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Israel Outlaws Nation’s Leading Muslim Group – OpEd

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Contemplate this: the Department of Homeland Security announces that henceforth the Nation of Islam, the Westboro Baptist Church, and Zionist Organization of America are outlawed organizations.  They are considered supporters of a terrorist ideology and must completely dissolve their organizations and their programs.  Anyone found to be a member of any of the groups is liable to criminal prosecution.

In response, the groups refuse to accept the decree.  They announce that in order to continue representing the legitimate interests of their followers and co-religionists, they are going underground.  They denounce the decision as a serious violation of the Constitution and call upon the nation to protest it.  The result: dead silence.  Everyone who hasn’t been banned is too cowed to put up much of a fight, though scores of the remaining legal groups know the new policy is unjust and a grave violation of civil liberties.

That scenario sounds pretty far-fetched here in the U.S. (though China currently does precisely this to Tibetan Buddhists and the Falun Gong, and Iran does the same to the Bahai).  But it isn’t far-fetched at all in Israel.  Defense Minister Yaalon, a political ally of Kahanist Moshe Feiglin, took advantage of the terror hysteria sweeping the globe to outlaw the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Israel’s leading Islamic organization.  Keep in mind that this is the same guy whom the NY Times’ Tom Friedman called “Israel’s very decent defense minister,” in a recent column.  Can you imagine what Friedman’s definition of ‘decent’ is?  Or better yet, what his definition of ‘decency’ is?

Its leader Sheikh Raed Saleh, has just been jailed for the umpteenth time for some offense or another.  Saleh, who successfully fought banning by the UK Tory government, is the equivalent of Malcolm X in the Israeli Palestinian community.

He is a fiery, uncompromising advocate for Muslim unity.  An implacable opponent of Israeli oppression of his co-religionists.  The Movement spearheaded resistance to Israeli encroachment on the Haram al Sharif.  Though it has never advocated violence or been charged with engaging in it, nevertheless the Israeli government blames the group for fomenting all of the Palestinian attacks against Jews over the past two months.

According to the Israeli Jewish narrative, everyone is to blame for anti-Israel terror: ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Islam–and now the Northern Movement.  Everyone, that is, except Israel.  It is never to blame for the bloodshed and massacres it inflicts.  It is merely a victim, defending itself against terrorist monsters like those who struck in Paris.

Is Saleh and the Northern Movement angry and defiant? Yes.  Is it an implacable foe of injustice against Israeli Muslims? Yes.  Is its rhetoric intemperate at times? Yes.  But is it a terror group?  Does it commit or advocate violence? Does it advocate overthrowing the State?  No, to all of the above.  In fact, Israel’s Shin Bet chief, Yoram Cohen, rejected the cabinet’s assertions regarding the Movement.  He said explicitly that it does not promote terror and that banning it is a mistake.

I warn the pro-Israel crowd here that you can dredge up misquotes and mistranslation from the Jerusalem Post and MEMRI all you want.  It won’t change the fact that this banning is inherently racist and Islamophobic (no Jewish terror group has been similar banned though there was talk of banning the Jewish fascist group, Lehava).  I have no interest in parsing propaganda tracts alleging Saleh said this or that, which you will all undoubtedly be marshalling to defend this outrageous decision.  So I put you on notice and a short leash.Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 11.18.17 PM

As I wrote above, this banning is a cynical ploy by the defense minister seeking to kiss-up to his Kahanist settler constituency. It seeks also to criminalize a large cross-section of Israeli Muslims who are loyal to the NOrthern Movement, which plays a huge role in providing a social safety net among this community.   As NoamR tweeted (“What Yaalon did today in his infinite wisdom, was to take a large, cautious organization which was under a magnifying glass, whose every step was openly reported, and send it underground: a declaration of war”), this decree is not just anti-democratic, it will drive the Movement underground just as the Egyptian junta has driven the Muslim Brotherhood underground.  In Egypt, the result has been a series of bloody bombings and terror attacks by Egyptian Islamists angry at the massacres of the military regime directed against their followers.

This move by Yaalon will drive an even greater wedge between Jews and Muslims within Israel.  It will provoke more violence on both sides, more hatred.  As Noam wrote, it is nothing less than a declaration of war.  Until this time, the most savage violence was between Israeli Jews and Occupied Palestinians.  Henceforth, the action will gradually shift to within Israel itself.  The Palestinians of Israel are a loyal, long-suffering and generally quiescent regarding their second or third-class citizenship.  That may all be changing.  When it does, you will not have just a war between Israel and Palestine.  You will have a civil war within Israel: Israeli Jewish citizens murdering Israeli Palestinian citizens.  In the name of nationalist supremacy.

Israel is a State going to Hell in a handbasket.  It’s worst enemy is itself.  I have never witnessed a train wreck.  But watching this insanity slowly unfold is the closest thing to it.

I have been exploring what sort of organized protest or movement may spring up around this issue.  It is the sort of grave injustice which demands mass protest and the cooperation of disparate groups.  Speaking of which, watch what the Israeli “left” does and says around this issue.  Remember what I wrote above about “silence?”

This article was published at Tikun Olam.


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Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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