A few questions for our leaders about the next war

Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more. – George S. Patton

The idea that a war can be won by standing on the defensive and waiting for the enemy to attack is a dangerous fallacy, which owes its inception to the desire to evade the price of victory. – Douglas Haig

Without a plan, there’s no attack. Without attack, no victory. – Curtis Armstrong

***

It has recently been reported that Iran is deploying ballistic missiles in Iraq, and is even manufacturing them there. And it seems that every few days we read about another Israeli strike in Syria against a shipment of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. The Russians have in the past said that Iran shouldn’t be allowed to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, but they have recently walked this back and are suggesting that it is legitimate after all. The US is already sanctioning Iran, but has no further leverage short of military intervention, which is highly unlikely.

Military analyst J. E. Dyer argues that the new developments are a part of Iran’s strategic plan to obtain a land corridor across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean that will directly threaten Israel. Of course the ballistic missiles also threaten other Iranian targets, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and American forces in the region.

Iran is trying hard to provide components to convert the 130,000 relatively dumb rockets already deployed by Hezbollah in South Lebanon into precision guided missiles that can hit specific targets in Israel, such as military bases and high-value civilian infrastructure. It is also building factories in Syria to manufacture such missiles.

A Hezbollah attack will not just be rockets next time. They plan to cross the border and kill or kidnap Israeli civilians, and to attack Israel’s offshore gas platforms.

Iran is also helping Hamas improve its fighting capabilities. And it is very carefully and incrementally pursuing the ability to make nuclear weapons.

The Iranians, like the good chess-players that they are, are playing for position. They are careful to stay away from direct clashes, satisfied to get all their pieces into place before drawing their swords. Nevertheless there is no doubt of their objectives: to dominate the region and ultimately create a Shiite caliphate, to push out the remnants of US influence, to gain control of the Mideast oil supply (which can be wielded as a powerful weapon against the West), and to destroy Israel, which is both offensive to their Islamic sensibilities and a practical obstacle to all of their other plans.

None of this is hidden. It is known in Jerusalem, Riyadh, Washington, and everywhere else. J. E. Dyer has been writing about it for years. Benjamin Netanyahu has given dozens of speeches about it, even one to a joint session of the US Congress.

So here are my questions for Israeli Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, PM Netanyahu, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman:

How long do you want to wait?

Do you have some intelligence that someone is about to overthrow the revolutionary regime? Do you believe that the real source of power in Iran, the Revolutionary Guards, can be dislodged and Iran converted from an aggressive, expansionist, terror-exporting nation to a peaceful neighbor to the rest of the Middle East?

If not, do you think the regime will be destroyed by the American sanctions? Or isn’t it more likely that it will continue to be able to divert resources from its civilian population to preparations for war indefinitely?

Do you think the US will go to war for us? Donald Trump has been a friend to Israel, but there’s a limit to what you can expect from a friend. Both he and his base, not to mention the opposition, have made it clear that they are not interested in another Mideast war.

Trump is an ally, and we would receive material and diplomatic support from the US in the event of war. But how long will he remain in power? The most vicious political opposition that I’ve seen in America in my lifetime is gunning for him. Maybe he will have a second term, and maybe he won’t finish his first. But one thing that is certain is that when (not if) the other side takes over, there will be a massive backlash against all of his policies, and that includes support for Israel. So do you want to wait for President John Kerry, Michelle Obama, Cory Booker, or Elizabeth Warren?

We know that Iran is preparing the ground for a nuclear breakout. Do you have confidence that we can predict precisely when that will be?

What, if anything, do you think is going to happen in the next months and years that will improve our strategic position against Iran? Or is the balance shifting in Iran’s direction?

Do you want to fight on their terms, at a time of their choosing, or on ours? Do you prefer absorbing a 1973-style sneak attack or would you rather knock out the enemy’s offensive capability in a 1967-like preemptive strike?

Admittedly, that last question is unfair. It’s unlikely that an Israeli preemptive attack today could come close to replicating the success of the one in 1967. The Iranian enemy is far more militarily sophisticated and its assets are better hardened and dispersed. Israel wouldn’t be able do what it did in 1967. But it could dramatically shorten the war and reduce the damage the enemy could do. On the other hand, a sneak attack by Iran and its proxies might be even more traumatic for Israel than 1973. The element of surprise is a great advantage. Why would we give it up to them?

