For 33 years, on and off, I have tried to interest my fellow Israelis in human rights – to no avail.
During my undergrad in Jerusalem in the early 1990s I volunteered in the human-rights organization, “Hamoked” (“The Hotline”). I quickly discovered that trying to interest other Israelis in Palestinian human rights, and in the concept of human rights in general, is like…. ooof, I lack the perfect metaphor. For some reason fishes and bicycles come to mind, but there’s gotta be a better one.
Most people simply couldn’t care less. No, worse, they were offended: “Why aren’t you helping our own poor people? Why are you helping our enemies?” etc. etc. Voting to the left was ok by comparison — in the 1980s and 1990s left-wing parties were quite mainstream. But human rights? WTF does that even mean?
In the common Israeli discourse, human rights were some hobby of spoiled First Worlders, that made no sense in the Real World. Never mind that the world’s first Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the mainstreaming of human-rights principles, were inspired to a huge degree by the suffering of European and North African Jews, i.e., our recent ancestors (my own great-grandparents included).
I generalize; of course I wasn’t the only person in Israel into human rights. I was inspired by others and my younger sister, inspired by me, volunteered in that NGO for a while. She brought along two friends who have stayed on, and even became human-rights lawyers. But still, Israel’s human-rights community is very, very small.
Fast forward to the 2000s and 2010s. We ended up moving Stateside in 2002, in no small part due to that chasm of misunderstanding between me and most Israeli Jews over the basic principles of treating Other People; in particular those Other People called Palestinians. Meanwhile, what’s happened with Israelis and human rights? Things have changed. For the worse.
As opposition to the Occupation regime within the mainstream Jewish-Israeli political system evaporated, the triumphant right-wingers have zoomed in on the last woman standing: human rights organizations. They’ve become the enemy. They are being harassed, demonized, marginalized. Laws were passed to restrict human-rights NGO activities. Foreign human-rights activists are routinely blocked from entering Occupied Palestine. Human-rights motivated boycotts have been outlawed, and are treated like a particularly underhanded form of terrorism.
Of course, that’s nothing compared with what actual Palestinian human rights workers get from Israel. They might be imprisoned for long sentences on dubious charges, or simply imprisoned without trial, or their entire organization might be outlawed and its offices looted by soldiers. And inside Israel, these actions don’t even make the news, unless there’s a (mild, temporary) pressure from the West about them.
Honestly, I’ve given up on getting mainstream Israelis to care about human rights.
Turns out I was wrong! As the title says, all it took was a World Cup in Qatar.
In a video that’s fast turning viral, the foreign-news desk chief of mainstream Israeli TV channel 11 (”Kan”) goes all Human-Rightsy on Colombian singer Maluma, for joining the World Cup entertainment crew instead of boycotting the event. You can watch, it’s only 1 minute.
Mind you, Kan/11 (Israel’s public channel, now zombiefied by eternal Prime Minister Bibi) is physically in Qatar in full force. Kan/11 has no problem controlling the rights to broadcast the Cup’s matches in Israel, to their great benefit. (In case you’re wondering: no, Israel did not qualify for the tournament, so they didn’t really have to be there)
Mind you #2: the Israeli reporter, and the clip’s entire virality thus far, lacks even the smallest trace of irony or self-reflection. One can dig up dozens of Israeli news stories from the last 20 years complaining about, and demonizing, popular international artists who have either hard-boycotted or soft-boycotted Israel because of… well because of our own human-rights record.
Last I checked, no one in the Israeli or world media has done this digging-up yet. (I hope someone will, eventually)
Mind you #3: had the Israeli reporter suggested that Maluma should boycott Israel (or even just Israeli settlements/businesses in the West Bank) due to human rights violations, then by current Israeli law he and his channel could be sued and would likely lose; and his career would probably end right there and then.
Irony isn’t just dead, it’s buried some 6000 feet under.
The very same Maluma was actually in Israel 5 years ago as part of a worldwide tour. In East Jerusalem, he chanced upon a female “Border Guard” soldier. That unit, despite its name, specializes not in border-guarding, but in controlling, harassing, and generally oppressing civilian Palestinian populations. That is their main claim to fame, their identity and pride. In short: the soldier was there that day, to deny the human rights of East Jerusalem Palestinians, as they try to go about their daily lives.
But she was pretty, so Maluma took and shared a fun picture with her, generating a minor wave of outrage abroad. And of course, an opposite wave of passionate defense by Israelis and their overseas political fans.
Ideas and suggestions about what to do with the newly discovered Human Rights Wokeness of mainstream Israeli media, will be gratefully considered.