Etgar Keret’s missing piece

Israeli writer Etgar Keret recently received an award for “work conveying Jewish values across cultures and imparting a humanitarian vision throughout the world.”

The word ‘humanitarian’ is a tipoff that the award is given to someone who espouses a left-wing, universalist point of view. And that is definitely the case for Keret, who is nevertheless a fine writer.

But he is highly critical of Israel, both implicitly in his fiction and explicitly in his public statements. This led Daniel Greenfield to call him an “anti-Israel author,” a charge Keret defended himself against in a recent NY Times op-ed.

What he wrote in it illustrates two things. First, he has no idea of the special position of Israel in the world, and therefore how damaging it is when he contributes to her demonization. And second, he is missing an important part of his soul.

First, regarding Israel. In his defense, he writes,

We are all familiar with the term “anti.” We understand what it is to be “anti-Semitic,” “anti-gay” or “anti-Communist.” But what exactly does “anti-Israel” mean? After all, Israel is a state, and we rarely encounter someone who is “anti-Switzerland” or “anti-Netherlands.” Unlike ideologies, which we can attempt to sweepingly reject, when it comes to states there are complex, multifaceted, heterogeneous entities, and that much is clear to anyone who sets out to defend or attack them. For example, we can be grateful for the Dutch people who hid Anne Frank in their attic, while at the same time criticizing the Dutch citizens who volunteered for the S.S. We can adore the soccer talent that evolved in that same country, but be less admiring of aged Dutch cheeses.

But the fact that there isn’t anyone who is “anti-Switzerland” is precisely the point. Half the world believes firmly that there should not be a state of Israel. They are opposed to its very being in a way that people aren’t about Switzerland or The Netherlands. This is exactly what is meant by “anti-Israel.” Only in the atmosphere breathed by Tel Aviv intellectuals is it possible to not notice this.

So when Keret writes stories that present IDF soldiers as brutes lacking humanity and suggests that they do not see Palestinians as human beings, and indeed behave toward Palestinians the way Nazis behaved toward Jews, he provides ammunition for the demonization of Israel. And it is this supposed demonic character that is appealed to by those who want to erase Israel from the face of the earth. Erase it from the face of the earth. And his literary participation in this project is why he is called “anti-Israel.”

There are certainly incidents from time to time of soldiers who don’t treat Palestinians as human beings. But how many Ma’alot massacres or Sbarro Pizza explosions are the people of Israel supposed to absorb? We too are only human.

Now about Keret’s soul. He writes,

Why, for example, are people who are appalled by the death of Palestinian children in an Israeli Air Force bombing of Gaza, or horrified when Israeli children are killed in a terrorist attack, moved to these reactions by an unbending support of the Palestinian people, or of the Israeli nation, rather than by a no-less-fervent defense of innocent lives in general?

My theory is that many people on both sides of this dichotomy are tired of earnestly debating the specifics and find it easier to demand a tribal discourse, the kind that essentially resembles a sports fan’s unequivocal support of a team. This denies a priori the possibility of criticizing the group you support, and moreover, if done properly, can absolve you from voicing any empathy for the other side. The “anti” or “pro” appeal aims to invalidate any discussion of tiresome issues like “occupation,” “coexistence” or “two-state solution,” replacing them with a simple binary model: us versus them.

Keret doesn’t grant reality to tribal feeling. He sees any expression thereof as a sophistical device to ignore the specifics of the situation. For someone who thinks complexity is so important, how does he miss the emotional complexity of a pilot who loves the Jewish people and therefore drops bombs on rocket-launchers in Gaza, knowing that there will be civilians hurt but also knowing that the rockets must be stopped? Does he agree with his fellow left-wing writer Gideon Levy that the pilots are robots or video-gamers without feelings?

He is obtuse to tribal sentiments perhaps because he doesn’t experience them himself. This is a defect, not something to be proud of. He is missing an inner voice, no less important than the one that tells him that it’s wrong to hurt innocent Palestinians; the one that says “you, Keret, are a Jew and should care about the Jewish people above all.”

It is possible to have tribal feelings and also have empathy for the other side. They are not mutually exclusive. Empathy for the Other is a praiseworthy thing, but you also need to know which side you are on.