So here is my last question:

Will you cut off the head of the snake before or after it has buried its fangs in our flesh?

Posted in Iran, War | 6 Comments

Taking the ghetto out of the Jew

We do not have to account to anybody, we are not to sit for anybody’s examination and nobody is old enough to call on us to answer. We came before them and will leave after them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change, nor do we want to. – Ze’ev Jabotinsky

Tzipi Livni, who recently accepted the mantle of opposition leader, said that “the next election will be a referendum on the Declaration of Independence.”

Asked if she has come up with a campaign slogan yet, she pulls a scroll of the 1948 declaration from her desk and proceeds to unroll it. “This is the gist of it all,” she says. “Who is for the Declaration of Independence and who is against it? If you’re for it, you’re with us. And I believe that the vast majority of Israelis are for it.”

I hadn’t noticed Benjamin Netanyahu or Naftali Bennett, or even Moshe Feiglin, being opposed to the Declaration of Independence. But Livni asserts that the Nation-State Law which Netanyahu and those to his right supported, “jeopardizes Israel’s democratic character.” This is apparently because it does not contain a clause guaranteeing  “equality for all its citizens.”

The Right correctly points out that, at least in the view of the Supreme Court, equality and democracy are guaranteed by other Basic Laws, and there is nothing in this one that contradicts the Declaration of Independence. But the Right does agree with Livni that the Nation-State Law will be central to the next election. Writing in Israel Hayom, Haim Shine says,

…the next election (which will take place in 2019) will be about Israel’s image for the next 70 years, particularly the basic question of whether Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people or a state of all its citizens, or more precisely – all its ethnicities? Is Israel a Jewish state, the fulfillment of a 2,000-year-old vision, or just another country that lies on the Mediterranean?

The members of the Joint [Arab] List have made it clear that their objection to the Nation-State Law is that they do not want a state that is Jewish in any sense. They do not want a Jewish majority – they support a right of return for Arab “refugees” – and they object to the Jewish symbols of the state (the flag, the state emblem, and the national anthem). Livni makes it a point to distinguish her objection to the law from theirs, saying “I will stand with [the Arab MKs] on equality, but I can’t stand with them on the issue of national identity.”

Livni has carved out a path that is too narrow to stand on. On the left, there is the crevasse of the anti-Zionist position of the Arab members of the Knesset. On the right, her disagreement with Netanyahu becomes too small to make a difference. She objects to the role of the Haredi parties in government and its effect on Israeli life, but there is nothing in the Nation-State Law that affects their influence one way or the other. Indeed, in 2014, Livni was in part responsible for the dissolution of the only coalition government in Israel’s history that did not include a religious party, after she broke ranks with Netanyahu over an earlier version of the Nation-State Law!

The opponents of the Nation-State Law, like Livni, who wish to retain the label “Zionist” are stuck, because there is very little in it to rationally object to. This is why they tend to make a fuss about what is not in it. One example is the clause that asserts that “The state shall act within the Diaspora to strengthen the affinity between the state and members of the Jewish people.” The italicized phrase was added to a draft version of the law as a result of pressure from the Haredi parties, because they feared that otherwise the law could be used by a liberal Supreme Court to force the state to recognize non-Orthodox forms of Judaism in Israel. But this wording does not prevent such recognition; it simply does not require it.

Similarly, supporters of LGBT rights would like a clause that could be used to overturn the ruling that the state will not pay for surrogates for gay male couples that wish to have children. They will not find such a clause in this law, but it is almost certain that the surrogacy ruling will either be changed by the Knesset or be voided by the Supreme Court on the basis of other Basic Laws.

Some have noted that while the law has few practical consequences – although it negates the dream of a binational state that was proposed in recent years by various groups of Arab citizens of Israel – the liberal Jewish opposition to it has nevertheless been quite harsh, even among those, like Tzipi Livni, who are adamant about their Zionism. And here I want to propose a possible explanation for this phenomenon.

Opposition to the law is yet another example of the inability of some Jewish Israelis to get past the “galut mentality.” In other words, it is correlated with the degree to which a Jew worries about what the goyim will think.

