Wednesday, July 20, 2016
What's Good For the Goose...
Yesterday, the Knesset finally passed a controversial bill into law that will allow Israeli lawmakers to expel a Member of Knesset who supports armed struggle against the State of Israel and/or incites racial hatred. The new law - which many assume is meant to target Joint Arab List MK, Hanin Zoabi - will require at least 90 of the 120 MKs to vote in favor of their colleague's removal.
The law passed by a margin of 62-47, but one has to wonder how such an obvious idea wasn't unanimously embraced and approved!
Not surprisingly, since it was a right wing coalition majority that passed the new law, many left wing MKs are calling it 'anti-democratic', and are bemoaning it as 'the death of Israeli democracy'.
Yet, interesting, the Israeli left had no problem whatsoever passing an amendment to the Israeli election law back in 1988 which had essentially the same intent; albeit to keep someone from entering the Knesset rather than creating a provision for removing them.
That 1988 amendment had the stated goal of barring Rabbi Meir Kahane's far-right Kach party from participating in that year's Knesset elections where polls predicted it would likely increase its Knesset representation from 1 to 3 (or maybe 4) seats.
The 1988 amendment codified into election law that a party could be prevented from participating in Knesset elections for even one of the following:
- Negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people
- Negation of the democratic character of the State
- Incitement to racism
While I don't think anyone would call me a Kahanist, I find it puzzling that none of our lefty lawmakers ever felt the need to invoke the above-mentioned amendment in order to ban Zoabi and her party from elections, since she has repeatedly and unequivocally met all three of these legal conditions.
So, to the Meretz and Zionist Union MKs who are currently bleating about this evil new law I say that, had you pushed for the fair and honest application of the election law amendment your predecessors passed back in the 80's specifically to block a far right party from entering the Knesset, the current right wing coalition government would have had no need to pass a new law to allow for the removal of a far left wing lawmaker who espouses anti-democratic / anti-Israel values.
Sadly, the Israeli far-left subscribes to a chillingly Orwellian worldview of fairness and entitlement where, under the law, some are more equal than others.
In a real democracy, what's good for the goose must be good for the gander.
Monday, July 18, 2016
To Call Something Unnatural Is To (Unwittingly) Acknowledge Nature's Role
Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, head of the the Bnei David religious military academy, recently referred to LGBT individuals as "perverts", and criticized the Israeli military for allowing them to "force their way' into the IDF's ranks". [source]
Really?! There is such a paucity of things to criticize in our fraying society that able-bodied citizens who want to serve in our country's defense forces should be publicly shunned and shamed?
One would at least wish that Rabbi Levinstein's ill-advised comments could be dismissed as a lone, confused voice among otherwise reasonable people.
Sadly, another prominent religious leader, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan (a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv), recently declared that gays and lesbians are "disabled people suffering from a real problem that must be solved with psychological and pharmacological treatments."
Rabbi Ariel went on the add that, "pride in one's sexual orientation is unusual and presenting it as "progressive" causes many young persons to choose not to identify as straight. Young boys going through puberty who are looking for their identity—instead of helping them to find their natural and normative identity, they push them to go in the opposite direction and ruin their lives". [source]
Under what rock have these people been living to be able to spout such antiquated and discredited ideas?
I have a news flash for Rabbis Levinstein and Ariel. When I hit puberty, I didn't go looking around for my sexual identity, and there is exactly zero chance that I could have tailored my newfound longings to prevailing trends. It fell on me like a ton of bricks!
That I was hit by the equivalent of heterosexual lightning was, perhaps, fortunate for me, since my urges and actions were naturally channeled into socially acceptable rituals of dances and dating.
But had my hormones come on-line at puberty and powered up a plant tuned to a different frequency, I would have been forced by society to hide in the shadows and watch with envy as my peers openly kissed and groped one-another at proms and in the back-seats of their families' willingly lent cars.
In the not-too-distant past, being anything other than heterosexual was considered a criminal offense in many parts of the modern, western world (and remains a capital offense in much of the less evolved third world). And there was widespread belief not too long ago that such 'deviants' could be hypnotized, counseled, shamed, punished, drugged, shocked or tortured out of their non-traditional 'life-choices'.
The root of the problem, then as now (IMHO), is the completely mistaken idea that one's gender identity and sexual orientation are, in fact, matters of choice.
