Sunday, July 1, 2018

Shakira joins BDS boycott of racist Israel

Columbian star Shakira will not be performing in Tel Aviv this year following pressure from activists who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) said in a statement yesterday that it “welcomes the announcement that Shakira will not be performing in Tel Aviv anytime soon, dashing Israel’s hopes to use her name to art-wash its latest massacre in Gaza.”

“Hundreds of Palestinian municipalities and cultural organisations, as well as thousands of fans and boycott activists, from Gaza and Lebanon to Colombia and the US, appealed to Shakira to cancel,” PACBI added in its statement.

Last week, on 24 May, Palestinian cultural institutions and local administrations urged the Grammy Award-winning singer not to hold a concert in Tel Aviv as was scheduled.

Read: BDS claims ‘massive victory’ after company reports $4m in losses

“Performing in an apartheid state, whether South Africa in the past or Israel today, in defiance of the voices of the oppressed always undermines the popular struggle of the oppressed to end oppression. Doing so on the heels of a full-fledged Israeli massacre against our people in Gaza is a morally reprehensible whitewash of the crime,” read an open letter than was signed by a number of Palestinian art entities and municipalities.

The letter appeared on the website of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Reporting on the progress made by the BDS movement, PACBI added in its statement, “International celebrities, including Lorde, Natalie Portman and Gilberto Gil, are increasingly refusing to associate with Israel’s far-right Netanyahu government and decades-old regime of oppression.”

“Portugal’s national theatre director Tiago Rodrigues and dozens of UK bands have recently joined thousands of artists worldwide who support the institutional cultural boycott of Israel, in solidarity with the peaceful Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.”

Thursday, June 28, 2018

NY insurgent who said ‘Dems can’t be silent anymore’ about Palestine clips AIPAC poodle in primary shocker

Mondoweiss Editors on June 27, 2018 12 Comments

There is only one political story today, the defeat of Democratic Party stalwart Joseph Crowley by insurgent socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, in a congressional district in the Bronx and Queens. The news has reverberations for our issue, U.S. policy in the Middle East. Ocasio-Cortez has called on the party to end its silence on Palestinian human rights.

Here is Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet from the May 14 massacre on the Gaza border, when Israel killed 62 Palestinian protesters even as the U.S. moved the embassy:

This is a massacre. I hope my peers have the moral courage to call it such. No state or entity is absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else. Democrats can’t be silent about this anymore.

Crowley had supported the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, which detonated the killings, and catered to the Israel lobby group AIPAC. He is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, a ten-term congressman, the personification of the old guard. The party establishment has been wed to support for Israel even as the forces that Ocasio-Cortez represents, younger and more diverse, have demanded greater backing for Palestinian human rights.

Haaretz has more of the story:

Asked later why she chose to post the tweet, Ocasio-Cortez compared the Gaza protesters to civil rights activists in the United States.

“I think I was primarily compelled on moral grounds because I could only imagine if 60 people were shot and killed in Ferguson. Or if 60 people were shot and killed in the West Virginia teachers’ strikes. The idea that we are not supposed to talk about people dying when they are engaging in political expression just really moved me,” she said.

She told interviewer Glenn Greenwald that the “silence” around the Palestinian cause “has been a little interesting to me,” adding that her Puerto Rican roots her to relate to the Palestinian protesters.

“Puerto Rico is a colony that is granted no rights, that has no civic representation,” she said. “If 60 of us were shot in protest of the U.S. negligence in FEMA I couldn’t imagine if there were silence on that.”

Increasingly, she said, “People are separating the actions and status of Palestinians from even the greater geopolitics of the area. People are looking at Palestinians through a humanitarian lens.”

Just last week Democratic megadonor Haim Saban accused 13 senators who called for an easing of the siege on Gaza of being childish and uninformed.

Democrat Alan Dershowitz is apparently worried about the same trend. From Bernard Marcus, one of Trump’s biggest pro-Israel donors:

“I was just speaking to Alan Dershowitz who agreed that the Democratic party is turning against itself. We are frightened by so much anti-Israel, anti-Semitic sentiment. Look what’s happening in Germany, England, France…Jews have nowhere to go but Israel. You think Russia and Iran want to sustain Israel? We have to fight the fight!”

We have always predicted this battle inside the Democratic Party. It really seems to be coming at last.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

One Democratic State: an ongoing debate

from mondoweiss

Naji El Khatib and Ofra Yeshua-Lyth on June 25, 2018

“A gem cannot be polished without friction” – Confucius

As anger and despair grow exponentially among Palestinians and the world wavers between stupefaction, exasperation and outright complicity in the growing genocidal ideation of Israeli Zionists, the return to center stage of a simple concept, the ‘One Democratic State’ (ODS) in historic Palestine, is an encouraging development.

Today more than ever, people realize that the current regime of blatant ethnic discrimination will never end as long as the “Two States Solution” continues to be blindly repeated as the official, totally dishonest and irrelevant, mantra to ‘peace’. The violence, racism and ethnic cleansing, part and parcel of the Zionist State of Israel since its inception, can only be addressed by a political structure characterized by equal rights and full civil liberties for all the country’s long-suffering inhabitants, including those Palestinian refugees who should have been among its inhabitants throughout these last seventy years.

