Sunday, March 22. 2015
The top story of last week's news cycle was Israel's elections for a
new parliament (Knesset). Many people hoped that the voters would
finally dispose of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but in the last
minutes "Bibi" swung hard to the racist right and wound up with a
six-seat plurality, mostly at the expense of small parties nominally
to the right of Likud. That still leaves Netanyahu only half way to
forming a new Knesset majority coalition, but few observers see that
as a problem, although it probably means further concessions to the
"religious" parties -- Shas, United Torah, etc. Best place to start
reading about this is
Richard Silverstein: Israeli Election Post-Mortem: Rearranging the
In shreying about the Arab masses running to polling places and foreign
governments funneling shovels-full of cash to topple him, he appealed to
the worst devils of Israel's nature, to turn Lincoln's quotation on his
The results cannot but worsen the growing rancidness of the Likud
vision of contemporary Israel in the noses of many Israelis, Diaspora
Jews and the world at large. There is a growing sense that Israel cannot
get itself out of the mess it's in.
Some other links on Israel:
Robert Fantina: Netanyahu's victory - what is the cost? Netanyahu,
of course, figures there should be none, as he's already walked back
many of the inflammatory things he said to rally Israel's right to his
election cause. If there were any doubts that he is a liar, someone
who will say whatever it takes under any circumstances, that should
have been dispelled, especially if you add the Boehner speech to what
he said before and after election. There is no doubt that more and
more people are noticing this -- especially previous supporters of
Israel who are becoming embarrassed at what their fantasy has turned
into. But the campaign not only haunts Netanyahu, the election taints
the voters. By re-electing Netanyahu, Israel's voters have shown that
they're unwilling to do anything to change course. Therefore, only
other nations can help Israel change course. We've nudged closer to
that realization, but the US in particular probably isn't there yet.
Still, every new event will be seen through the prism of this election.
Allison Deger: Meet the Knesset members from the Joint List:
as I look at these pictures, I'm reminded of Bill Clinton's promise
to appoint a cabinet "that looks like America looks."
Richard Silverstein: Israel's Election: Bibi and Blood in the Water:
Starts with Netanyahu's pre-election press conference statement, then
adds, "Bibi is runnin' scared." Post-election we know that his hysteria
worked, saving Likud from finishing second to "Just Not Bibi." Not sure
this is helpful, but
Annie Robbins: An American translation of Netanyahu's racist get out the
vote speech translates Netanyahu's screed into an American political
context (replacing "Arab" with "black," "right wing" and "Likud" with
"Republican," "Labor" with "Democrats," "Israel" with "United States").
That may help you understand just how far Israeli political culture has
sunk, and why certain Americans are so gung ho about getting the US to
emulate Israel more, but you'll miss some nuances: e.g., Democrats in
the US welcome the support of blacks and aren't ashamed to appoint a
couple to cabinet posts and such, Israel's Labor Party (aka The Zionist
Camp) wouldn't dare do anything like that. Indeed, their fondness of
"the two-state solution" is more often presented as a way to separate
Jewish Israelis from Arabs.
Josh Marshall: Bibi: Wait, the Arabs Love Me!: Netanyahu starts
to explain away his recent racist comments, including extracts from
an interview for American ears (with Andrea Mitchell).
Jonathan Alter: Bibi's Ugly Win Will Harm Israel: "Netanyahu came
back from the dead by doing something politicians almost never do --
predicting his own defeat. He told base voters that he would lose if
they didn't abandon far-right-winger Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayeudi
Party and flock back to Likud. Instead of trying to hide his desperation,
he flaunted (or contrived) it, to great political effect, winning by
several seats more than expected." Something not often talked about
is how often right-wingers have to appeal to liberal values to cover
up their own inadequacies. Thus someone like Netanyahu has to talk
about his desire for peace and security, or even something as specific
(and easily disproven) as his commitment to providing infrastructure
for Arab Citizens of Israel, even while making such laudable goals
impossible. That they get away with it is because their platitudes
are so universal they are rarely questioned. Even rank hypocrisy is
often excused as mere incompetence. GW Bush, for instance, is famous
for his failed wars, his imploded economy, his gross incompetence
after Hurricane Katrina -- an embarrassing string of bad luck, as
no one would dare suggest that his results were intended. But really,
those results were entirely predictable given his worldview. Likewise,
Netanyahu's repeated failures to make any progress whatsoever toward
peace and justice have been deliberate, and in a sense heroic.
Alex Kane: J Street's fall from relevance: "In a postelection
statement [Jeremy] Ben-Ami said J Street would continue to stand 'for
an end to occupation, for a two-state solution and for an Israel that
is committed to its core democratic principles and Jewish values.' It's
a nice sentiment but one that is out of touch with the facts on the
ground, as Netanyahu's final days of campaigning revealed."
David Shulman: Israel: The Stark Truth: "Mindful of Netanyahu's
long record of facile mendacity, commentators on the left have tended
to characterize these statements as more dubious 'rhetoric'; already,
under intense pressure from the United States, he has waffled on the
question of Palestinian statehood in comments directed at a foreign,
English-speaking audience. But I think that, for once, he was actually
speaking the truth in that last pre-election weekend -- a popular truth
among his traditional supporters."
Anshel Pfeffer: Netanyahu stoked primal fears in Israel: "Netanyahu,
in his own tiny bubble of privilege and sycophancy, was on the verge of
losing the election. But he emerged in time to stoke the primal fears of
his electorate of their fate. It was a destructive tactic that took
advantage of racism and ignorance and jeopardised Israel's diplomatic
position within the international community. It won the election but
has divided Israel like never before."
