December 29, 2022
About two months ago the Israeli electorate showed us how far right the country had moved. Israel would be governed by a coalition that, as described by the Washington Post, included “once-fringe ultranationalist and ultrareligious parties.” After decades of being able to hide every action behind the veneer that told the world that it was the middle east’s only “liberal democracy,” Israel was showing what its true stripes are.
On Thursday, Benjamin Netanyahu led his new government into power.
In the weeks that followed the election, Benjamin Netanyahu showed us how much power these once “fringe” members of the Knesset would be given. He was ready to allow these leaders the ability to enact an overtly apartheid and “Taliban-ish“ agenda. As the Post described it, it is an agenda that demands the cancellation of “the Jerusalem gay pride parade, increased funding for Israel’s ultra-Orthodox minority, hollow(ing) out the judicial system, and legitimiz(ing) Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank so as to operationally, if not legally, set the stage for Israeli annexation of that disputed territory. The move would signal the end of prospects for a two-state solution, in which a Palestinian state would exist alongside Israel.”
Consider that Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was once convicted for anti-Arab racism will now emerge from the shadows to become Israel’s national security minister and lead the police forces internally and in the Palestinian territories. And just how will he and his mates lead?
Listen to the words of his party’s Knesset member Zvika Fogel. In an interview with British broadcaster Channel 4, Fogel explained the principles that would guide these police forces in this troubled part of the world. “If it’s (a choice between) 1 Israeli mother crying, or 1,000 Palestinian mothers crying… 1,000 Palestinian mothers will cry.”
This is an agenda closer to that of Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Italy’s Georgia Meloni, or our own Donald Trump, than it is to that of the liberal, progressive state its supporters often point to as a reason to ignore its repressive policies and actions.
Or listen to the words of Israeli Novelist David Grossman writing in a recent edition of Haaretz, “It will be impossible to eliminate or even tame the chaos…years of chaos have already etched something tangible and frightening into reality, into the souls of the people who have lived through it.
“They are here. The chaos is here, with all its suctioning force. Internal hatreds are here. Mutual loathing is here; as is the cruel violence in our streets, on our highways, in our schools and hospitals. The people who call good evil and evil good are also already here.
“The occupation also evidently won’t end in the foreseeable future; it is already stronger than all the forces now active in the political arena. What began and was honed with great efficiency there is now seeping into here. Anarchy’s gaping maw has bared its fangs at the most fragile democracy in the Middle East.”
As an advocate for Palestinian rights and as a critic of Israeli policies, this is just a coming out of the bias and racism that has always been there. As one who has argued that because the Israeli government has the power and control, it bears the responsibility for the violence that flares, then this new government confirms what I have feared. The lives of those oppressed, the Palestinian people, will continue to be denigrated and brutalized as long as the Israeli government is not held responsible for its actions. The move to the right, the hardening of the Jewish Israeli heart to the plight of their brethren who are Palestinian, has been there to see, even when it has been veiled by softer language. So, after so many years of being behind the curtain, it is of little notice that it has now become acceptable to say these things aloud and for those who mouth hatred to take public positions of leadership.
As one who has argued for years that the two-state solution is dead and now serves only as a necessary fiction to give those who refuse to see the brutality of Israeli policy and action to hide behind, I was left to wonder if this new government would be the straw that broke this canard’s back.
As an observer of the American Jewish Community, where I worked for decades, I had hoped that this might be a bridge too far and Jews, especially those who view themselves as progressives, would be willing to see that they had been fooled and were defending a myth. Would they now recognize that those of us who had been protesting Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinian people, who describe its actions as apartheid and who called for boycotts, sanctions, and disengagement might have been right? Would they now be ready to support a serious effort to force Israel to live up to basic human rights standards, both for Jews and Arabs, in the way they did decades ago to protest South Africa’s apartheid or the Soviet Union’s antisemitism?
Since the votes have been counted, there have been many expressions of dismay and concern, but few have been willing to condemn and call for real action for pressure to be placed on Israel to change. I hoped that they would see that it was time to join those of us who have been willing to see the Israeli government as an apartheid government and who saw that there was no reality any longer to a two-state solution.
I recognize that for many of my brethren their Jewish identity has included a special role for Jewish Israel. But that Israel of their prayers might not be Israel of 2023. And would this dissonance be enough to shake them away from excusing the inexcusable and rationalizing what cannot be rationalized?
It seems not. The “criticism” of these “progressive” voices still ignores the meaning of this new government. It continues to filter the reality in Jerusalem through a myopic lens, one which forces them to not see The Desecration of Jewish principals is taking place in the name of Judaism. A core teaching of my Judaism, that “all people were created in God’s image”, becomes irrelevant in order to excuse the reality of a Palestinian people living under Israel’s rule in a country defined by such clear definitions of who is a person and who is less than a person. It seems that the threats to a pluralistic Judaism are, for too many, more the issue than the out-and-out anti-Palestinian racism that is now in view.
