The announcement of the new more-rightwing-than-ever Israeli government presents a particular crisis for American liberal Zionists. These hopeful people have been telling us for years that Israel is a good country that can save itself. But the country appears to be willfully driving itself off the rails of world opinion, with the emphatic election results in March followed by the announcement of a government committed to annexing the West Bank and crippling Israeli human rights groups.
“This government’s makeup is the most reactionary in Israel’s history,” Peace Now says bracingly.
The big question going forward is what the liberal Zionists are prepared to do about Israeli intransigence. Their best hope, they say, is that the government will soon fall because it is so narrow, a one-seat majority in the Knesset. But the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) and Palestinian solidarity movement will certainly be empowered by this new coalition; and some liberal Zionists may want to jump on those bandwagons.
But let’s hear some of the reactions from liberal Zionists. First, an excerpt from Americans for Peace Now’s statement:
Americans for Peace Now (APN) is expressing deep concern for the new government’s impact on Israel’s future as a democracy and a Jewish state.
APN’s President and CEO Debra DeLee said: “This government, based on the ideology of its members, is bound to act to further hinder the viability of a two-state solution, to further exacerbate Israel’s isolation internationally, to intensify West Bank settlement construction, promote undemocratic legislation and act to stifle dissent.
DeLee is calling on Netanyahu to become a moderate.
“This government’s makeup is the most reactionary in Israel’s history. Because it is so narrow – with a majority of only one seat – its most extreme members are well-positioned to dictate extremist policies. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who paved the way to this coalition before the elections and during the coalition negotiations, will be tested by his ability to block reckless policies and legislative initiatives of extremist outliers in his coalition. Eventually, Netanyahu will be held accountable for the actions and rhetoric of his cabinet members.
Peace Now also says it has “its work cut out for us.” It’s not clear what that means. And yesterday Israel’s Defense Minister said Israel can’t be concerned about civilian casualties in Gaza and Lebanon and it might nuke Iran:
In response to a question about Iran, [Moshe] Yaalon said that “in certain cases” when “we feel like we don’t have the answer by surgical operations” Israel might take “certain steps” such as the Americans did in “Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing at the end the fatalities of 200,000.”
Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street is deeply upset too. He sent out a frank letter to supporters after spending yesterday in the Knesset.
The result is a government of the far right, whose policies and vision for Israel’s future are diametrically opposed to the vision of what many of us in the American Jewish community and in Israel believe is necessary to ensure Israel’s security and its democratic and Jewish future.
He also describes the crushing of any Palestinian state.
All signs point to a government that will be committed to unbridled expansion of settlements over the Green Line and throughout the West Bank… [quoting the Times of Israel] “The nationalist-religious settler movement would effectively gain control of all the institutions that affect its public life.”
Dylan Williams of J Street is also frank:
Netanyahu’s public renunciation of a 2-state solution during his campaign is shared by the vast majority of his new cabinet –
Who in his new cabinet *does* believe in land-for-peace?
Ilan Goldenberg, formerly of the State Department, now at a DC liberal thinktank, points out that the new government will put wind under the Palestinian statehood initiative:
This Israeli govt will present a compelling diplomatic target for the Palestinians and their push in international organisations
Yossi Alpher at Peace Now predicted this a couple days ago:
It will apparently be the first coalition since 1967 whose guidelines say absolutely nothing about the Palestinian issue–so low is the issue on coalition partners’ order of priorities and strategic horizon.
The United States government is obviously concerned. Alpher:
Two warnings that the US expects the next Israeli government to recommit to the two-state principle were issued in the past ten days–by National Security Adviser Susan Rice and by Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman. The cause for US concern is Netanyahu’s election-eve announcement that no Palestinian state will be created on his watch. The prime minister’s retraction a day later did not convince anyone.
Now Netanyahu is about to preside over a right-wing settler government that apparently doesn’t even intend to mention the Palestinian issue in its guidelines…
In June a bunch of liberal Zionists will be in Columbus, Ohio, to hold a conference with liberal Christians like Churches for Middle East Peace on seeking peace in the holy land. I have to believe that a number of folks at that conference will endorse Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in some form. How long can liberals sit on their hands?
Liberal Zionist Peter Beinart described the crisis after the election,
The American Jewish establishment will never admit that its theory of change has been discredited. It will go on insisting, no matter how laughable that insistence becomes, that Israel is serious about creating a Palestinian state.
And called for a pressure campaign distinct from the BDS movement:
Our principle should be this: Support any pressure that is nonviolent and consistent with Israel’s right to exist. That means backing Palestinian bids at the United Nations. It means labeling and boycotting settlement goods. It means joining and amplifying nonviolent Palestinian protest in the West Bank
But Beinart wrote a book about the crisis three years ago, The Crisis of Zionism. And how long can a crisis last before a movement must make a realistic choice, and give up the old ways of dealing with things? Will Peace Now quit the board of the rightwing Conference of Presidents, which endorses the occupation of Jerusalem?
Of course, anti-Zionists feel vindicated today because they anticipated this government: they see the fascistic strains in the “Jewish democracy” so this coalition is no surprise. As Ali Abunimah tweeted, “Nakba denier @naftalibennett who’s proud of killing Arabs named as Israel’s new Minister of Incitement (education).” Max Blumenthal tweets a report:
New Netanyahu coalition reportedly puts the Prawer Plan for ethnic cleansing back on the table
The Prawer Plan calls for moving more than 30,000 Palestinians off their lands. And yesterday settlers took over another house in Silwan, Jerusalem, according to Peace Now. It never stops. The U.S. never does anything.
And this is all going according to Netanyahu’s plans, Yossi Alpher says. He is playing us with Iran:
a narrow right-wing coalition is what Netanyahu wants; he has consciously flouted the option of a centrist government with Labor, one that could persuade the international community and Israel’s neighbors that he is interested in moving forward on the Palestinian issue. Apparently, he reasons that he can continue to string along the administration in its final 18 months with the help of a friendly Congress and by playing off the Iran issue against pressures regarding Palestine.
Look at Netanyahu meeting yesterday with a bipartisan coalition of Congresspeople. Jeez.