Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister
Dear Prime Minister:
Up to now, I’ve hesitated to write to you. Communication implies a degree of comradeship, and I really did not feel there was any common ground between us that enabled me to address you with the directness implied in a letter. To be perfectly frank, I did not know the sort of language one should use in advising a war criminal.
However, your government’s creation of a special task force whose purpose is to deport all protesters involved in nonviolent activism against Israel’s illegal occupation – and to ban all non-Israelis committed to the same goal from even entering the country – has solved that problem.
Given your new policy, I am a criminal no less than you are – because, as a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, I oppose the breaches of humanitarian law to which you have devoted your career.
So as one criminal to another, I write now with a simple warning: You won’t get away with this.
You may believe that by forcing every honest opponent of your government’s occupation of Palestine out of the country, you will achieve what the Director General of your Strategic Affairs Ministry has called a “victory” – namely, “a change of narrative in the world toward Israel” in which the discouraging word “occupation” will seldom be heard.
Actually, you will only provide the proof of the essential illegitimacy of your state – something the Palestinian rights movement (or, as you prefer to call it, the “BDS movement”) has never attempted, but which your efforts are almost certain to achieve.
Stifling honest dissent is the quickest way to delegitimize a government. When your colleague Natan Sharansky was arrested as a Russian refusenik back in 1977, he was accused of treason because his criticism of his government’s treatment of Jews allegedly undermined the Soviet state. Jewish activists and media promptly described that charge as a “move to discredit the entire human rights movement in the USSR.”
What happened? The Soviet government, scorned by the world, eventually had to back down – and Sharansky became an international hero. (Not to mention an Israeli cabinet minister.)
Now Israel is embarking on the same course the Soviets tried. Really! Just substitute “Palestinian” for “Jew” and “Israel” for “the Soviet Union,” and your attack on anti-occupation activism is a carbon copy of the model the Russians deployed against Sharansky, along with their other Jewish critics.
Face it, Mr. Prime Minister: that old game isn’t going to fool anybody. After all, Israel helped to make Sharansky famous for his dissent, along with his very relevant warning that whether “dissent” will “be permitted” is the test that “will determine whether the society is a free society or a fear society.” Do you really think Israel can fail that test in front of the same world that lionized Sharansky – and escape the consequences that embroiled the Soviets?
Your propaganda about BDS isn’t credible. Gilad Erdan, your point man for the anti-BDS campaign, has implicitly compared the BDS movement to the Nazis, claiming support for Palestinian human rights would “make history’s greatest anti-Semites proud.” Could anyone persuade a large public that human rights campaigns rank alongside gas chambers? And isn’t that effort awfully hypocritical in the first place, coming from a government that bristles at the slightest comparison between its policies and those of Nazi Germany?
Worse, when your campaign isn’t slanderous, it’s downright silly. When Swiss activist Rita Faye was recently blocked from entering Israel, your government rationalized its action by claiming she was one of those pesky protesters who “block operations by the IDF and Border Guard Police.” One might ask why, if the unarmed Faye had actually managed to shut down the Israeli army, she was never even charged at the time. But don’t worry: we all recognize bullying when we see it, and your bluster isn’t taking anyone in.
Your agents aren’t credible, either. I’ve already mentioned anti-BDS propagandist Gilad Erdan, who once praised Egyptian dictator Abdel Fatah al-Sisi as “generous” for allegedly proposing a Palestinian state in the Sinai desert. A man who divides his time between conspiracy theories and promoting Palestinian Bantustans simply does not inspire confidence. Neither does Aryeh Deri, another paladin of your anti-BDS army, who had to leave his post as Interior Minister a while back to serve nearly 3 years in prison for graft, fraud and breach of trust. Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., is also outspoken in his attacks on those who believe in human rights for Palestinians. He’s the same fellow you fired as Deputy Defense Minister two years ago after he condemned your government for not killing enough Gazans.
Oh, and then there’s Sima Vaknin, whose former job was censoring Israeli newspapers. Now that she’s blacklisting human rights advocates for the Strategic Affairs Ministry, she wants that work kept from the public, too: “We want most of the Strategic Affairs Ministry’s work to be classified,” she said recently.
That sort of thing gives away the game. If you weren’t ashamed of the way you’re conducting the anti-BDS campaign – to say nothing of the people conducting it – you wouldn’t be trying to hide it, would you?
Critics are not enemies. Apart from being slanderous, hypocritical and anti-democratic, your government’s strong-arm tactics against anti-occupation activists is based on a flawed premise. It equates critics of your government with enemies of the state. That has never been true of any human rights activism, and it certainly isn’t true in Israel.
As I mentioned before, I am a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, which opposes Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and supports nonviolent efforts to end it, including the use of boycotts, divestment and international sanctions. Jewish Voice for Peace does not seek the destruction of Israel. Nor do I.
But I must warn you: action breeds reaction. If you behave like a totalitarian state – criminalizing principled dissent and silencing critics – people may start to regard Israel as they regard totalitarianism in general. If you praise violence as self-defense, as you did during your country’s last assault on Gaza, and then condemn peaceful protesters, some may conclude that your government favors brutality over nonviolence, and judge it accordingly.
The nonviolent anti-occupation campaign can never threaten Israel; it can only improve it. Your government’s attempt to boot its critics out of the country is a horse of a different color. The more you succeed in that campaign, the more you will undermine your government’s basic legitimacy – the more Israel will be defined not by legal principles but by repressive chauvinism. And if you don’t recognize that soon, the damage you do to your own country may prove hard to reverse.