A recent piece in Mondoweiss by Jeff Halper, addresses this subject, albeit with an unnecessarily diluted and to our eyes, potentially dangerous vision, of the ODS program, that along with many others, we’ve been promoting for years. Before commenting however, a word about ourselves, the authors.

Both of us, an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian refugee, are active in “The Popular Movement for One Secular Democratic State (http://osds-‎ One lives in the Ajami quarter of Jaffa and the other in the Palestinian diaspora, far ‎from Manshieh, another neighborhood of Jaffa where his family lived until the Nakba. We both ‎ aspire to live under a single secular and democratic state for all its citizens inside historic Palestine, alongside the ‎returning refugees, under a rule of law that permits no discrimination based on religion, language, ‎ethnicity or gender.

A ‘bi-national state’ by any other name…
Whatever he chooses to call it, Halper’s ‘multicultural’ ODS is in fact a cleverly disguised package of bi-nationalism. His article focuses on “multiculturalism”, “constitutional democracy”, “bi-national state” and “collective rights” – all themes meaningful and pertinent to the ‘communities’ he sees as composing the social corpus of this future state’s civil society, but of no value or relevance to individuals. He proposes “to protect the “collective rights” of groups to maintain any type of community they wish within the framework of a multi-cultural democracy” – without defining what this would entail precisely and pragmatically.

Muddying the picture even further, he proposes a “de facto secular state”, but refuses to name it as such in the ODS program. Secularism clearly unnerves Halper who sees it as “a red flag” provoking the resistance of communities whom he describes as permanently and statically religious, nationalistic and immovable.

Aside from the orientalist mindset implicit to this attitude, we also find it puzzling from someone who grew up in a country that proclaimed the ‘separation of church and state’ loud and clear from its beginning, alongside a religious sector that’s thrived throughout the last two centuries. Secularism is not the negation of religious beliefs, nor is it ‘against’ religion. Secularism is the neutrality of the state vis-à-vis those religious matters that are strictly and only relevant to the citizen’s personal ‎freedom of beliefs, religious and/or philosophical.

Moreover, this view is shortsighted. If Halper ‎perceives the future electorate majority as so inevitably anti-secular, where does he expect to find the votes needed to put secular measures into place in a supposedly ‎’democratic’ state? A constitutional democracy accords any constituent minority the legal authority to block legislative measures perceived as ‎contrary to its opinion and/or interests. If his objective really is a secular state, then this approach is clearly flawed and self-destructive.

In our view, true democracy can only be achieved, or even aspired to, through the complete separation between religious institutions (mosque, synagogue, ‎church) and the state. This is the single best regulation of relations between central government and civil society. It is precisely the so-called ‘Jewishness’ of the State of Israel that has never allowed it to become a true democracy. Replacing it with potentially Muslim, Christian or Jewish ‘communities’ would be equally disastrous.

Moreover, the bi-national/multicultural system is replete with other potential pitfalls. A few examples:

* A bi-national constitutional state allows a ‘national community’ to secede from the state if parliament is perceived as having failed to protect it from another.

* The state’s undivided sovereignty is not possible once the heterogeneous mixture of multiple ‘sovereignties’ within the state and civil society is recognized. Each community would have its own sovereignty, functioning with its own cultural, religious and social institutions along the lines of national cantons, semi-independent, federated in a supra-structure of a formal state.

* What of the potential for bitter internal friction within these very communities? If communities with a strong religious component are accorded any type of legal authority, which Judaism, which Islam will actually prevail?

In such a context, it is all too easy to imagine a simple spark lighting the re-emergence of an ethno-religious state, to say nothing of the potentially crippling impact on everyday functions of the state. At best we would likely end up with yet another perpetually handicapped, confessional state along the lines of the government of the Lebanon.

Individual liberties at risk
From an anthropological point of view, the individual, regardless of political power, is attached by “organic” links to a given community. This attachment is cultural, not legal. A secular state does not attribute a legal status to ancestral cultural practices. For example, the law of the state should neither prevent nor encourage marriage either within or outside the ‘community’ nor should it forbid communitarian expressions, but it is duty-bound to take away the monopoly of confessional institutions over areas such as marriage and family law (divorce, custody, child and spousal support and inheritance). These inherited institutions would no longer have the exclusive right to celebrate and register marriage contracts.

While celebrating cultural expression of all kinds, including communitarian, we see decreeing community affiliation as part and parcel of one’s status vis-à-vis the state, as incompatible with true democracy. Using ‘community’ as a defining sociological basis for citizenship, rather than only the individual person, directly contradicts the concept of ‘citizenship of person’ defined as ‘a legal member of a sovereign state or belonging to a nation.’ ‎Citizenship is an entirely different concept than that of belonging to a community and the two must be distinguished legally in the clearest possible terms. How is this to be accomplished in a state organized around national, ethnic and religious ‘communities’?

Moreover, if we do not clearly establish the legal dominance of the secular, civil state from the start, how are we to avoid seeing religious laws maintain their authority within religious communities? According to Halper, “what is left unsaid is that religious law (halakhah, sharia, ecclesiastical law) may continue to pertain within its religious communities, …. but will accompany, not displace, civil law where people choose to observe it.” But where will the lines be drawn? This becomes doubly problematic for a state which refuses to identify itself as secular and doubly dangerous because we know that religious ‎communities and their political parties are infected by the germ of totalitarianism (see the recent extension of ‎the competences of the rabbinic courts)?