Today in Western Europe and liberal/progressive circles in the US, nationalism and ethnic particularism are anathema. Nationalist movements are often labeled racist or fascist. National borders are considered unfair limitations on the human spirit. The natural desire of ethnic and religious groups to live together is suppressed in favor of diversity, even if this results in more interpersonal conflict. Actions to increase ethnic homogeneity are labeled “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid.” Israel’s concern to maintain its Jewish majority and culture, which are expressed by limitations on family reunification for residents of the PA areas and Arab citizens of Israel, or by attempts to deport illegal African migrants, are condemned outside of the country as racist.

Most Israelis, however, understand that the continued existence of the Jewish state depends on maintaining a Jewish majority. And they further understand why a Jewish state is a necessity for the survival of the Jewish people in a frankly antisemitic world. This is Zionism 101.

The problem for some is that though they pay lip service to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state, it upsets them when they encounter the condemnation of the anti-Zionist world. So they come up with reasons to oppose the Nation-State Law and other overt expressions of Zionism. But their real motivation is embarrassment.

They want to be liked in Western Europe and America. They want to be modern, progressive, secular, humanistic, and so on. They don’t want to be the wrong kind of Jews, the ghetto Jews. But ironically, their obsequious choice to not stand up for their people marks them as precisely that.

Jabotinsky didn’t say this, but I think he would have agreed: you can take the Jew out of the ghetto, but you can’t (easily) take the ghetto out of the Jew.

Posted in Israeli Politics, Zionism | 2 Comments

How Trump looks from here

After I returned to Israel about four years ago, I found that American politics seemed stranger and stranger to me. I thought it would be interesting to discuss how it looks from here, and what the trends portend both for Americans and Israelis. I’m not offering an analysis of US politics and society – I haven’t been back since I left, and I have to depend on what people tell me and on the mainstream, alternative, and social media. Rather, I’m describing my perceptions as an Israeli Jew who is also a former American. So forgive me if my descriptions of American politics and society are inaccurate. They describe what I see and hear.

The 2016 pre-election period and the election itself seemed to be characterized by a degree of animosity and plain meanness that I wasn’t accustomed to, for all the years that I had lived in the US. And instead of calming down, the past two years have seen an increase, if anything, in the hostility between Right and Left, or rather between pro- and anti-Trump forces. The opposition has mobilized much of the media on its side, a legal web is being woven to entangle Trump, and if the Democrats obtain a majority in the House this November, it’s likely that an attempt will be made to impeach him (although it is almost unthinkable that the necessary 2/3 vote in the Senate necessary to convict and remove him from office could be obtained). Trump, on the other hand, can and does fight back with the considerable powers of the President.

“Moderate Republicans” are mostly extinct and “moderate Democrats” are an endangered species. Hyper-partisanship is the rule, with both sides apparently more concerned with hurting their enemies than solving problems. At the same time, the Democratic Party is not the Democratic Party of the past anymore, not even the party of the Clintons. The progressive wing, empowered by default after Hillary’s loss, seems to be steering the party. There appears to be a more aggressive, take no prisoners attitude toward the present administration. The overall electorate is changing too, with younger people and immigrants gaining the right to vote, and older voters dying off.

In the larger society, some things stand out. Expressions of Jew-hatred in America, both from the Left and the Right, are increasing. There is the phenomenon of Imams openly preaching against Jews, something which may have always existed but only recently hit the media. The same old neo-Nazis are out there, but it seems that they are less inhibited about public displays of antisemitism. Left-wing Jew-hatred, usually starting as “criticism of Israeli policy” has grown to include traditional themes of Jewish control of media and banks, conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds, and more. Attacks on Israel from the left have become more and more irrational, veering into blood libel territory, as illustrated by the recent statements of an Episcopal bishop. Democrats and younger people are showing less sympathy for Israel and more for the Palestinian Arabs. Support for Israel is becoming more and more a partisan issue.

Frustration with everyday concerns like health care is more and more seen as a political issue, with one side or the other being blamed, depending on the complainer’s political orientation. There seems to be real anger on both sides in connection with immigration policy. I have friends in both camps: the pro-Trump people say that he is doing a good job in a difficult situation, but that the Democratic opposition would wreck the country if they got into power. The anti-Trumpers think he is the Devil, corrupt, a racist, and a danger to democracy who must be removed at all cost. In general, it seems that the Left is more shrill and even fanatic, but that may just be because they are on the outside trying to get back in.

And now the part that will be controversial in America. How does President Trump look from an Israeli point of view? Leaving aside everything else, what effects have his policies had on Israel?

