Opposition activists must choose: Either human rights or Assad

By supporting the Assad regime, elements of Balad and the Communist Party of Israel show they are not allies in the fight for human rights

Last Thursday, a special UN commission on Syria found that the Assad regime is committing crimes against humanity, and that senior regime officials are participants in these crimes. The commission was significantly limited in its ability to report on events, as the regime denied it entry into Syria, and it had to rely on the testimonies of refugees. Even so, it is important to take its conclusions seriously: in several previous cases, the first testimonies about crimes against humanity came from refugees.

The refugees supply us with only a partial view, yet they indicate a terrible desolation, thousands of casualties, the systematic use of rape as a tool of terror, and prevalent torture. The number of civilians massacred by the regime in the last year is estimated in the many thousands – many more, for instance, than the number killed by the IDF during the Second Intifada. Naturally, the precise number is not known, but an opposition site that is considered reputable cites 8,791 dead; another site, which also furnishes a map of the atrocities, estimates the number of dead at 9,236. These numbers are updated to the time of writing of this post, and both of them reflect only the known dead – people identified by others. It’s very probable that there are hundreds more, unrecognized. (I want to thank Elizabeth Tsurkov for helping me find this information.)

None of this deterred hundreds of supporters of the Assad regime from gathering on Saturday night in Haifa, in order to express their support once more. Among them were several Balad activists, including MK Said Naffa. Also present was the secretary general of the Communist Party of Israel (the CPI, and the main faction of the Hadash party), Muhammad Naffa, whom we remember from his support of the Doctor’s Plot fiction. Many of the protesters wore shirts with a picture of Assad on them, others carried placards with the picture of the slaughterer from Damascus – who, admittedly, does not rise to the level of his father – and denied that anything untoward is happening north of the border. They spoke of an imperialist conspiracy, some denying that Assad is capable of killing his citizens (Hebrew). As if, thirty years before Homs, we weren’t witness to the massacre of Hama.

I assume that to readers of this blog, my position on the crimes carried out by the IDF gunmen in the occupied territories is not precisely a state secret. Even so, the crimes of the IDF pale in comparison with those of the Syrian regime. The position of Balad about the IDF’s crimes is also well known. When it comes to the Syrian regime – well, that’s when the accusations are shelved and the excuses are brought out.

Turns out, there are Arabs you may actually kill. Turns out, there are soldiers who are allowed to kill indiscriminately. Turns out, there are ambulances which you may delay in roadblocks, and some patients whose arrival to a hospital is not all that urgent. Turns out, there are cities you may shell with impunity. Turns out, there are apparati who do have the right to make people vanish. Turns out, there are some people who may exercise collective punishment, and that’s okay. Turns out, there are people with a license to torture – all you have to do is switch the sign with the three Hebrew letters (שב”כ, or Shin Bet) with one which spells out the most hated word in Arabic, Mukhabarath, and that makes everything just peachy.

Remember that, the next time Balad calls us to join it in struggle. It may be the right struggle, but we should not forget this. People who consider human rights to be just a tool in a struggle, one to be immediately abandoned once the true goal must be defended – that being the failed national-socialistic Arab nationality of – are unworthy of joining us. Those people will sell us out – in fact, they already have.

After all, next time we speak of Arab-Jewish solidarity, we shall hear mocking calls from all around us: solidarity with supporters of the butcher of Homs? With the people who consider Syrian blood to be worthless, but cry out in anguish when Jews spill Palestinian blood? Who have just rediscovered the maxim that he who saves one soul, is held to have saved the whole world? Are you an Assad supporter, Jew-boy? No, that’s not what it looks like, look, it’s complicated…

And this moment will come. Balad has barely survived its last disqualification from the polls, and the right-wing will make certain another disqualification will come. And then, of course, we will have to defend Balad – because such a move is a naked ploy to drive Israeli Arabs away from the polls. How do we explain ourselves, when those Assad pictures will be thrown in our faces like winding sheets? How do we speak of the damage to Israeli democracy, when the people we try to defend have already shown how much they care about human rights?

Balad is not alone. Another participant in that rally was the secretary general of the CPI, the main faction of Hadash, Muhammad Naffa. The CPI’s position is that he was there in his capacity as a private citizen. Try the other leg, it’s got bells on. Had Naffa showed up at a Netanyahu rally and offered his support, we wouldn’t be able to hear what he was saying because of the noise made by the intercontinental ballistic missile that would have blasted him away from the CPI. Assad yes, Netanyahu no?

Furthermore, the CPI’s official position is, to put it mildly, problematic (Hebrew). On the one hand, it denounces the regime and its murderous activity – and on the other hand, it denounces its opponents who ask for foreign aid in their struggle as “servants of foreign interests who […] use factionalist slogans and reject any attempt at dialogue, which will save human lives. […] The interest of the Syrian people is that the current regime stop oppressing the legitimate popular struggle, the shooting of citizens, and the use of forceful military answers to inner social and political questions.” You don’t say. That does seem to be the interest of the people, but what do they do if the regime, for unknown reasons, refuse to acknowledge this simple truth and refuse to halt the killing? How can a group of insurgents fight an organized army, bringing all its power to bear, without foreign aid?

All this, of course, does not touch on the laughable position of a communist party, supposedly promoting international brotherhood, which is suddenly shocked, shocked by the prospect of foreign intervention. I can still recall some foreign interventions which did not trouble the CPI’s conscience all that much – say, the one in Hungary in 1956, or the one in Prague in 1968. It is also worth mentioning that while it is fiercely opposed to “foreign intervention,” it has no problem whatsoever with the fact the Russian military-industrial complex is heavily involved in Syria, to the tune of 4.7 billion USD in the last four years (Hebrew). Oh, well; Russia was always the second homeland for these people.

The CPI can be very clear when it wants to. When it is waving such Jesuit dialectics at us, when its secretary general remains in office after publicly supporting Assad, progressive Israelis should abandon it. As long as it keeps its Stalinist secretary general in place, and as long as it keeps promoting a “yes and no” position towards Syria – yes to Assad, no to armed popular insurrection – it should be treated as a Stalinist party, and act accordingly.