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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. 

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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16 Responses

  1. bcg on March 3, 2020, 9:29 am

    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 the author gives a basically fair and sympathetic review and comes to the same conclusion as Lustick:

    “The two-state-solution mantra of liberal Zionism is becoming more and more dangerous, and liberal Zionists are wasting precious time by their attachment to it. Like the American Jewish leader cited at the outset all but admitted, the belief in two states is arguably more a crutch of one’s Jewish identity than a real assessment of the one state that exists between the river and sea, called Israel.”

  2. Misterioso on March 3, 2020, 10:37 am

    The New York Times pulls back the curtain on “Israel.”

    “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.”

    “Even as Israel has matured from a small, desert nation fighting for its survival into a regional power with an enviable high-tech industry, it has neglected the transportation, education and health-care systems that experts say are vital to its prosperity.”

    “As the country holds its third election in a year, major challenges in each of those areas have drawn precious little attention. Experts warn that without investing heavily, Israel’s ability to keep up with the rest of the advanced world faces a reckoning, and they question whether the country’s fractured political system is even capable of addressing such long-term problems.”

    “Thousands of patients a year are dying from infections in Israel’s hospitals, the most overcrowded in the developed world.”

    “Billions of dollars in economic output — more than Israel’s yearly gains — are going up in fumes as motorists sit in traffic, with no other way to get to work.”

    “And test scores show the schools are failing to prepare students for a modern work force. The achievement gap between rich and poor children has only widened, and an accelerating brain drain is causing some of Israel’s most valuable scientists, doctors and innovators to take their talents overseas.”

    “But investment in health, transportation and education had been declining since the 1970s, when critics say Israel began to prioritize tax cuts, welfare for ultra-Orthodox Jews who study in religious institutions rather than work, and expanding settlements in the West Bank.”

    “The 1970s now look like a crucial pivot point.”

    “Hospital capacity, 3.3 beds per 1,000 residents in the 1970s, has fallen to 1.7 beds now. The number of senior research faculty per capita is half its 1975 peak. Congestion on the roads was about as bad as in Denmark or Belgium; it’s now four-and-a-half times worse.”

    “Per capita economic growth also plummeted: After averaging more than 5 percent a year, it fell to about 1.8 percent in the 1970s, where it remains, according to Dan Ben David, a Tel Aviv University economist who, through his Shoresh Institution, has long advocated investments to turbocharge productivity.”

    “’There’s a huge iceberg ahead,’ he said. ‘And we need to shift the entire course of the ship back to the trajectory that we once were on.’”

    “Israel needs to spend billions to catch up to other advanced countries, studies show. But the projects underway — a first light-rail line in Tel Aviv, an expanded light-rail network in Jerusalem — only scratch the surface.

    “Planned projects, a comptroller’s report said last year, are ‘not expected to address the foreseeable problems in the foreseeable future.'”

    “Starved for too long”

    “Israel’s hospitals are dangerously overcrowded and understaffed. Citizens who grimly count the toll of wars and terrorist attacks now share battle stories of surviving the health-care system.

    “Victoria Duek, 97, languished for 48 hours in a crowded Haifa emergency room after falling and having trouble breathing. A Tiberias hospital has a two-year wait for tonsillectomies. The Nahariya hospital was so overcrowded it asked for donations of blankets.

    “The ultranationalist politician Avigdor Liberman said his 91-year-old mother-in-law was told she would have to wait for months for an urgent MRI.”

    “’After four months, a person does not need an MRI,” he told a radio station. ‘Either they’ve recovered or, God forbid, they’re dead.’

    “Israelis are guaranteed basic coverage under a national health system and are often happy with the care they eventually get. And the country spends a remarkable 7.5 percent of its economic output on health care, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, far below average for advanced economies.

    “But critics say that statistic has become a cruel joke.
    “Dr. Erel Buchinsky, former head of the medical residents’ association, compared his frequent 26-hour shifts to ‘working in a mass-casualty event,’ prioritizing patients who might live over those more likely to die. ‘It’s a horrible reality, and it doesn’t have to be this way,’ he wrote in a viral Facebook post.

    “The 94 percent average occupancy rate in Israeli hospitals is by far the highest in the developed world. The logjam extends throughout the system: Geriatric centers, rehab facilities and local health clinics are all overbooked.

