Freedom to protest: 7 things to know for August 1
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Freedom to protest: 7 things to know for August 1

Druze soldiers are told to bottle their unhappiness over the nation-state law, a Palestinian poet is jailed and a paper defends firing a cartoonist

File: Israeli Druze from the village of Yarka attend a demonstration in support of their brethren in Syria threatened by fighting in that country's civil war, June 14, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
File: Israeli Druze from the village of Yarka attend a demonstration in support of their brethren in Syria threatened by fighting in that country's civil war, June 14, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

1. The Druze protest over the nation-state law has entered the holy of holies of Israeli society, the military, with one of the few minority communities that serves in the IDF signaling that the fruitful relationship may end and causing increased consternation in the army and public at large.

  • IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot being forced to tell his soldiers to please leave politics on the sidelines thrusts him into the saga, and left him open for criticism along with the the rest of the government.
  • “It’s possible to argue with his definition of the debate as ‘political.’ It is a dispute in principle over the wording of the new law, even if it does have clear political significance. And it may be that Eisenkot would have been better off summoning a group of Druze professional soldiers for an open discussion of their feelings, instead of sufficing with a unilateral, written statement,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz.
  • In contrast, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yossi Yehoshua is mostly positive in its coverage of Eisenkot’s attempts to smother the protests: “His words were proof that the IDF well understands the complexity of the current crisis with the Druze, but at the same time does not intend to get into politics and will not allow anyone to refuse orders, neither a Druze officer protesting the nation-state law nor a right-wing officer who refuses, foro example, to evacuate an outpost.”
  • The protest, though has sparked uneasiness among some, like Yedioth columnist Yoav Keren, who apologizes to his “Druze brothers” over the law.
  • “I feel a need to apologize … that our government — mine and yours — decided to break the bond of blood and brotherhood that held strong for more than 70 years, in order to garner a few extra votes on the right,” he writes.

2. Another person whose hands are tied in how much they can protest the legislation is President Reuven Rivlin, who apparently told an Arab activist that while he has to sign the law, he will sign it in Arabic as a form of protest.

  • When asked about it by ToI, the president’s office refused to confirm or deny it.
  • ToI’s David Horovitz is asking whether that move could have legal ramifications: “Well, if Arabic is no longer an official language of Israel, and the president’s final, formal approval of the legislation is written in this non-official lettering, would that mean that the law is not, in fact, legally binding? Is it not on the books if the president’s approval is affixed in a merely “special” rather than an official language?”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, Avi Dichter, who authored the law, says that the law means the president cannot sign only in Arabic: “The law says Hebrew is the official language … if he wants he can sign in Arabic alongside Hebrew,” he says.
  • If the law doesn’t take effect until Rivlin signs it, though, can’t he technically sign it in Arabic, since when he starts to move his pen, the law is still not official? And is his signature even needed, or just a formality?
  • One person attributing importance to the signature is Ami Ayalon, another former Shin Bet chief, who has written to Rivlin Wednesday morning urging him not to sign the law, even though it would thus void his presidency.
  • “I am appealing to you as someone who knows and appreciates your career in public service, listens to what you say, and reads your public addresses. I know that the Nation State Law violates the values you believe in and which you have been advocating for years,” he writes.

3. Dichter has also claimed that those complaining about the law just don’t understand it, a claim repeated by Boaz Haetzni in Israel Hayom, who claims the critics are just trying to stir things up between Jews and Druze.

  • “Some of those crying out over the legislation have not read the law, others have read it and failed the basic logic test, and still others – the worst – have read it, understand it and have yet decided to use the law as political capital to incite and agitate by driving an unnecessary wedge between Jews and members of the Druze community, whose lives and rights are not impacted by the nation-state law,” he writes.

4. One could probably write a dissertation on Israel’s use of “brothers” for Druze, whom they actually appreciate, and the sarcastic and increasingly derogatory use of “cousin” for Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.

  • One person who famously refused to fall into that trap and referred to Jews and Arabs as brothers was Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who is still derided by Israeli authorities. Another Palestinian poet, Dareen Tatour, was sentenced Tuesday to five months in prison for a poem deemed incitement.
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial takes up her case alleging that she is prosecuted because of her ethnicity, not her actual words: “Incitement against Palestinians, including outright permission to spill their blood, is a matter of routine in both the physical and virtual Israeli public sphere. Our ears have become accustomed to it, and nobody is prosecuted.”

5. That may be true, but some hate speech is certainly not tolerated, like a column posted on nationalist website Israel National News Tuesday that essentially called for killing Arabs, “radical” gays, and leftists, arguing that they were all an enemy fifth column.

  • The column stayed up for a few hours but was eventually pulled down after a police complaint, according to Channel 10 news.
  • INN posted an apology in which it blamed the column going up on an “error.”
  • But as media researcher Tomer Persico points out on Twitter, an error like posting an article calling for mass killings only happens “when you hold an erroneous view of the world that there is no problem with mass killings.”
  • (And before anyone accuses ToI of hypocrisy, I will just point out that our own flirtation with this kind of hate came about because we initially allowed bloggers to post content directly — which is no longer the case — not because we vetted it and thought it was okay.)

6. The Jerusalem Post is not backing down from its decision to boot cartoonist Avi Katz over a caricature that compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other lawmakers to “Animal Farm” pigs in the wake of the nation-state law.

  • In an op-ed responding to the fuss Wednesday, the broadsheet says its commitment to freedom of speech has limits, and compares the cartoon — which appeared last week in the Post-owned Jerusalem Report — to anti-Semitic “memes used throughout history.” Curiously, however, the cartoon remains the first item on the Jerusalem Report homepage at time of writing.
  • “Freedom of speech is not the freedom to defame and harm others with impunity. Lampooning politicians in satirical cartoons can be found in almost every newspaper worldwide but there needs to be limits. Katz, in our opinion, breached those limits,” the paper writes.

7. Israeli officials have been mostly mum about US President Donald Trump’s offer to have direct talks with Iran’s Hassan Rouhani.

  • It took 23 hours from when the offer was made for an unnamed Israeli source to finally come out with the closest we will get to an official statement, saying the US had been in contact with Israel about it and that its policies had not changed.
  • According to Hadashot news, though, Israel was caught off guard by the offer, though it’s not particularly worried.
  • Minister Tzachi Hanegbi tells Israel Radio on Wednesday morning that offering the talks is “correct” even if he is pessimistic it will amount to anything.
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren, though, detects an undercurrent of concern surrounding the offer, especially given Trump suddenly becoming buddy buddy with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
  • One Israeli official “did not hide his unease” writes Ahren, with the source citing the Singapore summit.
  • Another Israeli, former Netanyahu adviser Dore Gold, says just meeting Rouhani won’t mean much anyway: “The fact that you have a meeting doesn’t mean that you’re solving all the problems,” he says.
  • But former US ambassador Dan Shapiro says Trump’s behavior in the past should be cause for concern.
  • “If Trump actually gets in a room with the Iranians, God only knows what could happen. Certainly his advisers and America’s allies don’t know.”
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