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Why Israeli election results may have a positive aspect

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Many self-proclaimed liberals are bemoaning the results of the Israeli elections, talking about what a defeat this is: a major win by Netanyahu, Likud and the right-wing bloc, the Zionist left is historically weak.

But is there a silver-lining?

I think so. I think Israel is showing its true colors. And if that helps drive the point that Israel is just not liberal (even if you’re one of those who believe that Zionism can be liberal – I don’t), then this is a crucial and important point in time, which may bring forth valuable realizations and decisions from those who have been sitting on the fence. And I think liberal-Zionism is sitting on the fence by definition, because you’re sitting on a contradiction in terms.

It’s not as if this election was a competition between right and left. The opposition to Netanyahu’s Likud was from a ‘soft right’ centrist bloc called Blue-White. And Netanyahu achieved the victory with three corruption cases pending. It’s almost like fighting with your hands behind your back, and you’re still winning, and the left is growing weaker!

Even if you thought that liberal-Zionism had a real chance, this is the time to wake up and see what the Zionist reality anno 2019 is. In that Israel, there is no agency to avert the right-wing ultra-nationalist plunge, which is natural to Zionism.

And if the help can’t be found there, in Israel, it has to be found elsewhere. It’s important to locate where the answer may come from, and where not.

It is not with ease, that a person can say that this result is “maybe… for the best” – as Israeli journalist Gideon Levy says at the end of his piece today in Haaretz, titled “Israel’s New Wretched Republic”. Levy:

On Tuesday, voters said a resounding yes to this Israel. The choice wasn’t as hard as it may have seemed: a choice between a government of generals, which would have continued the masquerade to the applause of the world and enlightened Israelis, or another Netanyahu government shaping Israel in its image, without pretense or apologies.

It’s not easy, and it shouldn’t be, to look at this with any sort of pleasure. Because you know that those who will suffer the consequences of this ultra-nationalist orgy are mostly the Palestinians.

But the liberal Zionist illusion lies in the hope that a more enlightened Zionist will somehow lead the way towards peace, towards freedom, justice and equality. That’s just not happening in Israel, and it wouldn’t happen with Gantz nor with Lapid. And therefore, it really doesn’t matter which Zionist leader wins the elections in today’s Israel. The balance is always tilted against Palestinians, and it’s becoming more overtly so, with less pretense.

But the last thing these liberal-Zionists want to do is to give up on Zionism. Even if reality shows that this is Zionism’s true face and destiny, they will deny it. Some will even blame the Palestinians for not doing enough to change it. Like Forward editor Batya Ungar-Sargon, who was saddened by the low turnout of Palestinian Israelis:

This makes me so sad. I completely understand it; it’s not the job of Israeli Arabs to fix Israel’s dysfunctional democracy. But it’s just devastating that even Palestinians who have the right to vote get more dignity out of boycotting than out of exercising that right.

You see, she is saddened that Arabs don’t do more, even though no matter what they do, no one in the establishment wants their partnership for any real governance. Can you blame them for not wanting to vote for such an Apartheid state, that only uses them as tokens of its supposed ‘democracy’? People like Batya Ungar-Sargon can criticize this supposed democracy lightly as ‘flawed’ to avoid calling it a sham. As a bonus she indirectly attacks the notion of boycott in general, presenting it as an immature and irresponsible reflex, as opposed to the mature and responsible sensibility of the privileged Zionist colonist who utilizes ‘democracy’ as an instrument.

At some point, your definitions of ‘democracy’ have to lose their meaning. Calling Israel a ‘democracy’ (not to mention ‘the only democracy’) is becoming a desperate clinging to the last straw of appearance. A desperate clinging to the hope that since it’s just ‘flawed’, it can be fixed.

I go back to basics on this, to the founding act of the state – the Nakba. Remember the history lesson from Professors Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, in their 2017 UN commissioned report on Israeli apartheid:

The first general policy of Israel has been one of demographic engineering, in order to establish and maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel. As in any racial democracy, such a majority allows the trappings of democracy — democratic elections, a strong legislature — without threatening any loss of hegemony by the dominant racial group. [P. 31]

This is not just some archaic historical reference. This is a current and guiding principle for Israel, and Israel will not fix it. Israel exists on this principle and upon this act (as well as similar subsequent acts). Since Israel will not address this, everything that grows out of this is simply the blossoming of a rotten tree. This is Zionism, and it can’t help how much liberal cosmetics are applied: Zionists, including ‘liberal’ ones, do not want to address it in any meaningful way, period.

