How the settlers win, how the peace camp loses: Lessons from Amona

Settlers vs. Israeli security forces, Amona 2006.
Female settler goes up against Israeli security forces in West Bank settlement outpost of Amona, February 1, 2006. Photo: AP/Oded Balilty

That mob of teenage settlers in Amona throwing rocks and bleach at the police on Wednesday was another illustration, another reminder of why tyranny has triumphed in Israel and liberalism is powerless: because the tyrants – the settlers and their supporters – are willing to fight, and we liberals aren’t.

That’s the story of the settler movement from the beginning – they gather their forces to break the law, to raise hell, to scream and cry and curse, to physically assault Israeli police and soldiers, to make their removal so arduous and to use their “agony” as emotional blackmail against Israeli Jews and their leaders, until they get their way. Amona, built illegally on private Palestinian-owned land according to one Israeli High Court of Justice ruling after another, took a decade to evacuate. And in return for their so-called pain and sacrifices, the settlers will get reimbursed by the Netanyahu government many, many, many times over.

They make me sick, these brainwashed fascists who’ve taken over the country – but I can’t help but envy them. If the peace camp had shown a fraction of their daring, of their commitment, maybe we could have given the occupation a fight. If we had mobilized crowds to physically block settlement construction, if we’d been willing to go to jail, to fight the cops and soldiers, to fight the settlers, maybe the Right wouldn’t have rolled over this country like it has. Even if we would have lost – and who knows if we would have? – at least we would have put up a struggle.

But we haven’t. With no more than a handful of exceptions, the Jewish Left in Israel doesn’t fight, doesn’t go to jail, doesn’t break the law, doesn’t disturb the peace in any way. Even if we could get hundreds of thousands of people into the street today (which is a joke), it wouldn’t make any impression on Netanyahu and the Right – we’ll go home peacefully and orderly, and the occupation regime will go on with its work without missing a beat. They face no resistance.

I don’t mean to preach – I’m no braver than anyone else. I’ve never been to jail, never gotten dragged away by cops, never been in a scuffle with soldiers or settlers, and the thought of doing it doesn’t thrill me at all. But I don’t believe that we of the peace camp are going to be able to overthrow this 50-year-long tyranny with opeds in Haaretz alone, or even in the New York Times as well, or even opeds plus petitions and peace rallies. The occupation is a vast, powerful, violent, poisonous force, and for us in the opposition to think we can bring it down without making any personal sacrifice, without paying any personal price, is a lie we tell ourselves to ease our consciences, so we don’t have to face the truth that as dissident movements in history go, the Israeli Jewish Left has been notable for its gentility and timidity.

As long as that doesn’t change, Israel isn’t going to, either.

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Further reading: 

Amona evacuation (Haaretz)

 

Netanyahu replays one of his oldies: The Mexican peril

Caricature of Benjamin Netanyahu
Caricature by DonkeyHotey.

Bibi Netanyahu has a thing about Mexicans. Given his dual American Republican-Israeli Likudnik mentality, he seems to identify them with the Arabs (“demographic problem”) and African refugees (“infiltrators”), the hordes clamoring outside the gates of the villa.

His tweet on Saturday in praise of Trump’s plan to build a wall on the U.S.- Mexican border (“President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”) was only the latest example. There are two other, much more in-depth, detailed instances of Netanyahu fear-mongering to Americans about the Mexican peril.

In his 1993 magnum opus, “A Place Among the Nations – Israel and the World,” which was first published in English, he writes about what he calls the “Palestinian Principle.” He describes it as the idea that any ethnic minority has a right to carve out its own state on the land where it resides, regardless of the effect on the established surrounding state, and even if another state already exists where that ethnic minority is the majority. (At the time, Netanyahu was fighting against the Palestinian statehood campaign with the argument that “Jordan is Palestine.”)

After depicting the chaos that would ensue if the “Palestinian Principle” were applied in Europe, Africa and Asia, he writes on page 150:

“The United States is not exempt from this potential nightmare. In a decade or two the southwestern region of America is likely to be predominantly Hispanic, mainly as a result of continuous emigration from Mexico. It is not inconceivable that in this community champions of the Palestinian Principle could emerge. These would demand not merely equality before the law, or naturalization, or even Spanish as a first language. Instead, they would say that since they form a local majority in the territory (which was forcibly taken from Mexico in the war of 1848), they deserve a state of their own. …

“[This scenario] may sound farfetched today. But it will not necessarily appear that way tomorrow, especially if the Palestinian Principle is allowed to continue to spread, which it surely will if a second Palestinian state comes into being.”

And that was only the mild, written version of Netanyahu evoking the Montezuman threat facing Americans to win their solidarity against the Mohammedan threat facing Israel. In person nine years later, he would be more blatant in his pandering.