Keret and Levy are not alone. They are joined by others in the Israeli Left, and by liberal Diaspora Jews who sometimes seem to have great reserves of empathy for every unhappy person or group in the world except for Israeli victims of terrorism.

The result is that they end up taking part in the demonization and delegitimization of Israel that is intended to set the stage for her removal from the world.

That’s why they are correctly called anti-Israel.

Posted in Information war, Israeli Society | 1 Comment

Why we can’t just get along

This happened on Tuesday: Palestinian terrorists spilled oil on highway 443 between Jerusalem and Modi’in and threw rocks and firebombs at passing vehicles, as they do on a regular basis. The IDF responded and opened fire at what they thought were the terrorists, killing one Palestinian teenager and wounding two others. Although all the facts aren’t available as I write this, it appears that the soldiers were mistaken about their target, and the people they shot were innocent.

Palestinians are understandably enraged, but it’s also understandable that an Israeli might ask, “what do they expect?” Every day they try and sometimes succeed to kill Jews with their rocks and firebombs, their cars and knives, and sometimes their guns and explosives. Of course we are going to fight back, and mistakes happen.

But how did we get here, to the point that our peoples are killing each other?

The Arabs and their supporters will tell you “nakba, occupation, blah blah.” That isn’t true. It is a rationalization but it is not an explanation. Here is the explanation in two words:

The PLO.

In 1979, I drove with my wife and two-year old son from Jerusalem to Afula. I took route 60, through Samaria. Today I doubt that we would survive that trip, but when we got lost near Shechem (Nablus), local Arabs gave us directions to get back on the right road. They treated us like guests.

Later, during the first Lebanon war, I had a conversation with an Arab from Abu Ghosh, a town that had chosen to be loyal to Israel in 1948. What is the solution? I asked him. We need a state of our own, he said, but not run by the PLO. They are killers and they don’t care about Arabs either.

The PLO was created in 1964 by the Arab league as a club to beat Israel with. It was taken over by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction in 1967. Its policy has always been to ‘liberate Palestine by armed struggle’ (although Arafat claimed during the Oslo period to have changed the PLO charter, this was not actually done).

The PLO was funded and armed by the Soviet Union and carried out numerous terrorist actions against Israel during the 1970s, including the massacre of the Olympic athletes in 1972, the Ma’alot massacre in 1974, the Coastal Road massacre of 1978, and many more. The IDF invaded Lebanon in 1982 in order to eliminate the PLO, and at the end of the war had the PLO fighters and leadership trapped in Beirut. But a European/American brokered agreement allowed them to escape. French Foreign Legion troops and US Marines escorted Arafat onto a ship, and the PLO reestablished its headquarters in Tunis. Ariel Sharon later said that one of the things he most regretted was not killing Arafat when he had the chance.

Although it perpetrated a few terror attacks from Tunis (notably the Achille Lauro hijacking in 1985), the PLO became more and more irrelevant in exile. But in 1993, Israel made the greatest political mistake in its history and signed the Oslo Accords, breathing life back into the PLO.

In January 1993 the PLO was outlawed in Israel and it was even illegal for an Israeli to meet with PLO representatives. But Yossi Beilin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs under Shimon Peres, began secret negotiations with the PLO without informing the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin only found out about the meetings in May, and although his conception of an acceptable deal with the Palestinians was very different than that of Peres and Beilin, he had no choice but to embrace the negotiations, especially once the Americans became involved.

The Oslo accords recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians, brought the execrable Arafat and his gangsters back to Israel (first to Gaza and later to Ramallah) and created the Palestinian Authority, a pseudo-government for the territories, run by the PLO.

Arafat immediately proceeded to kill or expel his enemies – including anyone who did not agree with the PLO program to destroy the Jewish state – and to turn the Palestinian Authority into a massive machine, fueled by money from the US, EU and Israel, to train future soldiers and martyrs for the Palestinian cause.

The PA did nothing for ordinary Arabs, stealing literally billions in international aid to enrich PLO big shots. It did not create the infrastructure for a future state.

