The era of Israel enjoying a reputation of a vibrant, cosmopolitan, progressive fortress besieged by backward and regressive peoples and nations is coming to an end. It is one of Israel’s most formidable achievements that it ever managed to enjoy such a reputation, but it is no less remarkable that it has taken this long for that illusion to be gradually exposed.
Recent election results for the twentieth Knesset leave little room for interpretation. Here are the nine largest parties: Likud: 30 seats. Zionist Union: 24. Joint List: 13. Yesh Atid: 11. Kulanu: 10. The Jewish Home: 8. Shas: 7. Yisrael Beiteinu: 6. United Torah Judaism: 6.
For the Palestinians living under the yoke of a combination of military occupation and apartheid - that unique Israeli flavor - these parties are an utter disaster. Adamantly opposing a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the territories, fiercely rejecting dismantling a textbook manifestation of colonialism and apartheid called the settlement project, unwavering in its refusal to enforce the right of return of the Palestinian diaspora, what we can expect from the new Israeli cabinet is more of the same.
Israeli political culture and statecraft resembles, and is predominantly a product of, the tradition of European nationalism. But today’s Europe is not what Europe used to be. With only marginal exceptions, leading European political figures used to romanticize and support anything Israel was doing. After WWII, singing the praises of the self-proclaimed Jewish state was a comfortable, cost-free means for European leaders to project an ostensibly self-critical and progressive image, to create an impression that they actually cared about European Jewry.
For some, it was not a big deal to disregard what was obvious to all those who hadn’t buried their heads in the sand, namely that the Zionist endeavor could succeed only through displacement and crushing of the Palestinian people. For many others, such displacement was a cause for celebration.
The one and only Winston Churchill serves as an illuminative case in point. In 1937, Churchill had this to say on the matter: "I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”
To utter such reasoning openly is not commonplace for EU heads of state in today’s Europe. Israeli political language, however, is still faithful to the tradition of that old school European discourse.
Putting aside that, right before the latest Israeli elections, Netanyahu vowed that there will never be a Palestinian state and that Naftali Bennett once quipped that “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life—and there is no problem with that”, let us take a look at some other highlights.
When faced with a question about Iran, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon of Likud said that “in certain cases” when “we feel like we don’t have the answer by surgical operations” Israel might resort to “steps” like those the Americans resorted to in “Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing at the end the fatalities of 200,000.” When the defense minister of a country that possesses a considerable nuclear weapons arsenal, specializes in military aggression and regularly commits war crimes makes such statements, the international community should take notice.
The new Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has also provided commentary which merits attention. Shaked has emphasized that “[t]his is a war. It is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. These too are forms of avoiding reality. This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people.”
The post of justice minister is a highly influential one in Israel. It is not far-fetched to describe Shaked as the most disturbing politician who has ever occupied that post in Israel’s history.
Then we also have Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the new head of the so called “Civil Administration,” that is the military government of the West Bank. Rabbi Ben-Dahan has described Palestinians as “beasts” who “are not human.” He has also shared with us his profound wisdom according which ”[a] Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile, even if he is a homosexual.”
For all of us working toward a just, inclusive solution to the Palestine tragedy, this elections result should motivate all of us to work harder. We need to expose Israel’s conduct, put pressure on its government and change the balance of forces to the extent that Israel has no choice but to accept the enforcement of Palestinian rights.