Our fear is to see communitarian and religious institutions dominating the daily life of their individual members in the name of ‘community rights’. This would be purely and simply liberticidal for the individual citizen who does not want to be held “prisoner” by his or her community ‎and would be especially dangerous for women, the first victims of misogynist and patriarchal laws. Endowing local communities with “state powers” means potentially sanctioning discriminatory regulations and attitudes towards women. Is this a risk we want to take?

This is just one reason why a fully democratic state must be clearly and unashamedly secular and why we believe that any state that is not defined as such, is quite simply not a democracy. Only a secular state provides lasting protection and guarantees fundamental freedoms for the individual. On the one hand, it provides balance between the civil rights of each and every citizen, without particular attributes and equal to every other, all the while belonging (or not) to a particular community and living according to his or her personal convictions on the other.

Secularism as a means of dismantling Zionism’s hold over Judaism
In parallel with the project of “expropriating” the land of Palestine, Zionist ideologues transformed Judaism ‎into a national myth so as to provide the Zionist-colonialist project with a ready-made pretext for establishing a “Jewish nation-‎state” on the “heavenly promised land”. By assigning an imaginary “national” geography to Judaic religious symbols, the Zionists ‘cloning’ of the European national model (with its colonial and racial discourse) became complete.

We see the politicization of religion and its spiritual dimensions, the transformation of a spiritual faith (whether of Judaism or any other religion) into a “nationality” as a perversion ‎of religion. The reversal of this process is also what we expect from the OSDS movement. A secular state of ‎non-nationalist citizenship would restore to the Jewish religion its basic inclinations and ‎vocations by “depoliticizing” it and simultaneously allow civil society of that country to unify around a coherent and single identity, thus breaking with the last seventy years of perpetual conflict along contrived, communitarian lines.

By proposing to formalize ‘Israeli Jews’ as a community based on this ‘religious nationality’, Halper falls, however inadvertently, right into that same old Zionist trap. A “bi-national state” for two “nations” (even when dressed up with the more ‘politically correct’ title of ‘multicultural’) amounts to little better than a re-branded version of the moribund ‘Two States’ of Oslo infamy. Enshrining these divisive definitions anew into the institutions of the ODS amounts to the same. The political programs implicit to the concept of ‎a bi-national state are simply one more, refashioned variant of the previous Nation-state recipe, but this ‎time with a double nationalism, bound to only aggravate tensions rather than alleviate them.

We see a future secular and democratic State in historical Palestine ‎for all its citizens as the achievement of a double-edged process of decolonization: ‎decolonizing Palestinians from the apartheid bi-national State of Israel and decolonizing Israeli Jews from the Zionist mindset of nationalistic ideology and domination. We see it as essential that the ODS take a new path, towards the creation of an entity that unifies its citizens under one cohesive identity. This alone gives us a chance of lasting future resolution.

This ‘One Secular State’ of non-nationalistic citizenship will be a Palestinian ‘state’ but not a Palestinian ‘nation-state’ according to the imported western state’ concept.‎ We see this as way of ‘re-inventing’ politics by adopting new ‎types of paradigms that render obsolete the colonial, nationalist and racist concepts characterizing Europe ‎at the end of the 19th century. The bi-national state, the ‘State-of-Two-Nations’, is the opposite of the post-national and ‎non-nationalist ‘One Secular Democratic State’ that we envisage and would have only one secular legal system for all citizens. Religious affiliation and practice would remain a purely private matter, rather than a public and collective ‎issue.

So how do we get there?
Halper’s claim that his peculiar version of democracy is the best way “to sell” the ODS proposition to Israeli Jews is particularly disturbing. It implies that the question will be resolved simply through “bargaining”, as if our goal as activists is only to convince through discussion, rather than to target the balance of power by every means possible through the hard work of political activism.

It’s clear to us that a real lasting “political settlement” will necessarily reflect an evolution of the balance of power in the field. This alone will be the conflict’s final resolution and mark the end of the wars, the repression and the suffering. ‎We agree with Halper that “we need a plan, a vision of the future, and an effective strategy for getting there”, but the One Democratic State also demands clarity, ‎factuality and determination – not ambiguity or equivocation.

Rather than bargaining or maneuvering so as to ‘sell’ the most easily palatable offer, we must create both conditions that call into question the ‘evidence’ used to validate the ‎dominant Zionist-national narrative and ideology and the means to provoke the beginning of awareness of ‎facts on the ground: The land of Palestine has now been completely annexed by the Zionist state, but Israel has yet to figure out what to do with ‎Palestine’s people. So far, mass deportations, population transfer, ethnic cleansing, massacres, forms of genocide and an apartheid ‎system of domination have all been tried and have yet to resolve this dilemma… What next?

Linking the Palestinian struggle for rights and justice, with a secular ODS political program could make the difference. Palestinians and non-Zionist Israeli Jews are invited to join in a ‎common struggle against Zionist domination of the land and of the “mindset” prevalent among its ‎Jewish population. ‎ What’s needed is to redefine the parameters and dynamics that have proved so destructive in the past, rather than simply repackaging them into an updated version of the same. Pragmatically speaking, Halper’s vision effectively resembles nothing so much as prophesy. It has no need for political struggle, it simply skips this step and jumps right to the desired result: ‎settlement. But what kind of settlement?