The PLO has always been ideologically flexible. It was Arab nationalist while its patrons were Egypt and Syria, Marxist when it needed Soviet aid, and today it is pleased to incite Muslims to murder over the alleged plans of Israel to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque. It even pretends to be interested in building a Western-style democracy to impress the Americans.

But the one aspect of its ideology that has always been the same is its commitment to violently ‘liberating’ Palestine from the Jews, and it has turned all of its institutions to this purpose: schools and universities, mosques, media, arts, literature, sport. All of them focus on teaching the lesson that all the land from the river to the sea is ‘Palestinian’, and the Jews have no claim on any of it.

Israel does not appear on their maps, and they name public squares, schools and sports teams after ‘martyrs’ who have died killing Jews. Their TV programs for children encourage young people to die for the cause, while their adult fare repeats blood libels against Jews from the Middle Ages. Although the PLO under Arafat and now Abbas has promised since the early days of Oslo to stop incitement against Jews and Israel, it has never taken even the smallest step to do so.

The PLO created the generation that goes out every day hoping to kill, and left us no choice but to send armed soldiers against them. The PLO made the bloody world that Israelis and Palestinians are living in today.

But apparently neither side has learned the lesson of the last two decades. The Palestinians have not learned that terrorism will not make us leave, but will only cause us to take stronger and stronger measures to protect ourselves.

And the Israelis? Well, a few days ago it was revealed that Yitzhak Herzog, head of the Labor Party (I can’t bring myself to call it the ‘Zionist Union’), following in the treasonous footsteps of Yossi Beilin and Shimon Peres, carried on secret negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, and proposed a deal in which Israel would transfer all but 4% of Judea and Samaria to the PA/PLO, divide Jerusalem, give the Arabs sovereignty on the Temple Mount, and (my favorite part) ‘fight terrorism’ with a combined force of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians! Luckily, Herzog lost the election, and recent polls show that the Labor Party is at a historic low in voter approval.

All this is a tragedy. Jews and Arabs can live, if not together, at least in proximity. But not if the Palestinian leadership will continue to be the eliminationist PLO. And certainly not if Israel continues to support and empower the PLO, instead of crushing it for once and for all.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Politics, Terrorism | Leave a comment

Ten propositions

I am a nationalist, Zionist, tribalist and hawk.

Here are ten things I believe:

  1. ‘Israel is the Jewish state’ has a concrete meaning: the owners of the land of Israel are the Jewish people, not all its citizens.
  2. Arabs who live in Israel should have full civil rights, but they should understand that they are living in someone else’s homeland. It’s natural and correct that the flag, national anthem, primary language and other symbols are those of the Jewish people.
  3. It is not a civil right to call for the destruction of the state or the murder of its people.
  4. Israel should not welcome non-Jewish migrants.
  5. Everyone in Israel should have freedom of religious worship and be able to visit their holy places. But the government of Israel should be sovereign over every inch of the land of Israel, in particular the Temple Mount.
  6. Everyone should be able to follow their own religion or lack thereof without coercion. But the official religion of the state of Israel should be Judaism.
  7. Israel and the Jewish people have an absolute right to defend themselves.
  8. Collective guilt justifies collective punishment.
  9. Nobody has the right to try to kill Jews or Israelis, even if their means are ineffective.
  10. There should be a death penalty for murderous terrorism.

***

These ten propositions mark me as anti-democratic, even racist and fascist to many, doubtless including the two former Defense Ministers who recently made speeches decrying what they believe is decay in Israel’s collective morality and accusing the Netanyahu government of being responsible for it.

Their judgments would be even harsher if I told them that I understand and identify with the act of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who shot and killed a wounded Arab stabber who (despite Azaria’s legal defense) probably posed no danger to him or others, as well as the idea that no terrorist should survive his attempted act of terrorism.

It wouldn’t help if I admitted that I agree with the decision of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev to deny government funding to an Arab theater group that produced a play presenting a terrorist murderer in a positive light. Or that I think there needs to be a Basic Law (the Israeli equivalent of a constitutional amendment) that defines and protects the concept of a Jewish state, just as there is one for the idea of a democratic one. Or that I view ‘settlers’ as people with the same rights as any other citizens, including the right to not be kicked out of their homes.

