Israel between Two Wars: Olmert, Lieberman, and Washington’s Agenda

Olmert and Lieberman

Just what we needed.  The government is running hard in order to avoid the appointment of an authentic Judicial Investigative Committee, i.e., one with wide powers.  Our Prime Minister is busy preparing himself for investigations into his all “too-successful” real estate deals.  His popularity rating hovers at a magnificent 7%.  But Ehud Olmert keeps busy.  He repeatedly insists on squashing any serious expression in his cabinet supporting negotiations with Syria.  He and his party have succumbed to the settler Right and scrapped all plans for any unilateral withdrawals.  Moreover, it is clear to all that this government doesn’t have the slightest intention of taking down even those settlements clearly defined as illegal by Israeli law.  The sense is that the government is drifting without an agenda.

On the background of this semi-paralysis, and a government without an agenda, we had a visit last week from Ms. Condoleezza Rice, the architect of UN Resolution 1701.  It is hard to identify any lasting results of her visit.  It does seem that the Secretary of State of this tremendous world power “succeeded” in convincing the Olmert government to open one of the entry points in the Gaza strip for a number of hours per day for pedestrians and sick people. . . .

No, we do not claim that Ms. Rice actually gave Olmert an order to open negotiations for the inclusion of the racist, “transferist” Avigdor Lieberman in his government.  We know that it doesn’t work like that.  Even so, there is a connection between Rice’s visit and Olmert’s advances to Lieberman.  Rice explained to Olmert that Washington does have an “agenda” in the Middle East and that agenda includes a new round of hostilities.  In these circumstances, the addition of a racist, crypto-fascist politician and his 11 MK faction to the government is “just what the doctor ordered.”

Lieberman’s racist politics are well-known.  His party’s “peace plan” is based on the unilateral annexation of vast stretches of the West Bank and the transfer of many Arab towns and villages out of Israel and into the imaginary “Arab state,” envisioned in Lieberman’s plans.

Destroying Democracy in the Name of Democracy

The minute the news was out that there were serious talks between Olmert and Lieberman, the country was inundated with new initiatives to “improve” Israeli democracy.  Lieberman, it appears, was working on an agreement with Olmert for restructuring the governmental and parliamentary system.  Organizations and movements to save Israeli democracy appeared like mushrooms after the rain: university presidents and popular basketball coaches, the editors of Ha’aretz, MKs Shimon Peres, Hertzog, and other remnants of Ben Gurions right-wing RAFI faction in Labor, MKs from the Likud, and, last but not least, President Katsav (who managed to take time off from his current troubles of being under suspicion for sexual harassment/rape).  Everybody was running like mad to save Israeli democracy.  You read the recommendations and immediately recognize the spoiled merchandise.  It is “alte zakhen” [old things] in every sense.  For example, “strengthening the Prime Minister” by releasing him from dependency on a parliamentary majority.  For example, restricting the powers of the Knesset and distorting the will of the electorate by changes in the proportional representation system and forcing the public into a two-party model of government.  Now, since we do not currently have any “general on a white horse,” the establishment dispatches us to the United States in order to discover democratic foundations in and around the presidency of George W. Bush.

This Israel, in the interval “between two wars,” is not in the mood to countenance any internal opposition.  The government wants to take early steps warning the Arab population, designed to ensure its passivity.  The Israeli government is demanding that the Palestinian Arab population and its democratic allies in the country restrain themselves and demonstrate, by their silence, tacit acquiescence to Israeli actions on behalf of Bush’s plans in the region.

The present contacts with Lieberman are actually a racist demonstration against the Palestinian Arabs in Israel — and preparation for the approaching war.  You have to rub your eyes.  The very same Israel which claims, at least formally, that it wants dialogue and understanding with the Arab world is considering including in the government, in a central role, an avowed racist who supports the expulsion of Palestinian Israeli citizens from their homeland.

Get this.  A political movement based on new immigrants who have recently come to this country and who call their movement “Israel Beytanu” (Israel Is Our Home) has the nerve to spread poisonous propaganda that this country is not the country of a million and a half Palestinians who have lived here from time and eternity.  “Israel Beytanu” is not a legitimate political formation but a walking provocation which has no place in a genuine democracy.

This week, we are informed, once again, that Olmert is most serious about adding new partners to the coalition and that he is determined to reform the political system.  It is still possible that coalition complexities will keep Lieberman out this time.  Meanwhile, he has been showered with compliments portraying him as a serious politician.  The fact that the efforts to bring Lieberman into the government are accompanied by intensive lobbying aimed at the destruction of the foundations of Israeli democracy is certainly not accidental.

Academic Annexation

The College of Judea and Samaria (CJS) in the town of Ariel is a flourishing institution by any criterion.  The College was established by an edict of the regional military governor of the occupying forces who also appointed an academic committee to supervise academic development.  At a recent counting, there were more than five thousand students in a rich variety of disciplines.

