Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bibi v. Kerry - Arguing The Political Costs of Settlements

There will be a spate of deep dive pieces over the next few days addressing what the conflict UN resolution 2334 is "really" about. Deep dive piece are often useful, but have limited utility in this case for two reasons. Firstly, since most people who read deep dive pieces already have opinions, they do little to inform or change people's views. Second, issue linkage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the biggest practical obstacles to progress. Settlements, in other words, are never just be about settlements. For Palestinians they are about the systematic matrix of control that occupation imposes. For Israelis they are an obsession of an international community indifferent to whether the country lives or dies.

Rather than get mired in these issues, it makes more sense to look at the practical politics of the situation. In this regard, the debate over UNSC 2334 is really a dispute over the cost of international antagonism toward Israeli settlements.

1) The international community doesn't like settlements. 

International dislike of settlements is a cost of building them. We may agree or disagree that this dislike is fair, proportional, or warranted, but it exists as a cost. Specifically, Israel pays in political capital - good will with other states, willingness to cooperate, and the ability to form durable alliances. Settlements aren't the only reason Israel lacks political capital proportional to its ability to be a good ally. Systemic bias and latent Antisemitism play a role too. However, despite the claims of Israel's far right, these factors can be differentiated from international antagonism over settlements.

2) In the past, the Obama administration has mitigated this cost for Israel by spending its own political capital.

When UN resolutions against settlements came to a vote, the Obama administration exercised a US veto every time except last week. A veto prevents the text of a resolution from being used as a basis for further action on settlements. It is also a signal to the international community that Israel enjoys the support of the global superpower. 

The US pays in political capital for its support of settlements. First, it derives no direct benefit from them. In fact, settlements have been opposed by every US administration since they have existed. Second, America's Arab partners and allies deeply dislike US support for Israeli settlement building. Third, settlements create local political conflict that destabilize the region in ways unhelpful for US interests.

In the past, the US has been willing to pay the political cost of international antagonism even though it derives no direct benefit from settlements. This is because Israel has great value as a liberal democratic ally. It's also because Israel has borne costs in its support for US policy that go far beyond UN vetoes. In 1991, for example, Iraq fired 39 scud missiles at Israel. Israel didn't retaliate militarily because the US asked it to refrain from doing so.

3) Stalled progress and alienation caused the US to reconsider covering these costs at the UN.
For a variety of reasons, the Obama administration is frustrated with the lack of progress on settlements. It also resents the Netanyahu government, which it sees as having taken a consistently antagonistic stance towards many important US policies in the Middle East. After eight years, the administration decided that it would not cover the cost of international antagonism over settlement building. Thus, the administration abstained on the resolution. 

Israel's reaction is based on the idea that since it is a strong ally, the US should cover the cost. It is also based on the view of many Israelis that the cost itself is unjust. The international community imposes costs on the basis that it deplores settlements, but in the eyes of Israel's government, this is illegitimate. Israel's government has also viewed President Obama with paranoia since before his election, and experiences this abstention as the betrayal it has been expecting.

The US reaction is based on what it sees as a consistent attempt to undermine its policies in the region and prevent any meaningful action in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Obama administration came to see UN vetoes as perpetuating a cycle of settlement building that hurt US interests, rather than a costly but justified investment in a close ally. 

Regardless of which side one agrees with, the US abstention has made clear that the international political costs of settlements are real, and one for which there must be a sustainable form of payment. Arguing that since the cost is unjust it isn't real is no longer a viable strategy. Antagonism over settlements may be unfair, disproportionate, or unjust, but it is real and must factor into the Israeli government's decision-making process.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Why Bibi's Blame Game May Backfire

The passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 on Friday afternoon, after a US abstention, resulted in open hostility against the Obama administration from Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government. The Prime Minister is now deploying the insidious strategy of accusing President Obama of being personally behind the passage of the measure. Absolutely no evidence or credible on the record statement has yet appeared to confirm this bizzare accusation.

Frustration over the resolution itself is warranted to say the least. It references "terrorism" without specific reference to Palestinian terrorist groups. It also calls upon both parties to act on the basis of international humanitarian law (IHL). This rhetoric implies a laughable parity between Israel, which violates IHL in specific ways subject to internal judicial review and penalty, and Palestinian terrorist groups that aim and shoot rockets at kindergartens. Most importantly, the resolution links the issue of East Jerusalem to Israel's broader presence in the West Bank, an issue linkage which is neither useful nor helpful in moving toward a permanent status agreement. In addition to the resolution's text being problematic, the Obama administration is an easy scapegoat. Pinning the resolution on President Obama personally is a way for PM Netanyahu to deflect the broad support this unfortunate resolution obtained across the international community. It deflects from the failed efforts of the Prime Minister's government to pressure the administration into voting no. It confirms the paranoid fears of some Israelis - and many conservative Americans - that the President has it in for Israel despite approving $38 billion dollars in aid to the country over the next 10 years.

Given these absurdities, Prime Minister Netanyahu is giving into the temptation to pursue a bridge burning strategy with a lame-duck President. However, he should approach this issue with caution rather than the current policy of throwing it flagrantly to the wind, for three reasons.

First, Prime Minister Netanyahu is a far better politician than President-elect Trump. He has decades more experience and a proven track record for excellent political savvy. The bombastic campaign to pin UNSC 2334 on President Obama is possible in the current "facts don't matter" environment. But it is below a political virtuoso like Prime Minister Netanyahu and wastes valuable political capital. Additionally, the collapse of a facts-don't-matter environment will hurt PM Netanyahu far before it hurts PEOTUS Trump. In fact, PM Netanyahu risks and is already receiving blowback over the vote. Scapegoating is easy for constituencies to understand but it also deflects important questions about the resolution's passage for which the government will be called upon to answer by Israel's majority.

Second, throwing Israel's lot in with President Trump alienates the majority of American Jews who voted against him and exacerbates the problem of Israel as a partisan issue. Bibi's total alignment with PEOTUS Trump hurts Israel's standing among an American Jewish public that voted against him, and at a time when this critical diaspora community is already concerned about Israel's policies on settlements and the peace process. Managing diaspora relations requires avoiding such polemic antics. Second, and more importantly, by throwing in Israel's lot with Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu is contributing to the framing of Israel as a partisan issue. Liberals and conservatives disagree about why this partisanship has occurred, but all analysts can agree that Netanyahu's statements against Obama and for Trump do little to ease this dangerous polarization of Israel as a political issue. Even if polarization isn't Netanyahu's fault, it's still his problem, and one that his comments over the weekend exacerbate.

