Israeli comedian Assaf Harel ruffled a lot of feathers last week with a provocative monologue addressed towards his Israeli audience. Using the last 5 minutes to close up his show, “Good Night”, Harel took aim at the Israelis who engaged with their, “amazing ability to ignore what’s happening mere kilometres away” to the occupied Palestinian population. On the Palestinians, he said, “there are a couple of million people…and they’re in a horrible state. Infrastructure, food, health care, education. Millions who are living in abject poverty. Gaza is on the verge of plague, hours on end without electricity or water.” While these stark words, and this narrative, are nothing new to many observers of the conflict, they are not often aired on a mainstream Israeli TV station. Channel 10, the broadcaster of the Harel’s show, decided not to renew the series due to poor ratings.
Apartheid and Extremism
Harel attacked the idea being warned about by commentators in recent times, since the rise of the political Right in Israel, that the state was at risk of becoming an Apartheid state; in his view, this regression into such a state had long passed – “Are you kidding? Apartheid has been here for ages. Ages. It’s just that we’re on the ‘good’ side, so it doesn’t really bother us”. He went on to rubbish that idea that the so called “extreme left” in Israel can be equated with the extreme right, “On one side the extremists kill, on the other side the ‘extremists’ talk. On one side the extremists’ burn people alive, and on the other side the extremists demand human rights”. The “Good Night” show is no stranger to controversy in tackling the Israeli right; one such incident resulted in the show being fined for poking fun at what it perceived to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political exploitation of his own brother’s death.
Harel shone a light on many uncomfortable truths. He highlighted the recurring phenomenon of Israeli theft of Palestinian land, reminding us that while in the past Israelis would have raised funds through the Jewish National Fund to purchase lands from Palestinians, now they simply pass laws allowing for the confiscation of Palestinian land by the Israeli state. Israel’s “Regulization Law” is essentially a law allowing for the appropriation of Palestinian land by the Israel, opening the door for outright theft of Palestinian land by the government and settlers. While the conflict is essentially rooted in the stealing of land, this recently passed law is unprecedented in it’s legalisation of theft of land; prior to this, while land-theft might have been practised, the Israeli authorities didn’t have the audacity to claim it was legal.
Stone Throwers and Executors
The comedian also commented on the sheer injustice of Israel’s policies towards Palestinian stone throwers, including the reality that they are regularly shot at by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). He ridiculed the Israeli position on charging Palestinians with stone-throwing, by highlighting that an Israeli would never be charged for such a “crime”. The ridiculousness of this policy, as well as the double-standards practised by Israeli criminal-justice, was highlighted last month in the sentencing of IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was filmed executing an injured Palestinian last year. He was sentenced to a paltry 18-month for the killing last month, having been found guilty of manslaughter – many commentators have since pointed out that it wouldn’t be uncommon for a Palestinian to receive a longer sentence for simply throwing a stone. He also criticised the Israeli policy of placing Palestinian journalists under administrative detention without charge, for writing something deemed too critical of the state.
The monologue was a timely reminder of the injustices faced by Palestinians, as well as the reality that much of the Israeli public is out of touch with this suffering. Israel will always have an ardent supporter in the U.S., but the days of Trump seem to be bringing with them a kind of engagement that will make peace impossible. Trump has publicly declared two changes in U.S. policy that will aggressively conflict with peace; moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and even more drastically, abandoning the idea of a two state solution altogether (although the White House has since clarified that they do in fact support a two state solution). Given this unfriendly context, voices such as those of Harel become all the more important.
Are we as a community open and receptive to the voices such as Harel? There’s no doubt that we’ll appreciate someone voicing “our” concerns about the conflict. But are we aware of the Israeli voices that are fighting for the rights of Palestinians? Harel mentioned a few of these in his monologue, such as the organisations B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence and Yesh Din, all of whom are doing admirable work related to human rights, and it’s many violations, between Israel and the Palestinians. While it would be naïve to claim that such voices represent the majority of Israeli citizens, we also should not pretend like they do not exist. Drawing on from that, we need to disengage with lazy classifications of Israelis being monolithic, and “all the same”. While we’re increasingly becoming aware of the dangers of conflating Jewishness with Zionism, perhaps it’s time that we also started appreciating the differing strands of political thought within the Israeli population.