Since the end of the Second World War, ‘enlightened’ people in the West have believed that nationalism was responsible for the horrors of the 20th century, and have created international institutions like the UN and the EU to counteract it. They believe further that tribalism, the belief that one ought to give a higher priority to the welfare of one’s own people than that of others, is racism and should always be condemned in the strongest terms. It is considered an overriding principle of universal morality that one is obligated to treat every other human equally, regardless of his or her relationship to you.

These principles are always justified by arguments about human rights and morality, although some cynics suggest that they were encouraged by the psychological warfare department of the Soviet KGB in order to weaken the enemies of the nationalistic and tribalist Russians.

Those who think they set the tone of moral discourse in Israel, like the former defense ministers and 99% of our journalists, writers, artists, lawyers, judges and academics are committed to this universalist morality.

There is nothing inherently more true about the universalist view than the tribalist one. Arguments for one or the other must depend on the expected outcomes. The Western argument against tribalism is that it leads to war and genocide, while universalism produces peace and cooperation.

But exactly the opposite is true in today’s world.

Let’s look at the European Union as an example of a universalist project. Because of its universalist stance toward the outside – liberal rules about granting asylum, for example – and the erasure of border controls inside it, European states are in the process of being destroyed by uncontrolled hostile migration. Those that do not adopt a tribalist policy and close their borders will not survive.

This is because universalism is a form of unilateral moral disarmament. It is practical only if everyone practices it. And tribalist Muslims do not. So while the EU may be effective in preventing another war between France and Germany, it can’t protect its member states against subversion by those who spit on its moral principles.

Israel is another example. Surrounded by tribal societies which have been marinating in hate for the Jewish state for decades, it cannot afford to open its borders to Gaza. And it can’t accept the assurances of the PLO that a Palestinian state in highly strategic Judea and Samaria would be a peaceful neighbor.

But not only would it be counter to Israel’s survival to adopt universalist principles, it would violate the conception of a Jewish nation.

This idea of a people connected to a land – even when the land was ruled by others and Jews were a minority in it – has maintained the Jewish people as a nation since biblical times, a history as long as or longer than any other distinct people on earth. Nothing is more fundamental to Judaism than the relationship between God, the Jewish people and the land of Israel.

I find it ironic that the same people who insist that “all religions must be respected” and who defend the aspirations of all kinds of ethnic groups – including ‘Palestinians’, who have one of the weakest claims of all to be considered a nation – object so strongly to Jewish nationalism.

I think that if there were to be a referendum today, the great majority of Israelis would agree with the ten propositions above.

Actually, we have such a referendum at least every four years. It is called an election, and I’m confident that the next one will result in a government that is even more nationalist, tribalistic and hawkish than the present one. And that will be a good, moral thing.

Posted in Israeli Politics, Israeli Society | 2 Comments

Bad analogies and bad politics

Analogical reasoning is basic to human survival. If you can eat a peach, it’s probably safe to eat an apricot. Those of us who favor profiling for security believe that future terrorists will probably be a lot like past terrorists, and so we should look harder at the ones that fit the profile. Every day we make hundreds of decisions based on analogical reasoning: a thing or situation seems like one we are familiar with, so we treat it in a similar way.

Of course there are good analogies and bad ones. There are poisonous mushrooms that look like edible ones. Part of intelligence is knowing when an analogy is a good one in regard to the particular aspect that is important in that case. Political analogies are common, and can be dangerous.

One of the worst analogies ever is the analogy between ‘Palestinians’ and black Americans (here’s a classic expression of it by Condoleezza Rice). Their history is different, their situation is different, and their behavior is different. There is nothing that one can deduce from the story of American blacks that can help one understand the ‘Palestinians’, or vice versa. The reason blacks in pre-1960s America were not allowed to sit at lunch counters with whites is nothing like the reason Arabs aren’t allowed to move freely between Gaza and Israel.

Why on earth would anyone think this? Lately, an entire ideology has appeared based on bad analogies. Just as Freud made sexuality the main driver of human behavior and Marx placed economics in that role, the new ideology of intersectionality tells us that it is oppression and discrimination. From the (somewhat mind-numbing) Wikipedia definition:

Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society—such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and belief-based bigotry—do not act independently of each other. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.