Finally, Netanyahu's antics signal that he is not below trashing relationships when it is politically convenient. His erratic behavior places Israel in a dangerous position at a time when the country faces international isolation and delegitimization. The world's leaders have reacted to these antics with shock. Even Donald Trump believes that individual negotiation savvy is critical in politics. Netanyahu is betting Trump will see him as a determined ally, but Trump may conclude that Netanyahu is just an erratic negotiator who would throw him under the bus too. Netanyahu is intending to signal Israel's independence, but he may actually be signalling that he is a risky partner, including for the incoming President.

While the US administration is about to change, Middle East experts and civil servants in Washington will remain the same. These experts are frustrated about the vicious cycle in which Prime Minister Netanyahu asks the US to provide diplomatic cover at the UN only to use this cover to continue settlement building. A sustainable alternative to Prime Minister Netanyahu's current embarrassment of a strategy begins with a genuine commitment to meaningful progress on the ground.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Attacks On B'Tselem Hurt Israeli Democracy

B'Tselem director Hagai El-Ad's speech to the UN Security Council on Friday has generated a strong reaction from Israel's government. In his address on Friday, El-Ad detailed the human rights violations Palestinians suffer as a result of Israel's military presence in the West Bank. 

El-Ad presented a slightly paranoid view of Israel's legal pretense for being in the West Bank, arguing that it is a "legal guise for organized state violence." While arguably all legal systems legitimate state violence, El-Ad presents a cynical view of Israel's legal system. He paints due process in Israel as a legal guise for legitimating occupation. The real story is slightly more complex. For example, Palestinian teenagers arrested for dubious reasons are sometimes freed following a legal appeal based on due process. 

Despite these broad brushstrokes, however, El-Ad's speech - along with a speech by Americans For Peace Now's Lara Friedman - was a standard facts-based description of the harms of occupation on Israelis and Palestinians one would expect from a human rights NGO. It was supported by statistics and arguments that were sound, if slightly polemic, to a layperson's ear.

Israel's government and politicians, however, were highly incensed by the speech. Prime Minister Netanyahu accused B'Tselem of joining a "chorus of slander" and banned Israelis from completing their national service with the group. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called the group a "disgrace" and accused the group of cooperating with Israel's enemies in waging "political terrorism" against it at the UN. Even centrist MK Yair Lapid described the speech as a "declaration of divorce" from Zionism. 

To call the speech polemic or unhelpful would be fair. As Lara Friedman herself noted, the human rights records of many states that attended the meeting are themselves "abysmal." But to suggest, as a Labor party activist did Monday, that B'Tselem committed treason is an uncharacteristically chilling statement in what is normally a vibrant Israeli public discourse.

Two major factors shaped these political reactions. First, B'Tselem has been criticized in Israel for sending its activists abroad to criticize Israeli policy, which Israelis understandably feel is defamation against the state. B'Tselem was also among 25 NGOs targeted by a bill recently passed in the Knesset which imposes special requirements on those getting more than 50% of their funding from foreign governments. Second, the speeches at the Security Council came a day after UNESCO passed an absurd resolution devoid of reference to the Jewish character of the Temple Mount. Combine a biased bill with longstanding animosity in Israel toward both B'Tselem and the UN, and rhetorical fireworks are no surprise. Israelis deeply resent steps taken in the international arena to deny the liberal democratic nature of the state, and many see B'Tselem as contributing to the problem.

Yet Israeli human rights NGOs themselves were created by US Jewish groups - with the assent of Israel's government - to solve the de-legimization problem. Their purpose was to bolster Israel's claim to liberal democracy and to strengthen international human rights norms in the wake of the Holocaust. While the AJC supported Israeli policies in the United States and in the UN, it recognized that a network of Israeli human rights NGOs would strengthen the credibility of the state. In the face of false accusations by anti-Israel actors, these NGOs could provide credible data.

Governments often find human rights NGOs to be inconvenient, short-sighted, or petty. Yet the pure revulsion expressed by Israel's political leaders in the past four days reveals a concerning apathy toward the fundamental values on which Israel was founded. The idea that West Bank occupation is unsustainable is widely shared among analysts, former military officers, and activists within Israel and abroad. It is not radical. Showcasing the occupation's flaws is not the source of Israel's de-legitimization. Rather, it is the petulant reluctance of Israel's current leadership to address effectively the political realities Israel faces. These realities include systematic double-standards on Israel and global anti-Semitism. But going after B'Tselem will do nothing to mitigate either one.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Israel Isn't A "Settler Colonial" Project

Settler colonialism is a process by which a colonizing power sends settlers to depopulate a region of its inhabitants and gain control of land. While the applicability of the definition to Israeli history is dubious, the concept has gained popularity among anti-Israel activists and a small number of critical scholars. It has yet to be accepted widely in political science. Proponents of the term say it describes truthfully what has occurred in places like the United States, Australia, and Israel. In reality, it is a Marxist narrative of history which selectively ignores facts in order to draw sweeping moral and political conclusions.

The modern study of settler colonialism is led by critical historians Edward Cavenaugh and Lorenzo Veracini. The term has been used since at least 1947 with passing references in UN documents and the journal Parliamentary Affairs. One of the most well-known texts on the subject, particularly as it relates to Israel, is Maxime Rodinson's 1967 text Israel: A Colonial Settler-State? Rodinson's text is a Marxist history of Israel, telling of a Jewish "bourgeois" in Europe who came to Israel to exploit the Palestinian proletariat fellahin. Critical scholars of Israel like Joseph Massad and Ilan Pappe have used this framing as well. 

