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      Op-Ed: A Culture of Repression

      Published: Tuesday, December 04, 2007 1:09 AM
      The Season continues in Israel.


      Compared with "neighbors" like Iran and Syria, Israel is a paragon of liberty. But freer is not the same as free.

      Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Mordechai Eliyahu recently said that Reform and
      Bad taste is to seek legal punishment against someone for expressing an opinion.
      Conservative synagogues "reek of hell." The Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel responded that it plans to sue Rabbi Eliyahu for slander.
      "Rabbi Eliyahu crossed the border of good taste," stated Masorti Secretary-General Yizhar Hess.

      It's peculiar that Hess refers to bad taste. One definition of bad taste is to seek legal punishment against someone for expressing an opinion.

      The Masorti Movement's aggressive rudeness brings to mind the Arab Israeli political party Balad. In 2005, Balad asked an Israeli District Court to prohibit Jewish groups from using the color orange in protests against the expulsion of Jews from the Gaza Strip. Hezbullah-supporting Knesset member Azmi Bishara claimed, "We have used the color orange since 1999, during three election campaigns. Therefore, we claim the color orange is clearly a political symbol associated with Balad and, in spirit, it has become ours."

      The attempts by Masorti and Balad to muzzle free speech would be bad enough. What is more disturbing is the Israeli state's repression of right-wing Zionists.

      In 2000, Ehud Barak's government began a criminal inquiry into former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef for negative remarks he made about Minister of Education Yossi Sarid. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein said that Yosef would be investigated for "crimes" including "insulting a public official." (In Cuba, it is also a crime to commit "disrespect" against members of the Castro regime.)

      Barak's comment was worthy of a Bolshevik: "There is no room for statements that deepen the rift and that do not contribute to reconciliation."

      In the summer of 2005, teenager Chaya Belogorodsky participated in a demonstration against the expulsion of Jews from Gaza. A policewoman arrested her for insulting a public official, and Chaya was kept in solitary confinement for five days and jailed for forty days.

      That same year, Zionist activist Nadia Matar sent a letter to Yonatan Bassi, head of the "Disengagement Authority" that oversaw the expulsion of Gaza's Jews. She wrote, at one point:

      "The truth is that you are a modern-day version of the Judenrat - in reality, a much worse version, because in the Holocaust, the Jewish leaders were forced to act by the Nazis and today it's very hard for us to judge them. Today, no one is standing with a gun to your head and forcing you to participate in the deportation of the Jews of Gush Katif and northern Samaria."

      In 2006, Israel prosecuted Matar for insulting a public official by this letter. A Jerusalem court dismissed the charge, which the state has appealed.

      For a comparative view, in June 2006 approximately 200 Israelis, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's daughter, went to IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz's residence and called him a murderer. None of them were arrested for insulting a public official. Meanwhile, anti-Zionists occupy political positions. Balad Knesset member Jamal Zahalka recently told Ha'aretz, "In Balad we have always opposed the definition of Israel as a
      Anti-Zionists occupy political positions.
      Jewish state."

      Israel's discriminatory violence against right-wing Jews goes back to before its declaration of establishment in 1948. In an infamous period in 1945 known as "The Season," the Haganah hunted members of the militant independence group the Irgun on behalf of the British authorities then occupying the country. Israeli philosopher Hugo Bergmann condemned the Haganah's "Ku Klux Klan acts," and the late Israeli political scientist Ehud Sprinzak observed in Brother Against Brother: Violence and Extremism in Israeli Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination:

      "Names of Irgun financial supporters, including individuals and institutions, were exposed and given to the British. Hundreds of Irgunists were captured by Haganah activists in the streets or in their homes. A significant number, including senior commanders, were handed over to the British; others were caught by the British themselves after having been tipped off by the Haganah's intelligence services. Many were detained in kibbutzim and brutally interrogated in small, isolated cells. Eli Tavin, a member of the Irgun supreme command abducted in the Season operation, was told, for example, that he had been sentenced to death. Held and tortured for months in a small kibbutz cell, Tavin was told that his death sentence had been commuted three times."

      In a different form, The Season continues in Israel. Just ask people like Nadia Matar.