‘The Nation’ publishes two critiques of Israel’s escapist political culture

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The Nation this week has two interesting analyses of the Israeli vote. The first is from Max Blumenthal echoing the theme often expressed on this site that this election only solidified the occupation. And he shows how racist settlers are playing a larger and larger role in Israeli political culture:

In the past four years, Israel’s major institutions have begun to fall under the control of the settlement movement and its allies, from the Supreme Court, now headed by Asher Grunis, a right-winger installed as Chief Justice thanks to special legislation introduced by the Knesset’s pro-settler bloc, to the Shin Bet, the country’s internal security agency, which is directed by a religious nationalist named Yoram Cohen. In 2010, Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh became the first knit-kippa-wearing religious nationalist to rise to deputy chief of staff of the IDF, the second most powerful position in the armed forces. At least half of the soldiers in Israel’s officer training colleges identify as religious nationalist, while around 30 percent of the officer corps adheres to Orthodox Jewish ideology.

“Settlers don’t have to be in confrontation anymore,” [Bernard] Avishai said. “The map of Israeli weather that is shown every night on the news shows Ariel, but Ramallah is not there. So all [Naftali Bennett] is doing is ratifying the weather map.”

As the settlers complete their march through the institutions, they have begun establishing a physical presence in the heart of the country’s mixed cities, where Israeli Jews and Arabs enjoy an uneasy and unequal form of coexistence. In the heart of Ajami, an impoverished Arab neighborhood in Jaffa just ten minutes south of Tel Aviv, an organization of West Bank settlers recently established a yeshiva as a garrison for expanding their influence in the area. “Our ideology is not to enter an Arab neighborhood,” said Israel Zeira, the director of the construction firm behind the yeshiva, “but to go to Jaffa in order to bolster Jewish identity.”

Blumenthal notes the craziness of Jewish Home party member Jeremy Gimpel, who imagined blowing up the Dome of the Rock, and moved to Israel from the States. Why isn’t Gimpel featured on MSNBC all the time, along with the Christian zealots? 

Gimpel, listed as fourteenth on the Jewish Home list, narrowly missed out on a seat in the Knesset. But his candidacy generated headlines both inside Israel and abroad, upsetting Bennett’s attempts to streamline the image of his party. The 32-year-old moved to Israel from Atlanta with his family when he was 11, becoming an ordained rabbi after a stint in the army’s Givati Brigade. Gimpel’s preppy appearance reminded me of one of the frat boys I met when I studied at the University of Pennsylvania. However, his histrionic, off-the-wall personality and messianic rhetoric seemed better suited for the rapture-ready mega-churches of Middle America than any part of the Jewish Diaspora I had ever experienced.

Daniel Levy’s piece at the Nation shares Blumenthal’s analysis of the pro-occupation solidification of the election, though Levy says a non-rightwing coalition might be forged inside Israel, of ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian constituents:

The Zionist center too often sounds and acts like a less vicious, more huggable version of the Zionist right, bereft of its own vision or beliefs, still undemocratic for its non-Jewish citizens, and still indulgent of settlements, occupation and injustices vis-à-vis the Palestinians beyond the Green Line…

The Zionist right has made its choice; it has placed “Jewish” above “democratic.” The rest of the Zionist camp has always hated to acknowledge that this combination of words—Jewish and democratic—is at all problematic. That obfuscation should have ended long ago, and it can no longer be avoided. Israeli democrats have to reinvent a vision for Israel, whether within or beyond the Zionist paradigm, and it is telling that the answer will almost certainly include making common cause with non-Zionists. For that reinvention should include a new social contract with the Palestinian and ultra-Orthodox communities alongside an unflinching pushback against the fascistic elements that have just greatly strengthened their outpost in the Knesset. Interestingly enough, such a coalition would have a significant majority in the new Knesset….

So Levy holds out hope for a post-Zionist reinvention of “escapist” Israeli political culture, brought about by international pressure. Levy offers a democratic vision of Israel to save it from its “volkist” tendencies:

Zionism is likely to either finally achieve democratic maturity or be remembered in its demise as a failed utopian project. The creative, constantly evolving, dynamic, democratic and thoroughly plugged-into-the-world aspects of Israel are not a bad starting point—and they are over-represented on [Yair] Lapid’s list [Yesh Atid, which got 19 Knesset seats]. And politicians too can evolve. An Israel with agreed borders, whose Jewish character is redefined, is unobtrusive, is respecting of a large Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox population, while celebrating rather than corroding democratic values (themselves also part of the Jewish heritage) and that undergoes its own civil rights revolution regarding its Palestinian citizenry appears a long way off. But that transition will have to happen rather soon, or not at all: a transition that drags Israeli nationalism into the twenty-first century from its current nineteenth-century “volkist” stagnation. An Israeli patriotism that can evoke a version of its own journey “through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

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