Truah, the Rabbinic call for human rights is the one part of the established, organizational Jewish Community that seems ready to break away from the “Israel right or wrong” position that dominates my community. “This is not business as usual. Israel’s new government is a stark display of rising fascism and racism. …From the top down, Netanyahu and his new coalition endanger both Israelis and Palestinians…The stated intention by some members of the coalition to wage an all-out attack on human rights and civil society organizations creates an even greater threat…The U.S. government can mitigate the potentially disastrous consequences of the incoming Israeli government by upholding its stated commitment to a two-state solution, as well as its position that West Bank settlements are not legal and not part of Israel. The Biden administration must back up this position by stating clearly that it rejects the Trump plan encouraging unilateral annexation, by affirming that parts of Jerusalem will someday form the Palestinian capital, and by ensuring increased oversight as a condition for the military and security assistance it gives Israel (as it would for any other country). The prophet Isaiah enjoins us to ‘cry with a full throat without restraint; Raise your voice like a shofar!’ (Isaiah 58:1) “
But in other parts of the Progressive American Jewish Community, it still seems too hard to call for opposition and sanctions against Israel. It is too easy to separate the hatred of liberal Jews or the LGBTQ+ community from that of Palestinians and the occupation as if they are not all the same.
To date more than 300 Rabbis have signed on to a protest letter that says “we the undersigned, who care deeply about the security and well-being of the democratic State of Israel, are signing this letter of protest, pledging to not invite any members of the R(eligious) Z(ionist) P(arty) bloc–including but not limited to Otzma Yehudit leaders–to speak at our congregations and organizations. We will speak out against their participation in other fora across our communities. We will encourage the boards of our congregations and organizations to join us in this protest as a demonstration of our commitment to our Jewish and democratic values.
“When those who tout racism and bigotry claim to speak in the name of Israel, but deny our rights, our heritage, and the rights of the most vulnerable among us, we must take action. We must speak out. We must show the world that we are a people whose founding principles require us to see every person as B’tzelem Elohim –in the image of God.”
The government may do unspeakable things but only those whose names are on the bill are worthy of being boycotted!
For the Israel Policy Forum, it is not a time for more than a few harsh words that worry about the future of the two-state solution that no one in Israel/Palestine seems to want any longer. So, they congratulate “Benjamin Netanyahu on his imminent return to the prime minister’s office and his announcement of the successful formation of the next Israeli government… Members of the new government with significant portfolios have espoused alarming views and policy positions that will elevate tensions with Palestinians, stress U.S.-Israel relations, create rifts with North American Jewry, and complicate Israel’s relations with its neighbors. We are deeply concerned about the government’s inclusion of extremist parties and politicians…make a future separation from the Palestinians and the realization of two states impossible. Israel holds a place of primacy for Jews around the world as the Jewish state and the Jewish homeland…Israel Policy Forum will continue to stand in support of the United States’ commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship, to pursuing a viable two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to upholding a secure, Jewish, and democratic Israel.”
Disturbing as this new government might be, the IPF’s leadership is unable to step away and say they cannot support this Israel and this government and that it is not a reflection of what their Judaism means.
For the ADL, which so easily identifies protest of Israeli actions and policies as antisemitic and does not rethink what it has been championing. Despite the spouters of hateful rhetoric that now lead the Israeli government, ADL will not change its course.
“As we stated in the aftermath of the November election, and now with the formation of a government, we remain deeply concerned by the inclusion, appointments and authorities expected to be given to individuals and parties in this Israeli government whose policies on Israel’s judiciary, relations with Israel’s minority communities, LGBTQ rights, religious pluralism, and Palestinian affairs historically run counter to Israel’s founding principles. We closely will monitor and respond to actions on these issues as warranted, and will not shirk from calling out expressions, policies, and actions by the Israeli government and particular Israeli leaders that are hateful, racist, anti-Arab or homophobic, anti-democratic or harmful to non-Orthodox streams within the Jewish people.
“ADL is an organization eternally committed to Israel and remains focused on ensuring its continued security and well-being as a Jewish and democratic state. We will continue our work on the ground in Israel to promote social cohesion within Israeli society, and we will continue to operate around the world to combat those who seek to deny the legitimacy of Israel, demonize Zionism, and engage in antisemitic discourse related to the Jewish state.”
Or consider NCJW (the National Council of Jewish Women), “a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, [that] strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms,” this moment calls them to just focus on their work and pledge to keep on keeping on. . “We support the electoral process in Israel and respect the outcome of its elections. And we are deeply concerned by the statements and ideologies of the parties that appear to be forming the next coalition government — particularly the anti-LGBTQ+, anti-women, and anti-Arab rhetoric …NCJW will always stand up for justice, democracy and diplomacy, and we refuse to normalize racism, incitement or discrimination. NCJW stands in solidarity with our grassroots feminist partner organizations, leadership cohorts and advocacy coalitions who work tirelessly to advance gender justice and equity on the ground in Israel. We will continue working to advance the rights of women, children and families throughout Israeli society regardless of ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation until an equitable future is realized.”
Not one word about the occupation and the existential threats that this government represents for the Palestinian people. Not one sense that in the face of a radical government it might be time to step away and fight the real threat to the values they claim to support?
Each of these statements of non-action has been carefully crafted by skilled wordsmiths to sound like a condemnation while still remaining a supporter. They reflect a need to hang on to the fantasy of Israel as a liberal democracy, as a defender of human rights, and as a victim of Palestinian perfidy and terror.
These Jewish voices can see oppression as unforgivable anywhere but in Israel. They can join the picket lines, sit-ins, and demand our government act about every variety of inequity except when it is about Israel’s depravity. If this moment does not cause them to more than wring their hands and mouth pious words then what will it take? Or do they actually agree with the concept of Jewish supremacy that has now stepped forward and is holding the levers of power?
Their actions, not their words will tell the tale as the coming days and weeks play out in more destroyed Palestinian houses and lives.