Playing Chicken with the Jewish State

What’s really going on in Israel?

What are the massive demonstrations and disruptions in the streets, the revolt of the reserve pilots and the countless testimonials and petitions in Israel and the U.S. about?

They aren’t just about changing the balance of power between the Israeli Supreme Court and the elected government and Knesset. If they were, the parties could soon reach a compromise that would maintain a degree of judicial review and protect minority rights without prioritizing them over the survival of the Jewish state.

But that’s not what’s really going on. What’s going on is a power struggle between two blocs in Israeli society.

On one side, which I will imprecisely label “the left,” are the legal, judicial, academic, artistic and media establishments, along with much of the upper class, based mostly in the center of the country. This alliance is supported by the Biden administration and liberal American Jewish denominations. Insofar as it has a spokesperson, it is Yair Lapid.

On the other side, which I call with equal imprecision “the right,” are Orthodox Jews, Mizrachim, Russian speakers, the lower classes and residents of Israel’s periphery. The right is larger than the left, but the left’s control of the media and the legal system weighs heavily on the scales. The undisputed champion of the right is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel was a one-party state from its founding until 1977, when disgust with the Labor government’s failure to prepare for the Yom Kippur War and the accumulated anger of the Mizrachim at their paternalistic and exclusionary treatment resulted in Menachem Begin’s election as prime minister. When the left returned to power, it foisted the Oslo Accords on a generally unwilling public, which then endured the horrifying terror attacks of the second intifada.

That was virtually the end of left-wing governments in Israel. From then on, successful coalitions would be formed by the center and the right, many of them led by Netanyahu.

The left was shocked by Begin’s victory and depressed by Netanyahu’s continuing success. They realized that, due to demographic trends, they were unlikely to win a Knesset majority again. But they retained control of the legal establishment and used it to “protect” the country against the “excesses” of right-wing governments.

During the late 1980s and 1990s, the legal establishment arrogated more and more power to itself. For example, legal advisors throughout the government were given veto power over any official action. This veto need not be based on whether the action was illegal, but on whether it was unreasonable.

In another historic move, the Supreme Court handed itself the power of judicial review. In 1995, for the first time, it overturned a law passed by the Knesset.

Soon, the judiciary began to interfere in issues that were more political than legal. This gave rise to the demand that limits be set on its power. Were it not for one thing, that might have happened quietly, in a way that would be acceptable to both sides.

That one thing is Netanyahu. More specifically, the left’s hatred of him. As a result of this, what should have been a matter of discussion and compromise has become a conflict between the country’s two major blocs.

This is what lies behind the well-financed campaign against judicial reform. This campaign is dishonest and hysterical. If the reforms pass, opponents say, the justice system will be destroyed and Israel will become a fascist dictatorship. The economy will be wrecked, capital and tech workers will flee, the army will not fight and Israel will become a theocratic state soon to be overrun by her enemies.

This is nonsense. Even if the reforms are enacted in full, the situation would be no different than it was prior to the 1980s. If a compromise version of the reform were to pass, democracy in Israel would be enhanced, not damaged.

None of the reform bills have passed more than the first of three readings, so there is plenty of time to negotiate and compromise, and the government is willing to do so. The opposition, however, refuses to talk unless the process is frozen. The coalition believes that if the process is frozen, it will never be thawed, and insists that there can be negotiations during the normal legislative process.

In the meantime, opponents are ramping up their disruptions to the point that there are real fears of serious violence. The opposition sees blood in the water—Netanyahu’s—and can’t face the prospect of losing their veto power over the actions of any right-wing government. They have decided to keep their foot on the gas in the game of chicken until Netanyahu and his coalition blink.

What should happen is for the grownups in the opposition to work out a compromise with the government that will restore judicial balance without harming either side or the nation. This is perfectly possible.

What might happen is that the left has unleashed forces that cannot be controlled. In that case, the game of chicken could end in a fiery head-on collision.

This post first appeared on the Jewish News Service website.

Posted in Israeli Politics, Israeli Society | 2 Comments

The Forward Brings Back the Massacre That Never Happened

Like the proverbial old soldiers, anti-Jewish lies never die. But they don’t fade away, either. No matter how often they are proven false, they come back to incite hatred and motivate murder. Blood libels against Jews can be found before the Common Era and as recently as 1912. The pogrom-inspiring Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forged document purporting to be the minutes of a meeting between Jews who conspired to promote war and revolution throughout the world, created around the turn of the twentieth century and thoroughly debunked in the 1920s, is still a best-seller in Muslim countries – and dozens of versions are available in the US as well.

Today the focus of antisemitism has moved to Israel, although the old forms of Jew-hatred still bubble up regularly in Europe and North America. So there are contemporary blood libels like the media accounts of the alleged shooting of 12-year old Mohammad Durah, an exercise in what Richard Landes has called “lethal journalism.”

One of the most pernicious and persistent lethal narratives has been the myth of the Jenin Massacre. In April 2002, the IDF entered the Jenin refugee camp in pursuit of terrorists that had committed numerous attacks inside Israel, including the Passover Seder Massacre in Netanya, in which 30 Israelis were murdered. After a 10-day house-to-house battle, 23 IDF soldiers lost their lives as well as (according to later investigation by the UN) 52 Palestinians, most of whom were fighters from various Palestinian factions. Even the notoriously anti-Israel organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International admitted that there had been no massacre (although they did accuse the IDF of various war crimes).

The media, academics and politicians exploded in a frenzy of exaggeration and condemnation. James Petras, a sociologist associated with (my alma mater!) Binghamton University compared the battle to the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Reporter Phil Reeves of the UK Independent wrote a series of articles in which he accused Israel of a “monstrous war crime,” with “hundreds of corpses entombed beneath the dust.” Saeb Erekat of the Palestinian Authority told CNN that “the number [massacred] will not be less than 500,” and his remarks were echoed throughout the media.

