November 4, 2022
On November 1, Israelis went to the polls for the fifth time in the last four years. As in the four earlier elections, peace and reconciliation were not the issues that would determine the outcome. The growing power of a messianic Jewish hegemony would be on display and, as the results now show, determined the nature of the next Israeli government.
This might seem surprising because 2022 has seen a significant spike in violence that had been recently described by the United Nations Mideast Envoy as on track to make it the deadliest year for the Palestinian people since 2008. But if, anything, the campaign for the votes of the 80 percent of the Israeli population that is Jewish was about anything but peace. But for the Israeli Jewish voter the election pitted those who were willing to be outspoken about Jewish supremacy against those who still felt it necessary to mask their beliefs.
As a critic of Israeli policy and its brutal treatment of the Palestinian people, this was not a surprise. But I have been surprised by the inability of so many American Jews to see a reality that is less and less possible to ignore– that they are willing participants in the apartheid enterprise that Israel has become. For them, the loss of those who still talked softly was a shock.
The backdrop of this election was that the situation for Palestinians had gotten so bad that the UN Envoy, Tor Wennesland, recently told the UN Security Council that “mounting hopelessness, anger, and tension have once again erupted into a deadly cycle of violence that is increasingly difficult to contain,” and “too many people, overwhelmingly Palestinian, have been killed and injured…the immediate priority is to work to calm the situation and reverse the negative trends on the ground…but the goal must be…to empower and strengthen the Palestinian Authority and build towards a return to a political process.”
The election’s results demonstrated how that the dark side of the Israeli body politic has become transcendent. Remember that it was the policies of a government that was seen as “moderate” that had brought us to this moment.
For too many Progressive American Jews and the organizations that claim to speak for them it was possible to ignore the growing reality of that Israeli Jews cared little about the lives of Palestinians, both citizens and those living under the heel of the occupation. As long as Israeli leaders paid lip service to a the getting to a “2-state solution” sometime in the future, the reality of oppression could be ignored.
The party that emerged from this election as the third largest and which will ensure the shape of the next government, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength), was very clear, as reported by The Times of Israel, about its goals. “Among the most prominent policy positions laid out by…Otzma Yehudit, either in the party’s manifesto or verbally, include encouraging Arab citizens of Israel to emigrate; annexing the West Bank without affording Palestinians the right to vote or other civil rights; imposing the death penalty for terrorists; using live fire against Palestinian rioters; immunity from prosecution for IDF soldiers for military actions they carry out; overhauling the legal system, crimping the High Court’s ability to strike down legislation and giving the government the ability to pack the bench with ideological compatriots…Otzma’s goal is ‘to extend [Israeli] sovereignty to all parts of the Land of Israel which were liberated in the Six Day War and arrange the status of the enemies of Israel in the Arab countries surrounding us.’ The next related policy goal is on encouraging the emigration of Arab citizens of Israel.”
Party Leader Itamar Ben-Gvir was clear about his vision of what the future looked like: “Jews and Arabs can live together but the State of Israel is the master of the house. We returned here after 2,000 years of exile, the Bible teaches us that Jews were present here on every part of the land and every field, not just in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but first of all in Hebron and Nablus. Our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and King David were here. I am not a racist, I don’t hate Arabs, I hate terrorists and those who want to hurt us and there I do want a hard hand.”
Palestinians do not exist in this vision. They have been erased, and replaced by generic “Arabs.”
For otherwise progressive Jews who have looked the other way as the oppression of the Palestinian people has gone on year after year, decade after decade, this election has made it harder not see that the occupation has also corroded the democracy that Israel claims to be. But what are they ready to do about it?
Consider what Susie Gelman, board chair of the Israel Policy Forum, a progressive organization that describes itself as “dedicated to advancing the goal of a two-state solution in order to preserve Israel’s future as Jewish, democratic, and secure”, wrote in a Times of Israel blog just days before the election.
“ It takes an excessive measure of cognitive dissonance to condemn displays of racist supremacy at home as American citizens while dismissing similar displays as irrelevant or beyond our legitimate concerns when they so prominently occur in the Jewish state that is our historical homeland…It is not our place as American Jews to dictate to Israel what it must or should do, but it is absolutely our place to let Israelis know, from a place of love and friendship, that there are some actions that will bring with them predictable consequences and to ask them to prevent these consequences from being realized when the situation is warranted.”
But is she ready to lead her organization to an understanding that Israel has become an apartheid state and must be shunned until that changes? Will she be willing to join with those supporting non-violent strategies that might include Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS)?
Gelman, to her credit, was willing to publicly condemn the words. In this she went beyond the major organizations which claim to speak for American Jewry. They, according to a recent Haaretz article, chose to duck the question, put their head in the sand, and keep whistling in the dark.
But even in this condemnation, not one word about the Palestinian people and the reality of their life under Israeli control. It is as if the words that she finds so offensive are just words and are not already playing out minute by minute on the ground, as described by Wennesland.
What this election has done is make very clear what Israel is in 2022. It is not the beacon of liberal democracy that its supporters, especially its progressive supporters wanted to believe it was in order to ignore its reality. As Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, “ No one should be surprised by what happened. It could not have been otherwise. It began with the occupation – pardon the annoying and clichéd mention of that – but that is where it really began, and it had to culminate in a government of racism and transfer. Fifty years of incitement against the Palestinians and scare tactics about them cannot culminate in a government of peace. Fifty years of almost wall-to-wall Israeli support, from the Zionist left and right, for the occupation, could not end any other way than with Ben-Gvir as the popular hero. A never-ending occupation could only lead to the Benjamin Netanyahu-Itamar Ben-Gvir government. For if you’re going to have an occupation, then you need to embrace its genuine version, the one that is not the least bit abashed about it – the Ben-Gvir version It was simply impossible to continue with the illusions – Jewish and democratic, an enlightened occupation, a temporary occupation – and that whole tired repertoire of phrases. The time for truth had arrived, and that is what Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir are going to tell us.”
In an opinion piece following the election, a young Israeli Palestinian writer, Hanin Majadli, summed up the challenge before pro-Israel progressives. “There is no solution that can skip the most basic things: recognition that a regime of ethnic supremacy is not a legitimate regime. Hiding at the end of every sentence about Israel being “Jewish and democratic” is Rabbi Meir Kahane, even if you imagined something closer to Zehava Galon or Merav Michaeli (two left-wing Israeli politicians). It is time to realize that this situation is not decreed by fate. This resounding defeat could actually mark a new beginning, the beginning of taking responsibility for dismantling the regime of Jewish supremacy. A new start for building an alternative…”
Will those who have blindly supported Israeli government policies learn their lesson and join me in challenging the Israeli government, even in questioning the concept of Israeli Zionism as Jewish Supremacy? Or will they continue to mutter the empty phrases of liberal democracy and a two-state solution while the Israeli Jewish Population ignores them and brutalizes Palestinians?