Vikshepa Blog

Mental Distractions

30 Jan 2022


My younger son and his fiancée came over from TA and I brought D's mom over from her retirement home. We kept her away from my daughter and her kids because they were exposed to someone who has been sick with the Omicron, lately. The weather started to clear up, though it remains cold.


There was an item in the TV news about NSO; an interview with one of the founders, and the CEO, Shalev Hulio. He doesn't cut a very impressive figure and seemed nervous and evasive when asked key questions. A family man, maybe a little naive or unused to journalists. The TV news channel spent 2 days in the NSO headquarters in Herzlia and interviewed a few others there too. One guy demonstrated how what the company does is not simple interception of phones; it helps the clients to interpret the information collected and to construct an elaborate porfolio of the target and their network of connections. Sounds familiar from the descriptions of intelligence firm operations found in Cory Doctorow's novel, "Attack Surface".

The NYT story on NSO that I read yesterday had lots of new information. If it can be relied upon, it shows, in a more detailed way than known previously, how the sale of Pegasus went hand in hand with Israeli diplomacy and created friends among client countries who voted for Israel and against Palestinian interests in discussions at the UN. It also clearly states that India and Djibouti among others purchased Pegasus, despite denials or refusals to comment.

In the news item, Hulio is given the opportunity to make the case for the need for cyberweapons when facing sophisticated criminal or terrorist organizations. This is overshadowed by the fact that most of the countries to which the system was sold ended up using it against political opponents, critical journalists, ordinary citizens or diplomats of other countries. In this way, cyberweapons are not like other weapons. They are ideally constructed to undermine democracy wherever they land; even in supposedly democratic countries.

Yuli Novak

Haaretz runs stories in its English edition that have often appeared a few days earlier in its Hebrew edition. So today they have the story about Yuli Novak, a previous director of the Breaking the Silence organization. When the NGO and its members began to be hounded by rightwing groups, the media and politicians, and the group's members began to receive death threats, she stepped down and away from Breaking the Silence and fled overseas for a time. Now she is reassessing her relationship with her country and with Zionism.

Breaking the Silence is an organization that publishes testimony of former soldiers as a means to help Israeli society reevaluate the meaning of its military occupation of Palestinian territories. It is not the radical political organization that it is made out to be in the Israeli media. It actually stays clear of direct criticism of Israel. It simply tries to show people the consequences of what the army is doing in the Occupied Territories; to "break the silence" about what is being done by the military. Like Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers, it spreads awareness of activities that are normally kept out of sight and removed from the consciousness of ordinary citizens.

As such, it does not need to take a political stance and it is actually better for its work if it stays out of politics. The organization is made up of former soldiers who, when they signed up, believed in the army's mission, but got freaked out by what they saw happening on the ground. Whatever political conclusions they came to as a result are personal, and do not necessarily represent the organization itself. The point is to gather the soldiers' testimony and to present it as part of a public education campaign, so that citizens can form their own opinions. At least that is what I understood after going on a tour of Hebron with one of the organization's founders and listening to him at other times.

Choosing to target Breaking the Silence, and other organizations that are within the fold of the Zionist left, such as Betselem and the New Israel Fund, seems to have been a conscious choice of the Right. They obviously see them as more of a threat than truly anti-Zionist groups, whose numbers and resources are even more scant.

Yuli Novak - feminist, LGBT person and leftist as she is - seems to have taken quite a long time to question the narratives she grew up with and only recently has been coming around to opinions that many Israelis reached long ago. But eventually it dawned upon her:

"What sort of coexistence are you proposing here?” she asks rhetorically during our conversation, aiming the question at the Zionist left. “A coexistence that favors only you? That simply will not work. The moment we recognize that we are not living in a democracy in the deepest and most basic way, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to understand what is going on here. And it’s no longer chaotic."

I guess by "chaotic" she means the dissonance between her received understanding of reality based on what she has been told, and what she actually sees. I'm not sure that she's entirely out of it herself, just like all of us. A certain part of us always wants to believe that we are living in a fine sort of country that will basically be OK if we can only fix a few things. But that's not true in any of the liberal (and increasingly less liberal) democracies. It certainly isn't true of a society that is based on myths about selective group identity.

Nations, if we need them at all, should exist for the welfare of the totality of their citizens, not just for their elites, for particular ethnicities, castes, religious or ideological communities. They should provide us with a comfortable framework in which to live and maintain a peaceful relationship with other nations and the biosphere. The details may be difficult to work out but at least the mission statement should be clear.

Tags: israel-palestine privacy
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