Voicing any fair criticism of Israel these days is hazardous. You are sure to be dumped as an anti-Semite. And this labeling is often so loosely used that it is unfair to all Arabs, and surely to some (so-called self-hating) Jews, who trace their bloodline to Abraham and Jacob, respectively. But who cares those facts? To many die-hard Zionists the single litmus test is: does the person support the state of Israel unquestioningly? Any slight criticism is not tolerated by these self-described guardians of the Jewish state, in spite of the fact that things are not that beautiful or glamorous under the dirty and rotten rug of Israel.
Peter Beinart, an Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York and a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, recently wrote an important article “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” in The New York Review of Books. He deplored the fact that the leading institutions of American Jewry discourage any broad discussion of the Palestine-Israel conflict and would rather check “their liberalism at Zionism’s door.” They are afraid to be critical of the conduct of the Israeli leaders. Such an attitude has only emboldened the Zionists in Israel to feel untouchable -- i.e., outside the reaches of international laws and obligations -- with their savage crimes against the Palestinian people.
As I have noted many times, there has not been a single honest peace broker in Israeli history since the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Many of them are outright fascists and murderers. The current leaders of Israel are no exceptions to that general rule. A sampling of their views is sufficient to prove that the current Zionist leaders in Israel are intolerant and hateful of the Palestinian population. In his 1993 book, A Place among the Nations, Netanyahu not only rejects the idea of a Palestinian state, he denies that there is such a thing as a Palestinian. In fact, he repeatedly equates the Palestinian bid for statehood with Nazism. An Israel that withdraws from the West Bank, he has declared, would be a “ghetto-state” with “Auschwitz borders.” And the effort “to gouge Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] out of Israel” resembles Hitler’s bid to wrench the German-speaking “Sudeten district” from Czechoslovakia in 1938. It is unfair, Netanyahu insists, to ask Israel to concede more territory since it has already made vast, gut-wrenching concessions. What kind of concessions? It has abandoned its claim to Jordan, which by rights should be part of the Jewish state.
Has Netanyahu changed his views since coming back to power? No. And yet, President Obama had to cave into Jewish pressure to invite him back to the White House and use the Blair House. Netanyahu was even promoted as one who is ‘willing to take risks for peace’.
According to Beinart, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas’s immensely powerful spiritual leader, has called Arabs “vipers,” “snakes,” and “ants.” In 2005, after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed dismantling settlements in the Gaza Strip, Yosef urged that “God strike him down.” The official Shas newspaper recently called President Obama “an Islamic extremist.” Just imagine what would have been the reaction in the Jewish controlled media if some leader or newspaper in Iran or some Hamas or Hizbollah leader had uttered such offensive words against a sitting American president! And yet, not a single Jewish leader has protested the official Shas view.
Beinart notes that Effi Eitam, a charismatic ex–cabinet minister and Israeli war hero, has proposed ethnically cleansing Palestinians from the West Bank. “We’ll have to expel the overwhelming majority of West Bank Arabs from here and remove Israeli Arabs from [the] political system,” Eitam declared in 2006. In 2008, he merged his small Ahi Party into Netanyahu’s Likud. And for the 2009–2010 academic year, he is Netanyahu’s special emissary for overseas “campus engagement.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is a notorious fascist who once shared Eitam’s views. In his youth, he briefly joined Meir Kahane’s now banned Kach Party, which also advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israeli soil. Now Lieberman’s position might be called “pre-expulsion.” He wants to revoke the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who won’t swear a loyalty oath to the Jewish state. He tried to prevent two Arab parties that opposed Israel’s 2008–2009 Gaza war from running candidates for the Knesset. He said Arab Knesset members who met with representatives of Hamas should be executed. He wants to jail Arabs who publicly mourn on Israeli Independence Day, and he hopes to permanently deny citizenship to Arabs from other countries who marry Arab citizens of Israel.
Hebrew University Professor Ze’ev Sternhell is an expert on fascism and a winner of the prestigious Israel Prize. Commenting on Lieberman and the leaders of Shas in a recent Op-Ed in Haaretz, he wrote, “The last time politicians holding views similar to theirs were in power in post–World War II Western Europe was in Franco’s Spain.” With their blessing, “a crude and multifaceted campaign is being waged against the foundations of the democratic and liberal order.” Sternhell should know. Beinart informs us that in September 2008, Sternhell was injured when a settler set off a pipe bomb at his house.