If you follow this logic, then it leads, inevitably, to what we are seeing today. Liberalism is not a fruit of Zionism – it is a masking of it. What we see today, with unabashed racism (which has not even been countered by the Blue-White opposition in any meaningful way), is Israel as it was destined to become, as it was under the makeup.

And that must be a call to action if ever there was one.

If finally it becomes clear that Zionism is the undemocratic ideology that it always was, and that even if you believed in ‘liberal Zionism’, that no one has agency to exercise any sort of meaningful liberalism in today’s Israel, then you must oppose it.

It’s not because you necessarily believe that Israel cannot become a liberal place. On the contrary: you oppose it because you believe that Israelis are people like everyone else, but that they are on a course of destruction that only outside pressure and outside forces can avert.

Finally, Palestinians are not a minor, ancillary aspect in all of this, as may appear from the looks of their representation in the Israeli parliament and Israeli society in general. They are front and center. They are the issue. In the Greater Israel of 2019, they are the majority – the dispossessed, disenfranchised, occupied, tortured and imprisoned majority, suffering under the colonial entity called Zionism and Israel, aka Jewish State. There is simply no real agency to change this in Israel today, if there ever was.

If the results of this election may in any way hasten this recognition, it would be a good thing.

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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16 Responses

  1. Kay24 on April 12, 2019, 5:01 am

    An interesting article by Robert Fisk.

    No more excuses – Israeli voters have chosen a country that will mirror the brutal regimes of its Arab neighbours

    If the west can forgive an Arab government that bombs Yemen, they can go on forgiving an Israeli government that bombs Gaza

  2. Misterioso on April 12, 2019, 9:45 am

    More words of wisdom from Professor Lawrence Davidson:

    “Are Democracy and Despotic Racism Compatible? An Analysis” (12 April 2019) by Professor Lawrence Davidson

    Part I—The Israeli Model and Its American Supporters

    On 25 February 2019, the Jewish American publication Forward, printed a remarkable opinion piece by Joshua Leifer. Leifer, who had worked in Israel for the anti-establishment +972 Magazine, is currently an associate editor of Dissent. His piece in the Forward was entitled “Wake Up, American Jews: You’ve Enabled Israel’s Racism for Years.”

    Leifer begins by saying that the Israeli right wing political parties have always been racist, though there was a time, back in the 1980s, when they objected to being too upfront about this. Thus, for the sake of public relations, they held their violent and despotic fringe—the Kahanists—at arm’s length. As Leifer puts it, what was frowned upon was the style rather than the substance of “explicit, violent racism.” That objection is now gone. The goal of a “Jewish supremacist state” is out in the open—an explicit political goal. And the Palestinians, including those who are Israeli citizens, are to be condemned to “forever live subjugated under military occupation, confined to isolated Bantustans, or … expelled.” Those Jews, both Israelis and diaspora Jews, who object to this process will be labeled as “traitors.”

    Having established these facts on the ground, Leifer asks “how has the American Jewish establishment responded?” His answer is, they have either been silent or, more often, have actively sought to enable the power of Israel’s despotic racism. They have cooperated with, lobbied for, and raised money to underpin Israel’s racist policies. Of course, a Zionist is sure to assert that the lobbying and money are pursued for the sake of Israeli security. Yet, today’s Israeli leaders don’t define security, with the possible exceptions of Gaza and the Lebanese frontier, in terms of borders. Instead security is defined in terms of achieving and maintaining Jewish supremacy in all territory under Zionist control. This is why all of Israel’s Zionist parties have pledged never to include the token number of Arabs in the Knesset in a governing coalition.

    In their effort to support Zionist Israel, America’s establishment Jewish leaders have proven themselves willing to undermine the constitutional freedoms of their own native country, as has been the case with their relentless attacks on the right of free speech as practiced in the boycott Israel movement—BDS. In the end, there can be no more convincing proof that these organizations serve as de facto agents of a foreign power, than to see how their leadership willingly discards the modern principles of civil and human rights found in the U.S. Constitution—to say nothing of international law—in order to support a state that openly pursues apartheid ends.

    Leifer offers two possible reasons for why establishment Jewish organizations in the U.S. have chosen this path. The first possibility is “willful ignorance,” that is, a psychological inability to face the truth about a state that they, as American Jewish leaders, have always seen as an ultimate haven if a new Holocaust threat arises. The second possibility is that the leadership of the American Jewish organizations are themselves conscious racists when it comes to a Jewish supremacist state. According to Leifer, “No one exemplifies this better than Ambassador David Friedman, whose rhetoric—calling JStreet “worse than kapos”—mirrors the kind of rhetoric popular on the Israeli right.”

    Part II—Racism Beyond the Israeli Right

    This is a strong, and quite searing, condemnation of Israeli society and its American Jewish allies. Still, things can and do get worse. On 4 April 2019 the British anti-Zionist Jewish writer Tony Greenstein posted an essay entitled “There Is Nothing That Netanyahu Has Done That Labour Zionism Didn’t Do Before Him.” Greenstein begins by citing an 11 March 2019 piece in Haaretz written by Amira Haas, one of the few prominent non-Zionist Jewish journalists still working in Israel. Haas draws attention to the fact that “when Israeli governments in the 1960s and 1970s worked hard to steal Palestinian land while quoting God’s promises to atheists, they paved the way for parties promoting Jewish supremacy.” Thus, as Greenstein puts it: “It is often forgotten that it wasn’t Likud but the Israeli Labour Alignment which helped to launch the settler movement.”

    The remorseless absorption of Palestinian land and the oppressive treatment of its native population is not the work solely of the Israeli right wing. From the beginning, all of the major Zionist political parties, left and right, supported these policies as a way of fulfilling Zionist destiny.

    Haas is unflinching in her characterization of their actions. For her, this “racist messianism” smacks of the policy of “Lebensraum” or “the urge to create living space.” Haas goes on to lament the fact that “we thought that in the end, the heads of the Labour movement would learn from the expansionist impulses of other nations. After all, they were the sons and brothers of the victims of Lebensraum.” In other words, at least in this policy of expansion and expulsion, all Israeli governing coalitions have adopted behaviors toward the Palestinians reminiscent of those practiced by the persecutors of Europe’s Jews.

    Part III—The Question Answered

    Considering that Israel and its supporters often proclaim that it is a Western-style democracy, and given the bit of history laid out above, we can ask if democracy and racist despotism can in fact be compatible. And, while the example of Israel serves as our backdrop for this query, we can consider the question generically. Can any democracy prove compatible with racist despotism?

    Historically, the answer is an obvious yes. All that needs to happen is that a powerful group within the nation identifies itself as a privileged elite and reserves democratic procedures and privileges for itself, while condemning others to discrimination, segregation, or worse. Again, this posture has nothing to do with Jewishness. Any ethnicity or self-identified group can adopt it—based on color, religion, gender, or something else. The much-idealized ancient democracy of Athens did it based on gender and citizenship linked to birth. The United States ran as a selective democracy/racist despotism that practiced slavery until the middle of the 19th century while statutory discrimination persisted until the 1960s. Recent events indicate a revival of virulent white supremacism.

    If there is a remedy to this it is in the rule of law functioning as an enforced regulatory process—one linked to a tenets of human rights. The U.S. Bill of Rights and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights are good, if incomplete models. Politics, including democratic politics, has to be constitutionally regulated to assure equity (much like economies), and the regulations have to be applied consistently until they become ingrained as natural expectations within the consciousness of the citizenry. This probably requires generations of equalitarian practice. And, even then, what you achieve is the minimizing of the infiltration of corruptive bias, and other such variants corrosive of genuine democracy, into the system. The truth is that you probably cannot eliminate the threat altogether.

    Getting back to Israel: under the present circumstances, there is no reason to believe that the outcome of the recent 9 April 2019 Israeli elections would have changed the fate of either the country’s Jews or the Palestinians. And, now that we know that Benjamin Netanyahu and his rightwing Likud Party will lead the next coalition government, it is certain that the illegal Zionist colonization of the West Bank, and its accompanying oppression, will continue apace. This, by the way, is simply the maintenance of a long-standing status quo—a conscious policy in its own right. And, it is a policy that reflects the fact that “for years, most Israelis have passively or actively allowed values of equality, justice, and yes, peace, to go by the wayside.”

    So what is the legacy of Zionism? Is it the establishment of a genuine democracy in the Middle East? Is it even the realization of a haven for the world’s Jews against the next Holocaust? No, it is neither of these. It is rather the melding of an elitist pseudo-democracy with racist despotism—the realization of an elitist fortress from which Israel maintains distinctly undemocratic control of a hinterland full of conquered people. To paraphrase the odious Israeli Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, this whole setup smells nothing like democracy. It smells to me like fascism.

    Lawrence Davidson
    [email protected]


  3. CHUCKMAN on April 12, 2019, 9:58 am

    “But is there a silver-lining?

    “I think so. I think Israel is showing its true colors.”

    Does that mean when soldiers hiding behind a fence kill 300 unarmed civilians demonstrating for basic rights, it is not showing its true colors?

    Or that the desperate situation of that concentration camp called Gaza does not show Israel’s true colors?

    The “true colors” are there brutally on display week-in, week-out for all to read about and even see, but it makes no difference. None.

    When power is great enough and it is willing to be brutal enough, it gets away with pretty much what it wants.

    Just look at the United States, Israel’s sponsor. It is killing in a dozen countries. It openly tries to overturn democratic government. It assassinates people on an industrial scale.

    Do we hear huge objections?

    Not at all.

    The same US has emasculated or intimidated all kinds of international organizations from the UN and WTO to Amnesty International and the International Court and others.

    There are no effective international forums from which to speak.

    The press? Corporate. Totally loyal to American and Israeli atrocities.

    It is a very dark time, and evil seems to be winning completely in the West.

  4. genesto on April 12, 2019, 12:34 pm

    It’s refreshing to see that more and more experts are understanding that masking the situation, as Liberal Zionism has done for so long, is counterproductive to the movement towards Palestinian justice. It’s time to dismiss discussion of the 2SS once and for all, accept Israel and the Occupied Territories (including Gaza) as comprising a single state and work to change the apartheid nature of that state to a democracy with de jure, if not de facto, equal rights for all Jews and non Jews living there.

    Israel, the West Bank and Gaza need to be within a single state, with a single capitol, and, at least, the beginnings of the ‘beacon of light’ democracy the founders of Israel once purported it to be.

    • Citizen on April 13, 2019, 6:55 am

      Two things work:
      BDS, under First Amendment.
      Stance: equal rights under rule of law.

  5. Donald on April 13, 2019, 9:45 am

    Some Americans maintain their illusions. I saw one commenter elsewhere ( nobody famous, just a blog commenter) saying that moderate and liberal Israelis should unite in protest against Netanyahu. Unite to do what?

    And the NYT just had an editorial where they cited an Israeli warning that over the next forty years, Israel would have to choose whether it would become an apartheid state. As usual, whatever happens, the danger of apartheid is always in the future.

  6. Citizen on April 13, 2019, 2:05 pm
  7. Abe Bird on April 13, 2019, 2:44 pm

    Hamas was established as a terrorist movement, an arm of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. They took advantage of Israel’s desire to give more independence to the Gazans in late 1980s and allowed them to create a social organization for the locals. But it turns out that the Arabs can’t be trusted. Very quickly, their warm relationship with their brethren gave boost to terror forces to emerge and be formed.

    You deny the first rule of terrorists: a terrorist organization cannot be democratic. The second rule: a democratic regime can’t be a terror group.

    So calling Hamas democratic is pathetic joke.
    How can a terror group Hamas rules Gaza for 12 years without elections? How is Gaza a democracy and there are no parties but only terrorist groups that are also fighting amongst themselves?

    The Gazans are unfortunate because they chose a terrorist organizations to lead them and now they are stuck with it. The popular revolt, a month ago, only attests to the size of the anomaly in a situation in which a terrorist organization imposes a harsh reality on the civilian population, devoid of means and weapons to defend themselves against the terrorist ruler Hamas.

    How exactly do you prove your claim that Israel opposes democracy among her neighbors? Do you always blame the Jews for your own faults? I thought you already have leant the lesson.
    After all, the claim that Israel embraces the tyrants in Saudi Arabia and Egypt does not mean that it opposes democracy there, but only that it is concerned about its interests in the face of a difficult Islamic reality. And in the case as you interpretate democracy – does the US, Europe, Russia, China, Japan and India are not democracies because they have close relations with non-democratic Arab/Islamic countries? Or you just refrain exclusively to Israel just to unfairly attack her?
    Does the fact that al-Sissi was elected president in Egypt for the third time in a row in democratic elections prove to you that Egypt is Not a democracy? On what basis? In any case why don’t you activate the same checking standards on Hamas and PLO?

    Anti-Semitism in the West raises its head, and it uses their tactics to discredit the Jews as if they were today’s Nazis, and the Arabs who always aspired to exterminate the Jews in Israel, as they have learned from their Nazi ally in the 1930s and1940s, now called peace lovers.

