Opinion

Two words that strike terror into a liberal’s heart: ‘Jewish democracy’

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Israel held its third election in a year yesterday and once again the right wing is on top. Netanyahu won a large plurality though he is indicted and about to go on trial on corruption charges. The new “left” bloc of three parties including Labor and Meretz got all of seven seats.

There is now just one address for liberal and leftwing politics in Israel: the Joint List of Palestinian parties, the third largest vote getter with a whopping 15 seats, up from 10 last April. It is said that the Palestinian parties drew Jewish voters. That is something the Joint List wanted: Joint List for a Joint future!

There is no real resistance to policies of annexation and apartheid except from the Joint List. Netanyahu’s chief rival, Benny Gantz, hurt himself among Jewish voters by suggesting and then withdrawing the possibility that he could form a government with the help of the Palestinian parties (Oren Kessler said on i24 News just now). While Trump’s “peace plan,” which cements apartheid, was supported by Gantz’s party and Netanyahu’s: so an overwhelming percentage of Jewish parliamentarians — over 90 by my count — back the destruction of plans to divide the land and measures to annex portions of “Judea and Samaria.”

Let’s be clear about what we see in Israel. This is a “Jewish democracy,” the advancement Israel’s supporters in the U.S. are constantly crowing about. It is a country where the worst fears of Arabs are stoked by politicians, even as the government ethnically cleanses Palestinians. It is a country where any Jewish politician who says he is going to work with Palestinians is quickly marginalized.

Likud ad shows Benny Gantz sitting with Palestinian politicians Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi. March 2020. From Netanyahu’s twitter feed. That image was followed by the one below.
Likud ad shows an Israeli voter reacting to the possibility of Benny Gantz making a political coalition with Palestinian politicians Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi. March 2020. From Netanyahu’s twitter feed.

The Jewish democracy demonstrates just what liberals and lefties always warned you about nationalism. It is intolerant and racist and paranoid and blindered and fascistic, it builds a security state armed to the teeth against multiple enemies. And three elections inside a year in Israel offer indelible proof that This is what Jewish nationalists want. A society governed by an authoritarian leader, no matter how corrupt. Just so long as there are no Arabs anywhere near power.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian leader, said the election was a victory for annexation and apartheid, and Yossi Alpher at Americans for Peace Now says that’s the sad math of the Israeli electorate:

Gantz stumbled. He knew a large majority of Israeli Jews were enthusiastic about Trump and his policies. A dove at heart, Gantz tried to persuade voters that he, like Netanyahu, would annex territories, but only “after consultation with the international community”. Too many potential Gantz supporters got the message: when the smoke clears, he won’t really annex because the international community and the Arab world have made it clear that they vigorously oppose annexation.

By the same token, Netanyahu repeatedly hammered away with the argument that without the Joint Arab List, Gantz would have no coalition and that the Arab MKs are a traitorous fifth column. Gantz denied unconvincingly that he would need the support of Arab MKs. Yet he could never point to alternative support… Anti-Arab voters did the math.

This political trendline has been in place for 50 years now, since the 1967 war at least: The secular social democrats who founded the state (Labor Zionists) have lost out to the right wing of Revisionist Zionists. Even Meretz cast its Palestinian Knesset member overboard to run this time, in that three-way “left” coalition that included a rightleaning leader.

The definition of insanity is said to be ignoring the same result when it happens again and again, and we must ask all liberal Zionists: What is your vision of a “Jewish democracy”? How will it come about?

For years now liberal Zionist organizations have been working against Netanyahu, to their credit; and what do they have to show for it? As a panel at AIPAC’s policy conference said yesterday, Israeli voters don’t care what American Jews have to say about their elections. No, because in the end those American Jews have been completely docile, supporting the “Jewish democracy” no matter how xenophobic, murderous, and discriminatory. Even liberal Zionist organizations have embraced extravagant aid to Israel and bipartisan political support for Israel and condemned the nonviolent boycott movement as “antisemitic.” With that sort of acceptance, why would Israelis ever care about some mild demurrals?

Last night’s election is yet another wakeup call to American progressives… There is only one way forward for a true left/liberal democrat. To recognize that the only hopeful signs in Israeli society come from the Palestinian politicians. They are the leaders who envision a pluralistic society and who hate Jim Crow. They head the third largest party and who knows what they could become — if only non-Jews were allowed to vote in territories where Israel is sovereign?

There is a small price to pay for such a political alliance. To stick the idea of Jewish democracy in the dustbin of history.

H/t Scott Roth and James North. 

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Phil asks “…and we must ask all liberal Zionists: What is your vision of a “Jewish democracy”? How will it come about? ” This is a relevant continuation of that whole discussion, I think: The Tablet – which I view as a discount outlet for cheap hasbara – just ran a review of Ian Lustick’s “Paradigm Lost: From Two State Solution to One State Reality”, a book which has also been discussed here. I think… Read more »

The New York Times pulls back the curtain on “Israel.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/01/world/middleeast/israel-election-issues.html “Israel, ‘Start-up Nation,’ Groans Under Strains of Growth and Neglect” New York Times, March 1,2020, by David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner “The election on Monday might break a yearlong political deadlock. But huge challenges in health, education and transit are decades in the making.” EXCERPTS: “Even as Israel has matured from a small, desert nation fighting for its survival into a regional power… Read more »

Magid in his review of Lustik`s book sums the 2SS farce neatly:
“Talk of a realistic two-state solution is akin to talk of a flat earth”

Jon s says “Two states is the only realistic way to go.” People are missing the point: there is in fact, in reality, only one country that controls everything essential from Jordan to the sea. Believing that this country is going to break off a piece of itself for the Palestinians is like imagining that the U.S. will give Texas back to the Mexicans; it’s theoretically possible and highly unlikely. It’s just that the only… Read more »

“Israeli voters don’t care what American Jews have to say about their elections” That’s trauma. Maybe it’s time to talk about why Israel is authoritarian, why it worships violence and why Sabra kids are educated to hate. Israel is a settler-colonial project driven by the survivors of genocide. That is a gruesome starting point. Liberal US Jews have been fed bullshit about Israel from the get go. Nobody on Madison Ave understood group trauma. Israel… Read more »