In April 2002 he spoke to a Dallas audience at an event sponsored by the National Center for Policy Analysis. Then-Washington Post columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. wrote, “The idea was to get Americans to feel Israel’s pain. But, as a Mexican American in the audience, all I felt was nauseated.” Navarrette continued:

“When asked for a historical overview of Middle East turmoil, Netanyahu mentioned how Jews migrated back to the Holy Land in the early years of the 20th century, set up farms and businesses and turned a desert into a desirable destination. So desirable that soon there were hordes of Palestinians trying to get in and enjoy the fruits of Israeli labor. Then, Netanyahu turned to the crowd and offered this bit of sarcasm: ‘Now, you here in Texas wouldn’t know anything about this phenomenon.’  …

“Asked about why Israel is reluctant to allow Palestinians living in refugee camps to enter into Israeli society, Netanyahu mentioned security concerns but also said that a mass migration would ‘flood’ Israel. ‘You know about this,’ he said. ‘This is the reason you have an INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service].’”

The Dallas crowd, however, was not impressed. Navarrette:

“The good news is that, judging from the audience’s reaction, Bibi made a boo-boo. The ethnic pitch got no applause, only uncomfortable looks and nervous laughter.”

So this is what Netanyahu thinks of Mexicans – about the same as what he thinks of Arabs and Africans. He’s an Israeli-American, multi-directional xenophobe. A good old-fashioned white man. Expect many more admiring tweets to go flying back and forth between Senor Bibi and El Jefe Donald as they go riding out into the sunset together.

Why Israel’s peace camp must hit the streets against Trump  

Post-election anti-Trump rally, NYC.
Post-election rally against Trump, New York City, November 12, 2016. Photo: mathiaswasik

The high politics of America is the whole world’s business. When a racist, conspiracy-theorizing sociopath like Donald Trump gets elected U.S. president, that’s the whole world’s urgent business – including Israel’s. And when this strange, menacing figure also says he wants settlements to “keep moving forward,” and that his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” when he’s glorified by the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis and inspires an upsurge in hate crimes against Jews and Muslims,  among others, then his rise to power should be urgent enough business to send the Israeli peace camp into the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The world thinks Israel is delighted with Trump’s victory. Bibi Netanyahu is delighted, Sheldon Adelson is delighted, Israel Hayom is delighted, Naftali Bennett is beside himself; even Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid of the “opposition” sound pleased. Among Israeli political leaders, Meretz’s Zehava Galon, who said after Trump’s election that he’d won on “fear and hatred” and given “legitimacy” to “hate groups,” has been a voice in the wilderness.

But obviously she’s not alone; millions of Israelis, Jews and Arabs, are sickened, horrified and now enraged by Trump’s election. Why don’t we show it in the streets, and in public statements signed by masses of people? Where are Meretz, Peace Now, the Joint List, the progressive wing of Labor, the NGOs, the liberal youth movements, the culture heroes?

Across the United States, as the New York Times put it, “a national resistance among liberal activists is rising in response to the election of Trump in a way not seen in modern presidential history.” Yet there have also been anti-Trump protests in London, Manila, Berlin and Mexico City. Based on what he’s said about Israel and the Middle East, on the politics of the Republican Party, on his debt to Adelson, on his Islamophobia and on his natural affinity for white bullies like Netanyahu, Trump’s entry to the White House stands to affect Israel more than it will most other countries outside the United States.

So this is the Israeli peace camp’s fight, too.

The protests, which in the U.S. are building up to a show of strength on Inauguration Day, January 20, are of course not going to keep Trump out of the White House. Despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by a growing margin expected to reach upwards of 2 million votes, he won the electoral vote and has the legal right to assume the presidency.

Instead, the protests are first a simple outpouring of emotion, a natural cry of “no” to everything Trump is and stands for, and second a gearing up of the opposition for the political efforts ahead to stop a President Trump from trying to realize any of his monstrous visions.

For the Israeli peace camp, joining the anti-Trump movement would have two additional, specifically Israeli purposes. One, since Netanyahu, the Israeli right and the right-lite of Herzog and Lapid have applauded the U.S. president-elect, it would be a mass statement of “not in my name.”

Two, it would send an important message of solidarity to the Democrats who want the United States to stop enabling the occupation and start using its  power to end it. As Mitchell Plitnick wrote in Haaretz the day after the election, “This will be one of the issues party activists will try to advance to bring the Democratic party into line with its stated ideals, and, thereby, make it a party that can promise and deliver real change.” The Democratic party is almost certainly moving left; the Israeli peace camp is a natural ally of that process, and should show it.

Millions of Jews and Arabs in Israel feel themselves, their families, their country, their world and its future to be in danger ever since the night of November 8. We’re not leaving this place; even those who were thinking about it can see there’s nowhere left to go. All we can do anymore is fight. And we will not be alone.

Originally published as “Israel’s squalid embrace of Trump: Not in my name” on Haaretz.com, November 14, 2016.

