Opinion |

No Israeli Resistance Without a Price

Without slighting the courage needed to defy a country’s official consensus, in Israel they found a way to remove the sting even from the non-violent struggle.

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
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Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010.
Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

I wonder what B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad did after speaking at the UN. When he landed in Israel, did he collect duty-free products he had bought on the way out? Did his family greet him in the arrivals hall?

Because the Israeli occupation’s opponents are allowed extraordinary maneuvering space. After all, B’Tselem’s director stood before the UN Security Council and begged the international community to act against Israel, and to do so now. Clearly, there’s a limit to what a government can allow from people who oppose it, but where that limit lies isn’t clear at all. Have B’Tselem’s people not crossed the line, or has Israeli democracy developed expertise in adapting its limits to contain its opponents?

The Israeli anti-occupation organizations have a tradition of non-violent campaigns. They are not alone. The Western world has abandoned the violent struggle (in non-state campaigns) in recent decades. and in any case a violent struggle is today a synonym for terror, and terror is an abbreviation for Islamic terror. The rhetoric – that when a “black flag” waves over acts of state, civilian disobedience is justified – along with the intensity of the descriptions of reality that we hear today from the left and human rights organizations, may well have been translated in the ‘60s and ‘70s into a violent struggle.

So we must not measure the intensity of B’Tselem’s resistance by its non-violence. This is how people resist nowadays – with words and images, within and by means of the law.

Without underestimating the courage required to defy a country’s official consensus, in Israel they found a way to remove the sting even from the non-violent struggle. It seems that in the end it always comes down to a civics-class atmosphere, in which there’s room for a variety of opinions and pluralism, like after Rabin’s murder, when society signed a “reconciliation order” with one hand and waved on the occupation with the other.

Now the government’s opponents want a pacifist civil war, one with African National Congress rhetoric but that counts as National Service. Only in Israel is it possible to imagine volunteering for an organization that is recognized as National Service, an alternative to military service, and that asks the world to impose sanctions on the state. The opposition wants a subsidized resistance. But is it possible to resist without paying the price?

In his response, Benjamin Netanyahu once again emerges as an expert on the weaknesses of the left, for whom obedience to the law and non-violence are defining features. He simply stretches democracy over his opponents to contain them, because there’s nothing like democracy to keep them in the opposition.

After all, what harm can they do already? Why stop B’Tselem, when you can simply castrate them? “This is inappropriate. In Israeli democracy, there are fleeting, delusional organizations like B’Tselem, but most of the public knows the truth,” he reprimanded them, like a Tel Aviv parent telling off his 2-year-old son who threw a tantrum in the park. “I don’t like this,” he said. “We don’t act this way.”

As of today, this is the resistance’s intensity and character. But unless friction develops between the status quo and a real political resistance force, no significant change is expected. Netanyahu is clever. Choosing not to stop El-Ad and not to outlaw B’Tselem serves him and the right wing. He is preventing the friction himself by moving the red line every time his opponents approach it. He is gambling on his opponents’ political impotence. He knows them. He knows they’ll never cross the real red line, the one that, if crossed, the state would have no choice but to react.

Netanyahu is betting that the world, like the Israeli opposition, won’t lay down its life for the Palestinians, either.

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