As a final note, we think it’s worth mentioning that the One Democratic State Campaign‎ is still in the process of consultation and opinions are as diverse as its members. Halper’s implication that his version has reached consensus could be mistaken as an attempt to impose his vision of a Bi-national State under the cover of One Democratic State. Please be aware that the debate is ongoing and open!

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About Naji El Khatib
Naji El Khatib (b.1954) Originally from Jaffa, Naji grew up in a Palestinian refugee family exiled to Lebanon. He was active in the Palestinian national movement as of an early age and later worked as an assistant professor at An-Najah National University in Nablus. His most recently published books are " The Plurality of Thought Versus the Monolithic Obscurantism" (2016) and " The Gender and the Globalization of Concepts- Deconstructive Analysis"(2015).

Sunday, June 24, 2018

In memory of Felicia Langer, the first lawyer to bring the occupation to court

By +972 Blog |Published June 24, 2018

Felicia Langer was a Holocaust survivor, a communist, and one of the first Israeli lawyers to defend Palestinian residents of the occupied territories in the Israeli Supreme Court. She died in Germany last week.

By Michael Sfard

Attorney Felicia Langer in 2008. UNiesert, Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

Israeli human rights lawyer Felicia Langer died Thursday in Germany.

Langer was a human rights and peace activist, a communist, and one of the first attorneys to represent Palestinian residents of the occupied territories in Israeli courts. In Israel’s Supreme Court, she pioneered legal practices that today seem natural and obvious but were once considered outrageous. She was the first to challenge the expulsion of Palestinian political leaders from the West Bank, the first to challenge the army’s practice of demolishing the homes of Palestinians suspected of militant activities, the first to accuse the Shin Bet of torturing detainees, and the first to fight the practice of administrative detention.

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In those days, there were very few Israeli lawyers willing to represent Palestinians. Langer — a Polish-born Jewish lawyer and Holocaust survivor who moved to Israel, joined the Communist Party, and defended Palestinians — became a hated figure among the general public. She was a Jew and a woman who joined forces with “the Arab enemy.” When I interviewed her during research for my book, The Wall and the Gate, she told me that there were periods when taxi drivers in Jerusalem would refuse to pick her up, that the threats against her were so severe that she was forced to hire a bodyguard, that she had to take the sign off of her office in Jerusalem, and that her neighbors asked her to clean off the words “you will die soon,” spray painted on her office’s door, because “it was not aesthetically pleasing.”

Langer fought, almost alone, against the heads of the judicial system at the time, against people with tremendous political and public power, like Justice Meir Shamgar and state attorney (and later a Supreme Court justice) Mishael Cheshin. The hearings in Langer’s cases were contentious. She never hesitated to accuse the establishment of carrying out crimes against her clients and to represent them — some of whom were members of the Palestinian leadership in the occupied territories, such as Nablus Mayor Bassem Shaka and Hebron mayor candidate Hazmi Natcheh — as victims of an evil regime.

Over the years, others followed the path that Langer blazed. First among them were Leah Tzemel, Elias Khoury, Raja Shehadeh, and Avigdor Feldman. Many others have joined since, as Langer’s path became a road, then a highway. But, in the 1990s, she came to see that highway as a fig leaf — that the judicial system was exploiting legal proceedings for public relations purposes and pro-Israel propaganda. She closed her office and moved to Germany, where she continued to fight the occupation and struggle for peace and coexistence.

Felicia Langer exits the High Court in Jerusalem, after the hearing of the appeal against Bassem Shaka's expulsion. November 22, 1979. (Herman Hanina)
Felicia Langer exits the High Court in Jerusalem, after the hearing of the appeal against Bassem Shaka’s expulsion. November 22, 1979. (Herman Hanina)

The following is an excerpt from The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights (Metropolitan Books, 2018):

Veteran residents of Jerusalem will tell you that the winter of 1968 was particularly harsh and snowy. And they know that when it snows in Jerusalem, Hebron is usually also covered in white. In the winter of 1968 both of these biblical cities and the road between them were blanketed in snow. But neither snow nor impassable roads could stop Felicia Langer. With her famous determination, she decided to take to the slippery road and drive from her office in downtown Jerusalem to the Hebron police station. A Palestinian sheikh from East Jerusalem had come to her office in the middle of the storm and told her that his son, who had just returned from studying in Turkey, had been arrested and taken to the Hebron station. When the parents sent their son clean clothes through the authorities in the detention facility, they received, in return, a dirty bundle that contained a bloody shirt. They had no idea what had happened to their son and they were very worried. Having been retained by the father to represent the son and visit him, Langer took a file folder and marked it with the number 1, the first case involving a subject of the occupation. Client number 1, the son of an East Jerusalem sheikh, would be the first of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Palestinians Langer would represent before the Israeli authorities over the next twenty-two years.

The Hebron police and the jail were housed in an old building in the center of the city, the Taggart Building, named after a British police officer who had gained expertise suppressing insurgencies in India and who designed fortified police stations all over Mandatory Palestine for His Majesty’s forces. The Israeli army was the third regime to use the structure, following the British themselves and the Jordanians.