The answer, to the chagrin of many of my American friends, is this: no recent American president has done as much for the Jewish state as Donald Trump.

This was emphasized for most Israelis by the comparison with his predecessor, Barack Obama. Obama gave us a standard of comparison, starting from the days before his inauguration when his staff summoned Tzipi Livni to Washington to tell her that the IDF had better be out of Gaza by Inauguration Day (it was); through eight years of manufactured crises, slights, insults to our PM (who can forget an anonymous administration official calling him a “chickenshit”?); through pressure to refrain from construction in the territories (we did), to release murderous prisoners (we did), and to not bomb the Iranian nuclear project (we didn’t); through the use of Obama Administration consultants and State Department money to try to influence our election against Netanyahu; through a cutoff of supplies in wartime and a ban on flights to our international airport; through the funding of terrorism and the guarantee that Iran would ultimately have nuclear weapons by the Iran deal; and finally, to Obama’s lame duck period when America did not vote against an anti-Israel Security Council resolution for the first time since Jimmy Carter was President. And these are just a few things off the top of my head.

So when Donald Trump finally righted a historic wrong by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and when he proved that he meant it by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, as three previous US presidents had failed to do, Israelis felt a breath of fresh air from Washington. When he withdrew from the Iran deal and re-imposed sanctions, mitigating the damage already done by the previous administration’s cash payments to the terrorist regime, Israelis saw that he understood the danger emanating from the Iranian regime as Obama had not. When he cut funding for the Palestinian Authority when it refused to stop paying terrorists, they saw that he would stop giving the Palestinians a free pass. And when his administration announced that it would no longer accept the unique institution of Palestinian “refugees,” an arrangement created by the Arab states as a multigenerational weapon against Israel and – until Trump – acquiesced to in the West out of a combination of cowardice and anti-Israeli bias, they realized that for the first time in decades, a breakthrough against the stalemate in the region was possible.

And I for one am grateful, like many people here. But sometimes I think that our leadership is assuming that the new situation will continue forever. Trump may be President for the next 6 years, he may remain for only two more, or his political enemies may succeed in cutting his term even shorter, or entangling him in a legal struggle that will prevent him from doing more than defending himself for the remainder of his term. They are certainly trying hard enough.

Here is a scenario: the Democrats win control of the House in November. They immediately vote a bill of impeachment against Trump. Trump, threatened with an avalanche of charges and accusations, resigns. VP Mike Pence takes over; he continues Trump’s policies, but lacks Trump’s charisma (I can hear my liberal friends gagging, but what else is it?) and is defeated in the 2020 election by a progressive Democrat, like Elizabeth Warren or even Michelle Obama. It could happen.

If – when – the opposition regains power in America, there is likely to be a strong reaction against Trump’s policies in every arena. As always, nothing stands out as a target the way we do. A progressive president and administration could be as bad or worse for Israel as Obama was.

Therefore it is important for Israel to take advantage of the present climate to solve as many of its problems as possible. Would it be better to fight Hamas or Hezbollah (or both) with Trump or Michelle Obama in the White House? What about deporting the illegal migrants in South Tel Aviv? Building in strategic parts of the territories? Getting UNRWA out of Gaza? Annexing all or part of Judea and Samaria? For Israel, the implication is clear. It’s unfortunately rare that we have such wide-ranging support from an American administration. Let’s not let it go to waste.

For America, it’s not up to me to tell you what to do. You are still the greatest nation in the world. May you regain the unity and common purpose needed for your republic to survive for another few hundred years.

Posted in American politics, American society, Jew Hatred | 5 Comments

Facebook’s essential extremism

There are 7.6 billion humans on this earth. 2.23 billion of them logged on to Facebook (the number counts “monthly active users”) during the second quarter of 2018.

I don’t know about you, but I found this astounding, considering that Facebook did not exist prior to 2004, and was not open to the general public until 2006. This single “platform” has arguably had a greater influence on human social and political behavior than anything since the invention of radio and television. It may turn out to be as disruptive of the social order as the widespread introduction of movable type in the 15th century.

The sheer speed at which Facebook has spread through world cultures along with its constantly changing, hidden, proprietary algorithms mean that its effects are difficult to study. Unlike the decentralized publishing industry that grew out of the advances in printing technology, Facebook is tightly controlled by a single private company.