The settler colonialist framing is useful for anti-Israel activists because it makes Israel seem archaic and fundamentally incapable of existing in a world of modern human rights norms. It also delegitimizes Israel's citizens in three ways. First, it reframes Israelis - many of whom are third and fourth generation sabras - as temporary settlers. Second, it implies that colonization is the ultimate goal of all Israelis, since they are settlers by nature. Finally, it erases the multitude of political viewpoints in Israel toward the Palestinians and Israel's future by implying that all Israelis are colonial settlers with a settler mentality. This obfuscation makes it possible for activists to avoid arguments rooted in the nature of Israeli society by writing off over 6.4 million Jewish Israelis as part of a settler colonialist project.

The common thread in settler colonialist accounts is that Jews or Zionists were sent by a colonial power (Britain) to gain control of historical Palestine by depopulating the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants. This story is the basis of justifying a broad range of opposition to Israel. Since the state is a settler colonial outpost, justice requires it be dismantled and its original inhabitants returned. This framing also allows strategic ambiguity because Israel also refers to its populations in the West Bank as "settlers." It's often unclear whether those using the term are applying it to the West Bank, or to Israel as a whole.

As a concept, settler colonialism raises three important questions. First, how much can such a broad concept really explain? Settler colonialism has been applied to the United States, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, Iraq, Cyprus, and Turkey. For this level of breadth, the term must necessarily sacrifice significantly in terms of depth. Furthermore, Israel is consistently treated as a unique case in academic literature because of the unique historical circumstances out of which it rose. Settler colonialism, however, claims that Israel is just like a whole broad set of cases. That fact alone should raise suspicion.

Settler colonialism also tells us very little about what happens in the cases it purports to describe. If common historical processes were at play in the US, South Africa, and Israel, why are the indigenous populations of each in very different places regarding political, economic, and social status? And if the answer isn't clear, why do proponents of settler colonialist accounts cling to the term?

Finally, the policy implications of settler colonialism are unclear. Human history is replete with conquering and depopulation. Israel, for example, was established by European Zionists in conjunction with the British, but it was colonized by the Ottomans before that, the Mamluks before that, the Crusaders before that, Muslim armies before that, the Romans before that, and the Macedonians before that. Who counts as the indigenous population in this case, and who is the conqueror? How far back in history must we go before everything is returned "fairly" to its "original owners?"

As a way of understanding Israeli history, settler colonialism also has three problems. First, Jews who immigrated to Mandate Palestine didn't come only from Britain. They came from states across Europe and eventually from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia as well. British Jews weren't even a majority of immigrants - in 1948 the largest number of immigrants to Israel came from Former Soviet Union countries. The idea that Britain sent Jews as colonial settlers is unsubstantiated by historical fact. The idea that "The West" is a colonial power is a dubious assertion given centuries of competition between Western colonial powers.

Second, Britain didn't send Jews to Palestine as colonists, but rather to get rid of them. Britain was motivated to establish a Jewish home by domestic pressure against Jewish immigration before the first World War. Creating a Jewish home had support among Christian Zionists in Britain, and offered a compelling solution to the immigration issue. Jews were also not sent to Mandate Palestine to depopulate its Arab population. Britain and the United Nations offered multiple partition plans which included guarantees of national sovereignty to Palestinians and Jews alike. To assume Britain began letting Jews immigrate to Mandate Palestine with the intent of depopulating the area is inferring intentions without evidence. It also ignores how British colonialism worked in virtually every other state in the Middle East.

Importantly, there is evidence that depopulation of Palestinian villages occurred separately from legal acquisition by Zionists of land. Israel's early leaders (David Ben Gurion for example) wanted to prevent Palestinians from returning to their homes. Israeli revisionist historians have documented processes of depopulation, and archival documents make this history undeniable. This depopulation, however, occurred in the process of Israeli state formation - not as a deliberate strategy of settler colonialism. It is a history with which Israelis must reconcile, but it is not settler colonialism.

Finally, Israelis are not motivated by land claims alone. To frame Israelis as motivated by a desire to depopulate and conquer land completely misunderstands the Israeli national project. Rhetoric from Israelis about homeland, nationalism, and security cannot reasonably be written off as "propaganda." They speak to a complex set of motivations Israelis have that go far beyond the desire to control land as settler colonialism claims.

Ultimately, settler colonialism as a concept proves little insight for explaining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While interesting as a concept for critical theory and useful for anti-Israel activism, there are better ways of understanding Israel's formation as a state and subsequent treatment of Palestinians. Academic writing on insurgency, nation-building, state formation, and military occupation offer a much more robust language for removing, not adding to, the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Olympic "BDS" And Israeli Personhood

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, there were two separate occasions on which Israeli athletes were targeted for their nationality. On Friday August 5th, Lebanese athletes attempted to block Israeli athletes from boarding a bus to the opening ceremony. Separately, on August 12 an Egyptian Judo athlete refused to shake his Israeli opponent's hand.

Members of the BDS movement have hailed both of these actions as forms of solidarity. By refusing to associate or engage with Israeli athletes, so the logic goes, the Arab Olympians express solidarity with Palestinians and increase international pressure against Israel for its policies toward them. The continued isolation of Israelis, conceivably, would culminate in policy changes that could benefit Palestinians.

There are three flaws in the premise of this argument, which are instructive with regards to the broader problems of the BDS strategy toward Israel.

First, there is no evidence that either incident was motivated by pro-Palestinian concerns. The BDS community has projected its own interpretation onto the incidents but facts supporting this interpretation are sparse. The athletes in both cases were motivated by anti-Israel sentiment, but whether there was a deliberate pro-Palestinian element of their actions is not at all obvious.

Second, the incidents are being understood among the pro-Israel community, predictably, as evidence of anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic sentiment. In other words, the community understands these incidents as motivated not by occupation or oppression, but by Israel's very existence as a state. The incidents also evoke the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre in which Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes. Being targeted for being Israeli at the Olympics has deep resonance for Israelis, and not in terms of political activism. Rather, it entrenches the Israeli public's siege mentality and bolsters the narrative that no policy change would ever erase the intrinsic prejudice of Arab people against Israelis. BDS may have good intentions, but there is no evidence that in these cases it will have the desired effect of improving Palestinian lives.

