Netanyahu’s assault goat and Israel’s human rights NGOs

Netanyahu freezes the anti-NGO bills – and keeps them as a weapon to be used at any time

The mythical, conflict-erasing goat has a place of honor in the annals of Israeli administration. It is based on an ancient morality tale, fabricated a few decades ago, in which a Jew goes to his rabbi and complains he prefers death to life; his large family, forced into living in a small room, bickers endlessly. What should I do, rabbi? The rabbi thinks. Put a goat in the room, he finally says. The Jew is skeptical, but obeys. A week later, they meet. How is life? Much worse, Rabbi, much worse; The goat is everywhere, eats everything, and befouls the room. Everyone is at their wits’ end. Take out the goat, orders the rabbi. Meeting a few days later, the Jew is ecstatic: Everything is so much better now, your honor! We have so much room!

The goat technique is the favorite of the two most powerful ministries in Israel: The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry if Security. The first uses it in a straightforward way: Come every budget season, it pushes a herd of goats up to the Knesset. We’re going to destroy education, destroy welfare, destroy pretty much everything, come to think of it – and we have a really large goat in the Omnibus Bill, specifically an article referring elderly Israelis to a government-supplied protected housing, on the back of an Inuit iceberg. The public is shocked; MKs wear sackcloth and put ashes on their heads on live TV – and, in the end, the treasury boys lead most of the goats out, leaving behind them only those which are absolutely essential to the demolition of what’s left of the welfare state, and everyone sighs in relief, not paying attention to what actually happened.

The army has its own, slightly different, version. Oh, you wanted us to cut down on the number of unnecessary NCOs? Want us to send officers into retirement at the age of 67 instead of their current cushy 42? We hear you! We have therefore decided to cut down the wing which was supposed to bomb Iran, and that hideously costly missile program we lied would defend you, but actually is intended to be sold to Taiwan. So sorry, but if you cut our budget, we seem to lose all offensive and defensive capabilities. What’s that you say? You’re performing the manouver known as a French retreat? Exccccccellent. Now, to business – we need more money, specifically so that we can employ a few dozen more pointless officers on your account until they expire.

Binyamin Netanyahu will be remembered in the history of Israeli government as an upgraded version of Yizhak Shamir: A lack of activity on the Bourbon scale, combined with poisonous incitement against Israeli liberals. But you must grant him this: He has created a new model of a goat, the assault goat – a hybrid between a goat and a Rottweiler.

Netanyahu’s aides informed us this morning (Hebrew) that he decided not to bring up the ministerial appeal against the anti-NGO bills. As long as the government does not vote on the appeal, whichever way it goes, the Knesset cannot go on with the legislative process (unless the bills’ supporters start a long and costly, and somewhat doomed, process of re-tabling them). Note that Netanyahu did not kill the bills, which he probably could have done had he wanted to; He merely froze them. The assault goat is not out of the room; It is under the table, dozing.

This is a very blunt sign to the NGOs: Criticize me too much, and I shall sic Akunis and Dannon at you again. Write a devastating report on what my government does in the territories – such as the novelty of annexing West Bank territory to a religious kibbutz situated in Israel (Hebrew) – and you may find yourself without a budget and in litigation hell. Nice throat you have there, be a shame should something happen to it.

So go on, be the human rights NGOs we like you to be – the sort that will allow us to pretend to the world Israel is a democracy. Just don’t pull the rope too much, just keep looking around; I may have unleashed the goat.

I know many people in the human rights NGOs scene. With no exception, they are brave, opinionated people whose ideals are more important to them than wealth. If anyone of them is paid, as Im Tirzu defames them, 9,000 Euros a month, I am yet to meet him or her. But people, when all is said and done, are geared towards a struggle which has a definite resolution. A much vaguer situation, when a threat is always near you but you can never know whether you can fight it properly and find out whether you’ve won or lost, is much harder. The state of a prisoner who knows the day of his release, be it 20 years in the future, is much better than that of the administrative detainee, who has to keep guessing whether at the end of his six months, the dark apparatus which imprisoned him may decide to arrest him again. That Netanyahu wants the NGOs to live in this uncertainty in is not accident. Who knows, maybe they’ll get the hint and start censoring themselves. Maybe they’ll start rethinking, and rethinking, their every word. Maybe we should soften this harsh paragraph? Use less incisive, more obfuscating words?

And that would be the most harsh defeat of all – because it won’t be acknowledge or even understood as such.