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Israel election: The triumph of Kahanism

Richard Silverstein 24 March 2021

As Netanyahu looks to cobble together his farthest-right coalition yet, western democratic governments and diaspora Jewish leaders need to take a stand

The biggest winners in Tuesday’s Israeli election appear to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the little-known Religious Zionist Party. (Though Netanyahu still lack a few deputies to form a government)

Behind the milquetoast name is an alliance of some of the most extreme Kahanist elements in Israeli politics.

According to the results announced so far, a race that had been predicted as a virtual tie between centrist and rightist parties may offer Netanyahu a narrow path to a renewed term as prime minister.

Far-right and religious parties, likely coalition partners for Netanyahu, were victorious in the election.

An Israeli man walks past an electoral billboard bearing portraits of Netanyahu flanked by extreme-right politicians, including Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, in Jerusalem in 2019 (AFP)

At the time of publication, it remained unclear as to whether this coalition would be able to secure the needed 61-seat majority.

The question is: will the suspicion and hostility with which some of these party leaders, such as Gideon Saar and Naftali Bennett, view Netanyahu outweigh their desire for political power? If history is any judge, they will put aside their personal rancour and play the political game.

Now begins the horse-trading, during which potential partners play hard to get, extracting the maximum in ministerial portfolios and other perquisites before adding their support to the coalition.

Collapse of Blue and White

Election turnout was 67%, down from the most recent election and the lowest percentage since 2013. The initial results would suggest that many of those who elected Not to vote had previously supported the moderate parties that performed better in the last election.

There are two critical factors leading to this outcome.

The first factor was the near-collapse of the centre-right Blue and White coalition, which won 33 seats in the last Knesset. The decision by its then-leader, Benny Gantz, to desert his partners and enter a coalition with Netanyahu led to a drastic decline in its vote share. 

With close to 90% of Tuesday’s vote counted, Blue and White picked up only eight seats, while Yesh Atid, which split from Blue and White last year, won 17.

This fracture essentially destroyed the centre-right as a viable alternative to Netanyahu’s far-right Likud-led coalition.

Diaspora Jewish leaders could declare that Netanyahu has gone too far, and refuse to raise funds for Israel or to attend meetings with Israeli government officials

Voters who abandoned Gantz did not necessarily turn to his former partners in Yesh Atid, which represented a moderate option, nor to Likud, which lost several seats compared to the last election. They were likely disenchanted with Netanyahu and the multiple corruption charges he faces, so they turned to newly formed parties generally even farther to the right.

By fleeing to parties likely to join a governing coalition with Likud, however, they might have guaranteed an outcome they did not foresee.

Postponed until after the election, Netanyahu’s corruption trial is scheduled to resume in early April, and Likud sources have pointed to legislative outcomes that could provide him immunity from conviction while in office, including passage of the “French Law”.

A more draconian and controversial method would be for a new justice minister (No appointed minister so far) to fire the current attorney general and appoint one who would dismiss the charges, eliminating the greatest threat to Netanyahu’s continuing on as leader.

Extreme nationalist views

Though there are regular protests against Netanyahu’s corruption, which would likely increase if charges were dropped, it is unlikely they would reach a tipping point and lead to Netanyahu stepping down.

Even if he did, the rivals waiting in the wings are no less extreme in their nationalist views; the country would merely be swapping one Judeo-supremacist autocrat for another.

Voters who turned away from Blue and White appear to have favoured soft-right parties, such as Saar’s New Hope, and some even farther right than Likud, including Bennett’s Yamina and the Kahanist Religious Zionist Party, led by Bezalel Smotrich.   

Head of Israel's Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party Itamar Ben Gvir (R) talks to supporters through Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on 19 March (AFP)
Head of Israel’s Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party Itamar Ben Gvir (R) talks to supporters through Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on 19 March (AFP)

Smotrich was once apprehended by the Shin Bet for allegedly plotting a terror attack to protest Israel’s Gaza withdrawal, although charges were never laid. He once boldly claimed that Jews cannot be terrorists; in other words, one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

In 2006, to protest the Gay Pride parade, he organised a “parade of beasts”, in which goats and donkeys were marched through the streets of Jerusalem. He has called himself a “proud homophobe”. He has served as an MK with the Yamina alliance and as minister of transportation.

Smotrich is allied with Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose political evolution as a youth led him into the arms of far-right Rabbi Meir Kahane.

According to a Haaretz report: “First, Itamar joined the youth movement affiliated with Moledet, a right-wing political party that advocated ‘transferring’ Israeli Arabs out of the country. But that turned out to be too tame for him. So not long thereafter, he defected to Kach, the eventually outlawed racist party founded by the American-born Rabbi Kahane.

‘I found in this movement a lot of love for the Jewish people, a lot of truth, and a lot of justice,’ says the utra racist Ben-Gvir.

