Targeting of dissidents speaks to deep insecurity at the heart of Israeli society
Despite its occupation project carrying on apace in the West Bank, Israel is plagued by deep insecurity. Geopolitically, the country regularly claims it is alone in a sea of enemies as it tries to drum up international support for its policies of domination over Palestinians. The result is a steady flow of foreign military aid, mostly from the US, that has allowed Israel to develop one of the most powerful militaries in the world, replete with an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Yet within Israel’s borders, a manifestation of deep-felt insecurity is unfolding.
Last week prominent anti-occupation activist Jonathan Pollak was assaulted outside his office in Tel Aviv. Yelling expletives in Hebrew about leftists, two assailants attacked him with a knife, leaving scars on his face. The assailants are thought to be associated with Ad Kan, a right-wing organisation with political ties to the Israeli government. The group first gained prominence after members infiltrated the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence.
Israeli media gobbled up slanderous accusations from Ad Kan activists about Breaking the Silence, including claims the organisation was collecting and publishing classified information on Israeli military operations and trying to turn new army conscripts into spies. Ad Kan members also infiltrated Taayush, an Israeli-Palestinian anti-occupation group that has been active for close to two decades in the South Hebron Hills. Hidden footage from the Ad Kan moles was eventually used in political show trials of Israeli Taayush members.
Ad Kan is the latest right-wing group desperately attempting to tarnish any Israeli involved in anti-occupation activism in the West Bank. Despite Israel’s unrivalled domination over the West Bank and Palestinian life in general, there is a concerted effort to take down any opposition to the occupation. Activists, human rights lawyers and former soldiers who speak out about their service have all been targeted. The violent attacks against Mr Pollak are the latest escalations in this ongoing internal war.
Mr Pollak, along with two other veteran anti-occupation campaigners, had been dealing with a separate Ad Kan legal battle before the attack. Using an obscure Israeli law to launch a criminal prosecution against anyone attacking agents of the state, Ad Kan opened a case against the activists for participating in protests against the West Bank separation barrier and attacking Israeli army soldiers and border police officers.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Mr Pollak stated that he would not show up for the trial. “Ad Kan, a right-wing spook organisation, together with three soldiers and a former border policeman that it located, used the esoteric judicial procedure called criminal complaint to prosecute us,” he wrote. “Despite the threat of imprisonment inherent in failing to attend the proceedings, I have no intention of reporting.” That was when he found himself on the receiving end of a vindictive and malicious campaign of persecution.
On its official Twitter and Facebook feed, Ad Kan posted that Mr Pollak was refusing to attend the trial it initiated against him. The group then posted photos of a mock arrest warrant they intended to serve him that included Pollak’s home address and identification number. After the attack, Ad Kan denied that it had posted any private information and rejected claims it was inciting violence.
Regardless of the group’s protestations, the entire episode highlights the deep insecurity at the heart of the Israeli right. The left has been completely decimated in Israel. There is no real conversation about ending the occupation and recent elections have featured right and centre-right political parties. The centre-left Labour party posted its worst results in history in the last election. Which begs the question: what does the right have to fear? US President Donald Trump is publicly committed to supporting just about any Israeli action regarding the Palestinians or the occupation. Why would a ragged bunch of leftists from Tel Aviv engender so much effort and anger among right-wing groups like Ad Kan?
While there has been a resurgence in political organisation among Palestinian citizens of Israel, these developments aren’t the focus of the right wing. Palestinian citizens face such institutionalised discrimination in Israel that any concrete political challenge they might pose will be roundly defeated.
Even the numbers of anti-occupation activists in Israel should give little cause for alarm. The anti-occupation movement gained steam in the middle of the last decade but has since waned in terms of prestige and participation. One would be hard pressed to find more than 10 or 15 Israeli activists at West Bank protests these days.
It is not the number of people involved in anti-occupation movements that concerns the right. It is the power of the idea. There are extreme regimes around the world that use right-wing organisations to persecute dissidents around the world for precisely this reason. Anti-apartheid campaigners were a tiny minority of the white population of South Africa at the time but that didn’t stop the regime from cracking down on them with full force.
Israel understands all too well that non-violent activism in the form of popular protests and boycotts can’t be defeated with its advanced military machine. That is precisely why it uses every tool at its disposal to ensure its citizens don’t engage in such vocal action and give the movement any more legitimacy than it already has. While the occupation might appear protected for the time being for Israel’s leaders, there are no guarantees that circumstances won’t change. Similar regimes have all ended when the power of non-violence finally broke the back of the occupiers. Ad Kan and organisations like it are merely a tool that is being used to prolong the inevitable.