There is, however, a small problem.  The college is a settlement in occupied Palestinian territories, as is the town in which it is situated.

Its existence is clearly illegal by any norm.  The first element of all binding international laws and conventions is the impermissibility of establishing any fixed, permanent, civilian institutions in occupied land.

Whatever its positive achievements as a vehicle of learning — all of which could of course be pursued 10 miles to the west, on the Israeli side of the green line — it is first of all a blatant example of brutal expropriation, national oppression, denial of human rights and outright thievery.

The college may parade itself as a lofty site of learning, but its very roots are rotten through and through.

Over the years, Israel has had two councils of higher educations: the official and recognized Council of Higher Education (CHE), which draws its authority from Israeli law; and another council, the Council of Higher Education in Judea and Samaria (CHE-JS), which draws its authority from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).  The relations between these two councils are cloaked in secrecy.  The College of Judea and Samaria has received funding and academic recognition by way of CHE approval and endorsement.  The CJS had all the cooperation that it needed to grow and develop, even if it lacked the formal recognition as an Israeli institution of higher learning.

The Israeli CHE, which is presently in a serous clash with the CHE-JS, will need to explain, earlier than later, by what right and authority it countenanced this convenient arrangement.  The whole setup may yet turn out to be a serious mistake for the Israeli educational establishment, which is justly under severe scrutiny regarding accusations of its complicity in the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian occupied territories.

The CJS enjoys serious political clout (the entire Right) and enthusiastic support from prestigious academicians on the Right.  It is a sort of diamond in the crown of the settlement project.  It wants to translate that support into an official and authoritative act of recognition as a university by the CHE.  It seems that colonels can establish a college, but a university launched and sponsored by the IDF would seem to be a bit too much and cause some academic brows to furrow up a bit.  The Sharon government tried to declare the CJS a university, back in 2005, but was reminded by the CHE that this was the sole province of the Council.

For reasons totally unconnected to the Judea-Samaria complications, the Israel CHE has decided to reject a number of requests from regional colleges in the country to become full-fledged research universities.  But, while the all-powerful Budget Committee of the CHE was keeping its finger in the dike, the CHE-JS passed a resolution in August setting out a number of steps to be taken by the CJS, and which, upon completion, would automatically convey on it full university status.

The Israeli academic establishment slept quite well, over the years, while the CJS grew and developed the local form of academic annexation.  But when the “bastard” offspring came to it with a number of Israeli professors as their academic sponsors for opening the path to university status, the CHE was, to say the least, very angry.  Angry, but not too wise.  The CHE decided that all of its members, and not only the select few serving on the CHE-JS, were, ipso facto, now members of the CHE-JS.  This seemed to be necessary to nullify the decision about opening the way to university status for the CJS.  At this point everyone is calling their lawyer, in order to figure out who has the authority to do what.

Given Israel’s justifiably questionable status in intellectual and academic circles abroad, there are at least two important questions that will inevitably demand attention.

1)  What were the relations over the years between the CHE education in Israel and the IDF-created CHE-JS?  Did the CHE in Israel aid, abet, or assist in any form or manner the development of the CJS?

2)  Even if an institution answers the standard requirements for recognition as an institution of learning, can the international academic community ignore the illegal foundations of the institution and its role in the annexation of the land of a dispossessed nation?

And these problems will not go away. . . .

Reuven Kaminer is a writer, political analyst, and veteran activist of the Left in Israel.  Read his blog at <>.  He is the author of “The Politics of Protest – The Israeli Peace Movement and the Palestinian Intifada” and innumerable other articles in Hebrew and English.  He is one of the founders and editors of “Ha’gada Ha’Smolit” [The Left Bank], a leading news and commentary website in the country:  Kaminer was a founding member of various protest formations such as SIAH (the New Israeli Left), the Israeli Committee for Solidarity with Bir Zeit University, and the Committee against the War in Lebanon and “Dai L’kibush” [End the Occupation].  Kaminer — along with the late Eliezer Feiler, Yael Lotan, and Latif Dori — was one of the defendants in a historic court case in 1987-1990, when the four were tried for having met with the PLO in Romania.  For more information, visit a special archive of the Israeli radical Left of the seventies and the eighties:  He is now a member of the Control Commission of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and the local left-leaning branch of Peace Now in Jerusalem.  He is proud that Matan Kaminer, his grandson,  is one of the Israeli refuseniks who went to prison for refusing to serve in the Israeli army of occupation.  The nicest compliment that he ever heard was the comment of a youngster, previously unknown to him, outside the Jaffa Military Court during the refuseniks trial, who told him that some people say that he is the grandfather of all the refuseniks.

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