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‘No Citizenship without Loyalty!’

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A Palestinian Protester at Haifa University

In Israel, almost all of the protests against the navy’s assault on the relief flotilla took place in Palestinian space. Palestinian citizens in almost every major town and city, from Nazareth to Sachnin and from Arabe to Shfaram, demonstrated against the assault that left nine people dead and many more wounded. The one-day general strike called for by the Palestinian leadership within Israel was, for the most part, adhered to only by Arab citizens.

In Jewish space, by contrast, business continued as usual. Except for a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, which brought together a few hundred activists, the only site where there was some sign of a grassroots protest against the raid was on Israeli university campuses. While numerically these protests were also insignificant – there were fewer than 2000 demonstrators from all the different campuses, out of a student body of more than 200,000 – they were extremely important both because they took place within Jewish space and because the protestors were Jews and Palestinians standing side by side.

Perhaps because of the widespread international condemnation of the attack on the flotilla, the Israeli police were relatively careful when handling these protests. Their caution is particularly striking when compared with the police reaction during the war on Gaza. Twelve students from the Technion and Haifa University were nonetheless arrested, and one at Ben-Gurion University was detained by undercover agents.

There was a visceral response to these campus protests, however, from pro-government students. Counter-demonstrations were immediately organised, bringing together much larger crowds that rallied around the flag. While demonstrations and counter-demonstrations are usually a sign of a healthy politics, in this case the pro-government demos revealed an extremely disturbing trend in Israeli society.

A group of opposition students from Ben-Gurion University prepared a big banner on the street near their off-campus apartment: ’15 Dead. The Israeli government, as usual, has its reasons, and the Zionist majority, as usual, extends its support.’ Their neighbours spat on them and called them ‘cunts’, ‘whores’ and ‘traitors who love Arabs’ until the students fled.

The following morning these students and their friends rolled the same banner down from the administration building, initiating a third wave of protests on campus. Both those opposing and those supporting the Israeli government use Facebook to tell their friends about these spontaneous demonstrations, and so within minutes a couple of hundred students from both sides of the fray had gathered and were shouting chants in the middle of campus.

A Palestinian student with a Palestinian flag was shoved and had his flag torn from him by some of the pro-government protesters, who were chanting: ‘No citizenship without loyalty!’ In response, the Jewish and Palestinian oppositionists shouted: ‘No, no, it will not come, fascism will not come!’ and ‘Peace is not achieved on the bodies of those killed!’

At one point a Jewish provocateur, who is not a member of any group (and could even be a police agent), raised his hand in the air: ‘Heil Lieberman!’ The response of the pro-government students was immediate: ‘Death to the Arabs!’ Luckily the university security managed to create a wedge between the protesters, and in this way prevented the incident from becoming even more violent.

Pro-government students interviewed in the press said they were ‘shocked to see faculty members, together with students from the left and Arab students shouting slogans against Israel’. Their classmates posted pictures of the protests on Facebook, asking likeminded students to ‘identify their classroom “friends”’.

A Facebook group was created to call for my resignation: by the end of the day more than 1000 people had joined. As well as hoping that I die and demanding that my family be stripped of our citizenship and exiled from Israel, members of this Facebook group offer more pragmatic suggestions, such as the need to concentrate efforts on getting rid of teaching assistants who are critical of the government, since it is more difficult to have me – as a tenured professor – fired.

What is troubling about these pro-government students is not that they are pro-government, but the way they attack anyone who thinks differently from them, along with their total lack of self-criticism or restraint. If this is how students at Israel’s best universities respond, what can we expect from the rest of the population?

Comments on “‘No Citizenship without Loyalty!’”

  1. pinhut says:

    You know, this is an awful read, but on the one hand, at least Israel does have extremists in large numbers who support their government’s policies.

    In the UK, by contrast, we don’t seem to have the rank-and-file extremists and yet we are still chained to terrible policies. There does not seem to be an actual enemy to confront, it all happens up in the stratosphere.

    Also, the UK broadsheets and broadcasters have been extremely complicit with pushing the Israeli line on the flotilla attack, again, without their being a readership bloc to enforce such positions, it’s all top-down stuff. This is why the sense prevails here that the media is in an Israeli headlock (and why?).

    The LRB stands out for actually having pieces like this (and previous critical pieces on Israel).

    Anyway, more power to you in your fight.