To those who would say otherwise, I would remind them that you can't call something unnatural (which implies a clear natural order), and in the same breath imply that it is a product of a conscious choice. Nature decides our gender and sexual proclivity. If a religious person has a problem with the cards that nature dealt an individual, I suggest that their beef is with G-d, not with the person who, according to religious doctrine, was created according to G-d's will ("ברוך... שעשני כרצונו").
Just as with natural hair color, a person can use dye to try to conform to current styles, trends and mores. But the dye doesn't actually change the natural color. It simply offers a temporary mask which fades and is inexorably pushed aside by time.
I would respectfully suggest to these (and other) Rabbis who feel inclined to offer commentary and criticism on the sexual activities of others, that there is fertile, un-plowed territory awaiting their much-needed scrutiny: Their efforts can be best employed in weeding out predators and pedophiles from among the ranks, not of the IDF, but of the clergy and educators who are their professional peers and colleagues.
By perpetuating a medieval approach to human sexuality, these religious leaders are stifling enlightened, educated discussion of the most basic of human urges, and are thus both marginalizing it and relegating it to an exiled underworld without rules, communal norms or oversight.
It is within this dark, unmentionable world that far too many religious educators and community leaders are allowed to abuse and prey on the most vulnerable members of the human flocks that are entrusted to their care.
This abuse spans the entire spectrum of human sexuality (it isn't just a gay thing), and will continue only so long as un-enlightened Rabbis (and priests, ministers, imams, etc.), continue to err in their most basic assumptions about what makes us all human.
Personally, I am not offended by images like this:
I see two, responsible adults walking hand-in-hand in the light of day, who have agreed to defend me and my family... even at the cost of their own lives. That they happen to be gay is as relevant to me as their hair color. And if my pre-pubescent son were to see them walking down the street holding hands, it wouldn't make a bit of difference to which ton of hormonal bricks falls on his head in the coming months.
I would suggest to Rabbi's Levinstein and Ariel et al, that their exhortations to exclude LGBT individuals from serving in the IDF is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem. Rather, their time would (IMHO) be better spent worrying about the wolves in sheep's clothing who are lurking among the leaders and educators they call their colleagues.
[Before anyone posts a knee-jerk rant accusing me of insulting the Torah or the Sages of Israel, please don't make me post a list of convicted sexual abusers from among the leaders of our religious community. That would, indeed, be a hillul hashem (a desecration of G-d's name.]
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Sunlight Is The Best Disinfectant
This week the Israeli Knesset passed the NGO Transparency Bill into law, setting off a firestorm of criticism around the world... especially in the US, Europe and, of course, the UN.
This criticism was dutifully reported in the Israel-bashing media with varying degrees of accuracy as to what, exactly the NGO law is.
For those who are unfamiliar with the new Law, here are the main points (Don't thank me... I'm a giver):
- NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must report this fact each year to the NGO Registrar in the Justice Ministry, which will publish a list of said NGOs.
- NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must note this fact on their websites for the rest of the year.
- NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must note this fact on any publications related to the NGO’s advocacy that are readily available to the public, as well as in their communications with public servants and elected officials.
- NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments are required to inform the chair of a Knesset committee that they are on the list whenever they appear before said committee
No, nobody has to wear badges (Badges?! We don't need no stinkin' badges!!!), nobody is being silenced, and certainly nobody is being shut down. Everyone simply has to declare (i.e. be transparent) about foreign governmental financing in excess of half their annual budget.
One of the phrases that was nearly universal in both the international and domestic condemnation of the new law was that "it is anti-democratic".
Um... you keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it does.
Let's review: A bill was introduced by a member of Israel's democratically elected parliament, and voted on three times after three separate readings (as required) before being passed into law. The law itself asks for nothing more than that information that could potentially indicate the presence of hidden agendas or motives be made available to all active members of the democratic process, from the voting public to the decision makers in government.
How is that anti-democratic?!
Here are some excerpts from yesterday's international hand-wringing sessions, along with some much-needed context from me:
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he was, "...concerned by Israel’s passage of the so-called ‘NGO Transparency Law,’ which contributes to a climate in which the activities of human rights organizations are increasingly delegitimized.”
No, no delegitimization going on here. Human rights groups (more like Palestinian rights groups, since they make no attempt to advocate for Jewish Israelis whose human rights are violated), can continue doing whatever they have been doing. They simply have to be open and transparent about who thinks their work is important enough to give them more than half of their operating budgets".
The EU's External Action Service said "the reporting requirements seemed aimed at constraining the activities of civil society organisations".
No. Once again nobody is being targeted or constrained. But if an NGO is actually a front for a foreign governmental entity, they are no longer allowed to hide this fact.
