Right-Wing Israeli Extremists Using Gay Rights to Justify Incursions Into Arab Villages

Gay Pride marches are being exploited by rabidly homophobic extremists who plan to parade through Arab towns, asserting their "Jewish pride."

Gay Pride parades in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are being invoked as the legal basis for ultra-right wing Jewish extremists to march through 15 Israeli Arab communities this weekend, waving Israeli flags and asserting their "Jewish pride." 

Organizers of the 11th annual Tel Aviv Pride Parade estimate as many as 30,000 people may have participated in the June 14 march through Israel's largest city and cultural capital. Although their unions won't be recognized by the state of Israel, five gay couples exchanged rings and took commitment vows in a group ceremony on Gordon Beach, adding a new dimension to the event.

A smaller and more subdued hourlong march was scheduled to take place in Jerusalem between 5 and 6 p.m. on June 25, followed by a low-key rally. 

These demonstrations of gay rights in Israel are being exploited by rabidly homophobic, ultra-right wing Jewish extremists, who plan to parade through Arab cities, towns and villages in the next few days, asserting their "Jewish pride."

Knesset member (parliamentarian) Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union party, and provocateurs Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben Gvir are framing and justifying their march as retaliation for the desecration of Jerusalem by gays

"This year, the police have taken the unprecedented step of allowing the parade to take place in the center of the city," they pointed out. "We will use this precedent to call for our marches to take place in the center of Arab cities." 

In some ways, the marches can be compared to Ku Klux Klan rallies in the downtown streets of major American cities, or neo-Nazis parading through the Jewish neighborhood of Skokie, Ill., in the late 1970s. In the U.S., such events have often put civil libertarians in a painfully awkward position, forcing them to choose whether to defend the constitutional rights of free speech and assembly -- even for unpopular causes and hate groups -- or to protect vulnerable minorities from calculated expressions of political extremism and violence. The dilemma of democracy, after all, is that the principle of free expression depends upon, and makes possible, the right to express beliefs that decry democratic values.

But Israeli Arabs have no recognized right of free speech or peaceful assembly. More often than not, they are legally constrained (on the basis of "national security considerations") from holding rallies, let alone protests, in their own towns and villages, let alone marching through Jewish towns and neighborhoods.  Although Israel touts itself as, and is widely considered to be, a "Western-style democracy," its citizens have no uniformly recognized "constitutional rights," since Israel has no constitution.

The expansion of Arab cities, towns and villages within "green line" Israel -- the boundaries of the state between 1948 and 1967 -- is held firmly in check, in contrast to Israeli  settlements in the West Bank, which apparently need to keep doubling in size to accommodate their "natural growth." 

Israeli Arabs find it both difficult and expensive to obtain the necessary building permits from Israeli zoning officials to modify their homes when their children marry and cannot find their own homes nearby. Any house (particularly if owned by an Arab) that is built, remodeled or expanded without a proper permit is subject to demolition by authorities.

The "Jewish pride" marchers claim the right to assist authorities in discovering and dealing with "zoning" violations in Arab communities.

Gays, on the other hand, do have recognized rights of speech and assembly in Israel, and the "Jewish pride" activists are determined to both undermine and  arrogate them.

"The law needs to be the same for everyone," Ben Ari is quoted in several Israeli news sources as saying. "Freedom of speech isn't just for members of the Open House (gay organization) and the radical left. It's our right to march and to examine the illegal construction in those communities." 

Ironically, many Muslim and Christian leaders in Israel have joined Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis in opposing gay pride demonstrations, especially in the "Holy City."  This makes any asserted parallel between the "Jewish pride" and "gay pride" movements particularly bizarre, as well as Machiavellian and meretricious.

In summer 2006, the Jerusalem Post reported that threats of violence by ultra-Orthodox groups and these same extremists had caused authorities to consider  postponement of the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, scheduled for Aug. 6, for security reasons.

Marzel had called for a "holy war" against homosexuals" and threatened that a stabbing at the pride celebration in Jerusalem the previous year would be nothing compared to the violence that would ensue if the parade took place. Ben-Gvir declared that "Jerusalem is not Sodom," and "He who is not blotted out can expect punishment from the heavens."

In response, State Prosecutor Eranger Ettinger warned, "The price Israeli society will pay in the case of surrender to violence will be difficult to bear." 

Nevertheless, the event was put on hold until Nov. 10. When it took place, protests from ultra-Orthodox Jews and political extremists wounded seven policemen and a still-undetermined number of the thousands of protesters, but there were no fatalities.

Last December, a planned march through the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, a city of about 43,000 almost exclusively Arab residents, was organized by the National Union party. It was postponed when police received intelligence that rioting and violence were likely to break out if it took place. Arab and Jewish community leaders expressed relief at the police decision, although they would have preferred the outright cancellation of the event, rather than its postponement.