Israeli chutzpah over the Temple Mount, Western Wall

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
Dome of the Rock on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Photo: Kristoffer Trolle

You would think from the Israeli reactions (even, surprisingly, from Haaretz) that the title of the UNESCO resolution passed on Thursday was, “There Was Never Any Jewish Temple In the First Place.” Haaretz’s headline said the agency was guilty of “nullifying Jewish ties to Temple Mount.” Isaac Herzog said UNESCO was “completely invent[ing] the fantasy that the Western Wall and Temple Mount have no connection to the Jewish people.” You can imagine what Netanyahu and the right wing were saying.

This is Israeli propaganda that I’m sorry Haaretz fell for. (I don’t expect any better from Herzog.)

The resolution, put forward by the Palestinians and six Muslim countries, protests Israel’s actions in and around the Temple Mount and against Muslims praying or seeking to pray there. (Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock stand on the site.)

No mention of these complaints, however, is made in Israel. The only thing in the resolution that got noticed here was that it referred to the Temple Mount, which is what Jews and Christians call the place, only as “Al-Haram al-Sharif” – the “Noble Sanctuary,” which is what Muslims call it. (The measure also referred to the Western Wall as “Al-Buraq Plaza” followed by the words “Western Wall Plaza,” but with the latter in quotation marks, which also pissed Israelis off.)

I don’t know if all the claims made in the UNESCO resolution are true. I don’t know if, as claimed, Israel is blocking Muslim restoration projects or harming Muslim interests with its own earth-moving work. One thing I do not believe is that the State of Israel is deliberately “endangering Al-Aqsa,” as Palestinians and other Muslims are convinced. Moreover, the common Muslim dismissal of Jewish roots at the holy site is a deep insult to Jews, and speaks very badly for popular Muslim attitudes.

But while Palestinian and Muslim notions about the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif are a problem, it’s quite a display of blind arrogance for Israeli Jews to insist that Muslims include the Jewish name for the site in a complaint about Israel’s rule over it, and that if they don’t, they’re guilty of, effectively, anti-Semitism. (Incidentally, the resolution “affirm[s] the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions …”)

I say “blind arrogance” because only the most fastidiously even-handed Israeli Jew ever refers to that site as anything but the Temple Mount. It’s safe to say that most Jews are unfamiliar with the name “Haram al-Sharif.” An even greater majority draw a blank on “Al-Buraq Plaza.”

Should they be accused of “nullifying Muslim ties to Haram al-Sharif”? Does speaking only of the Temple Mount make them, in effect, Islamophobes?

Western Wall Plaza/Al Buraq Square.
Western Wall Plaza/Al Buraq Square.

Also, the Israeli reaction is quite a display of colonial hauteur given that the Jewish state is the ruler over the holy site, that Israeli cops are stationed in the general area of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, that Israel determines who can go there to pray and who can’t, and that it blocks Palestinians in the West Bank from getting not only to Al-Aqsa but to any part of Jerusalem.

Finally, it’s incredible chutzpah for Israelis to insist that the resolution’s Muslim sponsors mention the Temple Mount and the Western Wall (and the latter without the insolent quotation marks, thank you) – when Israel has deliberately erased the names, and often the actual physical presence, of so many Muslim holy sites over the decades.

Israelis don’t forget how Jordan desecrated Jewish holy places in Jerusalem when the Old City fell under the kingdom’s control after the 1948 war. Yet in May 2001, historian Benny Morris (evidently before he swung so sharply to the right) told me in an interview:

“What the Jordanians did to the synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem pales in comparison to what Israel did to many more mosques all over the country.”

Mosques stood in about half of the 400-plus Arab villages that Israel destroyed during and after the 1948 War of Independence, and except for a few isolated instances, the mosques were destroyed with everything else, Morris said. Another “several dozen” mosques were demolished in cities where Arabs fled or were forced out, such as Jaffa and Ashkelon, he added.

In some cases, mosques were left standing and repurposed, so to speak, by Israel. For instance, Morris said, the mosque in the prewar Arab village of Zakariyya was turned into a fuel storage dump in the postwar Jewish village of Zecharia. He noted:

“If this had been done to a Jewish synagogue, we would call it desecration.”

And in the decades since 1948, as I was told by Meron Benvenisti, author of “Sacred Landscape – The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948” and one-time deputy mayor of Jerusalem, “A great many Muslim burial sites were turned into the graves of Jewish saints.”

So I ask myself: If I were a Palestinian Muslim, and all this was my history, and now I was barred from going to Jerusalem, or at best I had to pass through an Israeli police cordon to pray at Al-Aqsa, and there was of course no way in hell Israel would let me visit Al-Buraq Square, and I wasn’t hearing Jews using the names “Al Buraq” or “Haram al-Sharif” – would I make sure to mention the name “Temple Mount”? Would I be careful to take out the quotation marks when I mentioned the name “Western Wall”?

