Monday, April 23, 2007

Red Rag

Red Rag - Dr Azmi Bishara

By Gideon Spiro

Friday, April 20, 2007

For the past couple of weeks the Israeli media have been full of stories about MK Dr Azmi Bishara. Everybody knows that the Shabak [Israel's internal security service] is stitching a case against Bishara, but there's a gag order on details of the investigation. The daily Haaretz and Bishara's party Balad have petitioned the Court to lift the gag order, but Judge Lia Lev-On - whom we remember well as a docile servant of the Shabak in the case of Tali Fahima - stayed true to herself and left the gag order in place. As a gesture to freedom of the press, she permitted the publication of what the whole country knew anyway - that an investigation was being conducted against MK Bishara... Thank you, your honor!

The gag order, however, doesn't prevent the Shabak from orchestrating a vicious campaign against Bishara, and there is no shortage of Shabak collaborators in the media. For example, Maariv's Dror Yemini, who relishes being the Shabak's rottweiler, inciting against Bishara like a racist hoodlum, and all in the name of looking after the interests of the Arabs. Reminds me of the antisemites who advised the Jews how to behave, so that they wouldn't be persecuted.

We've been around long enough to know what is meant by the coded message, "the Shabak is investigating" MK Bishara. The Shabak was permitted - probably by a Supreme Court judge - to listen to Bishara's telephones. The tap has been going on for over a year, and the intention couldn't be plainer - the Shabak sees Bishara as spearheading Israel's Arab citizens' awareness of their democratic and civil rights, their wish to exercise their rights on the personal and the national levels. The head of the Shabak stated publicly that his organisation would "take care" of the Arabs who challenge the concept of "a Jewish democratic state" - even if they don't break the law! - Meaning, that the Shabak is a political police, of the sort operated by totalitarian states.

Nothing is easier than making up charges of "endangering the security of the State", as we saw in the case of Tali Fahima. Azmi speaks on the phone with the whole Arab world - openly, politically. The Shabak can accuse him of "contact with a foreign agent" at any time. "On such-and-such date you talked with that Lebanese national, who is a Hizballah agent"... Now wait a minute - how is Bishara or anyone else to know this? Does he, or anyone else, have a way of checking it? Is it up to Bishara to interrogate every non-Israeli citizen to see if he or she is "a foreign agent"?

Such is the Israeli law, that a foreign agent is someone whom the Shabak decides to call a foreign agent, and it's up to you to prove otherwise. This way they can charge Bishara with whatever they like, and there's no shortage of dirty tricks. For instance (an actual case) - they patch a sentence from a telephone conversation made this morning with another sentence spoken last week, re-tape them, and there you have it - "aiding and abetting the enemy in wartime". Which is a capital offence.

The aim of the Shabak is obvious - to intimidate the Arab citizens and deter them from trying to exercise their civil and national rights. But even if the Shabak succeeds in harming Balad or Azmi Bishara, there is no going back to the days in the 1950s and half the 1960s, when the Arab population of Israel lived under martial law. The horses are out of the stable, and they're galloping towards a democratic society. A recent petition to the High Court of Justice by the Human Rights organisation Adala demonstrated it by calling for an investigation of the war crimes committed in Gaza in 2004, when hundreds of Palestinians were killed, including 44 children, and hundreds injured, hundreds of houses destroyed and thousands left homeless. Well done, Adala!

I don't agree with every word Azmi Bishara says, but overall we are allies in the struggle to lead Israel from being a Jewish state to being a democratic one. The Shabak investigation against Bishara is another proof that there is a fundamental contradiction between a Jewish state and a democratic one.

Even when you disagree with Bishara, it's a pleasure to dispute with him. He's a polymath, a thinker, a man of wide horizons and wide reading, and a good writer. In the Knesset he is a Gulliver amongst most members of Israel's parliament, who are narrow-minded Liliputians.

I don't know if Azmi Bishara will return to Israel or will find himself a niche elsewhere. If I were in his situation and with his health problems (a transplanted kidney), knowing that the Shabak is eager to put me in prison for the rest of my life, I'd certainly consider staying away. On the other hand, he is a political leader with a responsibility to his party and voters, so it's a difficult decision.