  2. rest says:

    The UK broadsheets and broadcasters may well be complicit in justifying Israel’s actions. But in the UK at least you have LRB! Alas, in Germany, we have nothing comparable.

  3. Camus123 says:

    There is a strange undercurrent to this post. After thirty odd years of repression the Israeli population has become almost paranoic in their desire to prove to the rest of the world that they are right. Makes me think of that joke about paranoia but it’s all to serious for jokes. The rapid change in the population of Israel that allows Netanyahu to get back into office and appoint Liebermann as his foreign minister indicates that the prevailing view of the Palestinians has hardened into an implacable racially motivated hatred. the Palestinians and their supporters among the Israeli population are cornered as radicals and there is no alternative to more violence. President Obama can show that he deserves the Nobel prize by making Netanyahu negotiate. (I know, the negotiations only take place on Israeli terms, but this seems to be the only hope.)

    • pinhut says:

      But ‘negotiations’ have been one of the prime means for Israel to delay any settlement and also, on past occasions, as motivation for ‘defensive’ operations that are offensive in nature. They have the only army that can advance to secure a ‘strategic retreat’ etc

      I think this point is missed often, but a lot of the left’s rejection and criticism of Israeli is precisely because they target language and reason continuously to justify their actions, and staunch supporters of Israel, holding high-profile academic positions, such as Alan Dershowitz, are shameless in their use of their scholarly and intellectual credentials when apologising for Israeli actions, just as Bush had his John Yoos to defend his regime of extrajudicial imprisonment and his licence to crush a child’s testicles.

      Cassel: If the President deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?
      Yoo: No treaty.
      Cassel: Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.
      Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

      This is why I continue to believe that an academic boycott of Israel would be a start, and its likely effectiveness can be seen by the amount of Israeli vitriol that was mobilised against the idea. In fact, I would use the above logic to determine a course of action, thus:

      whatever makes Israel protest the loudest is the right course.’

      And, to bring the argument full circle, I don’t think the Israelis have anything at all to fear from negotiations.

      • Camus123 says:

        An academic boycott could be a start, but the boys in New York very quickly jump on any protests. (The cancellation of Tony Judt’s lecture last year is an example). I agree with you that the basic strategy behind Israel’s approach to the Palestine conflict is based on monopoly of the language but I still believe that only a determined Obama can bring about some sort of settlement. We also have to remember that the ‘Palestinians’ are far from being a united group in the conflict. How about a strike by all Palestinians who work in Israel? Won’t happen. A united Palestinian front would help – won’t happen.

        • pinhut says:

          The boys in New York need it up them on a regular basis, that is my point. It’s bullying tactics and the only means of breaking their stranglehold is to face them down time and again and reveal their threats to be empty. Not everybody is a Congressman needing funds for re-election.

          And, as you point out, while Israel and its supporters rail against an academic boycott they are content to circumscribe the freedom of speech of those critical of them, or, as in the Goldstone case, to confect a ‘controversy’ etc and then keep referring to this confection as their basis for dismissing the report’s unwelcome contents.

          I find the idea that the President of the US, a man probably more beholden to Israeli interests than anybody else on the planet, is the one person you single out as being able to influence this. Haven’t you followed the way that Israel has deliberately humiliated his government? Did you see the volte face that Biden completed, when, months after being on the receiving end of a diplomatic rabbit punch he appeared on TV last week defending the flotilla attacks and doing everything but sing the Israeli national anthem?

          “Joe Biden: Look, you can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not and the – but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know – they’re at war with Hamas – has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in. And up to now, Charlie, what’s happened? They’ve said, “Here you go. You’re in the Mediterranean. This ship – if you divert slightly north you can unload it and we’ll get the stuff into Gaza.” So what’s the big deal here? What’s the big deal of insisting it go straight to Gaza? Well, it’s legitimate for Israel to say, “I don’t know what’s on that ship. These guys are dropping eight – 3,000 rockets on my people.” Now, the one thing we have to do is not forget the plight of these Palestinians there, not Hamas – they’re in bad shape. So we have put as much pressure and as much cajoling on Israel as we can to allow them to get building materials in, glass…”

          What’s needed is pressure on the US and Israeli administrations applied from outside of the traditional power centres.

        • semitone says:

          This article was written by an academic from a university in israel. If we have to have an academic boycott, can we still let Neve Gordon write for the lrb?

  4. Sophie Ernst says:

    Very interesting

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