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Picture Israeli Labor Party Leader Michaeli in Prison

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Merav Michaeli at a Labor Party meeting in Tel Aviv, last month.
Merav Michaeli at a Labor Party meeting in Tel Aviv, last month.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Picture it: MK Merav Michaeli has been sentenced to two years in prison for pro-women’s rights political activities and for being a leftist. She was also convicted of “membership in a banned organization,” perhaps a reference to her days in Haziriya, a semi-underground group of wine experts that met in the late 1990s for blind wine tastings.

The world would be up in arms over her arrest, as would Israelis: an MK in prison for political activity? Israel locks up lawmakers? Political prisoners in the only democracy in the Middle East? The Israeli Alexei Navalny? The European Union would announce sanctions on Israel that very day. The U.S. would join. That’s what they did last week to weak Russia. But Israel the superpower can do as it pleases, it can even imprison an opponent of the regime.

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Michaeli has not been arrested, of course, nor convicted nor sentenced to prison, but Khalida Jarrar has. The two women have a lot in common. They are both in their 50s, both members of parliament who won their seats in democratic elections, both are secular leftists who have devoted much of their lives to the feminist struggle.

They live about an hour’s drive from each other but have never met and probably never will. If they would, they would see that they agree on many things, certainly before Michaeli identified herself as a “Rabinist.” They both live under the regime of Israel, one agreeing with it enthusiastically; the other a staunch opponent. Jarrar is much braver than Michaeli, but that comparison is unfair: Michaeli is a Jewish member of Knesset who has both immunity from prosecution and a state. Jarrar is a member of the Palestinian parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council, without immunity, protection or a state, living under a violent military occupation – a situation that demands from her great courage and sacrifice in her struggle.

Israel locks up legislators, if not members of Knesset. Israel has hundreds of political prisoners, even if all of them are Palestinians. Now the state admits their existence: Jarrar was convicted solely on account of her political activity. The judge and the prosecution admitted this openly. They complained of “evidentiary difficulties,” and instead of releasing her immediately and compensating her for false arrest, she was given a 24-month sentence – after having been incarcerated for several years, some of them without being charged with a crime. Jarrar is an opponent of the regime. Navalny is serving his sentence in Penal Colony No. 2 in the Vladimir region, Jarrar in Damon Prison. Her husband has not seen her since October.

The utter absence of solidarity among Israeli MKs for the fate of their peers is not surprising, but it is shameful. Only foreign legislators have demonstrated solidarity: Nkosi Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council, grandson of former South African President Nelson Mandela and a member of parliament in the South Africa National Assembly, wrote on WhatsApp Friday: “Free Khalida Jarrar!! ... (She) is a hero in our eyes and a role-model for activists all over the world. ... Hands off Khalida Jarrar!!” Even more shameful is the slavish behavior of the Israeli media, the mouthpiece of the Shin Bet security service. When Jarrar was arrested, the headline in Yedioth Ahronoth screamed: “ arrests the woman responsible for the death of Rina Shnerb.” In Israel, that too is considered journalism. Jarrar has nothing to do with murder or any other violent act.

When Israel erupts over any crack in its partial democracy, we should also remember this: It is a country that locks up detainees without trial and imprisons legislators for their political activity. When Israel moves heaven and earth over what it calls the s interference in the elections for the Knesset, this too should be remembered: Israel has begun a campaign of political arrests ahead of the election scheduled for the Palestinian Legislative Council later this year, and the continued scandalous incarceration of Jarrar could be affected by it.

When the military judge, Col. Yair Lahan, convicted Jarrar of “holding office in a banned organization,” he also convicted the State of Israel of being a completely nondemocratic country. Now tell us about the exceptions committee that decides who may leave and enter during the pandemic lockdown, and beat the drums over the submarine purchasing scandal.

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