No Business Like Shoah Business

Every year the Shoah entrepreneurs come up with a new gimmick to mass-market it. This year they invented the "Witnesses in Uniform" - Israeli soldiers in uniform to visit Auschwitz. Great! Just the other day these same soldiers shelled civilian areas in Lebanon with thousands of cluster-bombs (a war crime), and only yesterday killed Palestinian children, road-blocked pregnant Palestinian women on their way to hospital, night-raided homes and wrecked them, forced at gunpoint two million Palestinians to live in walled ghettos assigned them by the occupation forces, held thousands of guerrilla fighters (including boys armed with catapults) in open-ended administrative detentions... Perhaps it was one of these "uniformed witnesses" who set a dog trained to kill Arabs in the Occupied Territories to attack a Palestinian woman (the photograph shocked some Holocaust survivors). What did these soldiers look for in Auschwitz? What lessons did they learn there? Studies made at Israeli universities have shown that the Auschwitz expeditions organised by the State of Israel intensify the racist outlook of the participants, strengthen their motivation to join the forces of the occupation, and provide them with a rationalization of their military crimes. In the present Israeli juncture, Auschwitz helps keep Israel vicious and racist.

Instead of sending uniformed soldiers to Auschwitz, and instead of holding numerous official ceremonies overflowing with self-righteousness and hypocrisy, it would be more appropriate to take better care of the thousands of remaining Holocaust survivors who live in squalid poverty, to increase their pensions, give them free medications - as is done in Germany - and allow them to end their lives in dignity. Yosef Lapid, the man who heads [the Holocaust memorial institution] "Yad Vashem", was Minister of Justice in Sharon's government, and could have pushed a law to protect the rights of the survivors, but he had little interest in those poor wretches, whose lives lie outside the sphere of the plutocratic elite which hands out grants and donations.

It's not as if money is unavaiable! - Just the other day the Government decided to add another billion shekels to the evacuated Gaza settlers, who had already received billions in over-generous compensation. But money can't be found for the Holocaust survivors, and the bureaucracy humiliates and abuses them. A survivor of Nazi persecution can't get money for dentures, because he can't prove to the satisfaction of the Treasury officials that he lost his teeth because of the Holocaust. The Israeli government makes these old and ailing survivors fill numerous questionnaires and produce various medical certificates to show that their illnesses and disabilities originate in the Holocaust. And these people in their seventies, eighties and nineties are crushed by the abusive pettiness and retreat into their misery. The admirers of the Nazis would no doubt grin with satisfaction at the bureaucratic nastiness of the Israeli government and its officials.

As the representative of the Jews who perished and the survivors, the State of Israel received vast sums in reparations from Germany, but instead of applying the funds generously to those who deserve them, the State spends them on settlements and on handouts to millionaires. Shoah business is rife with corruption. Billions have flowed and are still flowing through what is known as the Claims Conference - Jewish organisations (together with the Israeli Government and the Jewish Agency) who appointed themselves the heirs of the dead, and instead of providing the money primarily to the survivors, spend it on fat salaries, lawyers, grand offices, first-class travel... - anything but the needy survivors.

"Yad Vashem" is shockingly indifferent. Recently the grandson of a "Righteous Gentile" was thrown out of his apartment, because he failed to meet his mortgage payments. "Yad Vashem" said it was not their responsibility. Some cases are horrifying - one 85-year old survivor, living in a squalid one-room flat, subsisting on a 1,300 shekels monthly allowance, told the interviewer she was used to going hungry.

While case after case of corruption in the highest echelons of government and the dominant elite surface in the media, the Holocaust has become a highly profitable enterprise. Now we hear that an attorney named Gideon Fischer is about to present a class action in Germany for funds to pay for psychological assistance to the "second generation" of the Holocaust, the children of the survivors.

Prime Minister Olmert said at this year's ceremony at "Yad Vashem" that only a small minority in the world have comprehended and internalized the Holocaust. He's right, but he is not one of that minority. He is one of the great majority who have learned nothing. Instead of heading a global campaign against racism and fascism, Israel has become a hothouse for these evils. The State uses its awesome military might to protect fascistic racists in the occupied territories, and Israel's parliament passes laws reminiscent of the racist Nuremberg Laws passed by the Nazi regime - for example, the recent law barring Palestinians who are Israeli citizens from living with their Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories.

As a child, I witnessed the so-called Kristalnacht in Berlin in November 1938, and it fills me with shame to see what the State of Israel has become. So long as Israel continues being racist, continues to occupy neighbouring lands, violate human rights, commit war crimes and mistreat Holocaust survivors, I cannot stand up when the siren sounds on Holocaust Memorial Day.

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