Yesterday Facebook announced that it had deleted some 652 accounts for “coordinate inauthentic behavior” – that is, they were “sock puppets” associated with Russia and Iran, accounts that pretended to belong to real people or legitimate news agencies, which posted “political content focused on the Middle East, as well as the UK, US, and Latin America” primarily in English and Arabic. Information on exactly what content was posted is sketchy, but it seems that it included the usual anti-Israel material, as well as propaganda intended to create internal division to destabilize the US and UK.

One of the well-known characteristics of Facebook is its encouragement of ideological bubbles. This is by design. The designers understand that the amount of time one spends on Facebook – and therefore the number of ads one sees – depends on the psychic gratification one receives from the content. It’s well-known that such gratification increases when the content includes ideas with which one agrees, while exposure to ideas that challenge one’s beliefs produces discomfort. So the algorithm that decides which posts a user will see chooses those which – according to an elaborate profile created by the user’s own posts and “likes” – it estimates that the user will find congenial.

This is benign in some ways – for example, it “knows” that I am interested in motorcycles, so I will see posts about motorcycles – but it also works as a political censor. In a triumph of artificial intelligence, it has learned to (most of the time) distinguish between pro- and anti-Israel posts, and show me the former and not the latter. If you have ever tried to program a computer to perform a similar task, you know that this is an order of magnitude harder than simply looking for texts that are about a particular subject, as it does for motorcycles.

The platform itself is structured to encourage its users to behave in ways which support its objective of providing a gratifying experience. For example, a user who posts a “status,” photo, or link, has control of the comments that other users can make about it. If another user posts a comment that the “owner” of the initial post disagrees with, the owner can delete it. As a result, Facebook etiquette has developed in which it is considered inappropriate to post a disagreement. “This is my page, and I won’t allow racism (or fascism, transphobia, etc.) on it,” a user will write, and delete the offending comment.

There is also the way Facebook users get “friends.” Friend suggestions are generated in various ways, such as number of common friends, but also by the platform’s evaluation of common interests, which also means ideological agreement. My personal experience illustrates this. I have been a member of Facebook since 2010, and by now have collected several hundred “friends.” After an initial period in which I befriended relatives and real-life friends, I almost never initiated a friend request. But on a regular basis I receive such requests. Some of them are people with whom I share non-political interests or who were my real-life friends in the past. A few are people that I have interacted with in the comments section. But the majority are people with whom I am not acquainted, but who appear (to Facebook) to have a similar ideological profile. In addition, over the years, many of my more liberal friends have unfriended me, mostly as a result of my posts about Barack Obama’s anti-Israel policies. So I am left in a bubble of pro-Israel, generally conservative folks with a few old friends and family members thrown in. I also get regular requests to join groups which are ideologically congenial.

So why is this bad? Of course it means that I won’t be exposed to ideas that I disagree with. That’s bad enough. But there is an even worse problem. It is that in an ideologically homogeneous group, a participant gets respect by reinforcing the ideology of the group. I can become a hero to my group of hawkish conservatives by being even more hawkish. Because there are no doves in my group, thanks to Facebook’s algorithm and natural selection, there is nothing to stop me from moving farther to the right. And the next person that wants to make his mark in the group will attack me from the right, moving the discourse as a whole along with him.

As a result, ideological groups develop which then move more and more away from the center. They emphasize different facts and even develop their own facts. They create their own dialects, with each side using words that the other side never uses. What we call “Judea and Samaria,” they call “occupied Palestinian territories.” Members of opposing groups would think each other’s ideas are crazy, but they will rarely see them.

Now, I admit that I like right-wing discourse, up to a point. But think about what is happening in a similar group of Palestinian Arabs who are inclined in a nationalist or Islamist direction. Their discourse, too, is moving, in the direction of hatred and confrontation. And while my right-wing friends may be (thanks to the algorithm) close to my age and therefore relatively harmless, that couldn’t have been said about Palestinian college student Omar al-Abed, who told his Facebook friends that his knife “answers the call of al-Aqsa,” hours before he walked into a Jewish home and murdered three members of a family with it.

Facebook often announces programs to try to distinguish real and fake news, and to remove posts that “violate its community standards,” whatever they are. It certainly does not want to provide a platform for incitement to murder, genocide, sexual violence, racism, or many other undesirable things. But it will never do anything that will significantly impact its primary objective, which is to get people to spend more time scrolling through it and encountering ads.