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Further reading:

“Full text of new UNESCO resolution on ‘Occupied Palestine,'” Times of Israel, October 13, 2016.

“UNESCO backs motion nullifying Jewish ties to Temple Mount,” Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury, Haaretz, October 13, 2016.

“Where are the mosques of 1948?” Larry Derfner, Jerusalem Post, May 18, 2001.

Shimon Peres’ forgotten role in stopping Israel from bombing Iran

Shimon Peres at Davos in 2009.
Peres at Davos, Jan. 29, 2009. Photo: Sebastian Derungs

I don’t want to offer up another take on Shimon Peres’ mixed legacy because the media is flooded with them. But I do want to point out one historic act he performed that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere, which is odd because it was his last one: Playing an absolutely crucial role, as president, in stopping Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak from fulfilling their dream of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Ari Shavit has written, with grudging respect, that Peres “spearheaded the opposition,” working “both at home and abroad to prevent an attack on Iran – and he succeeded.”

Peres first came out publicly against bombing Iran in February 2012, when war fever was raging in Netanyahu and Barak’s offices. He told Channel 2:

“It’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. We can only delay [Iran’s progress]. Thus it’s clear to us that we need to go together with America. There are questions of cooperation and of timetables, but as severe as the danger is, at least this time we’re not alone.”

Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer wrote that a Peres aide had told him in early 2010, “Shimon is doing everything to block Bibi and Barak’s crazy plan to attack Iran.” Pfeffer added that he confirmed that account with one of Peres’ “oldest confidantes,” who told him, “It’s true, [military chief Gabi] Ashkenazi and the other security chiefs are all looking to Shimon to lead the opposition to a strike on Iran.”

Haaretz has reported that Peres began working with military and intelligence leaders to block Netanyahu and Barak in 2008, a year after he became president. The public campaign against the bombing of Iran didn’t start until January 2011, when Meir Dagan, immediately after retiring from the Mossad, began speaking out against it.

But privately, in the high-level plotting against those crazy plans, Peres was there at the inception – as president and simply as Shimon Peres, whose private words carried a lot of weight in Washington, and whose later, public words would carry a lot of weight in Israel, and whose commitment to and likely leadership of the rebellion at the beginning no doubt bucked up Dagan, Ashkenazi and the others.

I’ve always thought Dagan was the movement’s hero because he was the first one who stuck his neck out, and in so doing threw away an unlimited future in politics to speak his conscience, for which he caught the expected accusations of treason from the right-wing powers-that-were-and-still-are.

But it may well be that Peres, as Shavit wrote, was the spearhead of the whole thing.

Catching it from Netanyahu, Barak

And he caught plenty of flak himself when he started expressing his opposition in public. (The only other major Israeli politician speaking on-the-record against bombing Iran was Tzipi Livni.) After that Channel 2 interview in February 2012, Netanyahu and Barak sought to undermine his credibility, slamming him publicly for overstepping his bounds as president, and recalling his opposition to Menachem Begin’s 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, which is considered in Israel and much of the world to have been a masterstroke. (The consensus of informed opinion, however, is that “Operation Opera” didn’t end Saddam’s nuclear ambitions, but rather supercharged them.) Netanyahu threw in Peres’ signature Oslo Accords and support for Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza as other reasons why Israelis shouldn’t trust his judgment. (I must say, my opinion of Peres’ mixed legacy is going up by the paragraph.)

From the time I came to Israel in January 1985, when he was prime minister, until the end of the Oslo peace process in late 2000, I adored Peres. He was the leader of the peace camp, without any question. But when the peace camp had its legs knocked out from under by the second intifada, and Israel began shifting inexorably to the right, Peres, instead of leading the opposition like he should have, found his place in 21st century Israel: as its liberal fig leaf. When Israel bludgeoned Gaza, Peres was there to defend it to the West. For me, he became a terrific disappointment.

But not in the fight over what to do or not to do about Iran, one of the most fateful dilemmas Israel ever faced, and if Netanyahu and Barak had been left to their own devices, most people outside Israel and the Republican Party think it would have been a catastrophe. If not for Peres, that might indeed have been how the story turned out. Toward the end, when it counted most, he became the highest example of a liberal opposition leader, regained his role as leader of the peace camp, and this time led it to victory.

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Further reading:

“How Shimon Peres stopped Israel from bombing Iran,” Ari Shavit, Haaretz, Oct. 31, 2013.

“Actually, Shimon Peres has opposed war with Iran for years,” Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz, Aug. 18, 2012.

“Bibi vs. Peres – Netanyahu aides: In opposing Israel attack on Iran, Peres forgot his place,” Barak Ravid, Haaretz, Aug. 16, 2012.

“Barak slams Peres for his objection to possible Israeli attack on Iran,” Barak Ravid, Haaretz, Feb. 24, 2012.

“The miraculous antiwar uprising of the Israeli establishment,” Larry Derfner, +972 Magazine, Aug. 10, 2012.