When Langer arrived, she looked not just for the sheikh’s son, but also for two other clients, ‘Abd al-‘ Aziz Sharif and Na’im ‘Odeh, both members of Palestinian Communist movements in the Hebron area. Unlike the sheikh’s son, who, Langer found out during her visit, was suspected of membership in Fatah and infiltration into the country, the two Communists were suspected of nothing. They had been arrested under special powers stipulated in the Defense (Emergency) Regulations that were enacted by the British Mandate and had survived long after it ended. The regulations permit “preventive” (or administrative) detention, which is designed not to respond to an act already committed but to stop the potential danger posed by the detainee. Administrative detainees are neither accused nor suspected of anything and may be held without trial or charges being brought. Langer’s clients, Sharif and ‘Odeh, were to be the first raindrops in a monsoon of administrative detentions that would flood the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Langer was born in Poland in the early 1930s. Nearly all her relatives were murdered in the Holocaust. She and her parents managed to escape the Nazis to the USSR, but her father fell victim to Stalin’s regime. He died a short while after being released, in very poor health, from a Soviet gulag where he was held in dreadful conditions. Langer nevertheless became a devout communist. After immigrating to Israel, she joined the local Communist Party and became a pivotal activist. She began practicing law in 1965 and for a while worked in a Tel Aviv law office as an associate litigating all sorts of cases, but immediately after the 1967 war, Langer decided to devote her practice to representing Palestinians living under the occupation and opened her own office in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Knesset Council Bans Bill to Define Israel as State for All Its Citizens

In unusual move, bill disqualified before being discussed on Knesset floor because it 'seeks to deny Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people'

Jonathan Lis Jun 04, 2018 4:59 PM

MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List) discusses a bill in the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 30, 2018.Olivier Fitoussi

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A bill submitted by three Joint List MKs calling for Israel to be defined as a state of all its citizens was disqualified by the Knesset presidium on Monday before it even reached the Knesset floor for deliberation.

Seven MKs supported the decision to ban debate on the Basic Law: A Country of All Its Citizens," submitted by MKs Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Joumah Azbarga; two MKs opposed it (Esawi Freige from Meretz and Ahmad Tibi from Joint List); and MK Bezalel Smotrich from Habayit Hayehudi abstained.

This is the first time proposed legislation has been disqualified before being discussed in the plenum during the past two Knesset terms.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon clarified in a statement that, “both in the theoretical plane and in the specific one, it is hard to not see such a proposal as one that seeks to deny Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people, and therefore, and in accordance with Article 75(e) of the regulations, the Knesset presidium is qualified to prevent its submission.”

The bill, Yinon noted, “includes several articles that are meant to alter the character of the State of Israel from the nation-state of the Jewish people to a state in which there is equal status from the point of view of nationality for Jews and Arabs."

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The legal adviser also said that the legislation seemed to be aimed at altering basic principles – for example, by essentially cancelling the Law of Return (which declares the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel), and determining instead that receipt of Israeli citizenship will be based on a person’s familial affiliation to another citizen of the state.

In addition, wrote Yinon, the bill negates the principle according to which the symbols of the state reflect the national revival of the Jewish people, in addition to rejecting Hebrew language as the principal language of the state.

In a discussion on the Joint List proposal, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said: “This is a preposterous bill that any intelligent individual can see must be blocked immediately. A bill that aims to gnaw at the foundations of the state must not be allowed in the Knesset. This is the first time since my appointment as Knesset speaker 5 years ago that I am recommending that the presidium disqualify a bill. The three MKs from Balad [one of the parties making up Joint List] keep trying to garner votes through provocation, and we cannot lend a hand to this.”

By contrast, MK Freige said that, “the Jewish majority often challenges the Arab minority, and an example of that is the so-called nation-state law. Why are the drafters of that law allowed but Zahalka is not?”

"The minority," said MK Tibi, "has a right to protest and to oppose conventions such as rights being enjoyed only by the Jewish majority in Israel, a situation that reinforces the inferiority of the Arab minority.”

MK Smotrich, who had abstained said he agreed "completely with the Knesset speaker, that this is indeed an absurd bill. However, a directive that prevents a bill from being discussed at the Knesset needs to come by means a Basic Law, and not from Knesset regulations.”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Unexpected Uprising: The Crisis of Democracy in Nicaragua

Courtney Desiree Morris
May 14, 2018
North American Congress on Latin America

The Nicaraguan government’s brutal response to protests over social security cuts has produced a nationwide grassroots mobilization against President Daniel Ortega. The Ortega-Murillo regime faces a crisis of legitimacy, which could open the door to the forces of both democracy and reaction.

Nicaraguans Protest Social Security Cuts. A Catholic Church-mediated dialogue between Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, representatives of university students, who are leading the protests, and business groups and trade unions, began on Wednesday. , The NationOnline (Nigeria)

Over the last two weeks, tens of thousands of people—university students, pensioners, environmentalists, feminists, religious leaders, black and Indigenous activists, journalists as well as left-wing and right-wing opposition groups—have flooded the streets of Nicaragua, calling for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. The protests have shocked the world and shaken Nicaraguan politics to its core. The unfolding crisis has taken many, including the government, by surprise. Yet the conditions for this uprising have been in the making for more than a decade and reveal a deepening crisis of legitimacy for the Ortega administration.

