Naftali Bennett’s ‘more Jewish’ zealotry lulls the American media

Israel/Palestine
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Naftali Bennett Jan. 10, 2013 (Photo: Oded Balilty)

Take a look at the modern face of Jewish extremism. The meteoric rise of Naftali Bennett toward Israel’s election on Tuesday threatens to tear the secular facade off Israel, exposing a fanatical Zionism that’s lain beneath the surface for decades.

In a remarkably revealing interview with Time Magazine‘s Karl Vick, Bennett’s confidence draws you in. Bennett would have you believe he’s a reasonable guy and a straight shooter; the tell it like it is, Mr. “I’m open.” For those who like their annexation neat, straight up not on the rocks, no chasers, he’s the man for you. In Bennett’s world there is no occupation, annexation is a mere formality, and all the land already belongs to Israel.

“[I]t’s ours, it’s always been ours for 3,800 years we have Jewish sovereignty over Judea and Samaria since we first got it, 3800 years ago.”

Bennett explains his political rise by saying it’s about “returning to the basic Jewish and Zionist values…Jewish-based Zionism”. While Vick describes Bennett as “the modern man of Israel”–even though he’s a biblical literalist regarding Jewish ownership over all of Mandate Palestine. Here he is, being Mr. I’m Open, we’re all open:

“‘Listen, I’m not going to argue whether it’s good or bad, I’m just: assume for a moment, let’s hypothesize, let’s say it’s [two state solution] not going to happen. What do you do? Are we going to keep bashing our heads against the wall, or are we going to try to figure out some form of imperfect reality? But stable. Or do we try to enforce illusions on reality and bring about another round of violence?’ Which is what happened already several times. I’m not suggesting that this plan is the only possible plan. There’s a few others. I’m open, we’re all open. But what I urge the West is to think openly about this. And I regret Netanyahu’s profound mistake in accepting a two-state or a Palestinian state… If you say you support a Palestinian state, then you can’t be surprised if everyone’s pressuring you to do it. In my experience, I lived in America quite a few years, it’s okay to disagree but be straight”

The misrepresentation here is the claim of openness and reasonableness: Israelis have not been bashing their heads against the wall trying to figure out how to make two states, they’ve been evading it and pushing it down the road for decades.

And as for the Palestinians’ complete absence of rights in Bennett’s vision of the future? That’s just “a tragedy,” he said in a recent debate, but, “we cannot give a full-blown state”– an idea he repeated to Vick:

Vick: [We were having lunch with a settler] and she was telling us about the Palestinians, and … I said they’d want them to have rights of their own. And you jumped in and said, ‘They can’t, unfortunately. It’s a tragedy.’

Bennett: Right.

Vick: Which was just: straight up.

Bennett: Look. I’ll tell you. It’s just not going to happen.

Simultaneously being a modern man and a biblical literalist regarding Jewish ownership over all of historical Palestine, Bennett has had a pied piper effect on Israel’s youth and rightwing seculars, eroding Netanyahu’s Likud base. A recent review conducted by Bennett’s party revealed there are now an additional five more Knesset seats up for grabs from the Likud in Tuesday’s elections, and though many Israelis are freaking out, zealots like Caroline Glick cannot suppress their glee. It’s “The second Zionist revolution,” she explains (at The Hill):

“Next week we’re going to vote and it is already clear that Israel is in the midst of the Second Zionist Revolution. The first Zionist revolution was a socialist revolution. The second Zionist revolution is Jewish. Israel is coming into its own. Judaism is flourishing, changing, living and breathing here like it never has anywhere since the destruction of the Second Commonwealth. The secular left has been eclipsed by the Jewish right. I don’t call it the religious right because that is too limiting. What’s happening isn’t just about religion, it’s about everything, and that is why non-observant hipsters in Tel Aviv are voting for the Jewish Home party. Non-observant and observant Jews are joining forces and the anti-religious are being left behind.”

Another Zionist fanatic who’s wild about Bennett is Ronn Torossian. He was once written off by Jeffrey Goldberg as “the lunatic fringe,” but good luck to Goldberg, because Torossian and his friends are not recognized as fringe in Israel. Israel has been riding right for years under the international claim that “most Israelis want a two-state solution,” as Robert Siegel said to Goldberg last night, when the political reality is obviously very different. Even as Israelis told the world they had no “viable Palestinian partner for peace“–as Goldberg said to Siegel— well the Israeli “left” was just as opposed to relinquishing the biblical “land of Israel.” Politically, the left has deferred to Bennett’s ideas of Jewish sovereignty.  

As to our media, the Vick interview and the New Yorker piece on Bennett’s rise are good first steps, but I don’t see how the mainstream press can justify saying so little about freaky religious Jewish nutcases (religious settlers) and their supporters when there’s no comparable inhibition around extreme Islam, or Christian extremists. It’s time that reporters, anchors, and commentators start talking about Jewish extremists in language we can all understand because our country’s ‘special relationship’ is with a government being overrun by religious nuts, and if you think I’m exaggerating, read about the many “scary” Israeli candidates at the Jerusalem Fund. NPR’s Siegel can talk about the majority of Israelis being reasonable all he wants, but that hardly matters if the religious extremists are taking over the government.

And what pray tell is this fanaticism–this biblical literalist religious extremism– couched as? “More Jewish,” to quote Bennett. He explains that his message is a “centrist” appeal to a country that gets “more Jewish” all the time:

We are the real “centrists”– loving our heritage is centrist, loving the Land of Israel is centrist, loving the Jewish People is centrist – that is what most Israelis feel, but there were those who made them feel ashamed to say so out loud. We are getting them to speak up.

We are the real centrist party because Israel is more Jewish than it has ever been.

More Jewish than it’s ever been? A country with 20 percent non-Jewish population that in turn governs another 4-5 million non-Jews under occupation? Oh but that’s a “tragedy,” the sad upshot of Palestinians not being Jewish in a state that grows “more Jewish” by the minute. Sorry, this zealotry doesn’t resemble the values of the American Jews I know. What are they, chopped liver?

(Hat tip Mondoweiss commenters Sean McBride and American)

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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