In short, the platform itself, which is designed to increase ad revenues for Facebook’s shareholders, has the undesired side effect of nurturing and amplifying extremism. Rather than bringing people together, it drives them apart and polarizes them. Unfortunately, this is built into the structure of the platform, and is essential to the attainment of its business objectives. It can’t be fixed with anything other than a wholesale change that would make it unrecognizable, and possibly destroy its ability to make a profit.

Some countries have blocked Facebook. They are generally totalitarian states that want to prevent their citizens from learning about the outside world. Israel is not that kind of state and will not ban Facebook; but we should understand that its pleasant diversions come at a price.

Posted in Media | 1 Comment

The Times They Are A Changing

When the State of Israel was declared in May of 1948, 35 men and two women signed the Declaration of Independence. The overwhelming majority was made up of activists of various left-wing factions, a few represented the interests of different varieties of religious Jews, and exactly two – Zvi Segal and Ben-Zion Sternberg – were connected with the right-wing Revisionist movement inspired by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Menachem Begin, the leader of the movement, was not invited.

Animosity between the sides was high. The Left blamed the Revisionists for the unsolved 1933 murder of Mapai labor party leader Haim Arlosoroff, and during 1944-45 turned over members of the Etzel (sometimes called Irgun) and Lehi underground movements to the British, who imprisoned them. Shortly after independence, Ben-Gurion ordered his brand-new IDF to shell the Etzel ship Altalena, with Begin himself on board.

Ben-Gurion’s Mapai Party, the Histadrut labor federation, various pseudo-governmental enterprises, and left-leaning media became the official and unofficial backbone of the state. The arts, media, army, the legal and judicial systems, and more all followed the ideological lead of Mapai. The Prime Ministership was given to one Laborite after another. The right-wing, led by Begin, was marginalized into what appeared to be a permanent opposition status.

But almost immediately, the seeds were planted for an electoral revolution. During the 1950s and 60s, Israel absorbed 650,000 immigrants from Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East. The establishment looked down on them as “primitive,” and treated them with condescension and discrimination. They ended up in development towns that suffered from a lack of resources, while Labor’s kibbutzim received the lion’s share. But they had no political power. Not yet.

In October 1973, as a result of faulty intelligence and lack of coordination, an unprepared Israel suffered severe casualties from the surprise attack that began the Yom Kippur war. In 1974, with the publication of a report critical of the performance of the IDF brass and (to a lesser extent) the government, PM Golda Meir resigned. Many blamed her for the disaster, perhaps unfairly, due to her lack of military experience. Yitzhak Rabin, also a member of the Labor Party, but a career military man and former Chief of Staff, replaced her.

In 1977, elections were called for May after a crisis with the religious parties. In March, Rabin was hit with a one-two punch. He met with US President Jimmy Carter, and returned home to announce that the US agreed with his concept of “defensible borders”; but shortly after their meeting, Carter called for a Palestinian “homeland” and said that Israel would need to return almost completely to pre-1967 lines. If that wasn’t enough, it was revealed that Rabin and his wife had bank accounts in the US (then illegal) containing $10,000. Rabin resigned as leader of the Labor Party and as candidate for Prime Minister.

At this point the chickens that had been fluttering as a result of the ill-treatment of Mizrachi immigrants, the Yom Kippur War debacle, the worsening relations with the US, and the perceived corruption of the Labor Party and its affiliates, finally came home to roost. Menachem Begin’s Likud party won 43 seats in the Knesset – a landslide by Israeli standards – and the period of one-party rule in Israel was over.

But the Israeli Left was not politically dead yet. In 1992, Rabin again became PM and presided over – perhaps “was dragged kicking and screaming to” would be better – the signing of the Oslo accords with the PLO. Almost immediately it became evident to anyone that wasn’t blinded by ideological considerations that this was a serious blunder, as terrorism spiked and final status negotiations went nowhere. After Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Shimon Peres was acting PM for seven months until he was defeated by Benjamin Netanyahu, an outcome that may have been related to the growing number of terrorist attacks, which many blamed on Oslo.

