Israel, Alone

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tipi Livni

1. Benjamin Netanyahu and Tipi Livni

There is something remarkable and frightening about the fact that Avigdor Lieberman’s Party, Yisrael Beiteinu, came in third in Israel’s recent parliamentary elections, gaining 15 seats in the Knesset, only 13 fewer than Tipi Livni’s moderate Kadima Party and only 12 fewer than the Conservative Likud Party.  Yisrael Beiteinu, which translates to Israel is Our Home, campaigned on an anti-Arab ticket–denouncing Israeli Arabs as unpatriotic, and calling for their expulsion.  The Party could very well decide whether Likud or Kadima is the head of the next government, unless the two should choose to form a unity Government.

Now, every Democratic nation should be able to choose who they please to run their Government, even racially driven, extremist Parties like Yisrael Beiteinu, but the fact of that Party’s success does call to question how long Israel’s current course will be sustainable.  I am a great admirer of Israel, which I view as a a nation at odds with itself, a land of hope and tragedy, a strange mixture of redemption and defeat, startling oppression and the promise of freedom.

The birth of the State of Israel signaled the last chapter in the long Diaspora, but has led to sixty years of Palestinian existence as a homeless population–a sort of new Diaspora spread out across refugee camps, occupied territories, and Arab cities across the region; lead by terrorists, nationalists, and religious leaders; second class citizens in whatever place they have the bad luck of ending up in.  Israel, once lively with the dream of the original idealistis who founded it, has over the years become increasingly militarized, entrenched, and anti-Democratic.

I do sympathize with the plight of Israel.  It took a number of wars to drive them to this place.  Those misguided socialists whose ideas founded the Zionist movement have all been replaced by more realistic leaders.  Unfortunately, the reality that many of these new visionaries live by – be they Avigdor Lieberman or Tipi Livni –  is one of stubborn refusal to make the hard choices necessary to bring about a lasting peace, and in some cases a stubborn resolve to see these compromises aborted.

Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, ostensibly a move toward peace with the Palestinians, was coupled with increased settlement of the West Bank, a region fast becoming a mini-apartheid state with an state; a three-year blockade that has severely damaged the living conditions of Gazans (who had already become a captive market for Israeli exports, and have now been made dramatically more dependent on Israeli mercy and goods through the blockade and recent war); and despite all of this, continued rocket fire out of Gaza, continued violence between IDF forces and Palestinians, assassinations, arrests, and kidnappings–essentially, for all the increased militarism on Israel’s part, it has been met only with violent reprisal and the collective suffering of Israelis and Palestinians.

And now, Israelis have voted into the Knesset fifteen seats for a Party dedicated to the expulsion of Arabs from Israel, and the continued expansion of Israeli settlers into the West Bank–a policy whose logical outcome is the total expulsion of Palestinians and Arabs from Israel altogether, or into smaller Gaza-like enclaves within the West Bank, surrounded by Israeli security forces, and utterly dependent on Israel for their continued survival.

Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu

Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu

The old saying goes, he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword, and the same will be true for Israel.  In 1967, when Israeli forces occupied the West Bank, the Sinai, and Gaza, the pendulum of world opinion shifted away from Israel.  When Israel declared Jerusalem its capital in 1949, the US and Europe were tepid in their response, but by the time Israel captured the Old City almost 20 years later, America had become Israel’s closest ally, in large part due to our containment policies against the Soviet Union, and the perceived intelligence benefit gained from an alliance with Israel.  And American diplomacy in the region has helped lead to some amazing breakthroughs with Israel’s neighbors, namely Egypt and Jordan, and a fragile peace with those nations which has lasted for decades.

Unfortunately, one of the stumbling blocks to a larger peace – a stumbling block during the Camp David talks, and still today – is the question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and no politician in Israel seems willing to tackle this obvious impediment to a two-state solution.

Israel is moving even further into a state of perpetual militarism.  With Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu Party gaining momentum, and poised to form a coalition government, quite possibly with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, the fate of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians hangs in the balance.

I’ve said before that I’d rather live in Israel than in any other country in that region.  Americans and Israelis have many shared values, and the bond of affinity unites us.  However, that might not always be the case.

I wouldn’t want to live in a country where Arab reporters are prevented from reporting at Campaign rallies, or where it is perfectly socially acceptable to chant “Death to the Arabs” at those rallies; or in a nation whose policies lead to the expulsion of a specific race, or the oppression of that entire people in an apartheid like State; whose policies purposefully create a sort of racial caste system both socially and legally, propped up by constant, overreaching security measures.  That is the momentum of Israel today, its original dream all but faded into memory–a dream often vocalized, but never practiced.  This new Israel is fast becoming something unrecognizable and, should men like Lieberman gain control of the Government, almost diabolical.  I’ve long resisted comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany, and even the expulsion of Arabs from Israel does not compare to Hitler’s Final Solution.  But just because it is not as bad, does not mean that it is right. And thematically, the two are similar enough.  The terrorists are winning if this is the only way forward.