One of the most influential vectors of the massacre myth was a “documentary” by Arab-Israeli actor/director Mohammad Bakri called “Jenin, Jenin.” Bakri went to Jenin several weeks after the battle and interviewed Palestinians, who regaled him with accounts of atrocities committed by the IDF. He did not interview anyone connected with the IDF, nor did he attempt to validate the Palestinian testimony, because, he said, he wanted to present the Palestinian viewpoint.

The film was well done and persuasive, but most of its content was simply not true or massively exaggerated. Dr. David Zangen, an IDF doctor who was present during the battle, wrote a response called “Seven Lies About Jenin,” in which he refuted several of the more prominent atrocity stories. One of them involves a hospital wing that was supposedly destroyed by Israeli bombing. Zangen points out that the wing never existed, and that IDF soldiers carefully protected the hospital and its water, electricity and oxygen supplies. He also notes that,

In pictures shot at the site in the center of Jenin, the damage appears much larger than it was in actual fact, and the martyrs’ pictures and jihad slogans – which had been present at the time of the IDF military operation – had disappeared from the walls of houses. The film systematically and repeatedly uses manipulative pictures of tanks taken in other locations, artificially placing them next to pictures of Palestinian children.

Joshua Mitnick of the Newark Star-Ledger interviewed Bakri and described the technique he used to create a “documentary” of events that did not occur:

The film also attempts to visualize allegations of summary killings based on rumors that spread among residents of the camp. Bakri spliced together video footage shot during the offensive in which an Israeli tank [actually an armored personnel carrier – vr] appears to trample a group of Palestinian prisoners. Bakri said there was no proof that incident ever took place, but that he was trying to demonstrate what an Israeli tank symbolized to Palestinians. [!]

Given all of this, it is remarkable that a supposedly serious publication like the Jewish Daily Forward would publish an article that gave credence to the film. But that is exactly what it did, when it published Mira Fox’s paean to Bakri’s “guerrilla journalism.” Perhaps the article’s placement in the “Culture” category is supposed to absolve it from the responsibility to note that the film is a viciously manipulative piece of propaganda and full of lies, but it is still shocking when she writes that

Israel claimed they killed around 50 Palestinians, the majority of whom were responsible for bus bombings and terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis, while Palestinians alleged a death toll near 500 composed largely of civilians.

And then fails to mention that even the hostile UN and NGOs admitted that the Israeli numbers were correct! Or when she repeats the unsubstantiated Palestinian atrocity stories that appeared in the film. She writes,

Yet, today when social media has given everyone a platform to tell their personal stories, the stories in Jenin, Jenin feel almost commonplace. Now everyone has a camera in their pocket, and can capture the violence as it unfolds, unlike Bakri’s film which was limited to shots panning over rubble afterward.

Did she miss the deceptive editing, the spliced footage of tanks, that gave the film so much of its force?

Probably not. It’s clear where her sympathies lie:

While the Palestinian fight may be trendy online, the real-world changes have not been so abrupt. Palestinians still live under occupation, and Israel’s military might still greatly outstrips Palestinian insurgents. Part of the reason videos of Palestinians running down the street, throwing stones at tanks or being forcibly evicted from their homes, are so common online is because they’re so common in life.

I have no idea who Mira Fox is, but I do know that the Editor in Chief of the Forward is Jodi Rudoren, an experienced journalist who served as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief for several years, and who is certainly aware of the facts about the massacre that never happened. Allowing this hit job on Israel and the IDF to be published was no less than editorial malpractice.

Will the Forward publish a correction? I’ll wait.

A version of this article was published on the Jewish News Service website.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Media, Terrorism, War | 4 Comments

The Survival Imperative

It has been this way since our ancestors started walking upright, maybe before that. Two tribes struggle over a piece of land. One will prevail and the other will be defeated. One will remain in the land and the other will not. The loser will be destroyed, expelled, dispersed, or absorbed. Usually, the loser of such a conflict disappears from history.

The Jewish people are connected to Eretz Yisrael by religion, language, culture and history. They were expelled from their historic homeland and were dispersed throughout the world for thousands of years, before they finally succeeded to return and reestablish sovereignty here. I know of no other people with a comparable story. Indeed, the Jews are the paradigm case for the concept of a people. And our struggle to keep the land that we regained at great cost is classic.

Arguments about international law and postcolonialism vs. Zionism are a waste of time. The justice of our case is entirely irrelevant to the likely outcome of the struggle. It will be determined by which tribe is successful at occupying the land, establishing control over it, and assuring its demographic dominance, just as humans and other primates have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years.

This is what our enemies, the Palestinian Arabs, understand – and what many, perhaps most, Israeli Jews do not. How else can you understand the weakness and vacillation that characterize the policies of the State of Israel?

We have amply demonstrated that we Jews are capable of fighting, fiercely and effectively, to protect our land when we have been attacked. What we can’t seem to do is to see clearly what’s necessary to keep the state that we won at such great cost. We have consistently failed to articulate long-term national goals and make policy to reach them.

Our greatest mistakes have come from our failure to perceive the nature of the struggle that we find ourselves in. Three examples speak for themselves: the decision in 1967 to give control of the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf; the Oslo Accords of 1993; and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. In each case, Israel deliberately surrendered sovereignty over part of Eretz Yisrael, giving up our honor in addition to our land, and weakening our strategic deterrence. Whatever was expected in return by our foolish leaders was not forthcoming, as the Arabs took what we handed them and only pressed harder.

