Do you know if you are reading information or propaganda?
“Friends of Givat Haviva,” like most organizations today, sends out email newsletters to subscribers. Subscribers can be those who are already in agreement with the organization’s ideology, who are open to being persuaded to agree with their ideology, or those who like to keep up with what organizations with whom they disagree are saying and promoting.
The most recent newsletter by Friends of Givat Haviva provides the perfect opportunity to show the importance of reading critically. In other words, wondering if readers are being informed by the newsletter or simply propagandized.
Givat Haviva calls itself The Center for a Shared Society. It promotes positive relations between Jews and Arabs using educational and cultural programming. Friends of Givat Haviva is a USA-based organization that supports them.
Their Executive Director, Michal Sella, wrote an introduction to the recent newsletter and it is to this I turn our attention. There are five points in her 621-word essay I find important to raise.
- Police Violence
She begins by talking about the demonstrations against the passing of the reasonableness clause amendment to Basic Law: Judiciary, writing:
“The demonstrations, human roadblocks, and police violence have reached unprecedented levels.”
I think all Israelis will agree that the extent of the demonstrations and roadblocks have not been seen in Israel before this. However, it is not clear upon what grounds she writes that police violence reached “unprecedented levels.” To check if that is true, I searched the academic literature and news reporting on police responses to other demonstrations and protests in the country.
One example should suffice. Following the withdrawal of all Jews from Gaza in 2005, three legal experts wrote an article entitled, “Israeli Government Violation of Disengagement Opponents’ Civil Rights.” Here is a quote from their executive summary:
“Since the passage of the Law on Evacuation and Compensation (“The Disengagement Law”) by the Knesset in February 2005, the civil rights of opponents of disengagement have been subject to extensive violations. These include the suppression of legal dissent, widespread police brutality, false arrest and the harsh use of punitive detention to deter and intimidate. These measures were taken against people who enjoy the presumption of innocence and starkly violate the Israeli justice system’s own longstanding norms.”
The article provides substantiated details of the civil rights violations committed at that time against those demonstrators and those dwarf what we are seeing now in 2023. Subscribers to the newsletter should expect that when Friends of Givat Haviva claim that the current demonstrations have drawn “unprecedented levels” of police violence that a simple five-minute search on Google will show that this is simply not true.
- Discriminatory Norms against Arab Israelis
“This is a crucial moment for us to pause and recognize that the treatment the protesters are facing is unfortunately what the Arab community in Israel has endured for years. The attitudes of police and authorities, the unlawful dispersal methods, and outright violence have long been a norm for Arab Israelis”
She gives no examples of how the Arab community in Israel has, for years, endured unlawful dispersal methods (dispersal of what?) and outright violence on the part of police and the authorities. It is well known that there is discrimination against Arabs on the part of individuals, but there is no officially sanctioned discriminatory treatment as the comment suggests, and there are laws against that. Furthermore, it is not clear what norm she is referring to.
If I am wrong, I would like to be shown examples of such because then I would add my voice against that phenomenon, despicable if true.
- Undermining Arab Political Power
“From our perspective, one of the main goals of this administration is to undermine the political power of the Arab public in Israel and the Jewish-Arab communities advocating for an equal, shared society. Immediately after the cancellation of the reasonability clause, political leaders resubmitted a bill that would make the elections committee decisions final and unappealable to the courts. This means that the elections committee, which has historically disqualified Arab parties and candidates in almost every election, will have the final say, without any possibility of court intervention. Until now, the decisions that interfere with the right of the Arab public to representation have primarily been overruled by the court.”
This comment makes it seem as if the Knesset elections committee is racist.
It is not surprising that Friends of Givat Haviva, whose main purpose is promoting peaceful co-existence between Jews and Arabs in Israel, would focus on the impact of judicial reform on the Arab sector. However, to claim that one of the main goals of this legislation is to undermine Arab political power seems a reach. The example they use is that the Knesset election committee would be able to disqualify Arab parties and candidates from running for the Knesset without fear that the court would overrule that decision and let them run, as has happened until now.