    “A six-minute doctor’s exam, with any eye contact, is a luxury. Specialists make appointments as far as a year in advance. Israel’s doctors are aging out, there aren’t enough medical-school graduates to replace them, and many aspiring doctors are moving to Europe to study, never to return.

    “At Hillel Yaffe hospital in Hadera, Rotem Novoselsky is head nurse in an internal medicine ward built for 36 patients; it often handles 60. Patients there are routinely discharged while still sick.

    “She arrives some mornings to find patients overflowing on gurneys end-to-end in the halls, even in a dining area. With just three nurses on the overnight shift, she said, she sometimes discovers patients who have died unattended.

    “’We work in a state of frustration all the time,’ she said, briefly standing still.
    “With I.C.U. beds scarce, patients on ventilators are left in ordinary wards, and those recovering from surgery often languish in corridors. Experts say the overcrowding is causing the rate of infections to skyrocket: The mortality rate from infections, 38 deaths per 100,000 patients, is by far the worst among economically advanced nations, according to the OECD. (The United States, at 22, is second.)

    “’People are losing their dignity,’ said Dr. Zeev Feldman, a pediatric neurosurgeon. ‘And it kills people. There is no other way to say it.’

    “Government funding has failed to keep pace with a growing, aging population, falling from about 75 percent of total health expenditures to about 65 percent. That erosion has worsened inequality and undercut efficiency, Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, a public-health scholar at Ben-Gurion University, testified last year.

    “’That’s the whole story in short,’ he said.
    “Dr. Feldman say it will cost Israel $6 billion more a year to catch up to the developed world, but Israelis are too willing to count their blessings rather than lobby for change.”

    “Poor teachers, failing schools”

    “Israel now spends more on education than on its military. But the schools are failing, experts say, with ominous consequences not far ahead.

    “Scores on the latest international assessment test, which measures reading, math and science, were among the worst in the advanced world — and they don’t include ultra-Orthodox boys, who barely study those subjects.

    “A key reason is teacher quality. Israel’s teachers score near the bottom of international tests of literacy and numeracy. Starting salaries in elementary schools are around $21,000, about half what American schools pay.

    “Continuing education for teachers is poor and subject to the whims of each new education minister, insiders say. And teachers are increasingly subjected to violence — from students and parents — with little backup from superiors.

    “Worse, the country’s attempts to fix the schools have tended to dumb them down, experts say. English is required, but many students graduate with too few English credits to enter a university. Matriculation tests are not calibrated year-to-year, so politicians wanting to show improvement have just made them easier.

    “Teachers and principals complain of a lack of autonomy, with national officials dictating lesson plans down to the hour, said Ram Shmueli, a long time education activist. Four out of five new teachers leave the field within five years.

    “’They know the salaries are low,’ he said. ‘They come to be teachers because they want to influence society. But if we don’t give them any freedom, they will run away.’

    “The test scores also show widening disparities between Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking pupils, and among Hebrew speakers from different socioeconomic strata.”

    “Economists warn that Israel is splitting into two economies — the booming high-tech sector, which accounts for about 9 percent of jobs, and everything else, which is dragging down productivity rates.”

    • bcg on March 3, 2020, 6:06 pm

      More than one-quarter of Israelis poor or nearly poor’ – “Israel has the highest rate of poverty of any OECD country, according to a National Insurance Institute report published in December 2018, with the poverty line defined as half of the median disposable income, weighted by household size.”

      • Misterioso on March 3, 2020, 7:31 pm


        For the record:

        Newsweek, May 10/18

        “More Israelis are moving to the U.S.—and staying for good”

        “Spurred by the high cost of living, low salaries, and political and demographic trends, Israelis are leaving the country in droves.” By Yardena Schwartz.

        EXCERPTS: “Israel celebrates its 70th birthday in May with the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Yet the country is grappling with an existential crisis—one that doesn’t involve Iranian nukes or Palestinian protests. Spurred by the high cost of living, low salaries, and political and demographic trends, Israelis are leaving the country in droves, trying to build their lives elsewhere, mostly in the United States. Many of these young Israelis are moving to big cities, and yet, even in these often expensive places, they see more opportunities to advance.”