These mistakes and countless other less serious ones have encouraged the Arabs to believe that their strategy of combining violence short of war with diplomatic and cognitive warfare is succeeding. Our reactions have been sporadic, weak, and partial. The Arabs are convinced that time is on their side and they will ultimately prevail. We, on the other hand, are conflicted and unsure of how to proceed. They sense our lack of direction and reluctance to fight, and respond with more frequent and more vicious terrorism, such as we’ve seen in recent days.

Violence is now decentralized, and traditional command and control has been replaced by “organic” terrorism, in which civilian youth are the soldiers and social media the motivator. This is a relatively novel development in warfare, and it is very difficult to counter.

At one time, many of us believed that our conflict had a compromise solution, that Jews and Arabs could share the land. We thought that if the economic condition of the Arabs could be improved, they would come to accept Jewish sovereignty between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, and give up their historical grievance against the Jews. We thought we could cooperate, at least to some extent, with “moderate” elements among them. But we underestimated their tenacity and the seriousness of their ideological and religious commitment.

Perhaps we also failed to understand that Jews and Arabs are still primates (at least in respect to territorial behavior), and that victory over our enemies is a necessary condition for our survival. I call this fact the survival imperative. In particular, it calls on us to strengthen our sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael, to fully occupy it, and to ensure perpetual demographic superiority for our people in it; because only thus will we survive as a people.

While this reality might be disappointing, inasmuch as it precludes a quick, peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it also is liberating: it provides clear national goals and suggests policies for reaching them.

For example, rather than dismantling Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, we should be strengthening them and building new ones. Sovereignty over all of the land is paramount. Efforts should be made to settle Jews everywhere in the land. Policies should be designed to encourage Jews to move to Israel and stay there, while Arabs, particularly those in the territories, should be encouraged to emigrate. Policies designed to improve the lot of Arabs should be replaced by their opposite. Cooperation and support for the Palestinian Authority should be stopped. Enemies should be treated as enemies.

There will be objections that this is a prescription for war, that there will be international condemnation, that the policies I advocate are racist and undemocratic, and that the Biden Administration will be displeased. But (if you hadn’t noticed), we are getting war and international condemnation in any case, and hypocritical moralism from those without a knife at their throat is best ignored. Finally, part of the program must be to end our dangerous dependency on the US, whose military aid is intended to control Israel and reduce her to a satellite nation.

The survival of the world’s only Jewish state, and probably also of the Jewish people, depends on our clear perception of the world in which we live, and of the unchanging reality of human behavior. We have the resources and the strength to prevail; the only question is whether we have the vision and the will.

A version of this article appeared at

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Arabs, The Jewish people | 4 Comments

Israel’s Democracy Is Endangered – But Not for the Reason You Think

Israel’s new government is being hammered by an unprecedented political and media blitz, focusing on its intention to restore checks and balances between the judiciary and the Knesset. “If this government does not fall,” says opposition leader Yair Lapid, “Israel will cease to be a liberal democracy,” and its artistic, cultural, and business elites will flee to Berlin and Miami. David Horowitz, editor of the English-language Times of Israel, wrote that the proposals “sounded the death knell for our thriving but inadequately entrenched democracy.” Former Defense Minister Benny Gantz referred (Heb.) to the plan as a “coup d’état,” said that it would lead to civil war, and called for opponents to “take to the streets.” Esther Hayut, the President [Chief Justice] of Israel’s Supreme Court, contended that

…this is a plan to dismember the legal system. It is intended to land a mortal blow on the independence and impartiality of the judicial branch of government and to turn it into a silent branch.

Even Alan Dershowitz, a supporter of PM Binyamin Netanyahu, opposes the reform plan, arguing that it endangers “civil liberties and minority rights.”

In 1948, Israel’s Declaration of Independence established a constituent assembly which was charged with writing a constitution; it met only four times, and then, in 1949, gave up and transformed itself into the First Knesset. Practical decisions about how the state would be organized were to be embodied in a series of basic laws, which (theoretically) would some day be merged into a constitution. The first Basic Law dealt with the operation of the Knesset, and wasn’t adopted until 1958.

Israel has had a Supreme Court since its founding. It is the highest appellate court, like the US Supreme Court; but it also has the ability to sit as the High Court of Justice (Bagatz). The Bagatz has original jurisdiction – it can rule on matters that have not been adjudicated by a lower court. Until the mid-1980s, it was limited to cases brought by individuals or organizations with standing – that is, those who could show that they had been directly damaged by government actions. Jurisdiction also was confined to matters that were justiciable; that is, nonpolitical. These requirements were relaxed, and a vague criterion of “reasonableness” was adopted, which gave the Court great latitude to negate actions and policies that it simply didn’t like. But without a constitutional touchstone to compare them to, the Court didn’t try to overturn laws passed by the Knesset.

This changed in the mid-1990s. In 1992, the Knesset passed two new Basic Laws, which dealt with human rights rather than the mechanics of the state: the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation. These laws were passed with only a few of the 120 Knesset members present (Human Dignity and Liberty had 32 votes for, 21 against, and one abstention; while Freedom of Occupation passed with 23 in favor, none opposed, and no abstentions). I am sure there would have been more interest if the MKs had known how those laws would be used!

In a series of law review articles, Justice Aharon Barak (who would become president of the Court in 1995) promoted the doctrine that the new basic laws provided the missing constitutional touchstone against which Knesset-passed laws could be measured for “constitutionality.” He explicitly referred to this as a “constitutional revolution,” and in 1995 the Court invalidated a law passed by the Knesset on constitutional grounds for the first time. The doctrine was expanded in a series of controversial decisions, some of which – like the 2002 decision to shut down a right-wing radio station – could not have been more political.

