Opinion

Israel’s orientalist rally for ‘democracy’

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On Saturday, the opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called for a demonstration in Tel Aviv, to protest the premier’s attempts to curb the High Court powers so as to secure his immunity from looming indictments in corruption cases.

The event was dominated by the Blue and White centrist party led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, which won an identical amount of seats as Likud (35 out of 120) in last month’s elections, but did not have the same coalition prospects as Likud to form a government. Yair Lapid boasted on Facebook from the event: “100 thousand people in the streets of Tel Aviv. And this is only the beginning”. 

The official invite proclaimed that while the demonstration was organized by Blue and White, the further left parties, Labor and Meretz, were co-organizers.

All this seemed quite “inclusive”, albeit with no Palestinian representation at first (not generally an issue for Zionists). The description in the Facebook invite started with “one demonstration for all (red heart emoticon)”. And yet, already the title and the logo revealed a serious problem, for those who cared to notice. The title was “PROTECTIVE WALL for democracy”.

 “Protective wall for democracy”

The “Protective wall” is unfortunate language. The immediate association for many is to Israel’s illegal Apartheid wall, built mostly on Palestinian territory. But it goes further than that. “Protective Wall” (“Homat Magen” in Hebrew) is the literal Hebrew name for the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, which was the most massive onslaught of Israeli forces upon Palestinian population centers in West Bank since 1967, killing nearly 500 Palestinians. The wanton destruction by Israeli forces was amazing. One story epitomizes this: An Israeli reserve soldier bragged that he used a D-9 bulldozer to make “a stadium in the middle of” Jenin refugee camp, razing homes for 75 hours non-stop. He was interviewed by the Yediot Aharonot daily:

The funny bit is, I didn’t even know how to operate the D-9… But I begged them to give me a chance to learn… They taught me how to drive forwards and make a flat surface… Do you know how I held out for 75 hours? I didn’t get off the bulldozer. I had no problem of fatigue, because I drank whisky all the time. I had a bottle in the bulldozer at all times.

So yesterday’s demonstration echoed that operation. It can’t really surprise you, when thinking back on how Benny Gantz first introduced himself as a liberal opposition contender against Netanyahu: Gantz boasted about taking Gaza back “to the stone age” and assassinating Hamas leaders. His original party name, before joining with Lapid to make Blue and White, was “Resilience to Israel”. This is the Zionist macho, militant bravura that centrists like to portray, since it represents a security against being called “weak leftists”.

But this title is already deeply offensive for Palestinians – to refer to that operation in the context of ‘democracy’.

Wearing fezzes, protesters say, “We are not Turks!”

If one was in doubt whether this was but an incidental association, the orientalist mocking campaign continued in other, very prominent ways ahead of the demonstration itself. The theme of “Turkey” became a central feature. In the official Blue and White announcement, the main Hebrew title says “We will not let Netanyahu pull Israel to a Turkish-type legislation in which the leader is immune to the law” (in the English version, it just says “It’s a fight for our democracy”).

This “Turkish” theme became a huge mockery-gimmick: Hundreds of protesters came dressed with red fezzes which are supposed to represent Turks, and there were placards featuring portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that read: “Erdogan is already here.”

Fezzes at demonstration in Tel Aviv May 25 were to show that Israel is not Turkey, when it comes to an executive’s immunity to prosecution. From Facebook fotos of the demo.

These predominantly white, Jewish Ashkenazi Zionist protesters may have been tone-deaf to the kind of mockery they are making, but the arrogance is reflective of their white-supremacist, Islamophobic ideology. Because the Fez is not only a feature of Turkey.

Some people noticed this and posted on social media– for instance this split image – one side from the demonstration with the fezzes, the other side featuring Arab Jews in 1914:

Iraqi Jews (one wearing a fez and two wearing a sudra) after they had taken off their shoes, in the yard of the grave of Ezekiel the priest – 1914. And across – the mockery by the Zionist supremacists of “White-trash” this evening, in their ethnocracy protest…  The usage of a Turkish fez (a symbol of pride in Eastern Muslim countries) as a means of mockery of someone, is first and foremost a mockery of the Arab culture, as well as of Middle-East culture in its entirety. 