On April 18, Ortega announced that the government, under executive order, would institute a series of reforms to the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS), which manages the nation’s pensions fund and is teetering on the brink of insolvency. The reforms would increase the amount that employees and employers have to pay into the system, while cutting benefits to elderly pensioners by 5%. As Jon Lee Anderson notes in The New Yorker, public response was “furious and swift, with demonstrators taking to the streets to protest” the following day, April 19. University students, many of whom had been involved in protests earlier in the month following the government’s mishandling of a wildfire in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve on the Caribbean Coast, joined with outraged pensioners to protest the government’s actions.

The government’s reaction to the demonstrations escalated rapidly into violent repression. The state shut down multiple television stations broadcasting live coverage and ordered anti-riot police forces to disperse the demonstrations, firing live rounds into crowds of protestors while ordering the mass arrests of student activists and attacking universities in Managua. Pro-Sandinista gangs, known as turbas, and members of the Sandinista Youth also attacked demonstrators with mortars and other arms; there are reports of turbas assaulting protestors as the police stood by and failed to intervene.

By the end of the first week of protests, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) had confirmed 43 deaths, two people in critical condition, and hundreds more wounded; other groups, relying on official and unofficial reports, estimate approximately 60 deaths. Among the dead was a journalist, Angel Gahona, who was shot and killed while live streaming coverage of protests in the Caribbean coastal city of Bluefields on Facebook. The Nicaraguan Red Cross reported that it assisted 435 people, 242 of whom had to be hospitalized.

The Ortega Administration on Thin Ice

The administration’s response to the protests was alarming and revealing. On April 19, Vice President Rosario Murillo spoke about the protests during her daily midday address to the nation. In her talk she described the protests as an effort to “promote destruction [and] destabilization,” and decried the protestors as “tiny groups that threaten peace and development with selfish, toxic political agendas and interests, full of hate.” President Ortega responded two days later in a televised speech that echoed Vice President Murillo’s earlier comments. In his speech, he claimed that the protests had been infiltrated and were being manipulated by narco-traffickers, gang members, and delincuentes covertly equipped, financed and directed by conservative political elements in collusion with the radical Right in the United States. “I understand that the mobilized student groups probably do not even know the party that is moving all of this,” he said.

If Ortega’s comments were intended to restore law and order, they had the opposite effect, further inflaming public sentiment. Protestors observed that Ortega never mentioned the protestors that had been killed or addressed ongoing allegations of police abuse. Instead, he appeared to be more concerned about the economic impacts of the protests on Nicaragua’s image as a safe and attractive tourist destination. For many, Ortega’s response proved that he was out of touch with the public. Even his own Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) supporters including Jaime Wheelock and Bayardo Arce, Ortega’s current economic advisor, have admitted that “Ortega made a mistake” in his handling of the protests.

As the protests continued to escalate, calls for peace and calm came from the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), Nicaragua’s most powerful business association, and the Catholic Church, which later agreed to serve as a mediator in talks with the state. On April 22, Pope Francis, speaking during his Sunday address to thousands of the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City, expressed his concern about the crisis in Nicaragua and the deaths of protestors and police officers. He called “for an end to every form of violence and to avoid the useless shedding of blood” and urged that political differences be “resolved peacefully and with a sense of responsibility.” Meanwhile, on April 23, the United States Embassy in Managua announced it would cease routine operations and family members of embassy staff were ordered to leave the country.

These are not the first protests that Ortega has faced while in office. In 2013, a coalition of environmentalists, human rights organizations, black and indigenous activists, and mestizo campesino activists mobilized to protest the passage of Law 840, which granted a concession to the Chinese corporation Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Company (HKND Group) to build an interoceanic canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific to rival the one in Panama. Activists filed 38 suits against Law 840, the largest number of cases to be brought against a single law in the nation’s history. Opposition is nothing new for Ortega—he’s dealt with it his entire political life during his first term as president in the 1980s and three terms since 2007. But the recent INSS protests, which have become known as the 19th of April Movement, mark the first time that so many different sectors of Nicaraguan civil society have united to oppose him.

On April 22, in response to mounting public pressure, Ortega announced in a televised speech surrounded by representatives of the business community that the government had rescinded the reforms. He called for peace, stating: “We have to restore order. We cannot allow chaos, crime and looting to prevail…and we will act under the rule of law and under the Constitution to ensure and guarantee the restoration of stability and social peace so that workers can peacefully go to work.” He also announced the mass release of detained protestors and agreed to participate in a “dialogue,” but only with the business community. Regardless, the reforms, along with the state’s brutal crackdown on protestors, have done considerable damage to the government’s public image.

This is reflected, for example, in the protestors’ targeting of the most potent symbols of the administration. They have burned billboards featuring portraits of the president and party propaganda and toppled the massive “Tree of Life” light installations that line major thoroughfares throughout the capital and the nation’s major cities. The trees (140 in total) have been a pet project of Murillo in her rebranding of the FSLN as a party of love, reconciliation, Christian charity, and solidarity. Described as a “gift to the Nicaragua people,” each tree costs $25,000 to install and collectively they generate $1 million in annual energy costs. The public assault on these critical symbols of the Ortega-Murillo administration reveal that the protests have expanded far beyond anger over the austerity reforms and have given way to a much deeper set of political demands. As one protestor at a demonstration held by the Catholic Church on April 28 told reporters, “the changes in social security were the last straw. But they were doing so many things before—stealing elections, stealing government money, so much corruption.”

