The Jerusalem Post


By Evelyn Gordon

(The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator.)

...Reports by two Israeli Arab groups paint a dangerously false picture...


Over the last two years, Israelis have understandably devoted most of their attention to the war being waged in their streets. Yet the war being waged in the public- relations arena is potentially equally deadly - and nothing better illustrates this than the twin reports by two Israeli Arab groups, the Nazareth-based Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) and the Haifa-based Mossawa Center, that were mailed last month to 12 international organizations, including the European Commission, the European Parliament, the UN and the US Congress.

The reports, partly financed by Jewish money via the New Israel Fund, are one long string of lies, half-truths and misleading omissions - whose goal, as Jonathan Cook, co-author of the HRA report, explained in the International Herald Tribune last week, is to prove that Israel is not really a democracy; it is "a democracy only if you are a Jew."

HRA's report paints police interrogations of Arab MKs as political persecution by either omitting the reasons - as in Muhammad Barakei's call for Israeli Arabs to join Palestinian violence against Israel - or distorting them. For instance, it describes "a meeting MKs Ahmed Tibi and Muhammad Barakei had with Yasser Arafat in Ramallah in November 2001. Although the meeting took place when there were no military restrictions imposed on Ramallah, the prime minister asked Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein to investigate the MKs. Rubinstein questioned the MKs over the fact that a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was present in Arafat's room." Omitted is the fact that the PFLP had assassinated an Israeli cabinet minister just the previous month, and that a meeting with this organization's leader thus violated the law prohibiting contacts with terrorist organizations.

Similarly, the report avers that MK Taleb a-Sanaa was questioned because he termed a Palestinian shooting attack on the Kirya (Israel's Pentagon), which wounded eight soldiers and two civilians, "an act of special quality, since it was not directed against civilians - it was aimed against soldiers in the heart of the State of Israel." That is largely a statement of fact, and thus an absurd pretext for an interrogation. But the document omits the continuation: "This is the legitimate struggle par excellence of the Palestinian people." One can only imagine the response had an American congressman termed al-Qaida's attack on the Pentagon "legitimate." Yet a-Sanaa, though questioned, was neither prosecuted nor deprived of any of his parliamentary privileges.

The report also alleges that Jewish MKs receive preferential treatment: "In a case where Avigdor Lieberman was accused of threatening a police officer, a simple apology was all that was required to cancel the investigation." In fact, the attorney-general decided to indict Lieberman for his statements - a decision he has made only once against an Arab MK. He settled for an apology only after indictment was ruled out by the Knesset's decision that calling a policeman an "anti- Semitic racist" did not justify lifting Lieberman's parliamentary immunity. Many Arab MKs have made similarly offensive statements to public officials without even being questioned, much less threatened with indictment and forced to apologize to get the case closed.

CITING SEVERAL cases in which Arab MKs who accused policemen of assaulting them during demonstrations were later themselves accused of assaulting the policemen, the report says the credence given the policemen's testimony is proof "of the degree of racism towards Arabs in Israeli society." It fails to mention - as numerous demonstrators against the Oslo Accords could testify - that policemen also frequently level assault charges against Jewish demonstrators who accuse them of brutality, and are believed in these cases as well.

It claims that MK Azmi Bishara represents "the first time that the Knesset has lifted the immunity of an MK in a case not involving criminal activity or corruption" - omitting the fact that his immunity was lifted because he was charged with a crime (advocating violence) - and blasts a commission of inquiry's finding that Sheikh Ra'ad Salah helped incite riots without mentioning what prompted this finding: the Islamic Movement leader's oft-repeated canard that the government is planning to destroy al-Aksa Mosque.

But perhaps the worst distortion is the statement that "on May 15, 2002, the Knesset passed three amendments... allowing [the Central Elections Committee] to use new criteria for banning individuals or political parties from running for election. The grounds for barring candidates include explicitly or implicitly denying that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state; engaging in racist incitement; and supporting the armed struggle of an enemy country or a terrorist organization." These amendments, the report claims, will effectively bar Arab parties from running, since "all Arab parties have adopted platforms denying that Israel can be both truly democratic and a Jewish ethnic state." Yet it somehow fails to mention that the "Jewish and democratic" and "racist" criteria have been on the books since 1985 - and the only party they were ever used against during these 17 years was Kach, a Jewish party.

Only the "armed struggle" provision is new - and the charge that it will be used to ban Arab MKs because they "have continued supporting the Palestinian Authority and its chairman Yasser Arafat" is ludicrous. Many Jewish MKs from Labor and Meretz also support the PA's continued existence and consider Arafat its legitimate leader. What the law forbids is "supporting the armed struggle" - which is hardly unreasonable. What democracy would permit its legislators to actively encourage armed attacks on its citizens?

Since Israel's reputation as the region's only democracy is the basis for most of its support in the West, it is easy to see how damaging this report could be if its lies were believed. Combating such vicious propaganda must therefore be a prime objective for Israelis of every political stripe.

(c) Jerusalem Post

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