“The myth of the Osirak bombing and the march to Iran,” Larry Derfner, +972 Magazine, March 2, 2012.

“Barak: Netanyahu wanted to strike Iran in 2010 and 2011, but colleagues blocked him,” Times of Israel staff, Aug. 21, 2015.

No sense anymore to talk about ending the occupation ‘for Israel’s sake’

Caricature of Benjamin Netanyahu
Caricature by DonkeyHotey.

Netanyahu has destroyed that liberal Zionist argument. There’s only one case against the occupation still standing.

Centrists and center-leftists in Israel and abroad, liberals who think of themselves as practical, as realistic, as “muscular,” have been saying for decades that they want to end the occupation not for the Palestinians’ sake, God forbid – no, they want to end it for Israel’s sake. These are tough-minded people, after all, nothing naïve or effete about them.

Well, gang, well, Zionist Unionists and Yesh Atidniks, liberal Zionists all, you don’t have a case anymore. Netanyahu has destroyed it.

Look around. The occupation is going strong – and Israel’s doing great, just like Bibi says. We’re as safe as we’ve ever been. The “lone-wolf intifada” is basically over; we beat the Palestinians again. Mahmoud Abbas squawks, but he makes sure his troops are hard at work in the West Bank every day, protecting us. And Hamas? Pretty soon we’ll have an Iron Dome beneath the ground to stop their tunnels along with the one above ground that stops their rockets. What are they going to do?

The economy’s doing fine, about as good as that of any Western country, and better than many. BDS? It’s become a fundraising pitch for AIPAC, a new “project” for the machers. It makes a lot of Jewish students uncomfortable at American colleges; for Israel it’s a useful punching bag.

Oh, but we’re becoming isolated abroad, right? Here’s how isolated we are: Netanyahu figuratively pissed in Obama’s face in front of Congress last year, and since then he’s gone on building up settlements as much as he pleases – and all that’s left to decide is whether the U.S. will give Israel an additional billion dollars a year on top of the annual $3 billion, or sweeten the arrangement even more.

Europe? The French peace initiative? It’s all Netanyahu can do to keep a straight face.

But here’s the real beauty part – making peace with our Arab neighbors, the big prize waiting for us if we agree to a Palestinian state? We’re making peace with our Arab neighbors now! The Saudis love us! The Egyptians love us! Not the people, of course, but who cares? The Arab dictators, the Arab armies that are fighting these Islamic radicals, that hate Hamas, Iran and ISIS – we’re their enemies’ enemy, so they’re our friends! They couldn’t care less about the Palestinians, they want our intelligence, our technology, our leverage in Washington. The “New Middle East”? It’s finally starting to happen, thanks to the government of Bibi Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett!

This is the sort of thing Netanyahu’s been telling the media in these briefings lately, and he’s not lying. He is steering Israel’s ship goddamn well.

So, muscular liberals, you really want to try to take down the occupation – now? You want to tell 100,000 settlers – at least – to leave their homes, you want to uproot Hebron, Yitzhar and all those other fanatical armed camps – when everything’s going so smoothly and there’s nothing but blue skies on the Israeli horizon? Why?

For Israel’s sake? Are you that crazy?

No. No, this just isn’t rational, not anymore. You don’t mess up Israel’s good thing and pitch the country into chaos, into extreme civil strife and maybe civil war because you want to do what’s best for Israel. No, that argument is finished.

If you want to be tough-minded and realistic, if you want to look out for Israel’s practical self-interest, then give up this idea of ending the occupation – and get behind Bibi. Look around the country, see how good the Jews have got it here, see how pitiful the Palestinians are, how impotent our Western critics are, and admit that you were wrong and Bibi was right all along. You want to do what’s best for Israel, then look into those cold eyes of his and start seeing the world his way.

Nope, there is no practical, realpolitik case for ending the occupation anymore. There is no more ending the occupation for Israel’s sake. There is only one reason left to end it: for the Palestinians’ sake. Because what we’ve been doing to them for the last half-century is immoral, forbidden. And in so doing, Israel has become an immoral country.

If you don’t believe that, muscular liberals, then have the guts to admit that for Israel’s sake – its material sake, anyway – Bibi is the man. But if you do believe that Israel has indeed become an immoral country, then have the guts to stop speaking the language of practical self-interest and start speaking the language of conscience. Speak up for an end to the occupation – for the Palestinians’ sake, for the sake of restoring Israel’s lost morality; it’s the same thing. There is no other honest case against the occupation left to be made.

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Originally published September 1 on Haaretz.com as “All You Centrist, Liberal Zionists: Netanyahu’s Destroyed Your Case for Ending the Occupation.” 