From Radical Revolutionary to Quiet Caudillo

Nicaragua's current crisis is tragically ironic, considering that 40 years ago, Ortega played a central role in leading the armed movement that toppled the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. He served on the nine-member National Directorate that governed Nicaragua during the transition from the Somoza dictatorship to the revolutionary government. He was elected president in 1984, which he held until the Sandinistas lost the presidential elections in 1990 to the United National Opposition, a coalition of right-wing parties. Ortega thus became the first Nicaraguan president in history to peacefully cede power to an opposition party.

Over the next 16 years Ortega would transform himself from a revolutionary to a political strongman who wielded decisive political influence in both the FSLN party and in national politics. During this time, he consolidated his control over the FSLN, purging the party of dissidents who questioned his actions, brokering pacts with rival political leaders, and stacking the National Assembly, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), and the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) with his supporters. Upon his re-election in 2006, made possible by changes to the nation’s electoral laws that allowed Ortega to win the presidency with only 38% of the vote, he quickly set about consolidating his hold on state power. The Ortega administration currently controls all four branches of government, the military, and the national police force, and has effectively transformed Nicaragua into a one-party state.

The recent protests have prompted comparisons to the Sandinista Revolution. When protestors chant, “Ortega y Somoza son la misma cosa,” (“Ortega and Somoza are the same thing”), they highlight the fact that Ortega, the former revolutionary, has evolved into a would-be dictator. Certainly his use of cooptation, party patronage, and political repression seems to be taken directly from Somoza’s governing strategy. For more than 40 years, the Somoza family ruled Nicaragua with an iron fist and enjoyed the full backing of the United States government. From 1936, the Somoza-controlled Liberal Party dominated Nicaraguan politics through a system of corruption, bribery, constitutional manipulation, clientelism, and—when that failed to quell dissent—violence, imprisonment, and political assassination. In the 1960s and 1970s, following the Somoza regime’s mishandling of a 1972 earthquake that displaced thousands of people combined with outrage over the government assassination of a respected journalist, thousands of young men and women joined the FSLN to overthrow Somoza in an unlikely revolution that many people, both inside and outside of Nicaragua, never saw coming. Ortega’s seeming inability to realize the full implications of the protests and his initially tone-deaf response to the public may prove to be his greatest mistake, echoing Somoza’s underestimation of the FSLN, which proved to be his undoing.

The Birth of the 19th of April Movement

The 19th of April Movement shares many characteristics with similar popular democratic movements that have emerged in recent years. Like the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the Movement for Black Lives, and the Zapatista movement, this mobilization is defined by its diffuse, collective leadership model, strategic use of social media as a tool for collective protest, and the reclamation of public space as a site for direct political action. The flexible structure of this emergent political formation has opened a space for many different kinds of political voices to enter these debates and frame their critiques of the government from their specific social location.

Black and Indigenous activists from the Coast, particularly after the murder of Angel Gahona, have emerged as some of the most militant critics of the Ortega-Murillo party-state. While they are explicitly critical of the administration’s assault on the nation’s democratic institutions, they have also criticized the state for its undermining of the nation’s multicultural constitutional reforms as well as recent attempts by the government to charge a group of young Creole men with Gahona’s murder despite eyewitness accounts that allege he was murdered by local police. That costeños, or coast residents, have been able to articulate a place within this broader political formation suggests that the movement presents an exciting opportunity for rethinking the racial politics of Nicaraguan nationalisms in ways that were previously unimaginable.

But this model also produces its own political challenges. It is unclear, for example, whether the student protestors will be able to translate the gains that they have achieved in the streets into meaningful institutional transformation and democratic policy reforms. A small group of university activists, many of them from the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua (UPOLI), have agreed to participate in dialogues with the national government. But they have remained wary of the government and have stated that the government must immediately cease its repression of protestors and release all detained protestors before they will engage in talks. Older activists, many of them former Sandinistas, have warned that the government will attempt to use the talks as a strategy to neutralize and coopt the students.

These concerns are warranted. Daniel Ortega is an experienced and skillful negotiator who cut his political teeth brokering a truce with the Contras and Miskitu resistance fighters during the civil war in the 1980s. Ortega’s biographer, Kenneth Morris, argues that his political opponents have tended to underestimate him—to their own detriment—and Ortega has masterfully used this to his advantage, presenting himself as an unassuming political figure while quietly brokering pacts with allies and opponents and increasing his own power.

Many protestors have claimed that the movement is neither Left nor Right, rather it is an expression of the collective discontent of the Nicaraguan people and thus occupies a moral space above the fray of party politics. Given the way in which political parties pervade the most mundane aspects of daily social life—determining access to employment and educational opportunities and the benefits of government-sponsored social programs—it is striking that protestors have opted to frame their dissent using the moral discourse of nationalism and citizen leadership that refuses the disciplining and constraining logic of party affiliation. The politics of refusal embodied in the repudiation of party politics signals a radical rethinking of the meanings of Left and Right, liberal, conservative, and revolutionary. What does it mean to define oneself in these terms when it is clear that authoritarianism is operable across a range of divergent ideological standpoints? What do we make of the project of post-revolutionary neoliberalism and managed democracy that has unfolded under the Ortega administration?