Image of Iraqi Jews from 1914, one wearing a fez.

Mizrahi activist Naama Katii posted a photo of dozens of fez-wearing protesters, and wrote:

Apparently, only in Israel, a just fight for democracy cannot avoid bearing with it a racist odor. Maybe because a colonialist democracy never was, and never could be, a real democracy.

While speaking against “hate”, Benny Gantz alluded to the orientalist Turkish connection in his speech:

We will not be silent, we will not surrender to hate, we will not surrender to incitement – we will not let Israel become the private mansion of a Sultan or a royal family.

Back on social media, Tamir Karkason cited Yair Lapid mockingly:

“We are not Turks, we won’t let you be a tyrant”, Lapid shouted in the demonstration against corruption. Lapid went straight for an example from the Middle-East? Then someone should have told him about the East-European or central-European tradition, which is very-very “democratic” (hint – ask your father, blessed be his name, what tyrants worse than Erdogan did to him and his family…). But apparently, it is really much easier to racialize on the Middle-East and attempt to separate yourself from it, while you ask to live precisely within it.

What is certain, is that if one wants to recruit more of the offspring of the Ottoman and North African Jews towards this struggle – then there are more efficient ways than racial isolation within the region in which we live. To go around in demonstrations wearing fezzes in a country wherein the fez reminds many of the world of their forefathers, in a country wherein many immigrants from East-African countries wear a fez every year in the Mimuna festivities – is to be arrogant and patronizing to a degree in which you are not even aware of being so. And these are the deep currents which repel many citizens of the state from these messages.

In [an accompanying] photo: Ataturk, an enlightened tyrant, one who in general had views resembling Lapid’s (he even outlawed wearing the fez!) and whose application of these views in the Middle-Eastern political context was as violent as can be the application of Lapid’s positions.

(Lapid’s positions vis-à-vis Palestinians can be summarized by his stated “principle”: “maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”).

“My first protest… the Jewish nation is a wonder!”

Benny Gantz told the crowd that this was the first protest he’s been to ever, supposedly because as the former chief of the Israeli army he could not attend politically-oriented events. But this is nonsense. Gantz finished his military service as Chief of Staff in February 2015. Until his election he’s been a civilian – Gantz had three years in which he could attend political-oriented events, and there were plenty, including, for example, the protests against the Nation-State law last year. He said:

I came here, to the first demonstration in my life, to say out loud what we all know: The Jewish nation is a wonder, and the state of Israel is a miracle,

Iyat Abu Shamis and Omri Najad wrote in Haoketz:

Such a foolish sentence from the former army chief of staff who has yet not proven that he is a particularly sharp pencil, is not surprising, nonetheless the choice of marginalizing Arabs and relating only to the majority in the rally which is supposed to strengthen the democratic camp and the ethos of equality before the law, is dissonant. 

Where are the Arabs?

Now, although Blue White dominated the scene (and literally so – the crowd featured many Zionist Israeli blue-white flags, no Palestinian flags, and the stage was also dressed with them), there were other co-organizers here – Labor, and Meretz. But was there to be no Palestinian representation here? Labor has been wary of being seen as “Arab lovers” but Meretz are recently working hard to appeal to “Israeli Arabs”, and no wonder, because their political survival was thanks to Palestinian voters. The Meretz party leadership is now in a conundrum of how to appeal to ‘Israeli-Arab’ voters, while maintaining its central identity as a Jewish Zionist party. Until a day before the demonstration, there was no appointed ‘Israeli-Arab’ speaker, but following reported pressures on Gantz, at last minute, Ayman Odeh, chair of the Hadash party, was booked to speak. Haaretz did report on Thursday that Odeh had originally been invited to speak but that when he accepted the invitation, he was told that the list of speakers was already closed and there was no room for additional speakers.

