Yesterday I told a friend that there would be tens of thousands of Israelis flooding Rabin Square at midnight to celebrate Israel’s return to the world. But when we drove by the plaza at 11:30 the place was dead.
Yesterday I wrote a piece predicting that the election in Israel would be hugely clarifying for Americans. Netanyahu would be gone, the Herzog peace process would begin, and the fight would at last begin between liberal Zionists and anti-Zionists in the U.S. over who could produce results, with neoconservatives exiled.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was influenced by the excitement of the Zionist Camp, which believed Netanyahu would end up with as few as 18 seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu got 30. Zionist Camp only 24.
But I was right about this being a hugely clarifying election. All has been revealed to a watching world. Netanyahu’s reversion to racism in the last days of a desperate campaign, his explicit denunciation of “Arab voters” on Facebook so as to get his people out, along with his repudiation of the two-state solution—and the huge reward delivered to him by Israelis for these statements — should be clarifying revelations to the American political class. This is Israel. Everything you have been told about the “Jewish democracy” by the Israel supporters: it is wrong. It may be Jewish, but it is no democracy, this is a white settler society where a fearful privileged group of Jews holds on to its power in ever-expanding colonies by reelecting a strong leader, now in his tenth year as premier, who will use threats and violence against the Palestinians. This place is what Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal told us it was years ago. Blumenthal’s video Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem was censored just about everywhere he put it up six years ago. MJ Rosenberg, a liberal Zionist, said that Blumenthal had caricatured the Israeli public by quoting a few yokels.
Well today those yokels have spoken, and they are Israel.
At a polling place in south Jerusalem yesterday, a woman told me how upset she got that morning when her neighbor blurted, “Bloody Arabs,” during an election conversation. But a friend who was with her jumped in to justify the comment. “We are right to be afraid.” Jerusalem can never be divided because the Arabs already destroy the trainline that runs through East Jerusalem, they learn hatred as schoolchildren, she said. So we need a strong leader who will not allow them to have a state. This woman was a child psychologist in her 60s, who has worked in the U.S. and Europe. She wore a chic purple fleece and gray slacks, as sophisticated as they come; and she speaks like a South African haut bourgeois during apartheid.
I had just walked through East Jerusalem to get to the German Colony. There are no polling places in the Nablus Road or on Salah ad-Din Street. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are governed by Israel, who according to Israel live In Israel, cannot even vote because of the color of their skin. If this is not apartheid, what is? And if this is your idea of a Jewish democracy, why would your children want to be Jewish?
The election results are especially a challenge to liberal Zionists. This was the moment Israel was supposed to pivot. It was a change election, the liberals came to believe in the last few weeks, and I believed right along with them. The kids electioneering for Zionist camp in their blue t-shirts in Jerusalem said they were going to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv that night, depending on the news. Gershom Gorenberg couldn’t suppress his excitement on twitter. Peace Now was hopeful. In The New Yorker, Bernard Avishai described a post-Zionist electorate in which a new center of sophisticated young people (Yesh Atid and Kahlon followers) will end the Likud era because they want to be engaged with the world, not isolated, and the Palestinians can be included in the new economy. Avishai is just as wrong as I was, but he and all liberal Zionists who oppose boycott now need to be challenged. You told us to give Israel a chance. Well, this society is not going to change.
“This is devastating for the peace process,” a crestfallen Yaniv told me at the Zionist Camp party that turned out to be a soggy funeral in Tel Aviv last night. An election that never addressed the peace process had turned into a fury about the peace process at the very end, he said.
“Nothing will change. We need a Mandela. The only thing that can help us is for more pressure to come.”
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.
At the Zionist Camp party, some people tried to blame Netanyahu for the results, his desperate campaign tactics. “Milosevic,” a liberal Zionist friend said as we left the fizzled hall on the booming north end of town. The New York Times blames Netanyahu too in a long editorial today, citing his “ugly” campaign and “subversive” speech to Congress two weeks ago.
But they are missing the point. The Israeli people have spoken. Noam Sheizaf explains at +972:
There is symbolic significance to the fact that Netanyahu openly campaigned on his opposition to Palestinian statehood. It means that he is backed by a majority of Israeli voters, and an absolute majority of the Jewish vote. There needs to be, and I think there will be, a debate on the implications of this decision by the Jewish public. For years we have been hearing that Israel will either end the occupation or cease to be a democracy. Could it be that the Jewish public has made its choice?
These were the people I met outside the polling places in West Jerusalem yesterday. Even a Zionist Camp voter was railing about Haneen Zoabi on the Joint Arab List: a demon who spews hatred, he said. A Meretz supporter pointed out hopefully that Tzipi Livni of Zionist Camp was going to support the peace process; but Livni had to make it clear this week that she would not ever be prime minister under a Zionist Camp government, lest people would vote against Herzog as an appeaser. The same Livni who is shunned in Europe because she has blood on her hands from two massacres of Palestinians in the last six years.
Jewish Israel is a rightwing society. You must understand that the Zionist Camp the liberal Zionists are so excited about is like the racist Democratic Party back in the days of Jim Crow in the U.S. While the one Jewish leftwing party, Meretz, is more like Obama’s Democratic Party today. The Meretz kids I met yesterday are smart idealists, and anti-racists. And they have 5 seats in a Knesset of 120. One girl told me that in a straw vote of 100 7th graders at Beit Chinuch school, the vote was overwhelmingly for Netanyahu and Bennett, two for Meretz. And this is an affluent West Jerusalem neighborhood.
So this is Israel’s crisis; it has now lost all political cover in the west among liberals. I said on a radio show a couple of months ago that Zionism began with cries of Death to the Jews in Paris in the 1894 that motivated Herzl and ended with cries of Death to the Arabs in Jerusalem. Bernard Avishai said I was wrong, and Jane Eisner and Beinart were silent. But Netanyahu proves the point. This is how Zionism ends.
A couple of years ago Beinart said that Zionism was in crisis. But that crisis for American Jews is over now. Zionism is what Netanyahu has shown us it is, in his frank calls on Jews to hold the land and deny the vote to non-Jews. This is what Palestinian intellectuals from Ghada Karmi to Edward Said to Raja Shehadeh to Lila Abu-Lughod to Saree Makdisi to Ali Abunimah, really the list is endless, have been telling us Zionism is for many years, and they have been marginalized and smeared for saying so.
This moment is immensely clarifying because it will bring those voices into our discourse and force American Zionists to say, What is this Jewish democracy, and what are you prepared to do about it?
Thanks to Scott Roth for reporting and observations in this post.