At the time, Umm al-Fahm's Deputy Mayor Mostafa Mahamid told the Jerusalem Postthat such a march "was liable to destroy the fabric of a common life" that Arab and Jewish citizens have created in the area. "It's a bad feeling for our residents to have this kind of provocation," he said.

Marzel, an American-born adherent of the late Meir Kahane who lives in the Tel Rumeida settlement near Hebron,insisted he would petition the High Court of Justice, which had approved the march in October, to reverse the police decision.

"The government, the police and the leftists have proven that the rule of law does not interest them," he complained. "It doesn't interest them what the High Court of Justice says; they're only interested in what we are doing ... Despite everything, the march has to take place." The march was postponed.

In February 2009, Marzel arranged to be designated the elections supervisor of Umm al-Fahm and boasted he would "purify" the vote of the Arab town. Local leaders protested Marzel's appointment as a poll watcher, and Israel's Attorney General Menachem Mazuz sent an emergency petition to the Central Elections Commiteeto replace Marzel on grounds that his presence could provoke a riot in the city.

The attorney general's petition was denied as "premature," despite concerns about security and public order expressed by Yuval Diskin, who heads the Shin Bet (Israel's equivalent of the FBI). 

At the last moment, as Marzel approached Umm al-Fahm with a cohort of thugs, the Elections Committee agreed to replace Marzel with a representative of another small right-wing party because of security concerns, calming tensions among Umm al-Fahm's residents. Marzel was furious. He accused the Elections Committee of yielding to "the Arab sector's violence, blackmail and treachery," and demanded that the ballots of all the city's voters be disqualified.

The postponed parade through Umm el-Fahm took place on March 24. Roughly 100 ultra-right-wing Jewish nationalists, waving flags and singing "Am Yisrael chai" ("the nation of Israel lives"), made their way through Umm el-Fahm in under an hour, protected by police.

Hundreds of Umm al-Fahm residents gathered in the streets and watched from their balconies and rooftops. Some masked their faces with head scarves, knowing that Israeli security agents had been planted in the crowds. Some waved Palestinian flags, and a few began throwing rocks. Police used tear gas and stun grenades to subdue them. Fifteen Umm al-Fahm residents and about the same number of police officers -- but no marchers -- were reported wounded. Ten Arabs were arrested. 

This weekend, the far-right activists plan a reprise of their parade through Umm el-Fahm on a far grander scale. They plan to march through 14 other Arab municipalities and neighborhoods, including Abu Isa, Abu Rukik, Araara, Baka el-Arabiya, el-Gharbiya, Kfar Lakiya, Musraifa, Nazareth, Sakhnin and Taibe. Israeli police will again provide security for them.

Instigation of violence among Israeli Arabs by Jewish ultra-nationalists comes at a particularly sensitive time in terms of Middle East geopolitics, with implications that, for the moment, are going largely unnoticed.

Since 1948, Israeli Arabs have been second-class Israeli citizens, but citizens nonetheless. Making up 20 percent of Israel's present population, they have good reason to fear the "two-state solution" being embraced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman has openly declared that the "Palestinian state" he has in mind is a noncontiguous virtual entity that will solve Israel's "demographic problem."  Israeli sovereignty over the residents of the major settlement blocs of the West Bank and Gaza could be traded for Palestinian sovereignty over Arabs who live in the cities and towns inside Israel's pre-1967 boundaries. 

Lieberman touts this as a win-win for all parties concerned. Arabs inside post-1948, pre-1967 Israel (without necessarily being asked what future they might choose for themselves) stay in their homes and receive "self-determination" insofar as they would be subject to Palestinian, rather than Israeli governance.

Their cities, towns and villages, while remaining within the boundaries of the state of Israel, would become Palestinian cantons, geographically encircled by an Israel, of which they would no longer be citizens and which no longer would accept any responsibility for their infrastructure or for them. 

Fareed Zakariah pointed out in Newsweek in February:

As fiercely as he [Lieberman] denounces the Palestinian militants of Hamas and Hezbollah, his No. 1 target is Israel's Arab minority, which he has called a worse threat than Hamas. He has proposed the effective expulsion of several hundred thousand Arab citizens by unilaterally redesignating some northern Israeli towns as parts of the Palestinian West Bank. Another group of several hundred thousand could expect to be stripped of citizenship for failing to meet requirements such as loyalty oaths or mandatory military service (from which Israel's Arabs are currently exempt).

Israeli Arabs may soon lose the option of pledging allegiance to the Jewish state. Whether they agree or not, they may find themselves amputated from the Israeli body politic and attached to a Palestinian entity that is not now, and may never be, a real state.

Meanwhile, a violent response to extremist provocations this weekend will only confirm the Israeli -- and "pro-Israel" image of Israeli Arabs as violent and disloyal, resistant to responsible Jewish governance and rejecting the notion of Israel as a state whose Jewish citizens have the right to affirm their "Jewish pride."

Dr. Marsha B. Cohen is a Fellow of the Middle East Studies Center (MESC) at Florida International University in Miami, FL.