For the last several years, especially since the Bush Jr. days of 2001, we are continuously reminded about the greatness of the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’ Uri Avnery, a human rights activist, unmasks Israel’s true character. In a July 17 posting in the Media Monitors Network, he wrote, “When I was first elected to the Knesset, I was appalled at what I found. I discovered that, with rare exceptions, the intellectual level of the debates was close to zero.” That was back in 1967, when the Knesset included members like Levy Eshkol and Pinchas Sapir, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin and Yohanan Bader, Meir Yaari and Yaakov Chazan, for whom today streets, highroads and neighborhoods are named. If you thought that in the last 43 years, the debates within the Knesset have improved, you are wrong. Avnery says, “In comparison to the present Knesset, that Knesset now looks like Plato’s Academy. What frightened me more than anything else was the readiness of members to enact irresponsible laws for the sake of fleeting popularity, especially at times of mass hysteria.”
In a recent Knesset debate, Haneen Zoabi of the Arab nationalist Balad faction tried to explain why she had joined the Gaza aid flotilla that had been attacked by the Israeli navy. According to Avnery, “MK Anastasia Michaeli, a member of the Lieberman party, jumped from her seat and rushed to the rostrum, letting out blood-curdling shrieks, waving her arms, in order to remove Haneen Zoabi by force. Other members rose from their seats to help Michaeli. Near the speaker, a threatening crowd of Knesset members gathered. Only with great difficulty did the ushers succeed in saving Zoabi from bodily harm… As far as I could make out, not a single Jewish member raised a finger to defend Zoabi during the tumult.”
That is not the end of the Knesset mobster-like behavior! Recently, the Knesset decided by a large majority to adopt a proposal, supported by Likud and Kadima members, to strip Haneen Zoabi of her parliamentary privileges. Even before, Interior Minister Eli Yishai had asked the Legal Advisor to the Government for approval of his plan to strip Zoabi of her Israeli citizenship on the grounds of treason. One of the Knesset members shouted at her: “You have no place in the Israeli Knesset! You have no right to hold an Israeli identity card!” According to Avnery, “The proud parents of these initiatives, which enjoy massive support from Likud, Kadima, Lieberman’s party and all the religious factions, do not hide their intention to expel all the Arabs from parliament and establish at long last a pure Jewish Knesset. The latest decisions of the Knesset are but parts of a prolonged campaign, which gives birth almost every week to new initiatives from publicity-hungry members, who know that the more racist and anti-democratic their bills are, the more popular they will be with their electorate… There seems to be no limit to this parliamentary irresponsibility. All red lines have been crossed long ago. This does not concern only the parliamentary representation of more than 20% of Israel’s citizens, but there is a growing tendency towards depriving all Arab citizens of their citizenship altogether.”
A call for boycott is a democratic means of expression. Not so, if you are in Israel. Recently, the Knesset gave the first reading to a bill to impose heavy penalties on any Israeli who advocates a boycott on Israel, in general, and on economic enterprises, universities and other Israeli institutions, including settlements, in particular. Any such institution will be entitled to an indemnity of $5000 from every supporter of the boycott.
I fail to see anything great about Israeli democracy. Most of its leaders are corrupt and immoral, and have come from the military with records of war crimes. Some are psychopaths. Most are racists. And on the top of that, fascistic leanings have always tainted its government. Peter Beinart writes, “Israeli governments come and go, but the Netanyahu coalition is the product of frightening, long-term trends in Israeli society: an ultra-Orthodox population that is increasing dramatically, a settler movement that is growing more radical and more entrenched in the Israeli bureaucracy and army, and a Russian immigrant community that is particularly prone to anti-Arab racism. In 2009, a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 53 percent of Jewish Israelis (and 77 percent of recent immigrants from the former USSR) support encouraging Arabs to leave the country. Attitudes are worst among Israel’s young. When Israeli high schools held mock elections last year, Lieberman won. This March, a poll found that 56 percent of Jewish Israeli high school students—and more than 80 percent of religious Jewish high school students—would deny Israeli Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset. An education ministry official called the survey ‘a huge warning signal in light of the strengthening trends of extremist views among the youth.’” Only in ‘democratic’ Israel can one see such a support for a fascist leader like Lieberman!
Reuven Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset recently said: “The country cannot be divided…I oppose the idea of a state belonging to all its citizens or a bi-national state and am thinking about arrangements of joint sovereignty in Judea and Samaria under the Jewish state, even a regime of two parliaments, Jewish and Arab…Judea and Samaria will be a co-dominion, held jointly…But these are things that take time…Stop waving demography in my face.” What we notice from such messages is much worse than apartheid: a Jewish state in which the Jewish majority will decide, if at all, and when, to confer citizenship on some of the Arabs.
