Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How the Israeli Left Cheats the Arabs

A professor friend of mine recently told me a fascinating anecdote. He was recruited to a group of American, Arab and Israeli professors who convene once a year and talk about various aspect of how bad Israel is. (There may be other subjects on the agenda too, but he showed me enough of the material to demonstrate this is no Zionist meeting). Once there it so happened he found himself in an intense and prolonged intellectual exchange with the most prominent of the Arabs, a man who has and may again hold cabinet-level positions in his country.

Afterwords the Arab complained to the head of the Israeli delegation: How is it that I've been meeting you people for 15 years, and until now no-one has ever been able to explain to me why it's so important to the Jews to have their own country?

The answer of course is that my friend is the first centrist Israeli he has ever met. The Israelis who have been participating in the meetings all those years are all bleeding heart Lefties, whose purpose is to agree that Israel does mostly bad things, in the hope they, the Lefties, will be accepted as different. Along the way, they confirm for their Arab interlocutors that the Israelis are beyond the pale and must be confronted.

I often blog about the more obvious of those Israelis. So here's one you've never heard of - indeed, most Israelis have never heard of her, either. Her name is Neri Livneh, her qualifications are that she writes a regular column about fluffy things, about which she is quite opinionated. If you argue that those aren't qualifications, they're a job description, and that qualifications are the reasons she's got the job, not the other way around, all I'll be able to do is shrug my shoulders. Sorry. The thing is, her column is in Haaretz, who translates it into English and puts it online, a service they'd never offer to my friend with the real qualifications but the "wrong" ideas.

Over the weekend Ms. Livneh pontificated on the murder of the Fogel family at Itamar (they got about one sentence of her column). Feel free to read the whole thing and argue with me if you disagree: what I think she's saying is that Israelis are much worse than Palestinians, much bloodier, more wantonly violent, far less moral. She seems to think that cutting down olive trees (undoubtedly a despicable act) is far worse than cutting down children if they're settler children, and that anything the Palestinians do that appears immoral is only a response to Israel's far greater crimes. She adds the interesting slant that the Israeli legal system is complicit in this dynamic, in that it knows "Palestinians have no souls", and by way of proof she tells of a recent case where some Jewish teenagers were indicted for manslaughter, even though she - Neri Livneh - knows that they slaughtered an innocent young Arab in cold blood and with no provocation. If the court says otherwise, that's proof the court is evil, as Israelis always are when facing Palestinians.


Anonymous said...

Does she know the High Court stopped demolition of houses as punishment for terrorism in - I think - 2005?

I wonder how many Palestinians she actually hangs out with? Say what you will about Amira Haas, at least she spent significant "quality time" with Palestinians.


NormanF said...

Few Israeli leftists know of the savage and pagan nature of the Arabs.

The Arabs they meet are not at all representative of the typical Arab.

The Western educated, English-speaking Arab with a veneer of civilization is an anomaly.

All the rest are far more extreme and they hate the Jews and Israel with a passion.

Leftists are in denial about this and think peace can be reached with Arab elites who represent no one but themselves. They are fools.

Silke said...

IDF paramedic who arrived at Itamar shortly after brutal attack provides first hand account

Seva Brodsky said...

Dear Yaacov,

While I agree with most of what you have written in this piece, and while I think that Neri Livneh is one sicko left-wing extremist, I have to take an issue with the following part of your piece:

"... what I think she's saying is that Israelis are much worse than Palestinians, much bloodier, more wantonly violent, far less moral. She seems to think that cutting down olive trees (undoubtedly a despicable act) is far worse than cutting down children if they're settler children, and that anything the Palestinians do that appears immoral is only a response to Israel's far greater crimes."

Having read and re-read both her Haaretz rant and your analysis thereof, I think she is drawing moral equivalence b/w the heinous murder of the Fogel family in Itamar by Palestinian Arabs and what Israelis do in the disputed territories (some of which is not always pretty). To equate the two is like equating, for example, the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis with the acts of vengeance against them by Aba Kovner and his group after the end of the war.

We need not exaggerate in order to make a point. Her piece speaks for itself, and her choice of words illustrates her extremist position rather vividly. Being of the right-wing persuasion myself, I am all for law and order, for punishing crimes no matter who commits them, and for applying the law equally to all.