Apparently the idea developed after feminist scholars argued that black women are doubly oppressed because of their membership in two oppressed groups (this may be empirically false, but nobody cares). It has since been generalized to a sort of unified field theory for all victims of all kinds of ‘oppression’.

This concept is related to the hierarchy of victimhood, in which being black gets more points than being white, being Palestinian gets more than being American, and so forth. Then the one with more points is allowed to tell the other that his perceptions are invalid due to his privileged point of view.

It also fits in with postcolonial theory, in which most conflict between groups is explained as a result of the oppression of a (usually non-white) colonized people by (usually Western) colonialists. The colonization can be military, economic, spiritual, or a combination; or it can be in the past but have left its victims traumatized. We could call this ‘post-colonial stress disorder’.

The prime analogy for Americans is always racism toward African-Americans, with which their national conscience is pathologically obsessed, even more so than Germans are with Jews. The more it is studied, the more it seems sui generis and not similar to other forms of discrimination. But to the intersectionalist, all the isms are similar.

You may have noticed that Jew-hatred (commonly called ‘antisemitism’) is not mentioned in the definition, being subsumed along with ‘Islamophobia’ in “belief-based bigotry.” This obscures the fact that Jews are hated for reasons having nothing to do with their beliefs or lack of them. If this isn’t clear from recent history, it should be obvious from looking at anti-Jewish propaganda which depends on all of the traditional racial stereotypes and blood libels that have characterized Jew-hatred for several hundred years.

It also enables those who want to minimize its prevalence by lumping it with other minor ‘bigotries’, while the minuscule phenomenon of ‘transphobia’, for example, has its own category.

Finally, it’s convenient to not explicitly mention Jew-hatred because most people who subscribe to intersectionality and related dogmas see Jews as oppressors rather than victims. Needless to say, Muslims are high on the list of the victimized, colonized and oppressed, which brings us to another failure of analogical reasoning.

There’s no recognition of the distinction that can be made between irrational hatred based on race or ethnicity, and opposition to the ideological aspects of Islam and shari’a and its violent manifestations. It’s all considered ‘bigotry’. So intersectionalists suppress the legitimate criticism of the jihadist ideology that more and more characterizes Islam as it is practiced today.

I’ve saved the worst bad analogy for last. A corollary of intersectionality is solidarity, “the belief that there is a common thread of discrimination that binds together many ostensibly different communities,” which include everything from the poor, to disabled people, to animals, to climate-change activists, to Palestinians. Because all kinds of ‘oppression’ are thought to benefit a Western, white, male, rich, heterosexual ruling class, activists join together with other ‘oppressed’ groups against the power structure that is responsible for it. This Marxist panacea-ism* leads to absurdities like anti-sexual assault activists cooperating with Students for Justice in Palestine – “because all oppression is one.”

Intersectionality suppresses the cognitive dissonance that would normally arise when, as is happening now, LGBT people are being asked to join the struggle against “Islamophobia,” while others are pointing out that there is a shari’a-based death penalty for gay sex in several Muslim countries, and when a Muslim has just murdered 49 people in a gay nightclub – and at least in part was motivated to do so by his religious belief. In a feat of mental acrobatics, the conflict between Muslims motivated by Islamic ideology and the gays they oppress evaporates, and only the fact that each group sees itself as a victim remains.

Just as human behavior is motivated by more than sex and economics, not every conflict is a case of oppression, not all forms of discrimination are the same, and not every problem is related to entrenched white straight male privilege. But thanks to the doctrine that arguing against the propositions of intersectionality indicates that the speaker supports the ruling class and can be ignored, the dogma becomes irrefutable. Like other irrefutable dogmas (e.g., Marxism, Objectivism), intersectionality gets its persuasiveness from a massive circular argument. Unfortunately, it is as pernicious as it is popular.

* Panacea-ism: the belief that there is one single solution for all the world’s ills.