Thirdly - and most importantly - the incidents contradict what BDS is supposed to stand for. The BDS movement claims to support empowerment and humanization. But the snubbing of Israeli athletes at an international event designed to bring people together represents the opposite. It's one thing to boycott a government, a company, or an institution - it's quite another to snub individual Israelis. This is because such actions construct individual Israelis exclusively as subjects of the Israeli state. If we agree that people are more than their passport, it is illegitimate to essentialize Israeli men and women to a passport or National ID. In that BDS deconstructs the identity of Israeli people, it isn't humanizing oppressed Palestinians. Rather, it's picking and choosing who is a person and who is merely a "state agent." If BDS seeks the moral leverage to argue that Israel is denying Palestinian people the right of self-actualization, it cannot simultaneously advocate denying that right for Israeli people too.

While these incidents are unlikely to have a lasting effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are an important example of flawed elements of the discourse surrounding it. On both sides, it is critical not to use either words or actions to deny agency to multifaceted human beings, especially those with a genuine desire for positive political change.

Friday, July 22, 2016

MENA Scholars And The US Election

American analysts of the Middle East think frequently about our ethical obligations to people in the region. While we often overestimate our influence, it doesn't excuse a sense of impunity. Analysts do not get to sit on the sidelines when people's well-being is at stake. We are members of society and what we say can have an impact, however small, on those around us. We disagree about the nature of these ethical obligations but not about their existence.

Our obligations don't end at the water's edge. We have obligations to our students, university, our friends and family, and a country that protects our freedom to speak, write, publish, and debate. The affairs of our own government matter just as much as those of the governments we study.

Three facts about last night's Trump acceptance speech are undisputed. First, a candidate for President of the United States gave a speech. Second, that candidate claimed that the country is in a state of lawlessness and that he would restore law an order. Third, this candidate's plan to restore order involves severe, unprecedented restrictions targeting specific groups of Americans. This includes explicit restrictions on the rights of Muslim Americans and de facto limitations on the rights of African-Americans. In the United States, limitations on the rights of one group are a limitation on the rights of all Americans.

This kind of speech from a presidential candidate is unacceptable in the United States of America.

Middle East analysts have seen this story before. America is not the Middle East, but populism is not uniquely a Middle East phenomenon. Our colleagues in the region have risked their well-beings, their physical safety, and their lives to speak against populism in their own countries. Turkey is the latest example but not the only one. 

Our obligation in the United States is to recognize the importance of these efforts by replicating them here. 

It is time for analysts who have seen the slippery slope of populism to call Trump's dangerous speech what it is: An attack on the Constitutional rights of Americans and a threat to our democracy. We respect our MENA colleagues who do the same, but we do not truly respect them if we fail to act in their image when it is our time. This is our time.

In calling out Trump, we must respect (as we have often failed to do), conservative and Republican points of view. But Trump's speech is not the position of the Republican Party. It is a slap in the face to decades of policy designed to promote freedom and liberty as Republicans envision it. And it is impossible to protect the freedom of any point of view - liberal, moderate, or conservative - when populism threatens to censor discourse and silence members of the debate. 

You need not disavow support of Donald Trump. If you plan to vote for him, that is respectable and your point of view is respectable and important. But neither can you ignore the facts as they stand, and the consensus of decades of research on populism and its dangerous path.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Elie Wiesel, Israel, And The Politics of Trauma

The passing of Elie Wiesel yesterday at age 87 leaves a gaping hole in the human family. A professor, author, Nobel Laureate, and activist, Wiesel challenged humanity to find light among the darkness. Elie Wiesel was not content to memorialize the past. He was determined use the lessons of the past to shape a brighter future.

While he was a voice for the downtrodden, Wiesel's views on Israel were not always "progressive." He was a staunch opponent of a divided Jerusalem, the Iran nuclear deal, and attempted to publish a controversial ad against Hamas' use of children as human shields. Such views have been the subject of critique on this blog. Yet Wiesel's views on Israel were similar to, if not more moderate than, many of his peers. They were certainly not more extreme than the views of the median Israeli. Even if one disagrees with these views, they were certainly not radical enough to overshadow his legacy of advocacy to better the human condition.

But this is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where respect for the deceased is not more valuable than the opportunity to score points in a meaningless war of rhetorical attrition. Already, some have come forward to voice their opposition (to phrase it politely) to the sanctification of Wiesel on the basis of his political views. The level of cynicism in the conflict is too high to expect that an appeal to such a trite concept as basic human decency would make a difference to those who hasten to defame the dead. However, there are two further considerations that expose such attitudes for the danger that they are.

First, no camp in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a monopoly on human rights, justice, or morality. Attacking Wiesel because he belonged to a different political tribe is the height of arrogance. A willingness to claim to moral superiority over a Holocaust-surviving Nobel Laureate human rights activist takes a special brand of narcissism. If the seeming disconnect between Wiesel's principles and his policies is puzzling or disconcerting, it should prompt introspection and a willingness to consider how the same facts can underlie different political views. And as it turns out, it is also possible to criticize Wiesel's politics without being rude.

But more importantly, it is vital to consider the life experiences that shaped Wiesel's views. Given the extent of trauma Wiesel describes in his memoir Night, its role cannot be overlooked. Trauma is also important in national politics. For both Wiesel and for Israeli nationalism, the legacy of the Holocaust is trauma. This trauma shapes Israeli policy-making. While trauma can never excuse the abuse and violation of others, it can frame decisions governments make to engage in such behavior.

In this regard, there is an important parallel between disregarding Wiesel's personal trauma and disregarding Israel's national trauma. This national trauma comes from Israel's many wars as much as it comes from the Holocaust, but both sources affect policy-making there. The point is not that trauma justifies Israel's mistreatment of Palestinians, who themselves suffer from the national trauma of 1948 and 1967. Rather, it is that trauma shapes political calculations in Israel in observable ways. Ignoring the fact that trauma is at the heart of much of Israeli policy-making is a dangerous oversight that may perpetuate ineffective approaches to desperately-needed political change there.

Engaging with both Wiesel's legacy on Israel and Israel's politics more broadly requires acknowledging and accepting the validity of Holocaust trauma as a political context. Regarding Wiesel, this means considering his political views in the context of the crucible in which they were formed. One need not agree with Wiesel to respect the weight of his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and survivor of one of the worst genocides in human history. 