What is so disconcerting is that there is no public concern—even outrage—among the leaders of organized American Jewry about such trends in Israel and her government. AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents remain the Jewish state’s unabashed promoters in the USA. The latter declares that “Israel and the United States share political, moral and intellectual values including democracy, freedom, security and peace.” On its website, AIPAC celebrates Israel’s commitment to “free speech and minority rights.” These groups may not say that Israeli Arabs don’t deserve full citizenship and West Bank Palestinians don’t deserve human rights. But in practice, by defending virtually anything any Israeli government does, they make themselves intellectual bodyguards for Israeli leaders who threaten the very liberal values they profess to admire. The Jewish newspaper - the Forward - sums up the overall response of America’s communal Jewish leadership in its headline “Jewish Leaders Largely Silent on Lieberman’s Role in Government.”
According to Peter Beinart, “Not only does the organized American Jewish community mostly avoid public criticism of the Israeli government, it tries to prevent others from leveling such criticism as well. In recent years, American Jewish organizations have waged a campaign to discredit the world’s most respected international human rights groups. In 2006, Foxman called an Amnesty International report on Israeli killing of Lebanese civilians “bigoted, biased, and borderline anti-Semitic.” The Conference of Presidents has announced that “biased NGOs include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, [and] Save the Children.” Last summer, an AIPAC spokesman declared that Human Rights Watch “has repeatedly demonstrated its anti-Israel bias.” When the Obama administration awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights, the ADL and AIPAC both protested, citing the fact that she had presided over the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.”
A Knesset member from Netanyahu’s Likud recently charged Naomi Chazan, head of the New Israel Fund, which supports some of the human rights groups inside Israel that are critical of Israel’s heavy-handedness with the Palestinians, with treason, and a member of Lieberman’s party launched an investigation aimed at curbing foreign funding of Israeli NGOs. Are these the healthy signs of democracy, or warning signs of fascism?
Where is Israel heading to? Just a look at the actors in the Israeli politics -- Netanyahu, Lieberman and Eitam -- is enough to lose sleep upon. Their political drama is far worse. Settlements are growing at triple the rate of the Israeli population; half of Israeli Jewish high school students want Arabs barred from the Knesset. Eitam visits American universities to sell his poisonous pill of ethnic cleansing. Netanyahu knows that Obama is no position to threaten his regime. Thus, he has started to remove the remaining thousands of Palestinian population in the Jordan valley. As I write, villages are being eradicated, starting with Farasiya, where all the dwellings and the water installations were destroyed. As Avnery has reflected, this is pure ethnic cleansing, much like the similar operation now going on against the Bedouins in the Negev.
Beinart asks, “If the line has not yet been crossed, where is the line?” We may never get that answer from American Jewish leaders, and not even from the charlatans like Elie Wiesel. (As I have repeatedly said, since at least the time of the Bosnian crisis of the early 1990s, Wiesel’s tears are shed exclusively for the Holocaust victims. There is no place for others, and surely not the victims of Israeli inhumanity in that mask of hypocrisy.) They behave as if their past suffering, their victimhood in Nazi Germany gives them the license to murder, injure, annex, plunder, and all the horrendous crimes known to mankind. They truly have never gotten out of that “victimhood” mentality of the Jewish Holocaust. They fail to recognize that this sickening obsession with victimhood is at the heart of why Zionism is still viewed as nothing better than Fascism and racism and why its “charm”, if there ever was one, is dying fast among America’s secular Jewish young today who have access to the Internet. No Eitam-lectures and propaganda on the U.S. university campuses can repair that damage.
Equally reprehensible is the behavior of the Jewish lawmakers in the U.S. Not only are they cheerleading for Israel, they ensure that she can go on terrorizing others without ever being punished. Aided by the pro-Israeli lobby groups, they essentially make sure that Israel is supported militarily, economically and diplomatically in spite of her grievous crimes against humanity. The guys like Chuck Schumer and Joe Lieberman even enlist other lawmakers to punish any country that is slightly critical of the rogue state. To most of them, Washington D.C. and their own constituency come second or third to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It is no accident that they bring resolutions in the Capitol Hill to drown the Goldstone report, to punish Iran, to annoy or embarrass Turkey, to overlook the heinous crimes of Israel in international waters when its IDF kills civilian activists, to condemn UN inquiries on war crimes. They are criminally silent on the cold-blooded murder of American activists Rachel Corey and Furkan Dogan, let alone the victims of the USS Liberty. Their blind support for the crimes and ‘security’ of the pariah state is costing Americans dearly in blood and money. How long can they afford to do such proxy acts?