Breaking with precedent

As a teenager, Ben-Gvir gained notoriety in 1995, when he vandalised then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s vehicle and brandished its Cadillac hood ornament, boasting: “We got the car. We’ll get to Rabin too.” Rabin was murdered only weeks later by another Kahanist.

Ben-Gvir is now the go-to defence lawyer for settlers charged with terrorist attacks against Palestinians. He is the Israeli equivalent of US lawyer and politician Rudy Giuliani, except instead of representing sleazy crooks, he represents accused mass murderers.

Itamar lives in Hebron, (a region declared military zone) among the most violent of settler enclaves, where Jews and Palestinians are separated by barbed wire, locked metal gates and thousands of Israeli soldiers, who protect the settlers from the wrath of the indigenous population. (A wrath in reactions to daily settlers violent activities)

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Despite several prior attempts, Ben-Gvir has never served in the Knesset. His alliance succeeded this time for one reason only: Netanyahu made clear to far-right voters that if they weren’t voting Likud, he preferred they vote for the Religious Zionists. He also said the party would be a coalition partner in his next government, a striking break with previous precedent.

In 1988, Kahane’s newly founded Kach Party was so far outside the mainstream that the government banned it, and both Israel and the US have declared Kach to be a terrorist organisation.

No Israeli leader has ever promoted an explicitly Kahanist party, let alone agreed to include one in a governing coalition – meaning it’s likely the Religious Zionists will obtain at least one ministerial portfolio representing the interests of their settler constituency. This offers unprecedented access to Israeli protocols and power.

This should not be surprising to anyone aware of the history of the Zionist movement.

At least two former Israeli prime ministers, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, were accused terrorists, linked to the King David Hotel bombing, the Deir Yassin massacre and the assassination of UN peace negotiator Count Folke Bernadotte, among other crimes.

Flirting with terrorists

There is one powerful way in which the world could respond to Netanyahu’s flirtation with supporters of Jewish terrorism: the US government, UN and EU could declare this government persona non grata, and refuse to have any dealings with it.

It would be a diplomatic version of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

Israel is united in its determination to pursue racist, apartheid policies. The world is not united in opposing them

Diaspora Jewish leaders could declare that Netanyahu has gone too far, and refuse to raise funds for Israel or to attend meetings with Israeli government officials.

Contrary to what some believe, international pressure works.

While Israel may complain grievously about bias towards it, when push comes to shove, such pressure works in modifying Israeli behaviour – though usually not in significant ways, as Israel does the bare minimum to avoid international censure.

Regardless, a united front of western democratic governments and diaspora Jewish leaders would offer a powerful statement, defining a red line that Israel has crossed.

And yet, the likelihood of this happening is almost nil. Israel is united in its determination to pursue racist, apartheid policies. The world is not united in opposing them. It dithers while Rome burns.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in Haaretz, the Forward, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times.

He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the collection, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield) Photo of RS by: (Erika Schultz/Seattle Times)

Hannah Arendt prophetic opinions: Born in conflict, Israel will degenerate into Sparta, and American Jews will need to back away

The fact of the matter remains that tens of thousands formed an opinion today against the atrocities that Israel is committing against the Palestinians in Gaza, and the West Bank according to its apartheid policies.

These were global, not just Muslim opinions, as I have witnessed today and as another commentator has stated below.

The fact of the matter remains that no matter how “terrorist” Hamas (or ISIS, if you want to dump them in the same category) is, this does not justify the killing of hundreds of civilian by IDF live bullets lives.

We all followed how the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah removed ISIS militants from town of Arsal (by the Syrian border) without sacrificing the life of any Arsal residents.

Yes battles are different, but today, many people saw no justification for the killing of innocent Gazans, and therefore they protested.

Third London mass protest for Gaza in one monthWWW.TIMESOFISRAEL.COM

Philip Weiss on January 1, 2012 160

Hannah Arendt

For the new year, here are some prophetic excerpts from two essays of Hannah Arendt’s, collected in The Jewish Writings (2007).

Note her predictions of the Nakba (Palestinians killed and transferred from their homes and villages in 1948), of unending conflict, of Zionist dependence on the American Jewish community, of ultimate conflict with that American Jewish community, and the contribution of political Zionism to world anti-semitism.

Just what Howard Gutman said recently. For which he was denounced by– Zionists.

Zionism Reconsidered, 1944:

Nationalism is bad enough when it trusts in nothing but the rude force of the nation. A nationalism that necessarily and admittedly depends upon the force of a foreign nation is certainly worse.

This is the threatened state of Jewish nationalism and of the proposed Jewish state, surrounded inevitably by “Arab states and Arab people” (Actually they are Syrian States, One Nation, One people).