Ryan Rodrick Beller: To evangelicals, Zionism an increasingly tough
sell: When the British invaded Palestine and set up their "home
for the Jewish people" there, about 10% of the native population
were Christians -- communities dating from the Crusades or even
earlier. To the Zionist Yishuv, however, those Christians were just
Arabs, same as the Muslims. It's always been curious how completely
American evangelicals sided with the Zionists against their own
co-religionists. The standard explanation had to do with seeing
Israel's ingathering of Jews as a precondition for the Apocalypse.
That always struck me as sick and demented, and anti-semitic seeing
as how the Jews are destroyed in the end while the true believers
ascend to heaven. But this story suggests that a big part of the
explanation is sheer ignorance, changed when evangelicals learn of
how Palestinian Christians are treated by Israel.
Juan Cole: Obama with Drama: Translating his cojmments on Israel's
Netanyahu from the Vulcan: And not exactly into ordinary English,
more like Cole calls "Bones-speak": "Netanyahu's attitude toward
Palestinian-Israelis makes 1960s Southern governors like George
Wallace and Orval Faubus look like effing Nelson Mandelas in comparison.
He's creating a Jim Crow atmosphere."
Philip Weiss: Who can save Israel now?: "Yaniv was almost in tears.
When will the liberal Zionists help Yaniv and call for real outside
pressure? Last night Peter Beinart, the leading liberal Zionist, tweeted
a comment by Rep. Adam Schiff on CNN that from now on the US must not
veto Palestinian statehood resolutions in the Security Council. Beinart
is rising to the occasion, making his way toward BDS."
Jeff Halper: Netanyahu's victory marks the end of the two-state
solution: "No one can be happy when racism and oppression win the
day. In a wider perspective, however, the election may represent a
positive game-changer. Not that anything has really changed, but finally
the fig-leaf that allowed even liberal Israeli apologists to argue that
the two-state solution is still possible has been removed.
[ . . . ] Since Israel itself eliminated the
two-state solution deliberately, consciously and systematically over
the course of a half-century, and since it created with its own hands
the single de facto state we have today, the way forward is clear. We
must accept the ultimate "fact on the ground," the single state imposed
by Israel over the entire country, but not in its apartheid/prison form.
Israel has left us with only one way out: to transform that state into
a democratic state of equal rights for all of its citizens."
Weiss also quotes the Zionist Camp activist Yaniv as saying "We need
a Mandela." The problem is more like Israel can't even come up with a
De Clerk. (Arguably Yitzhak Rabin auditioned for the part, but he couldn't
deliver, partly because he didn't face the demographics and worldwide
ostracism white South Africa faced, and partly because he got killed
before he could rise to the situation -- if indeed he could.) Still,
nobody remembers De Clerk as a great man, partly because his hands were
plenty dirty before he relinquished power, partly because Mandela took
the glory when he showed such grace and dignity in assuming power.
Still, Israel's situation isn't exactly analogous to De Clerk's.
It's not that the Apartheid metaphor isn't applicable. If anything,
Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is
more rigorous, terrifying, and dehumanizing than anything South
Africa did. And it's only a matter of time until most of the world
sees Israel's Occupation as a gross affront to human rights, peace,
and justice, and takes action to isolate and ostracize Israel. But
the demographics will never be equivalent: whites in South Africa
amounted to no more than 15% of the population, whereas Jews are
a majority within Greater Israel, and that majority could be grown
by lopping off territory with large concentrations of Palestinians
(most easily, Gaza). Sure, free return of Palestinian refugees
from 1947-49 might tip the scales, but realistically that's not
going to happen.
This demographic position gives Israel's leaders options, but
time and again they've chosen to maintain the status quo, at the
cost of continued strife and insecurity. They've done this partly
because they've psyched themselves into both into believing they'll
always live in peril -- that the world will never accept them as
peaceable neighbors -- and into thinking they will always win.
(This mentality was amply illustrated in Tom Segev's 1967,
which showed how terrified Israeli civilians were of impending
war and how utterly confident Israel's generals were of their
History also gives Israel's leaders options. The Zionist
movement is now 135 years old, more than a century has passed
since Britain's Balfour Declaration opened up Jewish immigration,
and the state of Israel has existed for 67 years, under its
current borders for 48 years (aside from returning Sinai to
Egypt in a deal that established that Israel could coexist with
a neighboring Arab state). Fifty years ago one could imagine
Israel meeting the fate of Algeria, but no one believes that
now. By 2001, all Arab states were willing to recognize Israel
in exchange for a deal which would create a Palestinian state
from the territory Israel seized in 1967. The PLO had already
agreed to that, and Hamas has since come to that position.
Only Israeli greed and intransigence has prevented a peace
deal from happening. Well, that and the gullibility of American
political leaders, who for one reason of another have been
spineless when they needed to stand up to Israel.
Netanyahu's great value to Israel has always been his ability
to manipulate US opinion -- something he's been known to brag
about, unseemly as that may be -- but lately he bound his fate
to the Republican Party. In doing so he has started to alienate
Democratic supporters of Israel, but more than that he has opened
up a mental association between Israeli and Republican policies --
militarism, racism, harsh justice, targeted assassinations, an
omnipotent security state, increasing economic inequality, and
I'll try to write more later about what should be done, but
for now I just want to leave you with a warning. Unless something
is done to correct the trends we're seeing in Israel, the situation
there will continue to grow more desperate and unjust, and unless
the US can break its tail-wags-dog subservience to Israel we will
wind up in the same dystopia.