Four days ago, the prominent Jewish author, columnist and political commentator Peter Beinart was detained and interrogated at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, and he reported in detail about the ordeal in the Forward. Prime Minister Netanyahu went into damage-control mode and called it an “administrative mistake”.
Beinart’s account prompted bestselling author on religion Reza Aslan, who came out with his story of border detention and interrogation by Israel, which occurred two weeks ago. He said Israel is “becoming a full-blown police state”. He reported how he was threatened: “If you don’t cooperate it will be a long time before you see your kids again”.
Already here, there is a significant pattern to be noticed, and although it might be early to predict such trends, I would say that this reminds me a lot of the MeToo movement.
Peter Beinart is one of those privileged Jews who could historically count on their privilege. And he was apparently poised to write his experience down and have it splashed all over the world if they but dared to touch him. He has the public clout, the credibility, to expose Israel in a very bad light, and Israel quickly realized it was messing things up for itself, PR-wise. But Reza Aslan, he was not inclined to do that, he was in a somewhat more vulnerable position, despite his prominence. He noted that the recent visit to Israel was his fourth in the past decade, and that the repeated interrogations have gotten worse. Somehow, he chose to live with it. There is a logic to this. Israel uses intimidation-terror, which causes those more vulnerable people who may want to enter in the future to watch out for what they say and do, because “we are watching you”. As Aslan reported:
In the end, after hours of this, she warned “I may let you into Israel but, who knows, I may not let you out. I will keep you here and kick out your family. It depends on you. You would miss your kids yes?” That my friends is the classic police state trick. Iran has perfected it. Her final warning was not to visit the Palestinian Territories. Not to meet with or speak to any Palestinians or any Israeli trouble makers. “We are watching you.”
People who know they are being watched tend to be careful, and they know that if they are too vocal in their condemnation of Big Brother, it may cost them. They tend to keep a low profile. There’s a risk calculation here.
Beinart’s report was a door-opener for Aslan and he wrote on Twitter, “Peter’s experience has spurred me to share mine. ” Aslan probably felt that this was the time to go for it, because there is momentum here, and it might actually mean something to come out of the ‘interrogation closet’ as it were. Aslan might also be aware that what he wrote may mean that he would be denied entry in the future. Aslan wrote openly that he defied the warning not to visit the Palestinian Territories, and posted a photo of the Ahed Tamimi mural in Bethlehem. In other words, he was openly declaring that he has defied Israeli warnings. He knows Israel monitors these things, and he’s basically declaring he doesn’t care.
The MeToo campaign has succeeded because of the critical mass of women coming out with stories which they felt a need to hide, because they felt that if they came out with them it would cost them and that they would be alone. But when more and more women came out with their stories, it became its own momentum, because other women felt that they were not alone, and they could see that it had the power to take down those who abused the power. There is this element of a critical mass, where people actually start to listen. It’s no longer a lone voice here, a single story there – it becomes a movement.
Such movements are not subject to the linear rules of international law, UN resolutions etc. They have their own power. It’s a grassroots power, very much like the BDS movement. It’s no longer the talk of ‘this is illegal’, but rather ‘this is outrageous’. Public condemnation has its own power. In the BDS context, campaigns will often be based upon a specific violation by a specific company. But with these border interrogations, people may come at it with a whole different perspective: they may simply start saying openly that that they would not visit Israel, and that they would boycott it wholly for its practices. Not that they would necessarily fear interrogation themselves, but that they would simply want nothing to do with that state for what it regularly does to others.
And it’s not like it’s a secret that Israel has been using these methods. Sadly, the Israeli interrogation and intimidation culture has been inflicted upon Palestinians forever, with little public outrage. Israel has managed to inculcate the ‘security’ notion and justify its ‘racial profiling’ under that notion, and many kept quiet. But now that it has increasingly been targeting Jews, and not only from abroad but even Israelis (see author Moriel Rothman-Zecher), the purpose of the interrogations can no longer fall under these alibis. They become exposed as an unabashed political censorship, befitting a police state.
It is already clear, that thick volumes could be written with stories like that of Aslan. It is a regular occurrence for so many who are not Jewish. And now they are increasingly coming after the Jewish dissidents. It’s not a completely new phenomena, but it appears to be increasing and we are hearing more stories about it. What is important is not just that the stories are told, but that people listen. And when Peter Beinart and Reza Aslan tell their stories, people tend to listen. Israel can only answer with pathetic Hasbara, that is so boilerplate, that many people just don’t hear it anymore.
P.S. After finishing this post I saw this tweet from the author Gershom Gorenberg. Seems I’m not the only one to have noticed this:
— Gershom Gorenberg (@GershomG) August 15, 2018