Even a Jewish majority in Palestine–nay even a transfer of all Palestine’s Arabs, which is openly demanded by the revisionists–would not substantially change a situation in which Jews must either ask protection from an outside power against their neighbors or come to a working agreement with their neighbors… (The First Intifada of 1936 that lasted 3 years was because British mandated power refused to conduct municipal elections on the ground that the Jews represented less than 20%)

The Zionists, if they continue to ignore the Mediterranean people and watch out only for the big faraway powers, will appear only as their tools, the agents of foreign and hostile interests.

Jews who know their own history should be aware that such a state of affairs will inevitably lead to a new wave of Jew-hatred.

The antisemitism of tomorrow will assert that Jews not only profiteered from the presence of foreign big powers in that region but had actually plotted it and hence are guilty of the consequences… (Colonial powers wanted to implant its colony in the Near-East)

The sole new piece of historical philosophy which the Zionists contributed out of their own new experiences [was] “A nation is a group of people…  held together by a common enemy” (Herzl)–an absurd doctrine…

To such [political] independence, it was believed, the Jewish nation could arrive under the protecting wings of any great power strong enough to shelter its growth…. the Zionists ended by making the Jewish national emancipation entirely dependent upon the material interests of another nation.

The actual result was a return of the new movement to the traditional methods of shtadlonus [court Jews], which the Zionists once had so bitterly despised and violently denounced.

Now Zionists too knew no better place politically than the lobbies of the powerful, and no sounder basis for agreements than their good services as agents of foreign interests…

Only folly could dictate a policy which trusts a distant imperial power for protection, while alienating the goodwill of neighbors. What then, one is prompted to ask, will be the future policy of Zionism with respect to big powers, and what program will Zionists have to offer for a solution of the Arab-Jewish conflict?…

If a Jewish commonwealth is obtained in the near future–with or without partition–it will be due to the political influence of American Jews….

But if the Jewish commonwealth is proclaimed against the will of the “Arabs” and without the support of the Mediterranean peoples, not only financial help but political support will be necessary for a long time to come.

And that may turn out to be very troublesome indeed for Jews in this country [the U.S.], who after all have no power to direct the political destinies of the Near East.

It may eventually be far more of a responsibility than today they imagine or tomorrow can make good.

To Save the Jewish Homeland, 1948 [on the occasion of war in Palestine]

And even if the Jews were to win the war, its end would find the unique possibilities and the unique achievements of Zionism in Palestine destroyed.

The land that would come into being would be something quite other than the dream of world Jewry, Zionist and non-Zionist.

The ‘victorious’ Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded into ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interests and activities. (Israel built the Wall of Shame to “save” the Israelis from the anxiety of remembering that Palestinians are on the other side)

The growth of a Jewish culture would cease to be the concern of the whole people; social experiments would have to be discarded as impractical luxuries; political thought would center around military strategy….

And all this would be the fate of a nation that — no matter how many immigrants it could still absorb and how far it extended its boundaries (the whole of Palestine and Transjordan is the insane Revisionist demand)–would still remain a very small people greatly outnumbered by hostile neighbors.

Under such circumstances… the Palestinian Jews would degenerate into one of those small warrior tribes about whose possibilities and importance history has amply informed us since the days of Sparta.

Their relations with world Jewry would become problematical, since their defense interests might clash at any moment with those of other countries where large number of Jews lived.

Palestine Jewry would eventually separate itself from the larger body of world Jewry and in its isolation develop into an entirely new people.

Thus it becomes plain that at this moment and under present circumstances a Jewish state can only be erected at the price of the Jewish homeland…

One grim addendum.

In the heyday of the special relationship between the US and Israel, American Jewry felt itself to be one with the Israeli people. We Are One! declared Melvin Urofsky’s book of 1978.

That unity is today being dissolved. The haredi-secular conflict in Israel that is getting so much attention here is one means of that dissolution.

And the aim, unconsciously, may be a desire by American Jews to distance themselves from Israeli Jews so that when the Arab Spring at last brings a democratic movement to Israel and Palestine, and bloody conflict ensues, and the Israeli government is cast as the bad guys, American Jews are emotionally prepared to regard the bloodshed as inevitable and not their problem. Jeffrey Blankfort commented on January 1, 2012 

After writing, “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” Arendt report of the Eichmann trial in which she suggested that had not the Judenrat, the Jewish councils appointed by the Nazis in occupied Europe, collaborated with the Nazis in their round-up of Jews to be sent off to the death camps to the point of providing them with lists, collecting valuables, and policing Jews who were non-cooperative, the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis would have greatly reduced, she became a non-person in the Jewish world.

It was not until the past few years that she was resurrected to the degree that her name could even be mentioned in the Jewish press, albeit usually critically.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.View all posts by Philip Weiss →


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