        “The available data is telling, analysts say. Between 2006 and 2016, more than 87,000 Israelis became U.S. citizens or legalized permanent residents, according Newsweek to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That’s up from 66,000 between 1995 and 2005. These figures take into account only those who took the legal route (many Israelis, analysts say, arrive on temporary tourist, student or work visas, then stay). And in addition to the Israelis now living stateside, according to the country’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, hundreds of thousands have moved to Europe, Canada and elsewhere.

        “The country’s brain drain isn’t new. For years, many of its most talented scholars and researchers moved to the U.S., where the salaries are far higher and there are more jobs at top-tier universities. One report by Dan Ben-David, an economist at Tel Aviv University, found that the emigration rate of Israeli researchers was the highest in the Western world. Recently, however, the exodus has expanded to include average young people, many of whom say there’s simply no future in Israel.

        “Though this embattled country has become known as the ‘Startup Nation’ —it has more early-stage tech companies per capita than any other country—the average Israeli has little connection to that prosperous field. According to government data, 8 percent of Israelis work in high-tech, which pays up to seven times the national average salary of $2,765 a month (before taxes). Israel has one of the highest poverty rates and levels of income inequality in the Western world. Meanwhile, it also has one of the highest costs of living. Tel Aviv ranks ninth among the world’s most expensive cities, higher than New York and Los Angeles; five years ago, it ranked 34th. The situation is so dire that a 2013 survey by the financial newspaper Calcalist (the most recent Israeli study conducted on this topic) found that 87 percent of adults—many with children of their own—depend on substantial financial support from their parents.”

      • catalan on March 3, 2020, 10:42 pm

        “More than one-quarter of Israelis poor or nearly poor’ “ Bcg
        Statistics without reference points is simply propaganda. 23 percent of EU citizens are living in poverty. Link: Yes, slightly lower than Israel but very similar. Truth is tough.

      • jon s on March 4, 2020, 8:19 am

        Once again misterioso seems to be engaging in wishful thinking.
        Some people leave, some arrive. All in all the population of Israel is growing nicely.

  3. Ossinev on March 3, 2020, 2:33 pm

    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”

      • Misterioso on March 4, 2020, 10:33 am

        @jon s


        “Israelis just voted against the two state solution” By Abe Silverstein

        The Forward, March 3/2020

        “Exit polls and early results from Monday’s Israeli election predicted a reprise of the first of three elections that began last April: a victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his bloc of right-wing, nationalist, and religious parties.

        “Unlike in September’s vote, when Netanyahu finished a disappointing second and was not close to reaching the 61-seat majority needed to establish a coalition government, this time he is likely to be installed as prime minister in the coming weeks, barring an unlikely intervention by the High Court.

        “There should be no sugar coating what happened. Israelis voted for a government led by an accused criminal who has spent the last year inciting against the country’s Arab minority and undermining its independent institutions, from the military chain of command to the law enforcement system he has slandered as being in the hands of his opponents.

        “What these results also represent is a staggering repudiation of the two-state solution from the majority of Israelis in favor of a vision in which the Palestinians live in permanent legal inferiority to their Israeli neighbors, despite both peoples living under the jurisdiction of the same authorities.

        “American Jews who believe the two-state solution is necessary for Israel to remain a democracy and a Jewish state thus have an important choice to make. Will they respect Israel’s right to commit moral suicide or will they do whatever it takes to stop a catastrophic annexation from happening?

        “Yesterday’s was not an election pitting the ‘peace camp’ of the 1990s against Netanyahu, the long time champion of the status quo. In this campaign, it was Benny Gantz and the opposition Blue and White party that represented the status quo by insisting that no annexation of occupied territory should take place without international and regional cooperation — a pragmatic poison pill that was overlooked by leftists denouncing Gantz as a cheap copy of Netanyahu.

        “Numerically, this was not an overwhelming win for the right. Netanyahu’s 2009 and 2015 election victories were deeper and more robust. If you had faith in Israel after previous rounds, there is no reason to relinquish it on the basis of these results alone.

        “Yet the right-wing government most likely to take shape won’t exist in a vacuum. For at least the next ten months, it will live alongside the Trump administration in Washington, which has committed itself to pursuing a plan that, if implemented, will see Israel annex 30% of the West Bank and the Palestinians relegated to sub-state cantons effectively controlled by Israel.

