Analysis from Israel

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aptly noted yesterday, it’s “strange” that even as European governments loudly condemn anti-Semitic attacks like the one on the Brussels Jewish Museum, they “speak about friendship with a Hamas unity government that commits these very same acts and glorifies them.” The same goes for the Obama administration, which condemns terror with one side of its mouth while rushing to recognize the new Fatah-Hamas unity government with the other, even though Hamas leaders openly refuse to recognize Israel, give up anti-Israel terror, or disarm.

Yet this willingness to whitewash and even reward Palestinian misbehavior isn’t confined to government circles. As examples, consider two recent art shows–one sponsored by the Ottawa municipality and the Ontario Arts Council, the other by a Pittsburgh museum.

The Ottawa municipality is currently hosting an exhibition by Palestinian-Canadian artist Rehab Nazzal. It features a video called “Target,” which, according to official publicity material, shows “artists, writers and leaders” who were “assassinated” by Israel. But when Israeli Ambassador to Canada Rafael Barak watched the video, he discovered that many of these “assassinated artists and writers” were actually leading terrorists. They include Khalil al-Wazir, planner of the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which PLO terrorists hijacked an Israeli bus and killed 37 civilians; Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of that attack; Salah Khalaf, founder of the PLO faction that massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics; and Khaled Nazzal, a senior official of another PLO faction that massacred 22 Israeli schoolchildren at Ma’alot in 1974.

Moreover, several people featured in the video were actually killed by fellow Palestinians–including both Khalaf and one genuine artist, a caricaturist murdered for drawing derogatory cartoons of PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Still others were indeed killed by Israel, but hardly “assassinated”: Mughrabi, for instance, died in a shootout with Israeli soldiers who stormed the bus in an effort to stop the massacre. In short, Nazzal’s work is a piece of vile anti-Israel incitement and a glorification of terrorism, funded wholly by Canadian taxpayers.

No Western government would finance works glorifying, say, the 9/11 terrorists or the London subway bombers. But when Barak and local Jewish groups protested this exhibit, city hall trotted out the standard excuse: It was chosen by a committee of artists, and politicians shouldn’t interfere with artistic decisions.

The Pittsburgh museum’s behavior was, if possible, even worse. After Palestinian “anti-normalization” activists launched an online campaign to pressure Palestinian artists to quit a show featuring works by Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans, the Israelis–in my view wrongly, but certainly generously–offered to withdraw instead. Yet the Palestinians still withdrew, and one even published a vicious statement accusing the “Jewish lobby” of forcing them out.

Then, rather than letting the Israelis and Americans exhibit anyway, alongside a note explaining why the Palestinians withdrew, the Mattress Factory museum opted to penalize the innocent by canceling the entire show. Even worse, it cravenly issued “a public apology to all Palestinians everywhere for the misunderstanding of this exhibition.”

Both exhibitions thus sent the same message: Palestinians can engage in anti-Israel incitement, glorification of terror, and online bullying, but not only will they suffer no penalty, they will even be rewarded. Respected institutions will provide taxpayer funding for these activities, expel Israeli and American artists to accommodate them, and even issue fawning apologies for offending Palestinian sensibilities.

Needless to say, rewarding such behavior encourages Palestinians to continue it. And in so doing, well-meaning Westerners actually perpetuate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by ensuring that Palestinians never have an incentive to develop the culture of peace needed to end it.

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Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

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