In the December 1948 a letter from Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others appeared in the New York Times that protested right-wing Zionist leader Menachem Begin’s visit to the U.S. after his party’s militias massacred Arab civilians in the village of Deir Yassin. I have failed to see that kind of activism amongst Jewish men of conscience. No one protested the recent visit of Israeli leaders to Washington D.C., coming as it did right after the Gaza freedom flotilla attack. There is an eerie silence everywhere in the Jewish controlled media today. As the New York Times op/ed columnist Roger Cohen recently wrote about Furkan Dogan, the Turkish-American teenager victim of the Gaza flotilla, “I also have little doubt that if the incident had been different — say a 19-year-old American student called Michael Sandler killed by a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank when caught in a cross-fire between Palestinians and Israelis — we would have been deluged in stories about him.” What can we expect, when we did not even hear much about Rachel Corey, bulldozed to death for protesting demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories, in the media?
Why this silence in the Jewish controlled media about Israeli crimes? Why the failure of American Jewry to discuss sensitive issues that affect lives of so many? How many thousand of Americans must die at the altar of Zionism? This chill is a bad thing. Can’t they see? Today, it is the Palestinians, the Arabs, and the Muslims, who are the victims. But what guarantee is there that tomorrow or the day after it won’t hurt the very nest it is trying to protect?
In 2004, Israeli tanks and bulldozers demolished hundreds of houses in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. Beinart says that while watching television, a veteran Israeli commentator and politician named Tommy Lapid saw an elderly Palestinian woman crouched on all fours looking for her medicines amid the ruins of her home. He said she reminded him of his grandmother. Unlike most American Zionists, who suffer from an epidemic of not watching tragedies of the Palestinian people, Lapid watched. And he was able to connect the Palestinian elderly woman’s tragedy with that of his own Jewish grandma in Auschwitz.
Truly, what the Palestinians suffer today in the Occupied Territories is no less painful than those suffered seven decades ago by the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Well, the rate of extinction may be slower, and there are no gas chambers, but there is no shortage of Israeli bullets that kill or injure, and Israeli bombs and missiles that are dropped into the homes, schools, hospitals, shops and streets of the Palestinian people. And then there is the never-ending cycle of eviction, demolition and annexation of Palestinian land and properties. Far from the wishful proclamations of Pinchas Lavon, one of the founding fathers of Israel, who declared in December of 1948 rather naively, “For the first time we shall be the majority living with a minority, and we shall be called upon to provide an example and prove how Jews live with a minority,” that experience of the minority Palestinians has been simply awful; it has no parallel in our world today outside those suffered by the Rohingya Muslims of Burma. That is a sad commentary to what Israel has become. It is no longer the little God-fearing David but has transformed itself to the monstrous God-less Goliath.
Let’s hope that there will be more Jews like Lapid who will watch the unpleasant scenes of Israeli brutality. If they do, they will find their grandmas and grandpas amongst the victims of Gaza and the West Bank. Let’s also hope that they understand that the best way to memorialize the history of Jewish suffering is through the ethical use of Jewish power, and nothing can be better in that direction than stopping the bleeding process for the Palestinian people.
But my hopes here may be misplaced in a people that are led by Zionists who are taking them on a downward spiral of war and savagery, and moral bankruptcy that cannot even distinguish between right and wrong, moral and immoral acts. I am not sure if the world Jewry is even aware of its own ailment. Its leadership is arrogant and overconfident and refuses to see the visible warning signs and amend its faulty ways, and instead breeds a culture of fascism that does not tolerate opposing views or claims. It muffles the voices of Sternhell, Lapid, Avnery and others. What good can come out of such an immoral leadership that uses ordinary people as pawns or zombies for fulfilling its evil desires? Is the American Jewry ready for an alternative leadership that is caring and peace-making?
Peter Beinart still sees a ray of hope in his people to try a new brand of Zionism that is angry at what Israel risks becoming, and in love with what it still could be. He believes that this different Zionist calling has its roots in Israel’s Independence Proclamation, which promised that the Jewish state “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets.” I hope he is right and the definition is inclusive.
With all the economic and media power it controls, American Jewry in general, and American Zionists in particular, are in a unique position today to either do much good or much harm to our world. Which option will it choose?