Last week I interviewed the writer and activist Yossi Gurvitz in a Tel Aviv cafe about rightwing extremism in Israeli society, and he said he hears many Israelis saying that if their country comes under pressure from the outside world, it should “go North Korea” but with the power of real nukes, not fake nukes. He also said that if there were a serious move by Israel to evacuate settlers from the West Bank, it would result in a coup by rightwing pro-settler officers.
It’s all in the interview above. That interview begins with Gurvitz’s description of a terrifying human-rights case in the West Bank and culminates with his analysis of the rightwing militarist power over Israeli leadership.
Here are the highlights:
Gurvitz works for the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din. A week before we met, he published this highly-disturbing account of a Palestinian girl who was circled and attacked by Jewish settlers inside a vine-covered hut on her family’s land near Bethlehem. Israeli police did not do anything about the attack because it was on the Sabbath.
Think what it is to be a child… a teenager in a place where you are afraid to leave your house… You learn either to be very afraid and close yourself in, very bitter and become violent, or flee.
Gurvitz related the Palestinian girl’s experience to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and King’s comments about the amusement park his daughter could not visit:
[King said that his] tongue was twisted as he tried to explain to his five year old daughter why she could not go to Funtown. A cloud of despair enters her mind before his eyes…
You live in a world where you are not equal. You are not expected to be equal…. It’s not a glass ceiling. The ceiling is right over their heads.
I responded by asking, As an American Jew, what can I conclude from this story except that this system needs to be destroyed? Gurvitz responded that American Jews should feel the responsibility of tikkun olam: to report on these conditions, and act on them.
I asked whether the situation recalls Algeria or South Africa or Jim Crow. Gurvitz says that he thinks of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, but that historical analogies can be misleading. No situation is quite similar to another. “We have a small nation supported by an empire, who is busily encroaching on the lands of its neighbors with the support of that empire.”
But the difference is that Israel also has nuclear weapons. He says at 6:15:
I think this is where historical analogies stop. Because I hear time and time again, mostly on the right, but not just on the right, people are saying, ‘Well if the world turns on us, we will go North Korea on them, and we do have the nukes. They’re not fake.’ So we speak about Iran as an irrational country …. an irrational leadership about to get its own nukes. Israel’s third largest party is the Bayit Yehudi, which is composed of some serious nuts… people who spoke about blowing up the Temple Mount…. spoke about transferring the Palestinians….The official position of the party is the unofficial policy of the Israeli government, the annexation of Area C with the expulsion of as many Palestinians as possible… A part of Likud is led by Avigdor Lieberman who has suggested nuking the Aswan Dam in Egypt and Teheran.
Obama knows this? I ask.
Everyone knows this. It’s not much of a secret. These are public policies, public speeches. They are available.
I then venture that if international pressure turned on Israel, including from the U.S., it might result in rightwing violence, as in Algeria and France in the early 60s. Gurvitz:
If we use the Algerian example, then we have a serious problem here… Recall, the French military in Algeria mutinied, and the mutiny was put down by soldiers loyal to the republic. We don’t have a concept of loyalty to the republic. We have a concept of loyalty to the country, loyalty to the homeland, loyalty to the Jewish religion, but we don’t have a sense of loyalty to the republic. So the settlers are moving their men quite explicitly to more and more higher positions in the army precisely to prevent any settler evacuation.
Gurvitz says that if Israeli politicians ordered a disengagement from the West Bank, it would result in a mutiny in the military. He believes this likely because there is an “out of control military rabbinate.” One leading rabbi in the military rabbinate wrote a statement justifying rape during war time. Other military rabbis published a book of rulings saying that gentile officers should not lead Jews.
These are the ingredients of a coup, not a civil war, Gurvitz concludes.