For Israel, serious engagement with national trauma is critical to improving a broken status quo. Tactics of isolation and antagonism may be less effective on nations with a history of trauma. BDS, isolation at the UN, and framing Israel as a rogue state may only serve to magnify the harmful impact of trauma on Israel's decision-making. Downplaying trauma or muddying the waters with arguments of moral relativism is the wrong approach to states suffering from national trauma. A better approach is to acknowledge the validity of the trauma, reassure nations (including the Palestinian nation) who suffer from it, and reinforce messages of just politics as national empowerment. Such an approach is not only more respectful, it is more effective in improving the collective human condition. It orients us toward a legacy of which Elie Wiesel could be proud.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Knesset Coalition Instability Is Secondary

In the wake of Yisrael Beiteinu joining Israel's governing coalition, some worry that this time Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has gone too far. Since formation of the newest coalition last week, analysts have pointed out that it is shaky, tenuous, and unstable.

These characterizations are decidedly true. Lieberman and Netanyahu have different constituencies and personal political interests. Their differences are so great that upon joining the coalition, Lieberman reassured the Israeli public that he had lengthened his short fuse. The coalition has also drawn criticism not only from the left but from within the Prime Minister's own Likud party. History (ie 2015) has also shown Likud Beiteinu to be is an unstable political isotope.

At the same time, these analyses miss two important political factors at play.

First, Prime Minister Netanyahu is setting the tempo of Israeli politics. This coalition deal is proof positive. The latest coalition shuffle does not give the Prime Minister a substantially stronger coalition - he has 66 now compared to 61 a month ago. This boost is enough to reduce the damage of a few MKs defecting on a vote, but it is not a mandate by any stretch of the imagination. The Prime Minister also switched his offer to join the coalition from Labor to Yisrael Beiteinu at his leisure. With this brilliant political play, Netanyahu simultaneously hurt Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog's credibility, strengthened his coalition, and demonstrated his control of the political system. When ties with Yisrael Beiteinu inevitably break down, the Prime Minister will be directing the path of politics in the Knesset, not reacting to them.

Second, the effects of an unstable coalition are limited without a viable alternative. As the previous post details, Prime Minister Netanyahu has remained in power by systematically dismantling alternatives to his leadership. In Israel's Knesset the left is de-fanged, the center is fractured, and the right is coopted. This is a favorable state of play for the Prime Minister and one which he had a hand in engineering. Thus, while a coalition that includes Yisrael Beiteinu is unstable, there is no serious pressure from outside the coalition that will exacerbate this instability in a meaningful way. While the public may be concerned or even dissatisfied with the current coalition, there does not exist a better option for the immediate short-term future. This lack of alternative gives the Prime Minister breathing space to mitigate the harms of an unstable coalition.

While this coalition, like all coalitions, will eventually succumb to the dynamics of Israeli politics, there is no reason to believe that including Yisrael Beiteinu puts it in danger of short-term collapse. Analysts were surprised by the last-minute including of the party, but the effects of that surprise will die down as the news cycle moves forward. An analytical focus on instability should be redirected at what policies the Prime Minister actually pursues, and what (if any) opposition he faces.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bibi Kills Two Centrist Birds With One Stone

Israel analysts have spent the day speculating about the consequences of PM Netanyahu's decision to offer the Defense portfolio to Avigdor Lieberman and bring Yisrael Beiteinu into the coalition. The offer, which comes days after talks with Labor party leader Yitzhak Herzog appeared to be going well, is a huge surprise. Assuming Lieberman accepts the position, Israel's domestic policy will likely shift to the right, its foreign policy will exacerbate international tensions, and Netanyahu's position as Prime Minister will be solidified.

But even if the offer were to fall through, it is an example of Prime Minister Netanyahu's strategy of destroying viable centrist alternatives to his leadership. Today's deal kills two birds with one stone. It makes it extremely difficult for Herzog to maintain leadership of the Labor Party, and it potentially pushes center-right Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon out of the cabinet. It also punishes Ya'alon for urging IDF soldiers to exercise integrity in thought and expression, and sends a message to those who would challenge the Prime Minister. 

This is not the first instance in which Netanyahu has undercut centrist politicians to prevent a viable alternative to his leadership.

In 2012, Yair Lapid announced the creation of the centrist party Yesh Atid. Days later Netanyahu formed a national unity government that would have pushed off elections and delayed Yesh Atid's entrance into politics. When elections did occur in January 2013 and Yesh Atid did unexpectedly well, Netanyahu coopted Lapid. He offered Lapid the Finance portfolio in the context of deep discontent over the government's response to the 2011 economic protests. Lapid went from leading the second most popular party in the Knesset in March 2013 to having a 75% disapproval rating in December of that same year.

Tzipi Livni, after forming the HaTnuah party in 2012, was appointed Justice Minister by the Prime Minister. However, after gaining substantial power - and criticizing several government decisions - Netanyahu fired her along with Lapid on December 2, 2014. Livni, however, was not done with politics. HaTnuah formed a joint list with the Labor Party and its new leader Yitzhak Herzog for the 2015 elections. Since the elections, she has laid low, taking on diplomatic pressures against Israel at the UN and issuing few criticisms of Israel's government. In the long term, Livni is a threat to Netanyahu. In the short term, however, she has shown no interest in challenging him.

Moshe Kahlon and the Kulanu party were coopted by Netanyahu and joined the coalition in 2015. To achieve this cooptation, Netanyahu played Kulanu and Yesh Atid off each other. Yesh Atid and Kulanu are centrist pro-reform parties. Yet by design of the Prime Minister, Yesh Atid is in the opposition and Kulanu is in the government.

Over this past weekend, PM Netanyahu had been in talks with Herzog to bring Labor into the coalition under the pretense of a unity government. Such a move would have coopted an already weak labor leadership. However, by bringing in Yisrael Beiteinu instead, Netanyahu keeps Labor weak and in the opposition, while simultaneously dealing a serious blow to Herzog's political career. By offering Defense Minister Ya'alon's position to Lierberman, he denies Ya'alon a platform to build centrist support.

