And I can imagine the relevant IDF officers receiving the letter and exclaiming in excitement "Great! Let's make lots of copies of ACRI's letter and study it carefully! That was real nice of them, to tell us how to do our job correctly".

An earlier letter, however got me all roiled up. It was one of their notes on how it's illegal to hurt non-combatants etc. First of all, it isn't illegal, on the contrary, it's perfectly legal according to international law if one has taken the necessary steps, and this letter went out too soon to know otherwise. But mostly, it was one of those letter that offer no alternative.

So I asked Dan Yakir, the top lawyer in ACRI, what they suggested. Hamas is doing its best to kill Israeli civilians, who also have human rights, and you people are saying the IDF is doing the wrong things to defend them: so what do you advocate? What would be the right thing to do? His answer, predictably, was "That's not our job; we only have to warn about what can't be done".

I doubt ACRI and Israel Beitanu think of themselves as allied in idiocy; as a normal rule they really don't like each other, but there it is.

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