        “This plan is no longer just the delusions of Jared Kushner and David Friedman. There is now a ‘mapping committee’ on the ground in the West Bank — made up of Americans and Israelis — to determine the future of land that by international laws and norms is not in the sovereign jurisdiction of either country.

        “Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel now at the Council on Foreign Relations, compared this to the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, in which several of the eventual victors of World War I — led by Britain and France – drew the post-Ottoman borders of the Middle East.

        “When a pillar of the U.S.-Israel alliance and the American foreign policy establishment like Ambassador Indyk begins warning of neo-colonialism, perhaps it’s time to stop assuming everything will be OK if we just wait it out. There is still time to halt the annexation train, but it won’t happen if we privilege relationships and connections over Israel’s future as a democracy.

        “First, we must work hard to defeat Donald Trump here in November. If Trump is re-elected, the U.S. position will be one which supports annexation and perpetual Israeli domination over the lives of Palestinians for at least the next four years — a period in which the two-state solution will not survive.

        “Even if a unity government is established between Likud and Blue and White in the coming weeks, the latter can’t be ‘less’ pro-Israel than the U.S. government.

        “The Trump plan needs to be taken off the table, and it will if virtually any of the leading Democrats is elected (Michael Bloomberg, who is unlikely to be the nominee, has been less clear about this than his fellow candidates).

        “Defeating Trump is a necessary but not sufficient step to prevent annexation. Despite what we may sometimes think, not everything is in the hands of the American Jewish community and its establishment organizations.

        “However, it would surely help if we stopped looking to mitigate the consequences of Israel’s actions at every turn, sending the message that we are always willing to support Israel no matter what it becomes.

        “The next time an international body draws up a list of businesses operating in the settlements — the beating heart of what former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called the ‘cancer’ that ends in an apartheid reality — perhaps we shouldn’t rush to Israel’s defense.

        “We need to take a long hard look at the Frankenstein Israel envisioned in the Trump Plan and ask ourselves if we’re willing to support that. If not, it’s time to wake up and realize this could be the future if the designs of annexationists are not thwarted in the coming months.”

        Abe Silberstein is a freelance commentator on Israeli politics and U.S.-Israel relations.

      • Mooser on March 4, 2020, 1:19 pm

        “Two states is the only realistic way to go.” “Jon s”

        “Rabbinical Judaism has a pretty sound fear of merging with other populations. History teaches it that it has precious little to offer; wherever and whenever Jews were given a choice, they left rabbinical Judaism behind. Most Jews over the centuries left Judaism, mostly on their own volition. In order to prevent such merging, you need fences; the gentiles were good enough to create such fences over the years – and once they were removed, most Jews escaped. Therefore, we must create our own fences.” Yossi Gurvitz

        And “Jon s” is a good little Zionist fence-builder. Aren’t we lucky to have people like “Jon s” to protect us from our own worst Jewish impulses.

    • Misterioso on March 4, 2020, 9:39 am

      @jon s

      “All in all the population of Israel is growing nicely.”

      It is the Palestinian population that is “growing nicely.”

      Aug. 15, 2017, Haaretz. EXCERPT: “More Israelis Left Israel Than Moved Back in Six Year Record. 16,700 left and 8,500 came back in 2015, the first year since 2009 that more Israelis exited than returned.” By Lior Dattel.

      • jon s on March 4, 2020, 12:37 pm


        The Palestinian population is growing and so is the Jewish population. The birth rate is relatively high, immigration is increasing and emigration is decreasing.
        I’ve cited the sources in previous comments.

  4. bcg on March 4, 2020, 10:16 am

    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 country that exists in this area has first class citizens, second class citizens and serfs with no political rights.

  5. Maghlawatan on March 10, 2020, 1:22 am

    “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 is going to get a lot worse before it gets worse.

    « No matter how well written or delivered, a speech cannot divert whole societies from a well established course of action. Policies in motion tend to stay in motion ; to change the trajectory of a deeply embedded set of initiatives requires the application of political forces of equal motion » Steve Walt

    Maybe there will be something worth building on when Zionism collapses.

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