The fracturing of Israel's political center is not entirely Prime Minister Netanyahu's doing. Egos, party politics, and public opinion play an important role as well. However, today's move is consistent with the Prime Minister's strategy for remaining in power. While it is undoubtedly a brilliant political move, it remains to be seen whether it can create meaningful change for Israelis. Economic hardship, war, international pressure, and lack of a future vision are all real problems facing the Israeli public. Ultimately, the Prime Minister should be judged not by how he attains political power, but how he uses it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Is Anti-Zionism Possible Without Anti-Semitism?

The suspension of British MP Ken Livingstone for the (inaccurate) comment that Hitler was a Zionist has raised charges of anti-Semitism within Britain's Labour party. These charges are part of a larger debate over whether being anti-Zionist is anti-Semitic. Given a Western norm against anti-Semitism, some fear that anti-Zionism is merely a dog whistle for more notorious prejudices. Others point out that Zionism as an ideology is independent from Judaism as a religion and criticism should be fair game. 

The intractability of this debate shows that the question of whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism is far too broad to be useful. It risks getting bogged down in semantic debates while ignoring the more important question of how to build discussions of Zionism that are open enough to include dissenters, but regulated enough that bigotry and prejudice don't silence supporters.

In addition, neither Judaism nor Zionism are easily defined. Both are professed by large, pluralistic, longstanding, international communities. Both are characterized by internal debates around a core set of principles. This means that blanket statements about all anti-Zionism or all anti-Semitism do a disservice to both. A better approach is to specify which types of anti-Zionism are and are not anti-Semitic. 

As with racism, sexism, homophobia, and able-ism, anti-Semitism can be unconscious. Good specification can be useful for bringing these unconscious biases to the surface. That being said, an anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic argument has:

1) Well-specified terms. It does not talk broadly about the nature of all Zionists. Rather, it acknowledges - explicitly or implicitly - variation that has existed among Zionist movements since at least the First Zionist Conference in 1897. In addition to variation across movements, individual Zionists held complex views as well. Albert Einstein supported a bi-national state in Mandate Palestine, but also campaigned for the World Zionist Organization and was a strong supporter of Hebrew University. 

Anti-Zionism without anti-Semitism also acknowledges changes in these movements over time. As Nadav Shelef points out, for example, Revisionist Zionists originally considered present-day Jordan as the "Jewish Homeland." Today, few members of revisionism's progeny - the Likud Party - would argue that Israel should annex Jordan. Zionism, like most political ideologies, comes in many flavors and changes over time. A purely anti-Zionist argument acknowledges this variation by specifying which kind of Zionism and which time period it is addressing.

2) Generalizable principles. This means that the tenets of the argument are based in principles that apply beyond Zionism. Take the idea that Israel should not exist because Judaism is not a nation. This idea is a purely anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic if the criteria of "nation" applied to Jews are reasonable and widely applicable to other groups. It is not anti-Semitic to say that the Jewish nation does not inherently deserve a state only if one also believes Kurds, Armenians, Roma, and other historically persecuted minority nations do not inherently deserve a state either. The values of an anti-Zionist argument that is not anti-Semitic should be broad-based and applicable to other cases.

The difficulty for generalizability, of course, is that Israel is unique in many ways beyond its Jewish character. It is a non-Muslim state in the Middle East, the only state whose leadership includes those of European descent, and the largest recipient of US foreign aid. The Jewish people are also unique in that analyses understand them simultaneously as a religion, ethnicity, nation, and culture. Criticism of Zionism that bases its argument on these unique aspects of Israeli or Jewish character is not necessarily anti-Zionist. That being said, some of these factors interact with Israel's Jewish character and purely anti-Zionist arguments should acknowledge this interaction. US aid to Israel may be affected, for example, by American religious views towards a Jewish presence in biblical Israel.

One final observation: Specific terms and generalizable principles are not only good argumentation but respectful as well. They acknowledge the pain of those who identify as Jewish and/or Zionist, a pain which is real and to which they are entitled. As with anti-Palestinian nationalist arguments, one can be reasonably anti-Zionist without being disrespectful, rude, and obnoxious. One doesn't have to be polite to avoid being anti-Semitic, but it bolsters confidence that the claim is about an ideological point, and not thinly-veiled prejudice against Jews or their historic homeland. 

In other words, make your case but don't be a nudnik.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Hebron Shooting And Civil-Military Relations In Israel

An IDF soldier who shot an already-incapacitated Palestinian stabber in Hebron last Thursday has drawn widespread sympathy from Israeli MKs and the Israeli public. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yaalon find themselves facing criticism for suggesting that the soldier should be subject to the judicial processes of the IDF. The resulting debate raises three important points about civil-military relations in Israel.

First, the Israeli public trusts greatly the IDF as an institution, but also supports individual soldiers. A 2016 survey of surveys by Tiargan-Orr and Eran-Jona found that even during periods of relative quiet in Israel, 71% of the Israeli public "trusts IDF senior commanders" and 76% "have confidence in the IDF's fighting abilities." As the vanguard of the state, and an institution in which nearly all Israelis serve, the IDF is a highly respected entity. 

At the same time, Israelis want assurances that their sons and daughters have the tools and rules of engagement they need to protect themselves in combat. A letter by the mother of the soldier who shot the Palestinian man in Hebron reveals a sense of betrayal by the establishment. She writes, "he isn't just my son, he is the child of all of us," This statement is evidence that public opinion over the incident is shaped by the question, "What if it had been my son?"

Second, the IDF's rule-based order is generally effective but lacks support from politicians. Footage of IDF soldiers using force in a confrontation with civilians is often designed to portray the military as unprofessional and haphazard. In individual cases this may very well be the case, as it could be with any military. At the same time, the IDF's reaction to Thursday's killing was prompt. The soldier was arrested the same day, and a murder indictment has already been filed. This comes after discussion that the charge would only be manslaughter. The IDF is taking the incident seriously in a way that befits a military in a liberal democracy. No doubt, the IDF also understands the international political implications of video footage of the incident which has been disseminated widely over social media. 

This response is indicative, however, of an ongoing process by which the IDF is forced to compensate for the failure of Israel's political establishment. That the IDF leadership has come under fire from Knesset members for investigating a murder caught on camera is not only a shocking statement of apathy for non-Israeli lives, but an abandonment of political responsibility. In a media storm where critics of Israel are rushing to portray this incident as "more of the same," the IDF has been abandoned by Knesset members who should be supporting a fair and impartial investigation. Militaries sometimes do things that are unpopular. In the US, PFC Bowe Berghdahl was given a hero's welcome upon his release by the Taliban, only to be charged with desertion by the Army. In such cases, political leaders should stress the importance of a fair and thorough judicial process as prescribed by law.

