Yonatan Gher
Director, Amnesty International Israel
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Beinart’s airport questioning: No mistake, just a fadiha*

Netanyahu doesn't think the policy is wrong -- he's just sorry it was applied to a prominent Jew

Following writer Peter Beinart’s Forward article on Monday, regarding his prolonged detention and questioning at Ben Gurion airport, PM Benjamin Netanyahu said this was an administrative mistake.

In French, the gesture of pulling down one’s eyelid to signal disbelief towards the content coming out of one’s interlocutor’s mouth is called, “Mon oeil” – my eye. As a child, I would receive this gesture whenever answering “yup” to my mother’s asking whether I finished all my homework. Most Israelis would skip this gesture, conveying its sentiment instead in either oral or written form with a sound best spelled “Pchchchchchch.”

It was actually a mistake. Not an administrative one, but a mathematical one. To get on that list of prolonged questioning, you get put through the following equation:

  • how illegitimate can we paint the actions you took to protest our government’s policies (if you’ve ever had contact with anyone who had once used the words “BDS” or “apartheid” — you’re golden);
  • divide that by your level of prominence;
  • open brackets, enter the amount of credit you’ll get in Israeli right-wing circles for the detention, and then subtract from that the level of how pissed American-Jewish leaders will be;
  • add that all together, and then
  • divide by two if you’re Jewish.

The result will tell us how likely we are to be able to paint you as an Israel-hater (self-hater or otherwise). Accordingly, we will decide to what extent Netanyahu’s following apology applies to you:

Israel is an open society which welcomes all — critics and supporters alike. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where people voice their opinions freely and robustly.

It’s obviously helpful that prominent organizations condemned Beinart’s detention, but it also raises the question: Why just now? I’ll focus for a minute on the response by Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League quoted in the above link. He said that: “Accepting wide-ranging views and advocacy strengthens commitment to a democratic Jewish state. Questioning those who may hold divergent views when entering or exiting Israel does the opposite.” He then added that Netanyahu’s response was “an important start.”

I just checked in with Tanya Rubinstein, general-coordinator of the Coalition of Women for Peace, who was questioned in a similar fashion when she returned from a conference in Stockholm this past May. She says, nope, no letters from a Jonathan Greenblatt. I imagine I would get the same answer from Yehudit Ilani, a human rights activist, who had a similar experience two weeks after Tanya. Considering Simone Zimmerman, former Bernie Sanders adviser, has a little bit of history with the ADL, I guess it’s no surprise that they did not speak out when she experience similar Shin Bet questioning last week.

Tanya’s questioning, marking the first in this current wave, was described in the Haaretz article as an “unusual incident.” Lest we forget that the only unusual thing about it was that it happened to a Jewish-Israeli citizen. For Palestinian-Israeli activists, let alone Palestinian-Palestinian activists, this would be their quite usual Ben Gurion experience.

Let’s be very clear: when Netanyahu says this was a mistake, he does not mean the policy is a mistake. He means its application to Peter Beinart was a mistake. This policy is part of a broader “us vs. them” strategy. Palestinians are “them.” Those who support Palestinian rights — human or political — is “them.” Anyone who opposes government policy is “them.” All these “thems” are evil. They oppose Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and “would have us all thrown into the sea.” So they are not worthy of enjoying such privileges as freedom of expression, as afforded to the “us” — being those who use their freedom of expression in praise of leader and state.

So, this begs some questions of Jonathan Greenblatt, and the other American and Jewish organizations who spoke out about Beinart’s detention: Are you upset that this is happening, or are you upset that this happened to Peter Beinart? When you say, Mr. Greenblatt, that Netanyahu’s response was “a important start,” how do you envision the finish? By canceling this thoroughly unJewish and undemocratic practice, or simply doing better math next time, to save “us” from the fadiha?

*Fadiha is a common Hebrew term, derived from Arabic. Its little sister — fashla — means a mess-up or small failure. Fadiha means the same, but with an after-taste of embarrassment. “Fashla” would be losing Peter Beinart’s luggage; “fadiha” is holding him for interrogation.

About the Author
The writer is the Director of Amnesty International Israel. Previously he was the Executive Director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Regional Communications Director of Greenpeace Mediterranean and Spokesperson for the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. Born in New York, Yonatan grew up in Jerusalem, and now lives in Jaffa with his husband and two sons.
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