Perhaps Sella would find it reasonable to solve the problem by rescinding the law that says that a party or a candidate can be disqualified from elections if they deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incite to racism, or support armed struggle against the State of Israel by a hostile state or a terrorist organization. But I doubt she would want that because then there would be no recourse should another party like Kach, Kahana Chai, and candidates such as Gopstein, Ben Ari, and Marzel — all disqualified as racist after the law was passed in 1985 — were to submit their candidacies. Interestingly, Sella seems to have no problem with the law being used against Jews.
Furthermore, the Arab public is not denied the right to representation as Sella claims. The problem is that those who put themselves forward as their representatives deny the existence of Israel as a Jewish state and support terrorism against Israel. For example, in a lecture at a Palestinian Authority university in 2011, Ahmad Tibi went on about the glories of martyrdom against Israel while he was serving as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, and in February last year, he eulogized three terrorists who were responsible for a number of shooting attacks against Israelis and apparently on their way to commit another.
I suppose Sella finds it reasonable that he and others like him are MKs. We could debate this issue, but I wonder if, with terrorist supporters ineligible for the Knesset, there may not be a space open up for other kinds of Arab representation in the Knesset. Does Sella really think that Tibi and his ilk are the best the Arab sector has to represent their needs and interests?
- Arabs will be the First Victims
Sella makes the claim that:
“…as we had anticipated, the Arab public, although not actively participating in the protests against changes in the judiciary process for various reasons, is about to become the first and most significant victim.”
She gives no indication of what she is referring to here: how are they about to become the first and most significant victims? What does this mean? Even those who consider themselves avid supporters of Friends of Givat Haviva should want to know in what way, exactly, Arabs will be victims of this legislation.
I think they would also want to know about the “various reasons” Arabs are not joining the protests. Tell subscribers the reasons and let them decide what they think about that. Tell subscribers how Arabs will become victims of the legislation and let them decide what they think about that too. Instead, the reader is left guessing.
Perhaps Sella is referring to this:
“…addressing the government’s perceived helplessness in handling crime and civil unrest in Arab society.”
Crime in the Arab sector has been rampant for decades. Has any government done anything to satisfactorily address this? Given that none have, on what basis is Sella suggesting that judicial reform is going to have a negative impact on combating violence in Arab towns, protectionism, and more?
- Bearing the Burden
Then Sella wrote something that struck me as strange:
“In a well-functioning democracy, the same public which awakened and took a political stand would not ignore a fifth of the population that lives under unchecked civil terror. The calls for equality in Israel cannot only call for equality in bearing the burden of military service, but above all, for equality under the law and the protection of basic civil rights.”
Firstly, “unchecked civil terror?” Examples, please. This is a huge statement that should not be just tossed out into the air as if it is an incontrovertible fact.
Secondly, the calls for equality in bearing the burden of military service (and/or national service) have been directed only toward the Haredi sector and nothing has been said by anti-reform protesters about demanding the same sharing of the burden by Arab citizens. If this is what Friends of Givat Haviva are calling for, I think many citizens across the political map will be in total agreement.
Thirdly, can Sella give examples where Arabs do not have equality under the law and where their basic civil rights are not protected? While there is discrimination against Arabs on the part of some individuals (perhaps many), and I abhor that, I have not seen any examples of systemic denial of equality and civil rights on the part of the government or official body. If Sella can show where this happens, I will add my voice in protest against that.
Sella concludes her letter with this statement:
“If it is true that every crisis is an opportunity, then we are at the threshold of one of the greatest opportunities of all time for Israeli society. This opportunity is worthy of our fighting for it – together.”
I endorse this statement and hope that we find a way to improve interactions in the political and societal spheres in our wonderful country which is now enduring growing pains as we move toward the next stage of national development.
I emailed the organization about a week ago, posing the questions I raised above, and have yet to receive a response from them.
It you want to read the entire essay yourself and make sure I am not taking anything out of context, click on the Facebook post: