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.