Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Bad and The Good : More About Refuseniks

The Bad
Reading this kind of 'democracy' makes me sick.
I always wonder why 80-90% of them support the war or 'campaign'. This is why.

The Yisrael Beiteinu youths gather for a final consultation as dozens of elderly party supporters slowly make their way into the white tent where the movement's conference is being held, behind the Plaza Hotel in Upper Nazareth.

The youths, ages 16-18, many of them good friends from school, had stood for a long time before the event began at the intersection near the hotel, waving Israeli flags and shouting "Death to the Arabs" and "No loyalty, no citizenship" at passing cars.

This country has needed a dictatorship for a long time already. But I'm not talking about an extreme dictatorship. We need someone who can put things in order. Lieberman is the only one who speaks the truth." Adds Edan Ivanov, an 18 year old who describes himself as being "up on current events":

"We've had enough here with the 'leftist democracy' - and I put that term in quotes, don't get me wrong. People have put the dictator label on Lieberman because of the things he says. But the truth is that in Israel there can't be a full democracy when there are Arabs here who oppose it.

"All Lieberman's really saying is that anyone who isn't prepared to sign an oath of loyalty to the state, because of his personal views, cannot receive equal rights; he can't vote for the executive authority. People here are gradually coming to understand what needs to be done concerning a person who is not loyal."

That's not freedom of speech, my friend!
That's far from democracy, in case you didn't know.

On "election day" at the school on January 5, MK Miller drew boisterous applause when he gave a fiery speech denouncing anyone who dared to demonstrate against the operation in Gaza, and called for "the people who support those who fight against us" not to be given equal rights.

Slansky requested a chance to speak and addressed the students: "If anyone repeats the undemocratic things said here by Miller on my exams, I will deduct points from his grade." The high-schoolers responded with a hail of boos.

"I told Miller I couldn't grasp what he meant to say, because one of the most important democratic principles that we teach is the limits of authority, and freedom of expression," Slansky said this week.

"After they booed, I realized I didn't have a chance there. It was a very unpleasant feeling, obviously. I understand that there's an issue of election propaganda, but when a candidate speaks this way to students whose critical abilities are lacking, who don't have that broader view - it just shows how much work I have left to do."

Is it upsetting?

"Of course it's upsetting, but what should we do? Just give up? Stop teaching civics? To blame the school for the students being intolerant and non-pluralistic is to make a very dire accusation. It's the society in which we live. I can't be the last one to put on the brakes. I do my best."

"On the first level, of conveying the basic principles of democracy, the teachers are quite successful ... On other levels, such as inculcating democracy as a worldview and translating these values to the classroom, we see other things. You can have discussions in civics class and study entire texts, and then suddenly a boy says to a girl, 'Shut up, you slut,' and the teacher doesn't stop everything right then and there. When that happens you lose the connection between what's being taught and what's happening. In my daughter's class, the kids told a joke that went something like: 'How long does it take an Arab woman to get rid of the trash? Nine months,' and the teacher didn't stop or say anything to them about it."

Do schools also teach messages that contradict democratic education?

"In the school system there's a discrepancy between the official curriculum and the 'unofficial' curriculum [including what's known as Shelach], Land of Israel studies that have a nationalist bent, and preparatory workshops for the army and the Gadna pre-military youth corps. The [Holocaust-related] trips to Poland could have been an occasion to teach broader humanistic understanding, but they end up being all about 'Then we were weak and now we are strong - We won't give them another chance to kill us.'

"When I talk in civics class about the Arab minority, and about its uniqueness in being a majority that became a minority, my students argue and say it's not true that they were a majority. When I go to the history teacher and ask her why the students don't know that in 1947 there was a certain number of Arabs here, and in 1948 there was a different number, she becomes evasive and says it's not part of the material."

The failure of the school system is evident not just in student's opinions, but sometimes in their actions, too. There have been a number of disturbing incidents: On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day last year, dozens of Jewish youths attacked two Arab youths after seeing a message on ICQ urging them "to put an end to all the Arabs walking around the Pisga [Pisgat Ze'ev]"; youths took part in the violence against Arabs in Acre last October; and just this week, Jewish youths from Tiberias went after a young Arab with clubs as he was walking on the city's boardwalk.

What kind of person will they grow up to be?

The Good
I have more and more respect for these young men and women.
On Saturday evening (february 7th), the refuseniks spoke to Palestinian on Bethlehem.

Five young Israelis who refused military service defied a ban on Israelis entering Palestinian Authority territory on Saturday evening to share their tales of prison, isolation, and struggle with an audience outside the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

On Tuesday Israelis are expected to elect the most right-wing government in recent memory, but these five, represent a countervailing force, however small, to an Israeli society that appears more than ever to be in the grip of the right wing. On Tuesday, Israelis will go to the polls in parliamentary elections in which the top slot is expected to go to the right-wing Likud party, and the third largest share of the votes to Avigdor Lieberman’s “Israel Our Home” party, one of whose slogans is “No loyalty, no citizenship.”

“Refusing is a break from the Jewish-Israeli consensus,” said 22-year-old Alex Cohn, “It’s the beginning of a journey, not an end.” Cohn spent a total of five months in a military prison in 2005 for his refusal.

The refuseniks’ message of moral objection was welcomed by at least some of the Palestinians who attended the panel. One student from Bethlehem said, “Every day I go to school at the Al-Quds university, which is in a town next to Jerusalem. I have to pass through a checkpoint twice a day. So, statistically speaking, if I’m standing in front of five Israelis, they’re probably going to be pointing guns at me. Instead I’m standing here applauding you.”

The young Israelis also talked about what 19-year-old Mia Tamarin called “the stamp of the refuser,” the social isolation they face in a society where everyone is a soldier. Tamarin, a committed pacifist who spent two years in an educational program where she met women from all over the Middle East, said that her decision to refuse also led her to leave home.

Alex Cohn also said he faced tension with his family. “When my brother heard he called me very angrily, saying ‘you’re going to rot in prison,’” he said, then recalling that his brother changed tones, “’You’re going to sit in prison and read books while I’m risking my life.’”

Israel’s rightward lurch going into Tuesday’s elections, Cohn said, “is like falling down a cliff. It’s a nightmare. We can only hope that people wake up from this nightmare.”

“But,” he added, “Maybe it will lift the mask of Israeli democracy, and there will be more pressure on Israel from the outside.

Courage to refuse.
Courage to do the right thing.

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