Posted in American politics, Jew Hatred | Leave a comment

How Israel is finally becoming a true democracy

Aluf Benn, the editor of the Israeli Left’s flagship publication Ha’aretz, has done a wonderful job of explaining to the rest of us the frustration and fury of those who used to run the country and don’t anymore.

Here’s his thesis:

Israel—at least the largely secular and progressive version of Israel that once captured the world’s imagination—is over. Although that Israel was always in some ways a fantasy, the myth was at least grounded in reality. Today that reality has changed, and the country that has replaced it is profoundly different from the one its founders imagined almost 70 years ago. Since the last elections, in March 2015, a number of slow-moving trends have accelerated dramatically. Should they continue, they could soon render the country unrecognizable.

Already, the transformation has been dramatic. Israel’s current leaders—headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who metamorphosed after the election from a risk-averse conservative into a right-wing radical—see democracy as synonymous with unchecked majority rule and have no patience for restraints such as judicial review or the protection of minorities. In their view, Israel is a Jewish state and a democratic state—in that order. Only Jews should enjoy full rights, while gentiles should be treated with suspicion. Extreme as it sounds, this belief is now widely held: a Pew public opinion survey published in March found that 79 percent of Jewish Israelis supported “preferential treatment” for Jews—a thinly veiled euphemism for discrimination against non-Jews.

Like most of his left-wing associates, Benn is purblind to both Zionism and reality.

Israel’s declaration of independence describes the new state as a “Jewish state” but besides declaring that it will be open for the “ingathering of the exiles,” doesn’t detail the meaning of this. It does say that all inhabitants will have “social and political rights” regardless of religion, race or sex. Benn simply ignores the “Jewish” part, as did Israel’s Knesset and Supreme Court when they wrote and approved the Basic Laws – still far from completion – that substitute for a true constitution.

It is certainly possible to interpret Jewishness and democracy in such a way that they are inconsistent, and then, as Benn does, to remove all but symbolic content from the Jewish part. This was clearly not the intent of the founders of the state and indeed would negate the basic idea of Zionism. What could it mean to have a Jewish state if there is no distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens? And how could the Law of Return be justified in such a state? Some have called for a “law of return” for ‘Palestinians’ as well as Jews. If democracy is everything and Jewishness nothing, then why not?

A distinction has to be drawn between the rights granted to all citizens – their civil rights – and the rights conferred by ownership, what can be called national rights, which accrue only to the Jewish people. This isn’t “radical” or “extreme” and it doesn’t constitute “discrimination” any more than my exclusive right to live in the house I own discriminates against non-owners.

There is a Basic Law concerning democracy. But attempts to pass a “Jewish State” basic law that would define and protect the Jewish nature of the state have failed, in part because lawmakers know that a meaningful law would be abrogated by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile the Arab minority, the Obama Administration and liberal American Jews, the European Union and its NGO clients, and the left-leaning Israeli media continue to pressure Israel to be less the nation-state of the Jewish people and more a ‘state of its citizens’.

The “secular and progressive” Israel for which Benn is nostalgic was a more homogeneous Israel, where the majority of its Jewish citizens (and virtually all of its ruling elite) were secular socialists and communists of Eastern European origin. There were religious and right-wing minorities, but they were excluded (sometimes violently) from power. The government was solidly in the hands of the Labor Party from 1948 until 1977, and an unelected superstructure of cultural, media and legal elites came into being, all from the secular, left-wing Ashkenazi sector.

The new majority of Mizrachi Jews wrenched political power away from Labor after the disaster of the Yom Kippur war, and in 1977 elected Menachem Begin. Later, immigration from the former Soviet Union – folks who knew all about socialism and had seen enough of it, thank you – made the rightward shift permanent. But the unelected elites in control of the media, the arts, academia, the legal establishment and even the army were not so easily dislodged. Benn notes with approval that this preserved the Left’s influence against the wishes of the electorate:

…[Begin’s] revolution, important though it was, was only a partial one. Under Begin’s leadership, Israel’s old left-wing elite lost its cabinet seats. But it preserved much of its influence, holding on to top positions in powerful institutions such as the media and academia. And the Supreme Court remained stocked with justices who, while officially nonpartisan, nevertheless represented a liberal worldview of human and civil rights.