Odeh told protesters:

I am here today because I believe in Jewish-Arab partnership and believe it is the only way for hope in this country… Arab citizens alone cannot do it, but without us it is also impossible. I am here today because I believe that without equality there is no democracy,

Meretz chair Tamar Zandberg mentioned Palestinians:

This is personal, it’s personal for every man and woman who had to go to court to ask to become parents [referring to surrogacy law]… it’s personal for Palestinians who had their land stolen because the government passed a law saying it’s allowed [referring to ‘Regularization law’, aka ‘theft law’]. It’s personal for women who want to get on a bus and are told to use the back door [referring to gender segregation on certain busses].

But the Palestinian issue was very marginal in these protests, as is very typical for these mainstream Zionist events concerning ‘democracy’ and ‘social justice’. 

Blogger Sapir Sluzker-Amran wrote on the day before the demonstration that she had just “bumped into Benny Gantz at the Cinematheque”.

I explained to him that I anyway didn’t consider going there tomorrow, but I wonder why Arabs will not be speaking tomorrow on the stage and how come it seems logical for him to exclude them. The monotonous scarecrow explained that they were very welcome in the audience.  

And that’s where the Israeli center really wants Palestinians – on the sidelines, always on the sidelines, because we have a very important ‘Jewish-democratic’ agenda to attend to here. And we can also use all kinds of offensive, Islamophobic and white-supremacist cultural mockery to do this with, it’s all kosher.

I saw Ayman Odeh’s speech, he posted the video on his Facebook wall. It was so hard to watch. I try to hold respect for this man, I really do, he tries so hard – but to see him standing there, as the guest who was finally welcomed by this Jewish-Zionist gathering which would mostly be more comfortable without his presence at all – it was difficult. 

Odeh can speak about “equality”, but surely he must know, that equality is anathema to Zionism. Odeh is still in the political margin which is tolerated by Zionists. Those Palestinians who seek true equality in a democratic state, like the United Arab List-Balad, were not invited to participate in the rally. Party leader Mansour Abbas said “the organizers of the ‘democracy’ rally ignored the representatives of the Arab community so I will not participate in the protest.” He added that he would have agreed to participate in the demonstration had he been asked, but the party wasn’t invited to join the rally and will not be taking part in it.

And that’s because this rally was not about democracy. It was about Zionism, and it was about maintaining a semblance of democracy, so as to keep a liberal appearance, while being an Apartheid state.

I would not have gone there.

Let me end with another quote from Abu Shamis and Najad:

We believe it is time to lift the head, not to suffice with crumbs that various chiefs-of-staff throw at us in their charity, not to suffice with little. Either we do things right, or we don’t do them at all. That’s why we chose not to take part in the demonstration; that, without mentioning the fact that it’s Ramadan and that it’s difficult to partake in demonstrations during the breaking of fast or during the Iftar meal and prayer. But as mentioned, the state of Israel is a miracle! And who are we, the Arab from Jaffa and the Arab-Jew from Ramat Gan, to complain.  

H/t Ofer Neiman, Tom Pessah

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Thanks for your very important analysis, Jonathan. A Haaretz Editorial and Chemi Shalev were almost over the moon after the event. I am NOT over the moon to put it mildly. The Editorial: “The Democratic Front to Save Israel …” https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/the-democratic-front-to-save-israel-1.7286728 ~~~~~~~~~~ Shalev: “In the Face of Netanyahu’s Threat to… Read more »

and Jonathan –
agree wholeheartedly that this phony democracy continues to be seen as genuine. I would say the same about the u.s. too.

“Liberal Zionists” will beat their breasts over how unhelpful and maybe even embarrassing are hard-core Zionist policies but, at the end of the day, even the most liberal of “liberal Zionists” desires and fully supports Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of (geographic) Palestine.

Thanks again, and of course you nailed it yet again. This is truly from another planet, or just business and benjamins as usual in Israel. “Israel’s SodaStream Hosts Thousands for Ramadan Feast Bedouins and Jewish Israelis and some Palestinians attended the feast on Monday along with U.S. Ambassador to Israel… Read more »

Wow!!
It never ceases to amaze me what an incredibly messed up place “Israel” is. No wonder ever increasing numbers of Jews are abandoning the sinking ship and moving abroad.