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We are the real patriots

Thumbnail image for Yariv Maariv.jpg(Interview with Peace Now's Yariv Oppenheimer; Maariv, 11/20/11, by Amichai Atali - Translation by Israel News Today)

If the series of bills whose purpose is to place restrictions on left-wing organizations in Israel is approved by the Knesset in the near future, one of the organizations that can be expected to be hit hardest is Peace Now.

Besides concerns that their funding might be shut down, members of the organization have recently also been subjected to "Price Tag" attacks on their offices, as well as regularly receiving death threats by phone and e-mail. On the other hand, the advocates of the bills claim that the left-wing organizations defame Israel throughout the world, with funding from foreign governments.

Yariv Oppenheimer, Secretary-General of Peace Now, how do you explain the current timing of all of those bills?

"I feel we have become the political lifeline of Knesset members with no achievements. All kinds of Likud backbenchers - MK Akunis and others - who are trying to rescue their primaries and receive headlines and support from Likud central committee members by Bolshevik attempts to silence left-wing and extra-parliamentary organizations."

The bills are about aid by foreign governments to organizations that have an influence in Israel. Isn't it legitimate to prevent the interference of foreign governments in Israel?

"The organization that receives the most aid from foreign governments in Israel, both from the US and from Europe, is the Israel Defense Forces. Does anybody claim that the IDF is an army of foreign agents or foreign countries? Of course not. Friendly countries contribute to many projects in Israeli civil society as well, including scientific and academic research, medical and cultural projects, out of the desire to promote together values shared by Israel and the Western countries. The government is trying to tell other countries 'you are allowed to donate to one project but not another because the organization running it opposes government policy.'

"Besides, how dare Netanyahu talk about foreign intervention? He enjoys a daily newspaper that serves his interests and is distributed for free, funded by a foreign contribution from the US. For comparison, our annual budget from European countries equals the cost of the distribution of a free newspaper for one single day. It is outrageous for Netanyahu and his aides to present the extra-parliamentary organizations as hostile to IDF soldiers and as contributing to the delegitimizing of Israel, whereas the truth is that Peace Now is a patriotic Zionist organization founded by IDF officers and whose very existence is a badge of honor for Israeli society. The people who are disgracing and delegitimizing Israel are Netanyahu, his Foreign Minister and members of Knesset from Likud, who just this week managed to present Israel as a state that persecutes political opponents and limits freedom of expression."

But the law is meant to also limit donations to right-wing organizations, isn't it?

"Actually, whereas right-wing organizations receive millions from evangelists and dubious millionaires, all under the table and without transparency, the government is trying to stop completely legitimate and transparent donations earmarked for specific projects. All in order to silence and neutralize anyone who thinks differently. In the past weeks we have been fighting for the right to exist against politicians and hilltop youth. By the way, I am not always sure which one of them is more dangerous for democracy."

What does that fight actually look like?

"' Price Tag' attacks we suffered from in the last weeks, threats and e-mails that we received that prove that there is a brainwashed and hateful right-wing Israeli public that picks up the populist messages coming from the government, radicalizes them and translates them into violence."

Do you really feel a rise in the number of threats?

"Absolutely yes, but also a rise in the amount of support and in the energy of our supporters. Every 'Price Tag' action is followed by hundreds of expressions of encouragement and support. The reports of the attempts to limit our funding led to a big rise in the number of people who wanted to donate to us in the last weeks. There was also a moving offer from a private individual to pay for painting the walls after 'Price Tag' acts. What you have to understand is that we are the real patriots, not Liebermann and Netanyahu. The ones who are responsible for the de-legitimization and negative headlines about Israel are the decision-makers and the hilltop youth, not the left who opposes them and represents the beautiful Israel."

Speaking of the beautiful Israel, it was just reported that the settlers are leading by a very big margin the rates of recruitment to combat units.

"The rate of recruitment among the settlers is truly impressive, but the big question is whether most of those soldiers will agree to obey any order or whether their loyalty to government decisions is conditional. When I go every year to do reserve service on the settlements, in complete contradiction to my political position, I would like to believe that my friends in the settlements will stand at my side when we evacuate settlements and outposts. Unfortunately, even on reserve duty I have met soldiers who told me they would refuse orders if they contradicted their political views. It is not always clear whether for the recruits from the settlements the general command is based in the Kirya in Tel Aviv or in Kiryat Arba. You see again and again that every evacuation of an illegal shed is grounds for refusal of orders and demonstrations inside the IDF. Lately soldiers within the system have been leaking information to friends in the settlements in order to undermine IDF activities on the ground. The secular public is still the majority in the IDF and it must fight for the IDF to remain the people's army and not an extremist religious army where women's singing is illegal. If the army continues to radicalize, the motivation of secular recruits will continue to drop."

You think that is what affects motivation to serve in the army?

"I know there's a feeling among a secular minority that the army is changing and therefore that public's sense of belonging is declining. That is something that should worry us all."