For anyone following the Israeli elections from afar, the polling this week has been very dispiriting indeed. The country prefers Netanyahu as leader. And though the opposition party will likely surpass Netanyahu’s party next Tuesday, what kind of opposition is it anyway?
The opposition refuses to break bread with the “Arab” parties. It runs to Netanyahu’s right on Gaza. No one even debates withdrawing from the occupation, after 52 years. And rightwing parties dominate the path to the premiereship.
One liberal Zionist prepares his American flock for the Israeli spring that isn’t:
my hunch is that Netanyahu is ultimately going to be at the head of a far right-wing government after everything shakes out
Here is something even more dismal to consider. The polling on young/old Israelis. The young love Netanyahu.
That’s the opposite of idealism. You might even say it’s fascism: the identification of the young with a strongman. So things are only going to stay rightwing for a while…
As an anti-Zionist, these numbers don’t surprise me. We have long contended that “a Jewish state” established in a land that is half-Palestinian, whose Palestinian subjects have unendingly resisted the project, is not a good idea. And not just for Palestinians. Hannah Arendt long ago said that by so openly defying the will of its neighbors, Israel faced an inevitable and unenviable fate: it would become a Sparta state, a garrison of a country, worshiping force. This election only demonstrates the accuracy of Arendt’s prophecy.
The endless talk about Israel’s “tough… brutal neighborhood” is also a fulfillment of Arendt’s prophecy. Israelis have a bunker mentality, seeing never-ending threats from non-Jews in their midst.
On the one hand, it’s impossible/a-pipe-dream to imagine Palestinians being fully enfranchised in that country. But if they were, do you think Netanyahu would have a ghost of a chance?
The ultimate challenge of our work here is to Americans. What you see is what you get: This is Israel, this is what the ideology of Jewish nationalism has made, a government and society isolated from its own region and many of its own people. A society whose failure to separate religion and state means that the isolation has only gotten worse.
Marilyn Neimark said it eloquently, and kindly, in a synagogue on a spring night six years ago:
Has Israel ever been a democracy? And if we add the reasonable caveat that no country lives up to the best ideals of democracy, then maybe it’s better to ask, over these 65 years has Israel been tracing an arc that bends toward justice, speaking of Martin Luther King, of course. If the answer is No, could it be because no matter the potential merits and good will of the founding plan, the effort to establish and sustain the Jewish character of the intended Jewish democracy doomed the democratic character from the start, and it’s been spiraling downward ever since? For whatever the starting point was, I think we mostly agree that Israel has become less democratic in recent years, and every time the separation between religion and state dwindles, free speech is curtailed, or minority rights are trampled, it is … in the name of preserving the state’s Jewish character– that is, Jewish hegemony.
Americans have been able to deny this reality for many years. Just listen to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and Cory Booker groveling at AIPAC last week. Or Pete Buttigieg after taking an Israel lobby trip to Israel. Everything’s great over there.
Liberal Zionists know better, of course. They struggle with how hard it is to preserve a “Jewish democracy.” They are the ones now caught in the middle. Years after declaring that the Jewish democracy faces a crisis, the crisis only gets worse, the democracy only gets less representative. They have tried to argue that Netanyahu has hijacked Israeli society. But even if Netanyahu is gone next week, Jim Crow is stronger than ever.
This election is reminding us that Netanyahu’s policies represent an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews. They don’t give a damn about Palestinians. Americans must ask themselves, Do we?
H/t Scott Roth.