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.” 

Israeli soldiers’ Shabbat host: Hebron’s monster-in-chief

Kach leader Baruch Marzel in Hebron
Kach leader Baruch Marzel in Hebron, March 23, 2007. Wikipedia Commons

In Hebron, the evil of the occupation is most plainly visible. Shuhada Street, once a busy commercial row, has been off limits to Palestinians for over 20 years, the homes and shops welded shut, the turquoise awnings marked by Stars of David and anti-Arab graffiti. Above the nearby souk hangs a chain-link and cloth netting that catches at least some of the rocks, dirty diapers, bleach and urine poured down frequently on vendors and shoppers by residents of the Avraham Avinu and Beit Hadassah buildings, in clear view of two IDF lookout posts. The 1,000 or so settlers, protected by the army, go around like masters over their Palestinian subjects. There is no more radical, racist, violent Jewish community in the West Bank.

The most infamous of Hebron’s settlers is Baruch Marzel, who for the last quarter-century has been the leader of Kach, which is outlawed in this country for racism and incitement to terrorism and in America for just plain terrorism. On Sunday it was revealed that many soldiers stationed in Hebron spend their Shabbat lunch as guests at Marzel’s home in the settlement’s Tel Rumeida enclave.

This tidbit came out in the testimony of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who is on trial for shooting to death a Palestinian assailant in Hebron after the latter had already been shot several times and was lying all but motionless on the ground.

Asked by his attorney about video footage showing him shaking hands with Marzel after the shooting, Azaria told the Jaffa military court:   

“Tel Rumeida is a family-like post, civilians can go into the post. Baruch Marzel would invite us, the whole company, to eat lunch with him every week at Shabbat lunchtime. The company commander and the battalion commander would eat with him. It never raised a problem. … We used to eat at Baruch’s every Shabbat, he’d treat us and give us the best.”

Azaria went on to describe Marzel as “a good man. He would also treat us with chocolates and drinks when we were doing guard duty.”

Anti-Arab graffiti on Palestinian home in Hebron.
“Gas the Arabs” graffiti on gate of Palestinian home in Tel Rumeida, an enclave of the Jewish settlement in Hebron and home to Marzel. The graffiti is signed “JDL” – Jewish Defense League, the forerunner to Kach. Photo: Magne Hagesaeter, June 29, 2008.

It’s always bothered me that 19-year-old Israeli boys and girls are sent to guard a community where there may be some debate over Yigal Amir, who murdered a Jew, but there’s doubtless none over Kach alumnus Baruch Goldstein, who murdered Muslims. Now it turns out the soldiers are not only guarding the settlers, they’re being adopted by the worst of them.

I remember one Friday in the early 1990s, two Palestinian laborers were murdered in the West Bank and eyewitnesses said the killers were settlers. Marzel, whose movement naturally came under suspicion, said on the radio, “We had nothing to do with this, but when I heard the news it really enhanced my oneg (celebration of) Shabbat.” I asked him later if he stood by those words. “Of course,” he said, describing the double murder as “holy work.”

Marzel is the leader of a movement that produces and glorifies Arab-killers. He himself has a record of criminal violence that includes assaults on Palestinians, a peace activist and an Israeli policeman. He has organized Purim parties in tribute to Goldstein’s Purim massacre of 29 Muslims. He has called publicly for Uri Avnery’s assassination.

He preaches violence against gays, too. After the stabbing of three marchers in the 2005 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade (by Yishai Schissel in a prelude to his murder of Shira Banki 10 years later), Marzel said, “The stabbing incident during last year’s parade will seem minor in comparison with what is anticipated this year. We have to declare a holy war [to] stop crimes in Jerusalem and acts of sodomy.” He also was on hand to help stir up racist, at times violent protests in South Tel Aviv against African refugees.

The Boston-born Marzel is Israel’s answer to the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the man who hosts Sgt. Elor Azaria’s “whole company to eat lunch with him every week at Shabbat lunchtime.”

How long has this been going on? How does the army allow this? Now that it’s been reported, I wonder if Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman will put a stop to it; after all, it was Marzel and a couple of other Kach elder statesmen who ratted him out some years ago for having been a Kach activist at Hebrew University, something Lieberman naturally denies.

But the defense minister may well have missed the news about the hospitality being laid on for the troops by the grand dragon of Tel Rumeida; several major news outlets didn’t mention it at all. Which shouldn’t be too surprising. We’re talking about Hebron, the occupation’s heart of darkness. We send our children there to serve their country. If that’s unremarkable, so is oneg Shabbat with Baruch Marzel.

Originally published in Haaretz.com on July 26 under title “Why Are Israeli Soldiers Fraternizing With Hebron’s Most Racist, Terrorist-inciting Settlers?” 

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.