Trump and Netanyahu: Rich, selfish, haughty heroes of the common man

Trump rally in Reno
Trump campaign rally in Reno, Nevada, January 10, 2016. Photo: Darron Birgenheier

I understand that America’s white working class, in general, gets a charge out of Trump because he channels their hatreds. What I don’t get is why they also think he’s going to deliver them economically, that he’s going to get them better paying, more secure jobs, a better deal all around.

Don’t they see that he doesn’t care about them, that his whole life is about me, me, me and nothing else? He hasn’t exactly tried to hide it, after all. Don’t these white people without college educations, who are hurting for money and whose lives and futures are pretty shaky, understand that they are part of that wide swath of humanity whom Trump refers to as “losers”?

To the white working class, Trump is not “one of us,” to say the least, not economically or any other way – and he doesn’t pretend to be. He’s had the cushiest life imaginable; there’s nothing about him that anybody but another rich asshole could identify with. So why do these throngs of “common,” often suffering American men and women believe he’s the answer to their economic troubles and fears? I get the hatred he brings out in them; I don’t get the love.

And this leads me to a very dark speculation: that the “common man” doesn’t want a leader he can identify with, and who treats him as an equal – he wants somebody “better” than him, somebody “above” him, somebody untouchable, somebody to whom he is eager to subordinate himself.

These white Americans wait by the thousands for his “TRUMP”-emblazoned plane to land while the loudspeakers are blaring Wagner or some other heroic symphonic theme – it’s like Elvis in Vegas. Trump is rich, he retains traces of his former handsomeness, he’s vain, he has beautiful women, he makes strong men quake, and he wears a permanent expression of haughty disapproval – this is what the American common man and woman have been lapping up for the last year. They don’t want a president, they want a king, somebody they can bow to.

It grows out of the authoritarian, disciplinarian traditions of America’s white working class, it comes from a culture of hierarchy and obedience.

2009 Netanyahu poster
Netanyahu campaign poster, 2009: “Strong on defense, strong on the economy.”

What does this remind me of? It reminds me of how the Israeli counterpart of America’s white working class – the Jewish, largely Mizrahi, working class – worshipped Bibi Netanyahu when he rose to become prime minister in the 1990s. (Their ardor has since died down; after all this time, working class Jews no longer pin their personal economic hopes on Netanyahu, but they still trust him to bash the Arabs and the Left for them.)

Poorly educated Jews, most of them Mizrahi, went crazy for Netanyahu in those days – and he bore no resemblance to them. A professor’s son from Jerusalem’s upper-crust Rehavia neighborhood, high school in America, degrees from M.I.T., rich, famous – and with an unmistakably superior air. Plus, he was by far the most pro-business, anti-union, anti-poor-people leader Israel had ever seen. Yet the amcha, the working class, notably the Mizrahim, idolized him.

I think that story was the same one we’ve been seeing with Trump and his crowds. It’s the story of people from an authoritarian culture of obedience wanting a leader who’s above them, a king they can bow to.

This, as much as anything, is what’s soured me on the worldview of the Left: The masses really are asses. They don’t care about equality, they don’t care about justice, what they want most is to march behind an invincible leader who will wipe out the enemy tribes. I don’t believe in the working class, I believe in educating them into the educated class, and then maybe they’ll become less racist and less smitten with the likes of Netanyahu and Trump.

The liberal West’s ‘secret’ war against ISIS

U.S. airstrike on ISIS
U.S. fighter jet taking off from aircraft carrier for airstrike on ISIS in Syria. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex King/Released)

Since the slaughter in Nice, there seems to be an argument between Western liberals and conservatives over how to deal with ISIS, with the liberals arguing for democracy and conservatives arguing for war. (Here, here, here and here.) I won’t even go into the specifics of the arguments because anybody who hasn’t heard them should be able to predict them by now; what I will say, though, is that it’s a false argument.

The liberal West, led by Obama and Hollande, is at war with ISIS, and in the wake of Nice, Hollande at least is escalating it.  In the last two years the U.S.-led coalition has launched many thousands of airstrikes against ISIS and other jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, and they’ve killed many thousands of ISIS members and other jihadists.

I’m not hearing liberals say they want this bombing to slow down, or for France to relax its surveillance of terrorist suspects, so why are they arguing?

Because while the West is at war with ISIS, the Western public – left, right and center – doesn’t know it. There are few Western troops on the ground in the war zones, few are getting killed, there’s no military draft, and nobody has the patience to read about the fighting in the Middle East, so the only time Westerners tune into ISIS is when there’s an ISIS-linked terror attack in a Western city. As far as the man on the Western street can see, ISIS is blasting away at him and his side isn’t doing anything.

Fox's Bill O'Reilly and Donald Trump
Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump, April 28, 2016. Photo: From YouTube, screenshot of Fox News.

So when Donald Trump and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly come out now for war, they sound like they’re really onto something bold and new, while Hillary, reminding Americans that they actually are at war, sounds like she’s on the defensive.

