The extremism of the center in Israel

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This Thursday was a day of terror in Israel. Almost immediately after an ultra-Orthodox fanatic Yishai Schlisser stabbed six people at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, Jewish extremists perpetrated an arson attack in the village of Douma, near Nablus, killing a one-and-a-half year-old Palestinian toddler.

Both crimes were explicitly condemned by the Israeli Prime-Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, who even expressed his “shock and horror” at the events. Yet, both would not have been possible without the climate of hatred incited by Netanyahu’s own extreme right-wing government.

Indeed, incitement is a staple feature of Netanyahu’s political CV. In the months preceding the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, he addressed protest rallies where the then Prime-Minister of Israel was called “traitor”—a charged echoed by Netanyahu—and was depicted in SS uniform. More recently, he again resorted to labeling his political rivals “a danger to the country,” as he did in the case of Tzipi Livni prior to the March general elections.

Eager to maintain his coalition at any cost, Netanyahu is ready to cater to their interests, which he at least partially shares, such as virtually unlimited construction of new Jewish housing units on the occupied Palestinian territories. As a result, the supporters of the far-right parties that take part in a fragile coalition feel that they can act with impunity, even when it comes to arsons, stabbings, and other deplorable acts.

With criminal expropriation of Palestinian lands being supported by government decrees, crimes against the so-called natural enemies of the settlers and the ultra-religious (namely Palestinian people and whoever else is considered “impure” according to their theological interpretations) become the order of the day.  That is the common background behind Thursday’s violent events: the extremism of the Israeli political authorities normalizes behavior that would have been otherwise construed as an aberration, a criminal exception—in a word, extreme.

Usually, considered in geometrical terms, the center of a circle or the midpoint of a line is the relative standard against which to measure the extremes. However, when the center itself is extreme and extremist, as in present-day Israel, such geometrical logic no longer works. More specifically, the exception is no longer an outlier in relation to the general rule; rather, the general rule itself is exceptional and deranged.

Since its foundation, the State of Israel has understood itself as an exception, be it in geopolitical, historical, or even moral terms. It has been presented as the only “Jewish State” in the world, the only democracy in the Middle East, the only state created as a refuge place from the horrors of World War II… Hence, the paradox: a presumed democracy, reliant on the rule of law that is applicable in equal measure to all its citizens, it persists in a state of exception, wherein this same rule of law is indefinitely suspended, denied its Arab citizens, curtailed by Judaic religious authorities, and so forth.

Now, because Israel routinely sacrifices democratic law to “exceptional” decrees, justified primarily with reference to security concerns and the Jewish character of the polity, it is constitutively unable to comply with international law (which, to be sure, has its undeniable flaws), either. Its extremist position on the international stage is intimately bound to its internal extremism—a constant state of emergency, sustained above all (but not only) by the ongoing occupation of Palestine, that trumps legality.

Although it may appear that the current extremist Israeli government is an outlier or an aberration, it is nothing but an exaggerated version of the tendency that began already in 1948. Netanyahu only built upon the anti-democratic and downright criminal exceptionalism that his country had espoused since its inception. Systematically, throughout his political career, he has undermined any possibility for normalization, indissociable from a just peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, and exploited the growing emergency to consolidate his grip on power. So much so that, on his watch, the political “center” has shifted far to the right and the left-wing opposition has been all but devastated.

Let us thus not be fooled by Netanyahu’s denunciations of the two attacks. Political acts speak louder than words, and the acts of Netanyahu at the head of an extremist government have prepared fertile grounds for the very occurrences that he publically laments. The Israeli Prime-Minister has promised to find and bring to justice those responsible for the death of Ali Saad Dawabsha, the toddler burned alive near Nablus. But is responsibility reducible to lighting a match or a torch and throwing it into an inhabited house? Does it not extend to the example, given by Netanyahu himself, who authorized military operations in Gaza that led to mass murders of Palestinian civilians, which, according to Amnesty International, amount to crimes against humanity?

So, if the condemnations of the two attacks are genuine, and if the notion of responsibility is well and thoroughly considered, then it is high time for Netanyahu to deliver himself to the tribunal of International Court of Justice in The Hague.


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Which is worse, being completely cynical, not giving a crap about the lives and property of the people being disrupted by occupation and then condemning this horrible act with feigned shock, mostly politically/PR motivated? Or, being genuinely shocked, and yet unable to see the connection between “genteel” occupation in the “suburbs” of Jerusalem etc… and the inevitability of this type of crime, committed by the advanced guard that escorts colonial settlement every single time, everywhere,… Read more »

“So, if the condemnations of the two attacks are genuine, and if the notion of responsibility is well and thoroughly considered, then it is high time for Netanyahu to deliver himself to the tribunal of International Court of Justice in The Hague.” I agree, Michael. The dock should be very crowded, though. “Deadly West Bank Arson Surprised No One in Israel’s Defense Establishment The torching of a house in the West Bank on Friday morning, in… Read more »

“Both crimes were explicitly condemned by the Israeli Prime-Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, who [with his fingers crossed behind his back] even expressed his ‘shock and horror’ at the events.”

Good article. I wish somebody in our congress would read it aloud, captured live on CSPAN3.

Such far-reaching conclusions from of two relatively minor events? I understand that the analysis here tries to take a long-term perspective but still anchoring that to these two events, as a kind of the “ultimate proofs” casts doubts on the ingenuity of it all. It clearly transpires that the writer is yet another subscriber to thoroughly anti-Israel attitudes in some quarters in Europe, which by that continue a historical tradition where somehow the Jews are… Read more »