The Israeli gov't is just as responsible for what is going on in the territories as are the Arabs. The indecision by the authorities hurts everybody involved just as much as bad decisions, because it emboldens extremists on all sides - the Islamist, extremist and terrorist elements on the Arab side, as well as the leftist nuts and right-wing extremists on our side.

And it's not that Israel doesn't have enough laws - it merely fails to enforce them. Having lived here for 4 years now, I can see the dramatic difference b/w how laws are enforced and thus respected in the U.S. as opposed to here. And thus, until and unless the laws are enforced forcefully, no matter who breaks them, we're in for more of the same.

Ergo, the lawlessness of so much of the "settler youth" and the impunity of so many of the Arabs who commit crimes against the settlers, who, not getting their grievances taken care of by the gov't, see no other choice than taking the law into their own hands, which does not bode well for anyone.

Seva Brodsky

Seva Brodsky said...

Also, see the following sad statistics about the "price tag" issue (taken from a hideously leftist blog at - I wish I could locate another English source, but I couldn't find another translation easily - I'd appreciate a link to another translation of the survey):

A new Ynet-Gesher survey [,7340,L-4045372,00.html ] of 504 Jewish Israeli adults revealed that 46 percent of Israelis support settler “price tag” terror. Only 33 percent of those polled believed that price tag attacks were “never justified.” A sectoral breakdown shows that a wide majority of religious nationalist and ultra-Orthodox respondents support the attacks: 56 percent of “traditional” types, 70 percent of those identifying as Orthodox, and 71 percent of the religious nationalists declared price tag violence to be justified. The most remarkable finding, in my opinion, is that 36 percent of secular respondents support settler terror. Even though 56 percent are against the practice, this is a remarkably high number for a population segment that lives primarily inside the Green Line. (The poll results and Ynetarticle detailing its contents are only in Hebrew at the moment).

68 percent of all of those polled stated their belief that rabbis had the power to stop price tag attacks (for fairly obvious reasons, this opinion is shared by only a minority of religious nationalist settlers). In Safed, a mixed city in Northern Israel that is home to Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, local Orthodox youth have staged a string of vigilante attacks on Palestinian-Israeli residents. The attacks include thestabbing of a Palestinian Christian man, the torching of Palestinian cars after a Jewish-Arab dialogue meeting, and a wave of racist vandalism. The violence follows Eliyahu’s declaration that the “seducing” of Jewish girls by Arab men was “a form of war” and his drafting of a letter forbidding renting property to Arabs. (55% of Jewish Israelis support the content of Eliyahu’s letter).

Eliyahu recently admitted that the Shin Bet beseeched him to speak out against price tag terror after the Itamar murders. “I told [the Shin Bet agent], if you expect me to stop someone engaging in ‘price tags,’ you’re mistaken,” Eliyahu said. “I don’t work for you. But I want to tell you that unless the government takes action, the public will feel a need to take action. And if you don’t act, even if I stand with my arms wide open, I won’t be able to stop those who would act.”


I wish that all the Israeli Jews - left, right and center; secular, religious and traditional - would try to uphold the law. This includes the police, the army, the Yassam, the Shin Bet, et al. Problem is, we're living in the Middle East. And while we may be incomparably better at it than our Arab neighbors, we're still far from the standards upheld in, say, the US, or the rest of the "civilized" world. Which does not mean that we should become "soft" - whoever breaks the law, Arab or Jew, the punishment should be the same. This is what democracy means, among many other things.

Seva Brodsky said...

I wonder why my 2nd comment that contained some statistics from a recent YNet poll got pulled down.

Yaacov, please respond.

Thank you,

Yaacov said...

Seva -

Blogger does that sometimes. The procedure here on this blog is that whenever a comment gets spammed - this seems to happen mostly to long ones - you add a short one, as you just did. I see them all in my relevant mail account, but don't check regularly to see what got blocked and what not. Whenever I know something has been blocked, I go and un-block it.

Yaacov said...

