Thursday, December 15, 2011

Israel vs. Settlers, Israeli Supreme Court, HR Dishonest Reporting Awards, and Friedman Fallout

Mideast Media Sampler 12/15/2011

by DG
1) Ramat Gilad

The New York Times reports Israel leader sets new curbs on violent settlers:
In his announcement of the authorization to use what is called “administrative detention” against radicals — imprisonment for long periods without charge — Mr. Netanyahu said: “Those who raise a hand against Israeli soldiers or Israel police personnel will be punished severely. Those who rioted at the Ephraim Brigade base are like those who riot in Bilin.”
Early Tuesday, dozens of settlers attacked the Ephraim Brigade base of the army, near Qalqiliya in the northwest of the West Bank, after they heard that settler outposts were to be dismantled. Mr. Netanyahu’s comparison was to a Palestinian village north of Jerusalem, which for six years held weekly demonstrations that occasionally turned violent against the Israeli security barrier’s encroachment on village land. 
A spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, Mark Regev, said by telephone that one of the most significant elements of the announced changes was the way they brought aspects of the legal systems for Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank into line.
Jameel at the Muquata unconditionally condemns the attacks against the army bases and provides some background.
Shortly after the murder of Gilad Zar in 2001, Ramat Gilad was founded. The first two caravans plus a double caravan for a Bet Knesset were placed with the approval of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his advisor for settlement affairs, Yossi Vardi. 
In 2003, a plan for 185 units on the slopes of Ramat Gilad was approved by the Housing Ministry. The plan received all the necessary approvals except for that of the Defense Minister, for whose approval we've been waiting for eight years. 
In 2004 "Peace Now" petitioned the court to require the government to destroy Jewish settlements that were built on private Arab land. Moshe Zar was not invited to the proceedings. No one else claimed ownership. No Arab has any claim on the land. 
The only complaint that has been presented to the Supreme Court, for Jews living on a hilltop in the Shomron is from "Peace Now." As a result of the petition, the government committed itself to destroying Ramat Gilad by the end of 2011.
A few things are worth noting here. The purchase of the land for Ramat Gilad was a private transaction. Only in Israel where nearly anyone can have "standing" to bring a lawsuit, could Peace Now contest the purchase in the courts. This underlines several issues that are very much in the news.

Peace Now has a constituency of probably no more than 10% (and I suspect less) of the Israeli electorate. It continues to function not because of internal Israeli support, but because of foreign funding. Yet because of its unlimited access to the court system, it can and does affect Israeli governmental policy.

Furthermore for those who complain that Israel discriminates against Arabs and for the need of making peace with the Palestinians, this case highlights that peace with the Palestinians necessarily involves discrimination against Jews.

So for those who see the efforts for greater transparency of NGO's or limits on the court as assaults on Israeli democracy, it's important to realize that the issue is not as simple as portrayed.

2) Israeli courts

Eliot Jager has written Full Court Press for Jewish Ideas Daily. After illustrating some of the problems with the court, Jager concludes:
Where does this leave Jabotinsky-style classical liberals who are unhappy with the Court's overreaching and its codependence with foreign-funded leftist pressure groups? Some of them would rather accept a flawed, hyperactive Court than have a runaway populist Knesset. The Likud's Dan Meridor has forcefully supported judicial prerogatives against political criticism. Benny Begin, also in the inner cabinet, referred to Knesset efforts against the Court as "political gluttony." Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who allowed the issue to fester, has ultimately sided with Meridor and Begin against the Court's opponents within his own party and beyond. 
Netanyahu made the right call. Israelis can't convincingly criticize the Arab world's pure democracy, now catapulting one Islamist party after another to power, while championing populist majoritarianism in Israel. Today's Knesset has no majority to block separate sidewalks and buses for men and women or prevent religious obscurantists from marginalizing women in the Israel Defense Forces. It is questionable whether a majority would support Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar in forbidding separate, unequal elementary schools for Ethiopians in Petah Tikvah or would overturn the segregation of Sephardi ultra-Orthodox girls from their Hasidic classmates in Emmanuel. The list goes on. 
The issue is not that the Court makes tough and controversial decisions but that it is politically tone-deaf in doing its work. Israel's Supreme Court, to restore badly needed legitimacy, must—like its critics—abjure "political gluttony" and internalize rather than delegitimize criticism. Ultimately, however, Israel's High Court can only be safely revamped not salami-style by the Knesset but as part of an overall reform of the political system.
Jager's conclusion is unsatisfying. He still doesn't address the fact that Israel's High Court of Justice has plenty of checks from other branches of government but no balances.

Jewish Ideas Daily has linked to a number of relevant articles from different sources. Evelyn Gordon reminds us that these controversies over the court have been going on for some time. Richard Posner critiques a book by for chief Justice Aharon Barak, who provided the philosophical basis for how Israel's high court operates. The article is called Enlightened Despot. Finally, law professor Ruth Gavison asks Who's afraid of judicial reform? The questions about reforming the court system in Israel, despite ridiculous charges that they are an assault on democracy, have everything to do with finding the proper balance in Israel's political system.

3) Dishonest and proud

Honest Reporting came out with its Dishonest Reporting Awards for 2011.The Guardian leads the way of dis-honorees.

It's interesting to note that a famous picture of a stone thrower getting hit by a car in Silwan just won an award. The award was not ironic. However the picture in question was staged. You can't make this stuff up.

4) More Friedman fallout

There have been a number of new critiques of yesterday's Thomas Friedman column. Elder of Ziyon questions his portrayal of Palestinian nationalism. Daled Amos observes that this wasn't the first time Friedman charged that Congress was bought by the Israel lobby. Omri Ceren made a similar observation. Congressman Rothman of New Jersey demanded an apology.

Powerline writes that Friedman has gone Walt and Mearsheimer. The most complete critique was from Ron Radosh, Thomas Friedman, the Demonization of Israel, and the Assault Against Josh Block, which brings several recent news items together. Radosh quotes David Frum, who got to the core issue:
As Frum aptly puts it, the real issue is “a referendum on whether it is more unacceptable inside today’s liberal Washington to use the language of anti-Semitism — or to protest the language of anti-Semitism.”
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