Today anyone (one doesn’t need to be a citizen or even a resident) can petition the Court about virtually any government action or law. Foreign-funded NGOs have successfully petitioned on behalf of Palestinians with dubious land claims and brought about the dismantling of Jewish communities and the expulsion of their residents.

The legal and judicial establishment also holds great power through the system of legal advisors. The government, the Knesset, and each individual ministry, must have one. The government’s legal advisor is referred to in English as the “Attorney General,” but the job has far more authority and scope than the US Attorney General. For one thing, the AG’s “advice” to the government is binding! In addition, if the government must go to court, the AG can choose to defend its position or not. The AG is also the head of the State Prosecution, and makes the final decision on whether to prosecute government officials accused of crimes. The ministerial legal advisors, whose advice is binding on the ministries, are civil servants and cannot be fired without the AG’s permission. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the AG may be the single most powerful person in Israel’s governing apparatus, including the Prime Minister.

Supreme Court justices are selected by a nine-member committee, chaired by the Justice Minister. A majority represent the legal establishment, including three members of the current Supreme Court. The AG is selected by the Justice Minister from a short list of candidates approved by a search committee of five members, at least three of whom are members of the legal and judicial establishment. Thus the circle of control is complete.

Almost all of this structure (with the exception of the judicial selection committee) is not anchored in laws passed by the Knesset, but in rulings made by the courts themselves.

Supporters of the current system will tell you that the system is “professional” and not “political” or “ideological,” but in Israel, everything is political. The unelected and unaccountable Supreme Court, Attorney General, and ministerial legal advisors, have intervened in countless governmental decisions and appointments, sometimes creating gridlock in critical security-related areas. For just one example, all of the government’s efforts to deport illegal migrants or to incentivize them to leave of their own accord have been stymied by the Supreme Court, which overthrew four successive laws passed by the Knesset.

The proposal by the new Justice Minister, Yariv Levin, is intended to restore the balance of power between the government and Knesset on the one hand, and the legal-judicial branch on the other. It does not eliminate the practice of judicial review of legislation, but anchors it in a Basic Law for the first time, as well as providing a means for the Knesset to override Court decisions under certain conditions. The proposal also does away with the vague criterion of “reasonableness.” It changes the composition of the selection committee to end the incestuous nature of judicial appointments. Finally, it makes the opinions of the Attorney General and the ministerial legal advisors only advisory and not binding.

These changes would not “destroy democracy,” but they would strip away the almost absolute power over the government held by the legal establishment, which is arguably undemocratic to the extreme. Rather than a coup d’état, it is a counter-coup to restore the primacy of the elected Knesset that the legal/judicial establishment arrogated to itself in the 1980s and ‘90s. This is especially important for a right-wing government, which can find itself hamstrung by the left-leaning Supreme Court and legal establishment.

But I do agree with the critics of the Levin proposal when they say that Israel faces a crisis today that endangers its democratic nature. The danger, however, comes not from the overdue realignment of the power relationships between the branches of government, but from the reaction of those who understand that for the first time in Israel’s history, it might be possible for true right-wing policies to be implemented – and who will do almost anything to prevent that.

In 1977 Israel changed from a one-party socialist state – at times even a dictatorship – into a true democracy, when long-time opposition figure Menachem Begin became Prime Minister. Many of his votes came from the Mizrachi community, most of whom had immigrated in the 50s and 60s, and were finally beginning to become established in the country. The Mizrachim and more recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union have tended to support right-wing parties, ending the political dominance of the old left-wing parties, and providing a solid base for politicians like Netanyahu. But the elites of the academic, media, cultural, and legal establishments were not ready to give up control of what they considered their state. And one of the ways they held onto it was by means of the legal/judicial system. “Why do we vote for the Right and still get the policies of the Left?” many asked. This is why.

The recent frantic, even unhinged, opposition to the changes comes from the understanding that finally, some 45 years after the election of Menachem Begin, the game of elite control of the state may finally be coming to an end. But they will not give up without a fight. Expect demonstrations, provocations, and dirty tricks.

Posted in Israeli Politics | 7 Comments

The Palestinian Weaponization of Language

One of the frustrations of “peace processing,” as it has been practiced by various Israeli governments and American administrations, is that there are systematic ambiguities in the way important concepts are understood by the two sides. The Palestinian ideology, like the Marxism of their sometime advocates in the Soviet intelligence services, has a jargon in which words do not mean what they mean to someone outside of the circle. Naturally, this leads to difficulties in negotiation.

This is not a problem for the Israeli Right (where I place myself). We of the Right know that the dispute cannot be “solved” in a manner acceptable to both sides. We understand that the objectives of Zionism and Palestinianism contradict one another: Zionism insists upon a sovereign Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, while Palestinianism demands that all of the land from the river to the sea be under Arab control. The Right realizes that there can be no common ground, and that the conflict will end only when one people disappears from the land, and the other is fully sovereign.

It is not a problem for most Palestinian Arabs, either. They too understand that there can be no possible accommodation with the Jews. They know what they mean by the terms in question; and if they can make progress toward their goal by allowing their counterparts to misunderstand them, they are not motivated to go out of their way to make themselves better understood.

This is not to say that they try very hard to hide their beliefs, their ideology, and their objective. From the maps that show only “Palestine” from the river to the sea, to the speeches of their leaders, the editorials in their newspapers, even the candid comments of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs, they cleave consistently to their historical narrative, their self-righteous victimhood, their blazing anger and shame, and their aspiration and expectation that some day they will rid the land of Jews.

The linguistic confusions that I refer to become important when “moderate” Israelis and their American patrons begin to try to square the ideological circle and try to negotiate with the Palestinians for an end to the conflict. Although I had hoped that this futile enterprise would not reoccur after the failures of the Obama Administration, it seems to be raising its head again in the age of Biden.