Seva - were that it was so simple, the matter of living by the law. Here's an example. When Israel took over East Jerusalem in 1967, most of the Arab side of town didn't have a good set of land registration, so it wasn't (and still isn't) clear who owns what. The Israelis could have forced through a registration process, but there were more urgent things at first, and eventually doing so would have raised the ire of the "International community", since it would have been a clear act of sovereignty. So it never got done. In the meantime, the locals multiplied and built homes with no zoning laws. The water company, by law, can't lay water and sewage pipes to illegal structures, so by 2005 about 2/3 of the Arabs of Est Jerusalem were systematically stealing water, and had no sewage system. When the water company got a new boss - a West Bank settler - and he teamed up with the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (leftists), the justice department (lawyers) blocked their attempts to legislate around the law. Finally, the water company broke the law by inventing a procedure in which pipes are put in, and the locals are fined for using water. The outcome looks almost exactly like the legal system, but lies totally outside it. Everybody is happy with the results, since the locals now get water and sewage, the law still stands, the water company can bill them and offer maintenance services - and the entire charade is illegal.

Silke said...

as to that

And while we may be incomparably better at it than our Arab neighbors, we're still far from the standards upheld in, say, the US, or the rest of the "civilized" world.

I am proud to say that when it comes to that complaint I have as of now been able to offer in every single instance comparably weird stuff from my country Germany which on the other hand I read quite often described as the poster child of perfect. i.e. if I consider myself as being in a competition, until now nobody has been able to outclass me.

And when it comes to the US, take a look at the German media, according to them the US is so full of weird (and I know at least one field where that is perfectly true) and dubious that it can be surpassed by nobody (attention satire intended).

Once I was in the midst of a Dutch and a German system having gotten badly synchronized and wreaking havoc as a consequence. And we share a long border, speak almost intelligent to eachother languages and cherish practically identical principles.

Noah Feldman in one talk said that institution building is easily the most difficult and tricky thing one can embark on, but since all the bureaucracy bashers of this world tell us, neither Noah Feldman nor I know what we are talking about. They could take care of everything buy just using the intelligence of their little finger. In the real world, however, the image of the butterfly wing showing up as a tornado at the other end of the world describes it very aptly.

Israel has not only to synchronize with a system containing not least inherited byzantine elements she also has to run a nation which when it comes to diversity per square meter is probably not outclassed by any to be administered entity on the world. As a wild guess: what New York has to do for some burroughs, Israelis have to do for a whole country.

I love the water/sewage example and I'd have loved to work in an office where one had to juggle such components and keep them operating. What a lovely lovely brain tickler that must be on a day to day basis.

Silke said...

"byzantine" in the above should be read with a capital B because it is said that the Turks/Ottomans took over lots of the administration/habits/procedures/customs of the Byzantines and not only once the Turks had shown up. Whichever power neighboured the Byzantines to the east once the Arabs had become players did so.

i.e. to compare any system grown over millenia with a system that could be built more or less from scratch some centuries ago is unfair.

Very very recently Germany has paid the last of its war debts from WW1 and I think churches are still getting paid compensation for something Napoleon did to them. For me the disregard of Americans for old entanglements is both at the same time: their greatest charm and they at their most exasperating.

Seva Brodsky said...

Responding to Yaacov's comment (March 27, 2011 11:07 AM), the fact that Israel does not enforce the law against illegal Arab construction nearly as much as it does against illegal Jewish construction is a rather poor poor excuse in justifying the attempt to find roundabout ways to solve the water/sewer problem. Which violation is worse - stealing land from the state or stealing water from the water authority? Water is a (mostly) renewable resource - land is not.

A proper democratic solution would have been either to (a) deal with illegal construction by demolishing it and possibly offering the residents to move elsewhere, where land would be granted to them, or, better yet, sold at a reasonable/market price; or (b) legalizing the existing illegal structures. Both suggestions are wrought with problems and dire consequences, but I tend to think that (b) is much worse in that it would set a precedent and an example to follow - in other words, it would only promote further disregard of the law.

The law is the law. End of story. Don't like the law? Talk to your local legislators. And if need be, threaten them that you won't vote for them the next time around if they don't take care of their constituents.

Not surprisingly, our Western notions of land ownership, legality (zoning) of construction, etc., may all be very foreign notions to the Arabs. If we stick to the law, and everybody knows that violations thereof would quickly and directly lead to undesirable consequences (including various punitive actions, fiscal and otherwise), then people will think twice before breaking them. This is why there are law enforcement agencies in the first place.

However, things do not work in Israel this way, as I've had ample opportunity to find out since making aliyah. As my Israeli-born soon-to-be brother-in-law says, "People here break the law very often. They get caught very rarely, prosecuted even less frequently, and punished once in a blue moon." Unless this situation changes, we're in for yet more trouble. This appalling internal Levantine sloth may be more dangerous to Israel than all our external enemies put together.