In France you get Marine Le Pen saying, “The war against the scourge of fundamentalism hasn’t started. It must now be declared.” Such absolute bullshit. The French are world-beaters when it comes to fighting Islamic terror. Yes, there is still terror in France. There’s also still terror in Israel – does anyone suggest that Israel isn’t at war with terrorists?

No, because Israelis, being conservatives, are always trumpeting how hard they’re fighting the enemy. (But within Israel, the relative liberals like Rabin and Peres were always accused by conservatives like Netanyahu of doing nothing against terror; same bullshit, and it worked every time.) Same thing when Americans were being taken hostage by Iran and Hezbollah; Reagan never made any military move and even gave the Iranians arms, while Carter at least tried a military assault to free them in Iran – yet Reagan was considered tough on terror and Carter was considered a wimp. Why? Because Reagan, being a conservative, knew how to talk shit about war, while Carter, being a liberal, didn’t.

It’s saber-rattling time 

Same with Obama, same with Hollande, and same with Hillary, at least in comparison to that chickenhawk Trump. They have to start rattling sabers against ISIS, they have to tell the public every day about all the bastards they’re killing in the Middle East. This is what the man on the Western street wants to hear – and rightly so. ISIS and its sympathizers are a force of evil, a menace to the Middle East and the West, they’re horrifying people with their killing and people need to know that their side is fighting back. In the absence of that knowledge, people are becoming demoralized and turning into easy prey for the likes of Trump and Le Pen. And if these two take over in America and France, which seems more likely since Nice, they really will turn the fight against ISIS into a fight against all Muslims, which is not how liberal leaders like Obama and Hollande are fighting it now.

All the more reason for liberals to support the war against ISIS, to support escalating it … if they even know there’s a war on.

How Israelis, steeped in denial, view this week’s reconciliation with Turkey

IDF-captioned CCTV photo of Mavi Marmara activists attacking Israeli commandos.
IDF-captioned CCTV photo of Mavi Marmara activists attacking Israeli commandos.

As far as the Israeli public is concerned, the raiding party of naval commandos acted in self-defense when they killed those 10 people on board the Turkish flotilla headed for Gaza on May 31, 2010. They were attacked by a mob and they shot to save their own lives. They were purely innocent and the people killed were terrorists who couldn’t be stopped any other way. (Film of the mob attack, which the navy confiscated from CCTV on the ship Mavi Marmara, has been shown in Israel so many times that by now it’s an iconic national image; film of what happened afterward, also confiscated, has never been released.)

But three years after the raid Netanyahu calls Erdogan and makes a half-apology for it, saying, “The tragic consequences of the Mavi Marmara flotilla were unintentional, and Israel regrets any injury or loss of life.”

What? That’s like he’s saying the terrorists were the victims!

Finally, this week Israel agreed to pay the families of the dead – and the 24 people badly injured – $20 million!

Why?! We were innocent, they were guilty!

Oh, okay, say the pragmatists in the public, prompted by Netanyahu, his allies and the media – we’re doing it for practical reasons, to patch up relations with Turkey, which is good for us. We’re not saying we were guilty, of course, we’re just being smart instead of insisting on being right, as the saying around here goes. Meanwhile, according to a poll, a big majority of the public, their national pride offended, stubbornly oppose the deal.

Blind to what the world sees

It’s interesting how Israelis fail to see what’s obvious to everyone else in the world: that Israeli authorities know that the commandos killed those people unjustly, and know that the whole world knows it, that no court in the world will exonerate those soldiers, that no propaganda in the world will convince anyone outside Israel’s Amen Corner.

Here is a link to the UN’s Palmer Report, which Israel waves around as “vindication” of the raid. The report does indeed justify Israel’s blockade of Gaza, it condemns the flotilla’s attempt to break the blockade, and it acknowledges that the commandos met with violent resistance when they boarded the ship. But read these excerpts from the report’s conclusions that Israeli spokesmen never mention, and that Israelis don’t want to know about. Again, this is not from the UN Human Rights Council’s unequivocally damning report on the raid, which Israel dismissed as “predetermined”; this is from the Palmer report that Israel holds up as a kashrut certificate. From page 4:

viii. The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable. Nine passengers were killed [the 10th died in the hospital years later – L.D.] and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces. No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths. Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel.

ix. There was significant mistreatment of passengers by Israeli authorities after the take-over of the vessels had been completed through until their deportation. This included physical mistreatment, harassment and intimidation, unjustified confiscation of belongings and the denial of timely consular assistance.

Netanyahu knew Israel had no case, and so if he wanted diplomatic and military relations with Turkey again, he had to eat humble pie. He had to apologize and he had to pay through the nose to the victims.

But the public here doesn’t understand that Israel had no case because they’re psychologically incapable of understanding it. The idea that the commandos killed those people wrongly is something that just doesn’t compute in Israelis’ minds. For them, everything begins with the indisputable “fact” that the soldiers were innocent and the victims were terrorists. So how do they understand the apology and the $20 million? As a matter of being smart instead of insisting on being right. Those who oppose the deal argue that Netanyahu is selling out the nation’s honor.