So here are some of the important words and phrases and their special Palestinian meanings.


Usual Meaning

Palestinian Meaning


Military control of territory of a belligerent country.

Any Jewish sovereignty between the river and the sea. “The Occupation” began in 1948.

Palestine (political entity)

The political entity that existed between 1920 and 1948 under British mandatory government.

An Arab country, coextensive with Israel, presently occupied by Jewish colonialists.

State of Israel

A country established in 1948 upon the termination of the British Mandate.

An illegitimate entity squatting on Palestinian land. Not a real country.


An Israeli citizen living in disputed areas.

Any Israeli Jew.

Resistance to occupation

Organized opposition to belligerent occupation.

Organized terrorism against Jews, mostly civilians.

Popular resistance

Ad hoc opposition to belligerent occupation.

Ad hoc terrorism against Jews.

Nonviolent popular resistance

Ad hoc opposition to belligerent occupation that does not include physical violence.

Ad hoc terrorism against Jews with weapons other than guns or explosives (rocks, knives, firebombs, automobiles, etc. are permitted).


A race-based system of separation and discrimination imposed by law that encompasses all political and social interactions between people, such as existed in South Africa before 1993.

Differences in rights enjoyed by Israeli citizens and non-citizen Arabs in the territories, including those under control of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.


Deliberately bringing about the physical destruction of a “national, ethnical [sic], racial or religious group” (1948 convention on genocide).

Israeli restrictions or actions by security forces in response to Palestinian terrorism.

Legitimate rights of the Palestinian people

Human and political rights in accordance with UN charter and applicable international treaties. In particular, there is no “right of return” in international law.

Sovereignty over all the land and ownership of all property therein. “Return” of approximately 5 million descendants of 1948 Arab refugees to the places from which their ancestors came, or compensation.

Two-state solution

Partition of the area administered by Israel between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and establishment of a peaceful Palestinian entity alongside Israel, according to principle of “two states for two peoples.” Both sides give up claims on the other’s territory. End of conflict.

Temporary expedient until “legitimate rights” can be obtained. Areas liberated by Israel in 1967 to be vacated by Jews; right of return or compensation for refugees to be recognized with timetable for implementation; Jerusalem to be divided; sovereign Palestinian state to be established with capital in Jerusalem. Formula of “two states for two peoples” not accepted: Palestinians do not give up their claims for full legitimate rights as defined above.

The ambiguities listed above, and others, make negotiations (or any discourse) with Palestinians or their supporters difficult or impossible. The replacement of substantive discourse by the repetition of ideological cant is deliberate, because the goal of the Palestinian movement is not accommodation or compromise, but the destruction of the Jewish state, the death or dispersion of its Jewish residents, and the establishment of an Arab state from the river to the sea.

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, US-Israel Relations | 2 Comments

Palestinianism: an Ideology and an Identity

Palestinianism is more than a collection of political beliefs. It is a closed system of memes including a historical narrative, a Cause to which its believers aspire, and an idiosyncratic language in which familiar words have special meanings. In those ways, it is similar to Marxism – which is not surprising, considering its origin. Palestinianism is neutral on the religious-secular axis, although it has adopted elements of Islamic belief where they have proven helpful to advance the Palestinian Cause. Adherents of Palestinianism include those who self-identify as Palestinians, as well as many on the Western Left (especially in academia) who support the Cause.


Palestinianism had its origin in the 1960s, when it was created by the cognitive warriors of the Soviet KGB. The Soviets had had an interest for some time in opposing US and British influence in the Middle East, which they did by supporting Arab nationalists like Gamal Abdel Nasser. With the decline of pan-Arabism, Palestinianism provided a cause that the Soviets could use to unite all the Arabs of the Middle East against the West. It also provided a reason to oppose Israel. Although Stalin had initially hoped that Israel would join the socialist camp, it became clear to the Soviets by the mid-1950s that Israel was moving more and more in the direction of the West.

Until this time, most of the Arabs of “Palestine,” that area that had been part of the British Mandate, insofar as they had national feelings at all, had generally seen themselves as belonging to “southern Syria” (although a specifically Palestinian nationalism did exist to a small extent in the early part of the 20th century, particularly among Christian Arabs).

This was a time of worldwide decolonization, and the KGB incorporated the idea that the conflict between the Jews and Arabs for sovereignty in Palestine (or Eretz Yisrael, depending on your point of view), was actually a struggle of national liberation by an indigenous Palestinian people against European colonialists (the Jews!), despite the fact that about half of all Israelis came from the Middle Eastern and African diasporas.

The Soviets had always used race as a point of leverage in their psychological warfare against the US, correctly seeing the exacerbation of race-based resentments as highly effective in creating division and strife among the population. During the 1970s, they introduced the racial element into the Arab-Israeli conflict, as exemplified by the passage of the “Zionism Is Racism” resolution at the UN in 1975. The absurdity of this contention – both Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs come in all colors – did not prevent the wide acceptance of the idea that the political and national conflict was basically racial. At the Durban Conference on Racism in 2001, NGOs funded by European governments and left-wing charities promoted the idea that Israel was guilty of apartheid. The fact that it proved necessary to invent a new meaning for the word before it was even possible to argue the question was apparently considered irrelevant for them.

The Palestinian Arabs suffered a severe blow to their honor when they lost the military struggle for sovereignty in 1948. The fact that most of them fled and were not allowed back after the war – a not uncommon result of warfare – was perceived and represented as a tragedy of historic dimensions. But unlike other groups who experienced similar tragedies, the Palestinian Arabs, with the help of the Eastern Bloc and the Arab nations, managed to establish a UN-sanctioned, permanent, steadily growing, reservoir of stateless “refugees.” Permanent institutions were put in place in the UN to ensure the growth of the “refugee” pool, to prevent their resettlement, and to promulgate the Palestinian narrative.