    You ignore the fact that Islamic forced of every kind are fighting among themselves for decades all around the world. Not a Jew involved.
    Gaza is controlled by an insane Islamist terrorist organization that was on its own initiative at war with Israel, so Gaza’s citizens suffer from the result of their elected terror regime.
    Yet Gaza also has a border with Egypt, so why don’t you make a similar claim against Egypt that closed the border for many years even Hamas didn’t shoot one bullet toward Sinai? So why do you avoiding and ignoring that fact?

    This testifies that you’re dishonest and you make all efforts to conceal facts to in order to reinforce your lies.

    Israel does not provide Gaza with anything, just as any other state doesn’t. Gaza buys everything it needs or can from and through Israel. Israel is not interfering in the Gaza Strip’s consumption basket, apart from understandable and justifiable preventing weapons and terror means to go in. Therefore, if you call Gaza a “concentration camp,” then you should turn your to complaints to your “democratic” Hamas.

    The fact that the residents of the “camp” have enough weapons to attack Israel only attests to the absurdity of your claim. If Hamas pays every child’s parents 100 shekels to commit suicide action on the fence, then you are a moral partner of Hamas and share their Hamas golden calf sacrifice culture.

    You are right that there is an increasing number of young Arab people immigration from Gaza to Europe and Americas. Immigration exists also from Judea and Samaria Arab population. More and more Arabs are willingly to emigrate to the West as Blacks do from Africa and Hispanics from South Africa. Such emigration has always been, yet the migration scale from the rest of the Arab countries and Africa is still much greater. In other words, young Palestinian are only awakening in last couple of years and they are looking for their future in the West. As far as the Hamas brutality towards its own people is higher the more local young Arabs wish to emigrate out. There is no doubt that this is a natural positive process.

    • Bumblebye on April 13, 2019, 7:20 pm

      With over 100 years of brutal experience, Palestinians and other Arabs have long since realised that those who are entitled to “nationality” (but not as we know it elsewhere in the world) in israel are 100% NEVER to be trusted.

      Anything else is false commentary.

    • annie on April 13, 2019, 8:50 pm

      Hamas was established as a terrorist movement

      no it wasn’t. the name HAMAS is the arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”.

      the Arabs can’t be trusted

      how does this racism even pass moderation?

      the first rule of terrorists:

      do you have a source for this so called “first rule” and did you just pull it out of your derriere?

      that’s as far as i got on your comment abe.

      • oldgeezer on April 13, 2019, 10:39 pm

        I read up to the end of that section!

        “You deny the first rule of terrorists: a terrorist organization cannot be democratic. The second rule: a democratic regime can’t be a terror group. ”

        A) Those rules to not exist.
        B) Those rules do not stand up to the remotest comparison with reality.

        It took me a few words longer for it to sink in that Abe was just making it all up as he went along.

        Abe? Does your post accurately reflect how the zionist terrorist organizations operate?

      • gamal on April 14, 2019, 6:36 am

        “It took me a few words longer for it to sink in ”

        That’s how Abe stands up for his Righteousness, by sounding like Bowers or the nameless guy in Christchurch, any actual Jews not realise the insane recklessness of this vicious racist idiocy, as the late Sheikh Badawi said ” It makes no sense at all for minorities to target other minorities”

      • annie on April 14, 2019, 1:12 pm

        my first instinct was to google this so called “rule”. then i thought, why on earth should i go on some goose chase trying to verify this ridiculous allegation? yeah, abe pulled it out of his derriere and then pretended he was a rule maker for the sake of argument.

    • eljay on April 14, 2019, 11:31 am

      || Abe Bird: … a terrorist organization cannot be democratic. … ||

      Sure it can, just like a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” can be democratic.

      || … a democratic regime can’t be a terror group. … ||

      It can’t be a “terror group”, but it can be a terror regime.

      || … Do you always blame the Jews for your own faults? … ||

      I blame myself for my faults. You Zionists anti-Semitically blame all Jews for the faults of Zionism and Israel.

      || … Anti-Semitism in the West raises its head, and it uses their tactics to discredit the Jews as if they were today’s Nazis … ||

      I agree that it’s wrong: Jews (or “the Jews”) should not be held responsible for the actions of Zionists or Israel.

      Which makes it both odd and troubling that you Zionists work so hard to anti-Semitically conflate Zionism and the Israel will all Jews and all Jews with Zionism and Israel.

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