The US State Department said that the new law "could have a "chilling effect" on the activities of civil society organizations in Israel".
I find it troubling that foreign countries and media feel free to weigh in on internal Israeli policies, yet would bridle at similar interference in their own domestic affairs. I suspect that this tendency stems from an ongoing international consensus that it's still 1947 and Israel's existence and legitimacy are still up for discussion, and subject to international deliberation.
Sorry to break the news, but we are a sovereign country, with all that implies. Kindly sod off.
I also find it interesting that suddenly everyone is using the same terminology to describe these NGOs; 'civil society organizations'. As if only so-called Human Rights NGOs are invested in promoting civil society. In fact, quite the opposite is true if anyone bothers to track their activities.
The very NGOs that are screaming the loudest against this new law are the ones behind much of the unrest and violence going on in Israel and the West Bank today, not to mention their direct involvement in incitement against Israel, and our demilitarization abroad.
Let's think for a moment which foreign countries would encourage such un-civil behavior? I guess this new law will soon put that question to rest.
What's interesting is that many countries have similar (or more stringent) laws which, just like Israel's, are meant to prevent undue foreign interference. But the community of nations has not seen fit to lose their collective minds about those laws... only about Israel's.
For instance, the US has had a law on the books since 1938 called the 'Foreign Agents Registration Act', requiring that agents representing the interests of foreign powers in a "political or quasi-political capacity" disclose their relationship with the foreign government and information about related activities and finances. The purpose is to facilitate "evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities of such persons." [emphasis mine]
Russia also has a similar law called the 'Foreign Agent Law' that requires non-profit organizations that receive any foreign donations and engage in "political activity" to register and declare themselves as foreign agents.
All laws are meant to promote and/or discourage behavior. In this case the new NGO Transparency Law is meant to discourage foreign governments from meddling in internal Israeli matters... at least without their proxies being forced to make their foreign governmental backers known to those they are trying to influence.
But despite all the wailing, the new law isn't going to shut anyone down or silence any voices in our vibrant democracy. In fact it has a loophole so big you could drive a tank through it: If anyone wants to be exempted from the new law, they need only say 'no thank you' to all those foreign governments who are bank-rolling them, and find some private donors.
If you pay attention, you'll notice that most of the critics of the new law are screaming some variation of the following: "The new law will apply almost solely to Human Rights organizations".
That's not exactly true. What is true is that at the moment it will apply almost solely to left wing Human rights organizations, because they are the only ones that are directly funded by foreign governments. Most right wing (and non-political) NGOs are funded by private individuals and grass roots sources. There is nothing nefarious in that. There are plenty of wealthy left wing donors who these NGOs can approach for funding.
By the way, private donor funding is usually a better indicator of popular support for a position, since they are putting their own money where their mouth is. For governments, even a huge donation (relative to the size of the organization), is just another line item in a bloated budget that nobody is checking very closely.
Complaining about who is most impacted by the new law is a bit like saying that drunk driving laws are inherently unfair because they only target those who drink to excess and get behind the wheel. No government wants drunk drivers on their country's roads... nor do they want foreign powers having undue and/or hidden influence over their internal policies.
You know who hates this new law? Those who have benefited for years from the ability to operate in the shadows.
So now, as a result of this new law, when an NGO tries to directly influence Israeli law and/or policy, those citizens, politicians and decision-makers that the NGOs are trying to influence will have the right to know that it is the Netherlands, UK or Spain backing their play.
And as much as I would like to believe that all modern democracies have nothing but altruistic and unbiased motives for how they project their influence abroad... their voting records against Israel at the UN seem to suggest otherwise.
It isn't always the case, but it stands to reason that if a foreign power wants to assume an active role in another country's internal affairs, the public and decision-makers have a right to know about it. Thus the word 'transparency' in the middle of the new law's name.
Anyone who thinks that forcing an NGO to reveal their source of funding may prejudice their target audience against them, is probably right. As it should be (see the bolded line in the US law above).
Are Sweden's and Israel's interests always perfectly aligned? Of course not! So why should Sweden's funding of an Israeli NGO that tries to take a direct and active role in influencing Israeli policies, be hidden from view and consideration?
The rest of the world seems to think they always know what is best for my country. But they don't have to live with the results of their often-mistaken and misguided ideas. At least now their involvement and influence in Israeli politics will be brought into the light of day for all to see. How can that possibly be a bad thing?
After all, sunlight is still the best disinfectant.