Finally, there is a low appreciation among publics, including the Israeli public, for nuanced responses to terrorism. Importantly, this is not the position of the IDF, which has invested in both non-lethal and semi-lethal weapons systems. A Channel 10 news report frames the Hebron shooting as "an IDF soldier who shot a terrorist and is now being indicted." It omits any reference to the fact that the terrorist in question was incapacitated when shot. Stabbing a soldier may be terrorism but it does not dissolve all legal protections afforded to either civilians or enemy combatants. Support for the soldier seems to be based in a perception that terrorists waive all of their rights after having committed an attack - even if they no longer pose a kinetic threat to soldiers. Even if he had been wearing a suicide vest, it seems unlikely that the IDF's standard operating procedure would call first for shooting the suspected bomber in the head - as opposed to moving at-risk individuals out of a potential blast zone.

The United States has seen similar apathy towards the legal protections of terrorists. In 2014, a majority of Americans supported torture to extract information from suspected terrorists. The point here is that Israelis are by no means unique in their willingness to deny rights protections to terrorists. But whether or not it is popular, such actions may violate international law and the laws of both the United States and Israel. 

Finding a balance between rights and security is a core challenge of liberal democracies under threat from terrorism. As a country at the forefront of this fight, Israel's adherence to its own laws and judicial process is what will ultimately allow it to find a balance between the two.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

AIPAC Must Restore Focus On Shared Values

AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus may be disappointed that her constituents applauded Donald Trump's attacks on President Obama, but she cannot possibly be surprised. Out of 18,000 people, the chances not one would respond to an attack on President Obama are virtually zero. Those concerned by the content of Donald Trump's comments should not be persuaded by the crocodile tears shed at this morning's plenary. 

AIPAC's 2016 Policy Conference was carefully designed to absolve the organization of responsibility for comments it knew Trump would make. The religious appeals and calls for bipartisanship provided a backdrop for AIPAC's leadership to state that it was shocked, shocked that Donald Trump would make comments beyond the scope of AIPAC's bipartisan platform. This morning's apology was a calculated political move designed to let AIPAC have its cake and eat it too.

AIPAC has also engendered some of the very sentiments to which its leadership now takes offense. In 2011, a spat between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the 1967 lines played out at AIPAC. Yet speaker after speaker publicly expressed support for Netanyahu and tacit disapproval of President Obama. Last summer, AIPAC spent $30 billion dollars to counter the Iran nuclear agreement, the centerpiece of President Obama's Middle East foreign policy. AIPAC can hardly be shocked that after these initiatives, its constituents are willing to applaud attacks on the President of the United States.

The deeper problem facing AIPAC, however, is one of values. While it may have provided them with a platform, AIPAC is not responsible for the beliefs of the Republican candidates for president. Nor should it go over the slippery slope of picking and choosing which candidate is tolerant enough to deserve a platform on the AIPAC stage. However, it should take seriously the fact that many of these candidates' statements contradict the values at the heart of the US-Israel relationship. 

If the US and Israel are to have a strong relationship, they must come together - not around an Islamophobic fear of the other but around a firm determination to protect the values enshrined in their founding documents. Liberal values - tolerance, freedom of expression, pluralism, and self-reflection - are at the heart of the American and Israeli national project. Without a mutual commitment to these values, the US-Israel relationship is not sustainable. If AIPAC is offended by statements that contradict these values, it should work to bring citizens in both countries together who support them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Three Things To Watch For At AIPAC Policy Conference 2016

AIPAC's annual policy conference begins Sunday, March 20th. The conference will be the last of President Obama's term and features several Democratic and Republican candidates who seek to replace him. The annual conference is an important indication of AIPAC's political priorities. This year there are three issues that analysts of US-Israel relations should watch closely.

1) Moving past a major loss on the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Last summer, AIPAC lobbied the US Congress to disapprove the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed between the P5+1 and Iran on July 14, 2015. The lobbying effort involved about $30 million worth of ad buys, but was unsuccessful. AIPAC's lobbying campaign was strategic in that it did not directly target the White House. However, its position was directly opposed to that of the Obama Administration. The arguments it invoked during the campaign ranged from reasonable (the IRGC could use sanctions relief to buy rockets for Hizbollah) to totally unsubstantiated (the agreement raises the prospects of war). This approach alienated Democrats who understood the JCPOA as the centerpiece of the Obama administration's Middle East legacy. AIPAC's loss has not suffered the kind of "lasting damage" predicted in the Washington Post at the time. However, it showed again that AIPAC - like any Washington lobbying group - is capable of losing.

Now that JCPOA has been implemented, AIPAC has followed the Netanyahu government's lead, accepting it as ground truth and focusing on strict monitoring of violations instead. This policy line allows AIPAC to project toughness on Iran to conservatives while smoothing over ties with liberals whom it alienated during the Iran deal debate. During the policy conference, expect monitoring Iran's violations of the nuclear agreement to be a major theme. 

2) Explaining Bibi Netanyahu's Turning Down a White House Invitation - Rather than giving an in-person address as he has done in years past, Israel's Prime Minister will address AIPAC via satellite. Netanyahu had planned to come to Washington but later cancelled his visit citing President Obama's trip to Cuba at the same time. The White House, however, claimed it had offered Netanyahu a meeting with the President but was turned down. Analysts speculate the cancellation may be a result of negotiations over a new defense aid agreement between the US and Israel. Some speculate Netanyahu believes he can get a better deal from the next administration, which is likely true. 

For some in Washington, the cancellation represents another example of Prime Minister Netanyahu's disdain for President Obama. However, deliberate spurning is an unlikely motivation given that Netanyahu has come to AIPAC Policy Conference and the US Congress during the Obama presidency to appeal to the US public - including for positions that contradicted US policy. Nonetheless, the cancellation could leave a bad taste in the mouths of more liberal Israel activists who see US-Israel tensions as the Prime Minister's doing.