In July 1999, Ehud Barak beat Netanyahu handily. But the aftermath of his eight-month tenure would mark the beginning of the end of the Israeli Left. The abortive Camp David talks between Israel and the PLO, mediated by a frustrated Bill Clinton, ended when Arafat, offered a sovereign state and more concessions overall than ever before, walked out and refused to make a deal. Shortly thereafter he unleashed the Second Intifada, a campaign of terrorism that left more than 1,000 Israelis and considerably more Palestinians dead. It took Arik Sharon and an extensive military campaign (“Operation Defensive Shield”) in Judea and Samaria to end it by 2002.

In 2005, though, Sharon – under pressure from the US and threatened at home with criminal indictments – withdrew all Israeli military and civilian presence from the Gaza Strip. Shortly thereafter, Hamas took over from the Palestinian Authority and turned the Strip into a base for terror attacks against Israel, including launching thousands of increasingly sophisticated rockets at Israeli communities.

That was pretty much the end of the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Arabs could bring peace, for anyone except the extreme Left (although today they talk about “separation” or “realignment” instead of “peace”). Foreign pressure on Israel continues today, but the great majority of Israelis no longer believes in the possibility of a meaningful peace agreement – or trusts the Left to lead the country.

Since then, Israeli voters have moved farther and farther to the right, helped along by Palestinian Arab terrorism. The latest polls show the Likud ahead, with the center-left Yesh Atid party second, and Labor (now called the Zionist Union) a weak third, with only one more seat than the Arab Joint List. Overall, the combined strength of the “right-wing” parties is well over a Knesset majority, while the Left – even if it were to make a coalition with the anti-Zionist Arab parties, something that has never happened – isn’t close. Unless something unexpected happens, the next government will also be a coalition of the Right.

But although the Left is weak electorally, it still dominates what Americans like to call the “deep state.” The media, arts and letters, academy, Foreign Ministry, legal establishment and courts, and even the top IDF and security brass lean Left. In addition there are also a surprisingly large number of non-governmental organizations, funded by foreign interests, particularly European governments, which overwhelmingly push the projects and interests of the Left. Together they work to keep Israel from following the path that reflects the views of the majority of Israelis.

Today many of the elite are “post-Zionists,” citizens of the world. They are embarrassed by Zionist patriotism, which they associate with Mizrachim, whose distrust of Arabs they attribute to racism. How else to explain why they oppose the Nation-State Law which does nothing more than express the idea that the Jewish people have a collective right of self-determination? They don’t oppose it for Palestinian Arabs, why should they for Jews?

It’s ironic that this elite should wave the banner of democracy and equality as they try to maintain their undemocratic, minority rule. It’s ironic that they accuse the Right of racism, while their own prejudice against Mizrachi Jews is visible for all to see.

But more than 40 years after Begin’s electoral revolution, the popular will is beginning to express itself in the realm of the deep state as well as at the ballot box. The government, in the form of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and the Knesset, are beginning to reassert themselves against the Supreme Court, which has often acted in very unpopular ways – dare I say undemocratically? Changes are being considered in the way the justices of the Court are selected, as well as the possibility of some kind of supermajority of the Knesset being able to override it. Some steps have been taken to rein in the NGOs, and as their subversive activities are becoming more widely known both here and abroad (thanks to the efforts of the NGO Monitor organization), it becomes more likely that their money supply will be dried up.

More of the IDF’s young officers today are religious, Mizrachi, or right wing. Back in the 1980’s, I remember being told by an officer that he was the single officer in his entire battalion that was not a kibbutznik. Those days are over, and surely the top ranks will ultimately reflect the change.

The arts, media, and academy are still almost monolithically left-leaning. But the elite’s increasingly shrill complaints about “undemocratic” actions of the government indicate that they feel their position threatened. It’s enjoyable to see how irritated they are by Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev, who has acted to limit government funding for some of the more egregiously anti-state “artists,” whose ideas of art have included placing an Israeli flag in the artist’s anus or defecating on one. And she has even demanded that state-funded radio broadcasts include Mizrachi music!

More and more it is becoming clear that the “deep state” in Israel is frantically struggling to get its privilege back. The old elite that felt that it owned the country and had a right to run things the way it pleased – and almost wrecked it in 1973, 1993 and 2000 – doesn’t want to give up. It still believes that it knows what a Jewish state should be, better than those “primitive” Mizrachim, Russians, and Ethiopians who today make up significantly more than half the Jewish population.

But its day is over. As Bob Dylan recognized some years ago, privilege isn’t forever:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Posted in Israeli or Jewish History, Israeli Politics, Israeli Society, Post-Zionism | 2 Comments