Israel / Politics in Israel

“You can certainly keep people out of your country if you believe they are undermining it; you are playing with fire if you keep people out who disagree with you”

I sincerely doubt the Prime Minister of Israel is directing anyone to interrogate Peter Beinart or Reza Aslan; but I do believe that the government of Israel’s insistence on collapsing the distinction between BDS and violent threats to Israel, which it has done through both formal government ministries and through private channels, fuels the Shin Bet’s suspicions and therefore its interrogations.

This approach is inexplicable because I don’t know why Israel has to overcharacterize, amplify, and thus empower the hate against it as it has done with the otherwise-powerless and largely-failed boycott movement. But worse, it is also unjustifiable, because the distinction between political critics and opponents, nonviolent activists against the country and its government, and violent revolutionaries – while in some cases these may live on a spectrum – is a critical distinction that a democratic government is bidden to *protect,* and never to collapse. This is an argument I have tried (and failed) to make to my Israeli right-wing friends: the legitimacy of their ideas, if they believe in them, should be tested by whether they can survive in the marketplace and in the electorate in a fair fight against competing ideas. That Israeli society, through the security apparatus, has effectively determined that the way to defeat nonviolent ideas as held by dissidents and protesters – as well as by people not even connected to BDS but adjacent to it socially or politically – bespeaks a failure of confidence. By amplifying the BDS threat, the government allows itself to police ideas that are often probably more aggravating than threatening; and by doing so, it runs the risk of jeopardizing its democracy for its supposed security. You can certainly keep people out of your country if you believe they are undermining it; you are playing with fire if you keep people out who disagree with you.

In the end, I’m not surprised that in a summer of public protest performances of trying to embarrass the Israeli government and the Jewish philanthropy industry, that tempers are flaring in those establishments; the protests, and the retributions, all seem so symbiotic. Still, governments shouldn’t take the bait so easily. The instruments of state should never come across as quite so needy.

Yehuda Kurtzer, Facebook post (15 August 2018) [https://www.facebook.com/yehuda.kurtzer/posts/10156772156197174]