The Narrative

The pivotal event in the Palestinian historical narrative is the loss of the land they suffered in 1948, the Nakba. It is true that some Arabs were expelled from their homes by the IDF, but the majority left of their own accord, encouraged by both Arab and Jewish propaganda, fearing the imminent violence, and following the example of wealthy Arabs, who chose to sit out the destruction of the new Jewish state in their comfortable summer homes. It is also true that most of those that fled were not allowed to return or to claim their property. But what happened to the Arabs of Palestine is common for a losing side in war. After WWII, at least 12 million ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from Central and Eastern Europe. Jordan completely ethnically cleansed Judea, Samaria, and eastern Jerusalem of Jews after 1948. Some 800-900 thousand Jews fled or were expelled from Arab countries at that time as well. Had the Arabs won the war, the Jews of Israel would certainly have faced a similar fate.

But unlike the ethnic Germans or the Jews of the Middle East, the Palestinian Arabs did not accept – or more precisely, their own leaders and the Arab nations did not allow them to accept – resettlement or almost any amelioration of their condition. And so the reversal of the Nakba, the “return to their homes” of the more than 5 million descendants of the original 600,000 refugees became a fundamental part of the Palestinian Cause.

The Palestinian Narrative also extends into the past. It insists that a Palestinian people has inhabited the land for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Some Palestinians, like the late diplomat Saeb Erekat, claim that they had been in the land from the time of the Canaanites or Philistines. The Jews, on the other hand, are said to be recent European immigrants who displaced them by guile and by force. In reality, while some Arab families have a history in the land of more than several hundred years, most go back no farther than about 1830, when Muhammad Ali invaded what were then Ottoman provinces on behalf of Egypt. And a large number of them only migrated from neighboring countries after the Zionist and British development of the land in the early 20th century made it economically attractive. After the war, Palestinian refugee status was granted to anyone that could show that they had lived in Palestine for as little as two years prior to 1948.

Along with the arrogation of aboriginal status to Arabs, the Narrative denies it to Jews. It denies the historical provenance of Jews in the land, sometimes claiming that there was no Jewish temple in Jerusalem, or that today’s Jews are Khazars that have no connection with the Middle East (an antisemitic canard which is easily refuted by genetic evidence). Palestinian Arabs have destroyed archaeological evidence of ancient Jewish presence in the land, even on the Temple Mount.

The Principles of Palestinianism

To the Palestinians, the Nakba is the most important event in their history, as important as the exodus from Egypt is to the Jews. Palestinians (and Barack Obama) sometimes compare it to the Holocaust. Much is derived from it. It is a wrong that cannot be righted in any way other than by its reversal, that is, the “return” of the “refugees” and the repossession of all of the land. And because the narrative says that the refugees were expelled violently, then violence is justified to reverse it. Palestinian honor cannot be regained by diplomacy or compromise. Palestinianism only accepts the two-state idea as a temporary expedient toward its ultimate objective of reversing the Nakba. And even then, it rejects the idea of “two states for two peoples,” insisting that the “return” of the descendants of the 1948 refugees “to their homes” must accompany the re-partitioning of the land.

Postcolonial ideology has also found its way into Palestinianism, in particular in connection with violence. The doctrine that it is moral, indeed praiseworthy, for a colonized people to resist colonization by any means necessary, is used as a justification for terrorism against Israeli civilians. Indeed, involvement in terrorism and support for it is a sine qua non for success in Palestinian politics. For this reason, Mahmoud Abbas is praised for saying that he will never stop paying imprisoned terrorists and the families of “martyrs,” even if there is no money left for anything else.

Another consequence of the Nakba is that by virtue of their infinite victimization, nothing negative about Palestinian culture, or anything bad that happens to them, can be construed as their fault. So the rampant corruption in the Palestinian Authority is explained as a consequence of Israel’s influence. The prevalence of domestic abuse of Palestinian women is said to be because the men are traumatized by “the occupation.” The collapse of a waste treatment pond in the Gaza strip, which inundated nearby areas with human excrement and resulted in several deaths, was blamed on Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza (rather than the embezzlement of international donations intended for sanitary facilities by Hamas), and so on.

Like Marxists, Palestinianists believe that history is on their side. They point to the various regimes that have controlled the land over the centuries, Romans, Crusaders, Turks, British, and say that it is a matter of time before Israel, too, collapses.

Before the 1960s, the Palestinian Arabs could be described as a mixed population of Arabic-speakers, mostly Muslims, and mostly non-indigenous (although again, some Palestinian Arab families did have long histories in the land). But although it makes me unpopular among my right-wing friends, I would say that since that time, the experience of their struggle with Israel and their self-definition as “Palestinians” has made them a people. It’s extremely important to understand the fundamental role of the conflict in the development of a specifically Palestinian identity. To be Palestinian is to oppose Israel and to resist – by any means necessary – the occupation of “Palestinian land,” from the river to the sea. This has important consequences for the future of the conflict.

The Cult-like Nature of Palestinianism

Palestinianism as an ideology is in a certain way like Marxism or Scientology. When Palestinianists are confronted with clear-cut facts (like the historical and archaeological evidence of the presence of Jews in the land for thousands of years), they nevertheless find it possible to deny or ignore them. Palestinian film director Mohammed Bakri made a documentary about the “Jenin Massacre” in 2002, which accused Israel of destroying buildings that didn’t exist, murdering hundreds of Palestinian civilians (in fact, about 50 Arabs, almost all of them terrorists, were killed), and so on. Bakri was sued for slander by Israeli reservists whom he had accused of war crimes. When confronted with the facts, he claimed that he was an artist and not a historian, and that his film expressed the deeper truth about the events. The narrative always trumps the facts.

