When criticism of occupation becomes ‘subversion’

The political arrests of anti-occupation activists is just the latest step in the Right’s war against political dissidents. The next stage is anybody’s guess.

By Itay Mack

Left-wing activist Ezra Nawi is led into the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, January 21, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
Left-wing activist Ezra Nawi is led into the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, January 21, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The arrest of three anti-occupation activists, Ezra Nawi, Guy Butavia, and Nasser Nawajah, and the refusal to let them meet with their attorneys, did not take place as a result of them committing criminal offenses. The arrests were the result of the state’s security authorities belief that the activists were participating in the subversion of the existing order — one whose entire purpose is to entrench an irreversible occupation. The remnants of the Left in Israel cannot see the bigger picture, but rather are busy mourning over their tarnished image.

These latest events are not part of the Right’s struggle to replace the “elites” — that happened long ago in the army, the courts, and the political establishment. The goal of the Right is the destruction of all left-wing remnants. Anyone who watches videos put out by anti-occupation group Ta’ayush — of which Nawi and Butavia are members — will be convinced of the hatred that some members of Israel’s security forces harbor toward so-called “Israel haters.” Those who read the Facebook pages of leaders of the extreme right will understand that the incitement and hatred toward human rights activists could potentially lead to their death.

The elimination of the Left is being led by current and former top-ranking officials, in the political echelon, the security establishment, and the legal system. They are taking a double-pronged approach: public delegitimization and criminalization of human rights activists. Public delegitimization allows to mold public opinion against the Left and human rights activists, so that the majority will support outlawing both left-wing organizations and any activity that promotes human rights. This majority is crucial for providing democratic cover for an undemocratic move.

For dozens of years, Palestinians have been arrested, tortured, accused, and imprisoned under the pretext of breaking the law, although the subtext has always been an accusation of subversion against an oppressive regime of occupation. What we have seen over the past year has been the use of very similar tools against Jewish citizens.

We must remember that these tools were already used against members of the extreme right. Israel’s legal establishment gave the green light to torture them, prevent them from meeting with their attorneys, and keeping them in administrative detention.

Hilltop youth settlers protest the torture of Jewish minors by the Shin Bet, central Tel Aviv, December 23, 2015. (photo: Edo Konrad)
Hilltop youth settlers protest the torture of Jewish minors by the Shin Bet, central Tel Aviv, December 23, 2015. (photo: Edo Konrad)

These dramatic moves are surprising when considering the fact that for many years, the establishment turned a blind eye to the right-wing violence, and often even used it to promote its goals. The wave of arrests of right-wing extremists — and the serious violations of their basic human rights — did not stop them from their usual violent activities in the occupied territories and Israel alike. Palestinians and their property are harmed on a near-daily basis. So why did Israel insist on clearly differentiating between different right-wing extremists? The answer lies in the fact that the group against which the state used draconian tools is suspected of believing in a subversive worldview, and seeks to carry out a plan to replace the current regime. It turns out the state has no problem with violence, as long as it is supervised from above.

What will be the next step?

And who knows better how to deal with subversion than Israel. The state is not satisfied with suppressing the struggle against the occupation; for years it has been assisting repressing regimes in dealing with their own subversive elements. From Pinochet’s Chile until the present police state in Rwanda and the dictatorship in Azerbaijan. Over the decades, Israel has enhanced the tools it uses against subversion, which it is the source of weapons for oppressive regimes, which use them against “enemies” within.

Right-wingers know this well. That is why they did not turn to the police, but rather met with MK Avi Dichter — a failed politician who miraculously made it into the Knesset — before primetime investigative reporting show, Uvda, aired a string operation by right-wing group “Ad Kan” against the arrested activists, which caught Nawi bragging about turning over Palestinians who sell land to Israeli Jews to the Palestinian Security Services. According to a post Dichter published on his Facebook page, right-wing activists handed him footage that had yet to air. One must presume that it was not Dichter’s lack of political power that brought the activists to him, but rather the fact that he is the former head of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet. Both his political ties and his stamp of approval were important to their eyes. After the “report” was aired, Yuval Diskin — another former head of the Shin Bet — argued that Nawi should be jailed. Did Diskin also meet with the activists of Ad Kan?

The right-wing organization, ‘Ad Kan,’ sent its employees to infiltrate human rights organizations and record their every move with hidden cameras. The man on the left is the ‘infiltrator,’ Ezra Nawi is on the right. (Screenshot)
The right-wing organization, ‘Ad Kan,’ sent its employees to infiltrate human rights organizations and record their every move with hidden cameras. The man on the left is the ‘infiltrator,’ Ezra Nawi is on the right. (Screenshot)

These arrests may have caused us to forget the complaint filed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked a few weeks ago, against a group of academics that harshly criticized her recent anti-democratic moves, claiming they were inciting against her. The justice minister even knew to say to the Knesset plenum that Rabbi Arik Ascherman — one of the heads of Rabbis for Human Rights — stood outside the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in support of one of the activists who was arrested. Who was following Ascherman in order to pass along that information to Shaked? And why does she think it is proper to bring this up in front of the Knesset? Perhaps because her definition of “subversion” is any criticism or opposition to the occupation.

In other countries, from Argentina to Sri Lanka, persecution began with academics, intellectuals, prominent activists, and eventually those whose names appeared in the address books of those who had been detained. What will be the next step in Israel? We have yet to find out. Before both the legal and security establishment get pulled into the snowball of arrests and criminalization of left-wing organizations, the remnants of the Israeli Left and human rights activists must join forces. Instead of mourning their tarnished image, they must do everything they can to end the occupation, so that the next time the authorities come knocking, it won’t be at their door.

Itay Mack is a Jerusalem-based human rights lawyer and activist, who specializes in public supervision of Israel’s arms trade. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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