That’s putting it mildly. Although Israel has had right-wing Prime Ministers for 31 out of the last 39 years, the elites still managed to bring us the Oslo accords and to fiercely resist political, social and cultural changes desired by the growing right-wing majority. The Supreme Court has been especially potent in this regard, taking for itself the power of judicial review of laws passed by the democratically elected Knesset, while appointments to the Court itself have been controlled by the legal establishment.

Netanyahu understood the problem. But in his first term as PM [1996-99] he was defeated by it. Benn writes:

In a 1996 interview with the Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, Netanyahu complained about his delegitimization “by the nomenklatura of the old regime,” adding that “the problem is that the intellectual structure of Israeli society is unbalanced.” He pledged to create new, more conservative institutions to rewrite the national narrative. …

Israel’s old elites closed ranks, and, with the support of the Clinton administration, they forced Netanyahu into another deal with the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. The 1998 Wye River memorandum—the last formal agreement that Israel and the Palestinians have signed to this day—triggered early elections in May 1999, after several small, hard-right parties abandoned Netanyahu’s coalition in protest. Barak and the Labor Party emerged victorious.

Now, however, the landscape is finally changing, and Benn and his friends are in a frenzy. In addition to their old enemy Netanyahu, several members of his cabinet have confronted the unelected establishment head-on.

Probably the one that irritates the ‘old Israel’ the most is Miri Regev, Minister of Culture and Sport. Of Moroccan descent, Regev shocked Benn and his friends by saying that she doesn’t like classical music and hadn’t read Chekov. The main ‘anti-democratic’ thing she did, in addition to insulting ‘artists’ whose ‘art’ consists of putting Israeli flags in their body cavities and similar antics, was to remove government funding from an Arab theater in Haifa which produced a play sympathetically portraying a terrorist murderer.

Then there is Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice, target of sexist insults from opposing members of the Knesset. Shaked has pushed the ‘Nationality’ or ‘Jewish State’ bill mentioned above, as well as a law to require NGOs that get more than 50% of their funds from foreign governments to indicate that fact on material they distribute. She favors changing the way Supreme Court justices are selected to make the Court less one-sided.

There is Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is trying to roll back Oslo-era ‘reforms’ of  the educational system. Benn and others accuse him of ‘censorship’ because his ministry failed to include a novel about a love affair between an Arab and a Jew on a list of suggested reading for high school students.

Finally, there is Bibi himself, who recently responded to insubordination from Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon by replacing him. Ya’alon had defended the Deputy Chief of Staff’s remark that Israel was undergoing ‘processes’ similar to Germany in the Nazi period.

All four believe that “Jewish state” is more than an empty formula. And all are attacked constantly by Benn and his Ha’aretz colleagues for their lack of respect for ‘democracy’. But it should be obvious that the opposite is true: finally, after four decades in which Israeli society has been dominated by a self-appointed elite that doesn’t reflect its values, the majority is asserting itself.

This is not simply a question of what music to play on the radio (one of Regev’s issues). The old elite has one overriding political objective, which is to place Israel’s neck on the PLO chopping block – something the majority definitely opposes. Here is Benn admitting it:

Many of the government’s recent actions, such as Regev’s promotion of Sephardic culture, seem designed to address the traditional disenfranchisement of Israel’s Mizrahim and citizens living in the country’s “periphery” (that is, far from the central Tel Aviv–Jerusalem corridor). Other measures are aimed at promoting social mobility. Yet virtually all of them have had a clear political goal as well: to reduce, if not eliminate, the domestic opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, which Netanyahu and his allies want to make permanent. By portraying the shrinking peace camp and its supporters as unpatriotic stooges of foreign anti-Semites, the government hopes to delegitimize them and build a consensus around its hard-right policies.

He’s wrong. The government doesn’t have to delegitimize the ‘peace camp’, which has delegitimized itself by its refusal to face reality, and – yes – by selling itself to foreign interests. And it doesn’t have to ‘build a consensus’ because there already is one. It is the one that democratically elected Netanyahu and will democratically elect a right-wing government in the next election.

Posted in Israeli Politics, Israeli Society, Zionism | 4 Comments