Like Marxism, Palestinianism has a special language. For example, in ordinary English one can occupy a house or a country. But in Palestinianism, Israel “occupies the “Palestinian people.” The implication is that Israel can “occupy” Gaza without having a single soldier or settler there. There is the word “resistance,” which has connotations of French partisans blowing up Nazi ammunition trains, but in Palispeak means bombing a pizza restaurant in Jerusalem or a disco in Tel Aviv. Another one is “nonviolent popular resistance” which means murdering random Jews with knives or automobiles rather than guns or bombs.

The Psychological Function of Palestinianism for the Western Left

One can more or less understand why Palestinian Arabs find Palestinianism useful in their struggle against Israel. But what do left-leaning students and academics get out of it? There are several things that I can see. One, especially in Europe, is that it is an outlet for antisemitic impulses that have been repressed when they are directed at individual Jews. It’s tacky to hate Jews, but hating Israel is considered virtuous. Another is the intersectionalist Left’s adoption of “Palestine” as one of its causes. In order to be accepted by the crowd – and in universities especially, the crowd leans left – one must espouse all of its causes, including Palestinianism. It’s easy for an American student, far from the action, to virtue-signal by adopting the Palestinian cause as his or her own.


Palestinianism is an internally consistent system, which is disconnected from both historical and current reality. Originally created by the Soviet KGB as an weapon of cognitive warfare, it has morphed with the times, like the antisemitism to which it is closely related. The objective of Palestinianism, the Palestinian Cause, is the replacement of Israel by an Arab state, the violent expulsion of the Jews, and their replacement by the descendants of the Arab refugees of 1948. The adoption of Palestinianism as an essential part of the identity of the Arabs of Eretz Yisrael, means that there can be no compromise solution to the conflict. It implies that the Palestinian people is the enemy of the Jewish people in the land, making the conflict a zero-sum game. Ultimately, it means that the conflict will continue until one or the other of the two peoples will remain in the land, and the other will disappear.

A version of this article appeared in White Rose Magazine.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Arabs | 2 Comments

Managing the Unmanageable

In their ongoing struggle to escape reality, Israeli politicians and opinion leaders have settled on a new approach to our never-ending war with the Arabs of Eretz Yisrael: not ending the conflict, but managing it.

After almost thirty years of disillusionment and literally thousands of (Jewish and Arab) deaths, all but a tiny minority of Israelis – found in the halls of Meretz and the columns of Ha’aretz – finally understand that the slogans “land for peace” and “two-state solution” represent delusions, and that the attempts to implement them have been disastrous. Of course these ideas are still popular among European antisemites, liberal US Jews, and much of the American government, to our great regret. But that’s another story.

Unfortunately a new fantasy, espoused by Micha Goodman in his book (English title: Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War) has taken hold of Israel’s ruling elites; and while it is not quite as pernicious as the previous delusion, it too will not lead us to the promised land of peace. Indeed, it is likely to damage our strategic position for the inevitable war that is ahead. I refer to the idea that while it is impossible to resolve the conflict, it is possible to tamp it down, to moderate it, to ameliorate the violence: to manage it until at some time in the dimly-envisioned future it will be possible to end it.

Goodman argues that both of the solutions proposed by the Left and the Right respectively – partition into two states or imposition of Israeli sovereignty over all of the land – are fatally flawed: partition is impossible for security reasons, and sovereignty for demographic/political ones. Management is seen as suboptimal by both sides; but he thinks there’s no alternative.

Unsurprisingly, the weakest part of Goodman’s argument is his discussion of how the application of appropriate management tools – mostly economic incentives – will ultimately lead to change in Palestinian consciousness, or at least a pragmatic decision by them to accept some form of non-belligerence and even cooperation. Just like the two-staters, Goodman refuses to understand his enemies, because the consequences of doing so are too disturbing.

When the book first came out in Hebrew it was a minor sensation here. Even Bibi Netanyahu, the man the NY Times loved to call “Israel’s hard-line right-wing PM,” was seen carrying it. In any event, the basic idea, if not the details, of managing the conflict seem to have been adopted as policy by the entire political center, including Netanyahu, Bennett, Gantz, Lapid, and others. This approach especially appeals to professional politicians, because almost by definition politicians love short-term, kick-the-can-down-the-road “solutions” to recalcitrant problems. Why take risks when you don’t have to?

According to this approach, everything that can be done to improve the Palestinian economy (as if there is one in any real sense!) should be done, within the constraints of our security. The PA areas will get 4G (someday even 5G) phone/internet service; we continue to sell fuel and electricity to Hamas-ruled Gaza; more work permits are being granted to residents of the territories even as we try to plug the holes in the security fence along the Green Line. Sometimes this policy leads to absurdities. For example, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, Israel collects import taxes on behalf of the PA and transfers the money to it. After the Knesset passed a law to deduct from this a sum equivalent to the amount the PA pays imprisoned terrorists or the families of “martyred” ones, Defense Minister Gantz arranged a “loan” to the PA to offset its loss!

Note that the arguments for and against this policy are not couched in terms of whether it is a good thing for us to help the PA, but rather the security implications of it. So Gantz argues that it is important to support the PA, because if it collapses Hamas will take over in Judea and Samaria, which would be worse for us than the Fatah-dominated PA. The same goes for Gaza: by allowing the Hamas leadership to enrich itself by diverting cash received from Qatar and by providing Gaza with water to drink and electricity to operate rocket factories, we (at least for a while) encourage them not to launch those rockets. But nobody asks about the long-term consequences of in effect paying our enemies to not kill us.