Yeah, apologizing to the likes of Erdogan and making millionaires out of violent anti-Israel radicals and their families – that’s what Netanyahu likes to do, alright, when our soldiers shoot to defend their lives.

This is what the Israeli people have chosen to believe. This is “the truth” in a country that can’t face the truth about itself, a country that’s living a lie.

 

Neo-fascists threaten the West; in Israel they’ve already arrived

From America to Austria, belligerent, xenophobic ultra-nationalism is rising. But its hold on power in Israel is far more secure — and uncontested.

Israeli neofascists
Members of right-wing organization Lehava protesting the wedding of a Jewish-born woman and a Muslim man in Rishon Letzion, August 17, 2014. Photo: Ofer Vaknin

I hear a lot of Israeli liberals saying that yes, things are bad here, but they’re bad everywhere. On the one hand, Avigdor Lieberman is running the army, a majority of Israelis believe the soldier who executed a prone Palestinian in Hebron behaved “responsibly,” and it’s gotten so that even Roni Daniel, Channel 2 news’ superhawk, is wondering whether his children should leave the country.

But on the other hand, they point out, America has Donald Trump. In Austria, the party of Jorg Haider just came within an inch of taking over. In France, Marine Le Pen is the rising power. All over Western Europe, even in Scandinavia, the neo-fascists are gaining strength.

So Israel isn’t alone in its slide into the swamp of belligerent, xenophobic ultra-nationalism — it’s happening in the most “enlightened” countries of the West. We’re in no worse a political predicament than they’re in, according to this view.

But this view is mistaken; our political predicament is worse. In the 21st century, the forces of belligerent, xenophobic ultra-nationalism have a much stronger, more secure hold on power in Israel than they do in any Western country (not counting Eastern Europe).

Israeli right getting more radical, powerful

Netanyahu has been elected prime minister four times, and each of his governments is more right-wing than the last. Meanwhile, the so-called center and center-left parties grow increasingly antagonistic toward the Palestinians and the Israeli Arab parties, until it’s become a bad joke to refer to them (except Meretz, the lone party of the Zionist left) as a liberal opposition. And now their leader, Isaac Herzog, has left them more divided and weaker than ever.

In Israel today, the right-wing powers-that-be are only getting more right-wing and more powerful; except for the Supreme Court (to a limited degree), there’s nothing and nobody to hold them back.

In America today, the situation is quite different. The president, now in his eighth and last year, is Barack Obama, the sort of liberal politician who has become extinct in 21st-century Israel. And even if the grotesque Donald Trump does win the November election, the Democrats, with their larger share of the electorate, will have a good chance of beating him the next time. The Republicans have no hope of ruling American politics without challenge for nearly a generation like the Likud and its allies have done here. Over there it’s the Democrats, davka, who have such a hope.

In Austria, the Freedom Party, running on the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform common to all European far-right parties, came within 0.7% of the vote to winning the presidency. But not only did it lose, the winner was a member of the liberal Green Party. And even if that result gets turned around in the coming years, the liberals will almost certainly remain contenders for power in Austria, unlike what’s happened in contemporary Israel.

In other Western European countries, even France with its National Front, the demagogic, nativist parties and movements are growing — but they are all still at a far remove from having national power such as that enjoyed here by Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi and current-day Likud.

European consensus still liberal 

Since World War II, Western Europe has developed a strong liberal, tolerant consensus; this is fraying due to the large influx of Muslim immigrants and refugees and the influence of radical Islam in their ranks, but it remains the norm. By contrast, liberalism and tolerance for Arabs, while always a stream in Israeli politics, only came to the fore during the Oslo years — and even they were interrupted by Netanyahu’s first term. Since Oslo imploded in 2000, this stream has been steadily drying up — except during the anomaly of Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza – while the racism and militarism of the right keeps running stronger.

Western Europeans have problems with immigration, refugees and jihadism, and often with economics; these problems may grow to the point where they derange the public and the neo-fascists start taking power. But this hasn’t happened yet, and there’s a very good chance it won’t.

Israel, on the other hand, is a tiny ethnic-religious minority in a hostile region on a permanent war footing with its neighbors. Israel believes (wrongly) that it has done everything it can to make peace and been turned down, and so it trusts its security to the subjugation of the Palestinians and the periodic bombing of Syria and Hezbollah, with no expectation or even reasonable hope that things will change.

This is a much more deeply entrenched and volatile problem than the Western Europeans, or, certainly, the Americans have been dealing with.  What ails Israel is the sort of condition that’s just made for a long-term takeover by belligerent, xenophobic ultranationalists, which is what’s happened here and hasn’t happened there. No, unfortunately, this is not a Western country we’re living in.

Originally published in Haaretz.com, May 31, 2016.