3) Managing Donald Trump's Address at AIPAC - AIPAC prides itself on bipartisanship. Like him or not, Donald Trump is the Republican presidential front runner, and there is a realistic chance he will be the next President of the United States. Given these conditions, it would be a poor strategic move for AIPAC to deny him a platform to speak. Such a move would involve a high cost to AIPAC's relationship with Trump supporters, Republican Party operatives, and a prospective President Trump. 

Nonetheless, AIPAC's invitation has appeared to some as a legitimization of Trump's Islamophobic, intolerant, and racist comments at a conference that highlights shared liberal democratic values between the US and Israel. Even conservative analyst (and Rubio adviser) Max Boot has indicated disapproval of the speech. Trump's speech may harm AIPAC's reputation among liberal and progressive supporters of Israel even after the conference is over. 

In addition, Trump's speech is generating friction between AIPAC and leaders in the Jewish community. Student leaders have also expressed concern over the speech. Jewish leaders of conscious are correct to take seriously the fact that AIPAC is giving a political platform to a man who has called for a national registry of religious minorities. AIPAC is obviously not doing so as a matter of deliberate strategy. However, it should also be mindful about how it presents the context of this speech, lest its conference theme of "coming together" be overshadowed by partisan controversy.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Does Israel's Joint List Support Hezbollah?

Members of the Balad and Hadash parties condemned the GCC today for declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The condemnation, which drew a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Knesset members, is puzzling. Why issue a statement of support for a group that shoots rockets at Israeli civilians, both Jewish and Arab? Why should Sunni parliamentarians condemn a Sunni coalition for calling an Iran-linked Shi'a group a terrorist organization?" Why make a comment at all given the domestic challenges Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank face?

The comments come in the wake of several incendiary events involving the Joint List. In February, three Arab MKs were suspended after meeting with the families of terrorists over negotiations to release their bodies. Last week, the head of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, accused Israel's Shin Bet of killing Yasser Arafat, a claim which extensive investigations have not substantiated. The Israeli media have covered these statements, understandably, within a narrative framework of incitement and radicalism within the Arab parties. However, there are more specific explanations that can explain today's reaction over the GCC's labeling of Hezbollah.

Domestically, internal party politics may be driving some these radical statements. MK Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, is from Hadash. The Joint List also includes Balad, whose founder Amzi Bishara is accused of passing intelligence to Hezbollah during the 2006 war. While Balad and Hadash are part of same list at the moment, they have different histories and platforms. Balad sees Israel's exclusion of Arab citizens as illegitimate and seeks a bi-national state. Hadash is rooted in Israel's first communist party and has a more policy-focused agenda (withdrawal from the West Bank, worker's rights, and equality for Arab citizens). While Balad's members have never feared being controversial, it is noteworthy that their statements of late have demolished any chance of the Joint List joining the government. The question of joining has been raised in the recent past, and Ayman Odeh has pursued a somewhat less radical agenda than his Balad counterparts. A Balad strategy of making controversial statements spoils any chance that the Joint List would join - and thus legitimize - the current government.

For MK Odeh, maintaining Balad's support is critical for a Joint List that can have policy influence. In this context, siding with Balad MKs on Hezbollah shows alignment. It is also consistent with Hadash's international communist platform since it sees Hezbollah as "resistance." Tunisia's UGTT workers union condemned the news on the same grounds. Furthermore, since Jewish Israelis condemn Arab parties all the time, they likely perceive the cost of public scorn as relatively low so long as it builds support among their electoral constituency.

Regionally, the Joint List may fear that the GCC's decision to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization further normalizes GCC-Israel relations. Normalization is a process that Palestinian activists oppose on the grounds that it reduces pressure on Israel to change its West Bank policies. If the GCC is seeking regional alignment with Israel to balance against Iran, it is less likely to speak out on Palestinian rights issues. Condemning the decision plays well with supporters of Palestinian rights in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza who fear that the issue is being drowned out in light of the plethora of other problems in the region.

In addition, a more sectarian region hurts Arab unity. The Palestinian situation as a pan-Arab issue is inextricably connected to this unity. So long as sectarianism persists in the region, the logic goes, Arab states can never join together to force a solution to the conflict. Since the GCC's declaration of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is on sectarian grounds, such a move harms the unity that is key to solving the Palestinian problem.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Knesset Suspension Bill Would Harm Israeli Democracy

Israel's Knesset is set to debate tomorrow a bill that would allow Knesset members to suspend any member who denies Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state. Prime Minister Netanyahu supports the bill but it is opposed by President Rivlin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and the Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, and Joint List parties.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's support of the bill follows a recognizable pattern of coalition preservation that has defined his leadership. The Prime Minister first supports a conservative piece of legislation, then waits for moderate opposition, and finally moderates his position citing that pressure. Netanyahu pursued a similar course with the Yisrael Beiteinu party's controversial loyalty oath bill. In that case, Netanyahu initially supported the bill, but then ordered changes making it more palatable to moderates. He is likely to do the same with the current bill, which Knesset legal advisers warn could cause serious complications to an MK's ability to legislate.

The current bill was introduced after three Joint Arab List members met with the families of Palestinians terrorists. While the MKs claim the visit was intended to support efforts to have Israel return the bodies of the attackers, most Israelis understood the meeting as evidence of Arab leadership's support for terrorism. The three MKs have been suspended by the Knesset Ethics Committee

However, while the visits rightfully offend Israelis, the resulting bill targets speech rather than action. It may exacerbate Israeli Arab mistrust towards Israel's government and security apparatus at a time when members of that community are carrying out terrorist attacks. While certain views of Israel's Arab minority offend other Israelis, an official platform to express these views creates buy-in among Israeli Arabs for the political process. And since Israeli Arab MKs are a minority, there are also strategic incentives for the Joint List to be judicious about when it raises such opinions.

Furthermore, in a time when liberals in Israel are being labelled "foreign plants," the bill as it stands currently may have a severe chilling effect on speech in the Knesset. The limitations imposed by the bill are unclear and could be used to target political opponents rather than "safeguard" the debate. Additionally, the voting mechanism the bill uses effectively gives the Knesset power to choose which Israeli citizens get representation. In a country where 20% of the population are minorities, this would harm the efficacy of democratic governance.