Amos Schocken published an eye-opening,remarkably candid op-ed (and Hebrew) in Haaretz about the extent of the catastrophe that Israel currently faces, which includes a raft of repressive bills and laws threatening everything from freedom of speech to freedom of the press to academic freedom to minority Arab rights. We’re used to the agonizing of liberal Zionists who decry the obvious but always seem to stop short of acknowledging just how bad things are, and how radical the solution needs to be. Schocken, to his credit, faces things I’ve never heard a liberal Zionist face, and calls a spade a spade in his article. The “Jewish lobby” and even the Supreme Court come in for their share of criticism.
He begins with a 1993 speech by Yitzhak Rabin to the Knesset, in which he warns of the dangers of Iran seeking a nuclear weapon. But unlike Netanyahu, who uses this possibility to spook the nation into submission to authoritarianism, in much the same way Bush-Cheney did in the aftermath of 9/11, Rabin tells Israel that we must seize on Iran’s pursuit in order to pursue peace:
The possibility that someday Iran might have nuclear weapons must worry us, and is one of the reasons why we must exploit this window of opportunity and progress toward peace.
What a difference a day and a prime minister make, don’t they? Bibi the manipulator, the exploiter of national insecurity in order to bring a nationalist settler state; Rabin a wise warrior who knew the horrors of war well enough to know that peace was preferable to a nuclear arms race. But, Schocken continues, Rabin’s way as represented by the Oslo accord was overwhelmed by the settler enterprise, one of whose acolytes assassinated him.
Though liberal Zionists like Gershom Gorenberg and many other Haaretz columnists have decried the settler enterprise for decades, few have been willing to acknowledge the rot it has caused inside Israel. Few have been willing to go so far as to acknowledge it is likely to destroy nation. For the conventional liberal Zionist, Israel can be saved by degrees, by small improvements, by nibbling around the edges of injustice. Schocken seems beyond this.
To his credit, Schocken doesn’t flinch from seeing that mess Israel is in and calling it what it is. Here are some memorable passages:
According to the Gush Emunim ideology, Israel is for Jews. Not just the Palestinians of the Territories are irrelevant, but Palestinian citizens of Israel too are subject to the same oppression and denial of their citizenship. This is a strategy involving seizure of territory and apartheid.
…This ideology sees in the creation of an Israeli apartheid regime something that is necessary to realizing its goals. It has no problem with using illegal, even criminal acts because its sacred mission is seen as above the law and having no real relation to the laws of Israel. Rather, it depends on a perverted interpretation of Judaism.
…This ideology has achieved some of its greatest successes in the U.S…Whether this is due to the enormous numbers of Christian evangelicals, or the problematic relationship between Islam and the west, or the Jewish lobby’s addiction to Gush Emunim, the results are clear: it may no longer even be possible for a U.S. president to pursue an activist agenda against Israeli apartheid.
Paragraphs like the last one will make Bill Daroff howl, as well they should. Because Daroff is not Israel’s friend. He is the settlers’ friend. And we, like this wise newspaperman, must make a distinction. We must tell the world, Jewish and non-Jewish, that there are Jews who have Israel’s long-term interest at heart, and those who will hasten its demise. The “Jewish lobby” is in the latter category. Everyone must know this. We must not allow them to represent us or speak for us. We must stop StandWithUs and The Israel Project (and sometimes even J Street) and their like to suck the oxygen out of the Israel debate. We must tell them that they have no monopoly on either power or (self-) righteousness.
Schocken proceeds to link the lawlessness of “Israeli apartheid” to an upsurge in authoritarianism:
It cannot permit opposition or criticism. It must eliminate the latter and frustrate any effort to restrain its actions…Any actions which are illegal must be made legal by rewriting the law or by reinterpreting existing law so that what was illegal is now redefined as legal. Similar things happened before in other times and places [a distinct reference to Nazi Germany].
In such a historical context, we see bills against human rights NGOs, against the press and free speech, and an anti-boycott law which seeks to prevent anyone from dealing with Israeli apartheid in the same way the world dealt with South African apartheid.
Even the Israeli Supreme Court, the crown jewel in the apparatus of liberal Zionism comes in for harsh criticism:
It permitted the settler enterprise and essentially served as a partner to it.
But now, Haaretz’s publisher says, the Court has proven an impediment and must be eliminated as an obstacle to the triumph of this authoritarian regime. Because the Court has refused to permit settlements on privately owned Palestinian land (i.e. land theft), the Court must be ‘packed’ with judges who themselves live on such land and who will recognize that there can be no such concept as privately owned Palestinian land, because this is Jewish land given to this people by divine decree. Schocken notes the similarity in this theological approach between Gush Emunim and radical Islamists like Hamas (though I believe Hamas has shown far more flexibility in adapting its ideology than settlerism has).
Schocken closes by raising some deeply troubling questions:
Can there be any future for such an Israel? Even beyond the question of whether Jewish morality and experience permits such a situation, it puts Israel into an inherently unstable, dangerous position. It puts Israel into the predicament of living with, by, and under the sword. Whether the sword is a third Intifada, overthrow of the Egyptian peace accord, or an Iranian nuclear weapon. This Yitzhak Rabin understood [and Bibi does not].
I think we have to begin to use the F-word though the Israeli publisher doesn’t: we are seeing an incipient Israeli fascism. Perhaps not yet full-blown fascism. But like a cancer it begins with one cell and spreads to an entire organ and eventually infects the entire organism. I don’t know whether this illness is terminal. But it could very well be. Temporizing no longer works. Only a radical transformation can. One that stamps out setttlerism as a viable political force. One that embraces whole-heartedly democracy over Jewish triumphalism. Note I did not say “Judaism,” as religion will play an important role in any future role. But it will never, if Israel is to survive, give members of one religion the right to deprive members of another of their legitimate rights as citizens.