Seva Brodsky said...

OK, Silke, I agree that it is often much easier (and sometime even cheaper) razing a crummy old building and erecting a nice new structure. However, as far as the laws go, it's a rather different story. Laws are abstractions that are put into practice. Whether people like it or not, they have to adapt and change with the times. This is called progress.

The fact that Germany has some weird laws and outdated bureaucracy is old news. This, in and of itself, is hardly an excuse for their continued existence. This is what the democratic institutions are for, anyway - they are supposed to take care of such matters. The US has its own share of idiotic old laws and senseless regulations. And guess what? If they ever make their way to the Supreme Ct., or even the appellate level courts, they fly out the window most of the time. Since the US (and Israel) use the British case law system (of precedents), sometimes it takes a little time for the common sense (as we now understand it) to prevail.

Here is a case in point. I used to go to a Russian Jewish barber back in Boston. The main reason I liked going to him was because of all the stories he used to tell me. One of them fascinated me and made me respect him a great deal:

When he bought his barbershop in Mefdord, MA, he put out the standard rotating red-white-and-blue Plexiglas cylinder, which in the US indicates a barbershop. Sometime later a city inspector showed up, citing some weird ancient law, whereby Medford did not allow such signs to be displayed. The barber just shrugged. The annoyed inspector told him that if he didn't take the sign down, the barber would get fined. The latter just shrugged. The inspector filled out a fine citation and handed it to the barber, who immediately tore it to pieces in front of the inspector's face. The inspector said he'd be back each week with more fines. The barber just shrugged him off. And so it went each week. Until, that is, the barber got a summons from the court. He went and guess what? The law was changed to reflect modernity and that letter-of-the-law inspector got fired.

This is how things work in the United States - not always, not everywhere, but often enough and in most places. Old entanglements, you say? It's up to us - the polity and our elected representatives - to disentangle them, lest we lose the right to complain. THIS is what civility means - comparing ourselves to something Byzantine is not the way to go. For that matter, I could start comparing how things were in the evil old USSR, where I grew up. Who cares? Let's look up and see what's good out there and then try to emulate/replicate/implement it instead of looking down. And if we find no existing solutions to fit the need, then let's invent creative new ones. Israelis, of all people, should know how - they made the desert bloom, no? Drip irrigation, anyone?

Silke said...


it was only last year or so that I realized what a big big difference it makes if a system is old or if it relatively young like the US is.

Let me compare it to those mushrooms I read about which cover square miles and square miles underground.

To compare it to making the desert bloom, that is the engineer's view of the world and it is for the benefit of us all that it is there.

But whenever you fiddle with rights it is more like dealing with the mushroom and utmost care is the call of the day or you'll find yourself with a much bigger grow at a lot less desirable space.

Your example of the barber is a nice one (German authorities would have made him pay the first one with interest i.e. it would have gone to court right away) but I will be convinced the day the US starts fiddling with its patent law's idea of when an invention was made, which is different from all the rest of the world and a gift from heaven for lawyers. Applying common sense to it it is just plain ridiculous but how to change it and preserve rights at the same time and keep up what it imposes on foreign patent holders to boot and and and will be quite a task and there we are only talking about relatively short lived owner rights ...

if and how Israelis manage the different law systems which dominated Jerusalem and were shifted 61 times because each conqueror brings his own set of laws which at least alter the existing ones would make most wonderful reads if somebody could manage to put it into thriller-like simple language.

Seva Brodsky said...


If the system is old, sometimes it's easier to replace it with something new, rather than trying to patch it up, which only leads to more obfuscation, lack of clarity, and ever increasing difficulty of using the system. At some point we've got to say "Enough! The present system has outlived its usefulness and the time has finally arrived for it to go away."

Having said that, the new improved system better be good - at least no worse than the previous one. Which means that professionals have to make sure they exercise due diligence and basic common sense, as well as thoroughly study the wealth of experience from other countries and systems, possibly even asking their colleagues from those countries for assistance in designing this new system.

Incidentally, this is what Chile did when they privatized their social security system, which apparently is one of the best in the world now.

The mere fact that things have been done in a wrong or less-than-optimal way is no justification for status quo and continued disregard of current needs within the new/present context.