Rebranding the FSLN

Political analysts inside and outside of Nicaragua argue that it is a misnomer to refer to the FSLN as Leftist party. Since returning to power in 2007, Daniel Ortega has reinvented himself as a reformed revolutionary willing to do business with the private sector and to accede a certain amount of political power and influence to the Catholic Church in order to secure his own claims to state power. Prior to his re-election in 2006, Ortega oversaw the approval by the National Assembly of one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the hemisphere, which bans abortion even in cases of rape and incest. He has proven to be an adept neoliberal, quietly honoring free trade agreements, increasing foreign investment and the influence of the corporate sector while publicly railing against capitalism and imperialism. Upon taking office, his administration launched a vicious public media campaign against the women’s and feminist movements in Nicaragua, vilifying them as a group of lesbians, pedophiles, witches, and abortionists bent on destroying the heterosexual, nuclear Nicaraguan family. The administration launched a similar attack on the independent media, buying up newspapers and radio and television stations and denying or withdrawing permits for independent media organizations that are critical of the state.

While the government has maintained a series of successful social programs that are vital for the survival of poor Nicaraguan families, these programs serve a dual role. They are administered by local government agencies known as the Life, Community, and Family Cabinets. Though the Ortega administration claims these institutions reflect the government’s commitment to accountability and participatory democracy, in fact, they are a mechanism of party patronage that allows the FSLN party-state to provide direct social benefits to its supporters while excluding its critics from much needed resources. This has been a critical strategy in Ortega’s efforts to maintain the appearance of democratic rule and electoral legitimacy. Ortega’s wholesale cooptation and weakening of the nation’s democratic institutions contravenes the very values of Sandinismo that defined the revolution as a moment of utopian possibility. In this current iteration of the Sandinista Party, very little leftist ideology remains.

The FSLN and its domestic and international supporters have argued against the protests and claimed that the FSLN is the victim of a complex scheme by right-wing opposition groups to destabilize the country and seize the state. An op-ed piece published in Telesur, “Nicaragua: Next in Line for Regime Change?” claims that the protests “have been characterized by lethal violence from extreme right-wing shock groups trying to destabilize Nicaragua, just as they have done in Venezuela.” These critiques have found considerable support among the U.S. Left, which has a long relationship of solidarity with the FSLN. But Nicaragua is not Venezuela, and the crisis unfolding in Nicaragua is largely of Daniel Ortega’s own making. Despite the growing indications of an authoritarian turn under the Ortega administration, the international Left has tended to highlight the administration’s work for the poor and Ortega’s recurring success at the polls—by all accounts, he won at least 70% of the vote in the 2016 presidential elections.

Nevertheless, the concern among leftists that the Right may capitalize on this moment of political instability to push through a more conservative agenda is based on previous patterns of intervention and must be taken seriously. The current threat from the Right in the United States comes in the form of the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA). In 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed NICA, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) and Representative Albio Sires (D-New Jersey), which opposes “loans at international financial institutions for the Government of Nicaragua unless the Government of Nicaragua is taking effective steps to hold free, fair, and transparent elections.” The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), has languished in the Senate since 2017, but it appears that the legislation enjoys at least nominal support from the Trump administration. Political analysts and activists have largely repudiated this measure, arguing that it will only harm Nicaraguans and do little to unseat the Ortega administration.

While no evidence has surfaced that substantiates the claims of the Ortega administration and its supporters, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that right-wing actors are attempting to leverage the moment to their own advantage. If history serves as any indication of the outcomes of U.S. involvement in this conflict, NICA would likely tip the scales in favor of a more conservative, pro-U.S., business-friendly administration. Yet it does not appear that NICA is the primary element behind the protests. The fact that the protests unfolded in the absence of a major foreign intervention illustrates that Nicaraguans stand as the real force behind the demonstrations, signaling the emergence of a grassroots, nationalist movement.

The People Have Spoken

The government recently launched a truth commission—staffed primarily by individuals with former or existing ties to the FLSN—to investigate the deaths during the first wave of protests. It has further committed to engaging in a “national dialogue” with a select group of representatives from different sectors of civil society, including the university students in the 19th of April Movement. The administration has refused, however, to allow representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) to lead the truth commission investigation as activists have demanded, and it is difficult to see how the state can investigate and hold itself accountable for the crimes that it has committed against the people of Nicaragua, especially while government repression continues in various cities throughout the country. In the meantime, activists around the country are planning a national strike, suggesting once again that these protests represent merely the opening salvo in a much longer struggle against the Ortega administration.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has given the administration one month to respond to the protestors demands for dialogue. Regardless of their ultimate outcome, the protests have produced an irreversible shift in Nicaraguan politics. They have produced a crisis of legitimacy that may ultimately be the unexpected undoing of the Ortega-Murillo regime.

The people are speaking. It remains to be seen how Ortega will respond.

[Courtney Desiree Morris is a visual artist and assistant professor of African American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. She is a social anthropologist and has worked on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua since 2004. She is currently completing a book on black women’s activism and the authoritarian turn in Nicaragua. For more of her work see]