And Now The Home Front

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The die has been cast. After the terrible carnage during Pessah, our national-unity government has finally resolved that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is an enemy rather then a peace partner. We can only hope that despite the immense international pressures now being exerted upon us, the new approach will ultimately turn the tide.

To be effective, the government must now also concentrate on the home front, overcoming internal divisions, and encouraging adherence to civic obligations. This will necessitate a radical change in the manner the government is currently functioning.

The prime minister, foreign minister and minister of defense must cease contradicting and rebuking one another as though they were presiding over independent fiefdoms. They must stop promoting their own positions within their shabby political constituencies and concentrate only on the national interest. Ministers unwilling to accept government decisions should be obliged to resign rather than create chaos and confusion by publicly condemning the policies of their own government.

Opposition politicians must also change their ways. Although even during a state of war, their right to criticize the government is not being challenged, during such a period there are red lines that opposition members should not cross, even in a democracy.

They could take their cue from the US, the most liberal country in the world. When the Americans confronted their crisis, the media and all sections of society rallied behind their president in an extraordinary demonstration of unity.

In contrast, here in Israel, some politicians have not changed their views at all since Arafat reverted to terrorism. Worse still, in stark contrast to behavior in any normal democratic country, even defeated former ministers such as Yossi Beilin openly identify and consort with, and provide strategic advice to, Israel’s enemies – including those who unleash crazed suicide bombers against civilians. Such behavior would not be tolerated by any country, least of all a country facing an existential threat.

Segments of the mainstream media also continue to behave in a decadent manner, highlighting the negative and the ugly, and failing to provide comfort or support for a nation under siege. It would of course be improper to challenge the right of any dissident to freedom of expression.

Yet, when the vast majority of columns in the op-ed section of one of Israel’s principal dailies could easily have been written before the Oslo illusion was shattered, and tend to identify more with the suffering of those who seek to destroy us than our own people, it represents a serious problem. Even paid advertisements which blatantly justify Palestinian terrorism as a legitimate instrument for national liberation continue to be published.

This is freedom of expression gone mad. Israel may not at this stage require a war-time censorship regime, but the absence of even a semblance of lip service to bolstering home front morale contrasts starkly with the patriotism and unity that in the past, were the hallmarks of Israel under siege. Hopefully, with the growing crisis, this will change and the media will voluntarily not transgress consensual red lines.

On a related domestic level, one of the most dangerous growing social problems confronting Israeli society has been the radicalization of Israel’s Arab population. This issue has no bearing on racism or discrimination. It emanates primarily from irresponsible Arab Knesset representatives who compete with one another to incite their constituents against Israel. This could lead to the formation of a fifth column and may even transform some Arabs into agents of Palestinian terrorism.

As it is, more than 100 security incidents related to Israeli Arabs were reported over the last year, including involvement with suicide bombing attacks. It is therefore no exaggeration to state that Israeli Arabs now represent a ticking time bomb and the government cannot afford to ignore what is clearly an organized campaign to engineer secession and legitimize treason.

NO COUNTRY at war would put up with a parliamentarian such as Azmi Bishara who shared the same platform as Hizbullah leader Hassan Nassrallah and other terrorists in Damascus. At this gathering he praised Hizbullah as a “heroic resistance” group, urging Arab states to support the Palestinians in their war.

Belatedly the attorney-general has now issued an indictment against Bishara but he only represents the tip of the iceberg. Another Knesset member, Abdel Wahad Dehamshe, recently urged his fellow Arabs to “break the bones” of Israeli police officers. Such behavior by any benchmark would be deemed treason.

Thankfully, as of now, the vast majority of Arab Israelis are not involved in activities that could be construed as hostile to the State. But the increasing climate of incitement against Israel is creating enormous strains. Only this week, in demonstrations of Israeli Arabs, including Arab Knesset members, not only was there support for Arafat but there were placards of Nassrallah on display. When the Mayor of Umm el Fahm, in response to a suicide bombing in his area, said that he had “mixed feelings” about the outrage because “there were Arabs on that bus,” it is not surprising that the mood of Israelis towards Arabs becomes increasingly volatile.

It also goes without saying that this issue has no bearing on the need to intensify efforts to improve the social and economic status of Israeli Arabs relative to other citizens.

We face highly complex problems in the midst of a real existential struggle. Clearly if we continue to bury our heads in the sand and ignore blatant transgressions of civic behavior some of which border on treason, we do so at our peril.

However, these problems cannot be dealt with in a political vacuum. Our government must now speak to us and the world with one voice. Hopefully the prime minister will satisfy the people of Israel that he is in command of a united and disciplined team, that he has a game plan, and that he is now prepared to deal with those difficult problems and decisions that hitherto were simply shunted aside into the “too hard basket.”

We should also publicly express our support for a government that is now prepared to lead us out of our current morass to victory and ultimately enable us to live in peace and security separated from the Palestinian people.

The writer is senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

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