Management involves the judicious use of sticks as well as carrots. There are almost nightly raids in Judea/Samaria to arrest or kill terrorists who are planning attacks. There are periodic warlets with Hamas in which weapons factories and depots are bombed. Just this past week, the IDF cut the head off of a particularly nasty group of terrorists, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (but money will flow from Iran, younger men will step up, and the head will grow back).

The short-term nature of this policy is obvious. The PA/PLO leadership and that of Hamas, as well as the great mass of Palestinian Arabs who share their ideology (whether or not they care for the corrupt and dictatorial leadership) are not made more moderate by this policy. Indeed, it is insulting to them to suggest that! As I have written before, resistance is an essential characteristic of Palestinian identity. Indeed, it is the only truly unique part of specifically Palestinian culture, the part that distinguishes them from other Arabs. It is the reason we can have peace with the UAE, for example, but not Hamas. We cannot buy and beat them into giving up their identity.

In response to the argument that economic improvements and education will ultimately lead to moderation, I point to the Arab citizens of Israel and the Arabs of Jerusalem. In both cases, they have better standards of living, healthcare, educational and occupational opportunities, and more political freedom than Arabs living anywhere else in the Middle East. And yet, in recent decades they have become more radicalized, as illustrated by last May’s riots in Israel’s mixed cities.

Managing the conflict is only a short-term expedient, and a poor one, since it allows our enemies to grow more capable over time, as we have seen with Hamas. After repeated operations to “mow the grass,” we find the grass coming up higher and tougher each time. At some point we will not be able to cut it.

Humans are territorial primates. Modern technology hasn’t changed that, only made it possible for the territories involved to be larger and the wars bloodier. Our conflict is a struggle between peoples for territorial dominance. Although we find it tremendously difficult to face the fact, it is a zero-sum game. One side will win, and the other will disappear from the region. We will not win by underestimating the commitment of our enemies to victory, and even less so by assuming that we can transform them from deadly foes into good neighbors.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Politics, Terrorism, War | 5 Comments

Facing Reality

Sometimes reality can be difficult, even painful. But resist it as you will, it remains reality. Let me quote Nehemia Shtrasler, a left-wing journalist writing in the left-wing newspaper Ha’aretz:

Humans are tribal creatures by nature. Hundreds of thousands of years ago they lived in tribes that provided them with physical security, food and a sense of belonging. Today the nation-state has replaced the tribe, and its job is to provide the exact same things.

To create loyalty, every nation seeks its own uniqueness reflected in language, culture, history and religion. Therefore, when two peoples are forced to live in a single state, it will end in a civil war in which each nation will try to seize power. It happened in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Kurdistan, and that’s a partial list. That’s also the reason for the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia into several nation-states.

Therefore, “one state” with two peoples means an all-out war using every available means, including terror and murder, between Jews and Arabs…

Shtrasler has caught a glimpse of the reality facing the State of Israel. It’s a horrifying prediction, as illustrated by the examples he gives. We have seen the disaster that is Lebanon from close by, and we don’t want it to happen here. Shtrasler understands this as well, but he, like the rest of the Israeli left, cannot face the implications, cannot accept what must be done to preserve the Jewish state. And so he moves from reality to fantasy:

The Jews preserved their national identity in exile for 2,000 years until they could return to the land of their ancestors and establish a nation-state. And that’s exactly what the Palestinians want now: an independent nation-state, separate from Israel, where they can express their national aspirations.

Of course this is exactly what they do not want, at least, it is not what any possible Palestinian leadership wants. The reversal of the Nakba has become an essential part of Palestinian identity and Palestinian politics. But Shtrasler and many others, including the American president and State Department, as well as the European Union, find it necessary to adopt some form of this fantasy because they can’t face reality.

Shtrasler correctly sees that one state containing Jews and a significant minority of Arabs will devolve into civil war. But he thinks that dividing the state (and its capital), and giving half of it away to the Arabs will satisfy them. He has not thought far enough ahead to see that the day after the partition of the land into two states, the war will not end. It will simply relocate to whatever part of the land has been (supposedly) left to the Jews, while at the same time the ability of Israel to defend herself against her external enemies will be greatly, even fatally, impaired.

The reality is that there will only be one state. A truncated Israel or, for that matter, a tiny “Palestine” will not be viable as sovereign states in today’s world. And the conflict between peoples in the single state is real, and is going on now. If you doubt that, think about last May’s anti-Jewish pogroms in the mixed cities well within the pre-1967 boundaries. Pay attention to the statistics (Hebrew link) for small- and large-scale terrorism against Jewish civilians by Arabs in the first half of 2022. Think about all the places in Israel – inside and outside the Green Line – that an unarmed Jew cannot safely go.

The question is not between “one or two states.” It is between “one Jewish state or one Arab state,” and if the choice is the latter, then the inhabitants of the Jewish state that survive the struggle will be dispersed yet again in a very unfriendly world.

An Israeli government that wants to preserve the state needs to adopt policies different from those of the recent past. It must acknowledge the conflict between peoples and fight to win it, rather than try to attain the delusional coexistence that we know is impossible. It must act to recover sovereignty in all of Eretz Yisrael, including all of Jerusalem, the Negev, and the Galilee. It must settle Jews throughout the land. And it must expel hostile Arabs (members of Hamas, Fatah, and similar groups). It must encourage Jews in the rest of the world to make aliyah, and encourage non-Jews to leave.

This is a program that could not be more politically incorrect in this age. It’s not particularly “democratic,” as the term is used today. And yet, there is no alternative. The Arabs understand this, as I suspect that their allies in Europe do as well. It’s time Israel’s Jewish leaders did too.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Arabs, Terrorism, The Future, War | 4 Comments