Americans cringe at the notion of a militarized State, even if we, too, have increasingly moved in that direction, albeit more externally than internally.  Nevertheless, it is hard to fathom a political Party with similar tenets rising to such heights in American politics.  It is hard to imagine a call for the expulsion of an ethnic group being taken even remotely seriously.  Our immigration debate has within it calls to somehow remove the millions of illegal aliens from our borders, but these are hardly in the mainstream, and more importantly they are not calls to expel any actual citizens.

As our strategic alliance to Israel wanes, and an increasing number of Americans begin to view it as a liability, public attitude  in America will begin to mirror public opinion in Europe, unless Israel’s policies begin to better reflect our own.  This is not to say that Israel should adopt American values based on any sense of American primacy or moral authority, but only to observe that if we lose both our strategic benefit and our common values and sense of affinity with Israel, it is hard to imagine public or political support from America lasting much longer.  The expulsion of Arab citizens from Israel would be repulsive to American sensibilities and our ingrained notions of justice and equality.  Such a move will hurt the Arabs, but it will place a tombstone on the dream of Israel.

Still, the State might live on even if the dream dies–increasingly entrenched and militarized.  It may carry on as a pseudo-authoritarian, pseudo-democratic Police state–a race-based nationalistic island amidst a sea of hostile Arab neighbors.  It will likely lose its peace with Jordan and Egypt, as the squalor and oppression of the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs increases, with no political solution in sight.  In the end, Israel will find itself isolated.  American support will dry up, as Americans become increasingly disillusioned with our War on Terror, and increasingly disgusted with Israeli aggression, which is all too often asymmetrical and unnecessary.  Media coverage may be skewed in favor of Israel now, but this too will shift.

Stories out of Gaza these past few weeks include the slaughter of civilians, of children, of entire families for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time–for being Arab in Israel.  For being Gazan.  For having elected Hamas to power instead of the irreperably corrupt Fatah.

Sometimes these things take time.  Sometimes there are sea changes.  With an Obama administration now in power there are too many unknowns to be sure.  But if the hard-liners in Israel take control and begin implementing increasingly outrageous policies against the Arabs, I can’t see such unilateral and universal American political support lasting much longer.  We could be on the edge of a sea change.  Yisrael Beiteinu may be the catalyst.

And, in the end, Israel will stand alone.  The barbarians will not be outside the gates.  They’ve snuck in already, through the backdoor a long time ago.  They sit in the Halls of Power now.

Update: I disagree with Yglesias.  He writes:

If [Lieberman] had to exist within the framework of a center-right party in an American-style system, he and his followers would be the “base” of his party. He wouldn’t be a viable national leader, but he could still, à la Mike Pence, be an influential force. But more to the point, the larger center-right party would be anchored to the base’s views. Under the current Israeli system, there’s no procedural rule forcing Netanyahu to govern in coalition with Lieberman.

This may be true, but what Lieberman can do in the Israeli system is determine whether Likude or Kadima forms the next Government, and with it can contribute enormously to the policy direction.  Even worse, should Lieberman not join a coalition, if for instance Likud and Kadima form a unity Government, then Yisrael Beiteinu will be the (rather loud) voice of opposition.  Any (likely) fallout from failed the next Government’s policies can be used to inflate Lieberman’s base come the next elections.

Update II: For a more in-depth look at how all this power-broking, coalition building, etc. etc.  works, read Noah Millman’s piece here.

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15 thoughts on “Israel, Alone

  1. I am not all that concerned about Avigdor Leiberman; he’s part of a long traditional of brief coalitions that can’t hold themselves together. Remember Shinui, with 15 seats, holding the 2003 coalition together?

    No, the guy who worries me is Netanyahu. He’s been present for every step backwards in the peace process for almost 15 years. While seemingly not as hard-line as Lieberman, he’s the epitome of the guy who’s completely unwilling to make the hard long-term decisions.

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  2. Mark, that’s a very good point. Often there is more to fear in the one that may “smile and smile” and yet be a villain, than in the one that is so obviously a nutjob. But that’s not really my point. My point is the overall direction Israel is headed. The very momentum seems so counter-intuitive and reactionary…

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  3. I’m beginning to get the idea that you “protest too much” your love and admiration for the state of Israel. Aside from the typical platitudes–land of hope and tragedy; bonds of affinity, etc–your summaries of the history or the conflict tend in a disturbing way towards the Arab side. Why not just go all out and say “some of my best friends are Jews” while at the same time supporting policies that would end up by destoying the state of Israel?

    For example, did you know that most Arab states blame Hamas for the carnage in Gaza? This is because they started a fight they had no idea about how to finish and because of their disturbing practice of fabricating death and destruction by hiding behind babies as they launch rockets randomly at Israel, so as to claim victim status. Did you know that a lot of the original “news” about massive massacres has been debunked even now? Did you know that Hamas, in particular, fights its wars through lies and deception?

    You say,

    The birth of the State of Israel signaled the last chapter in the long Diaspora

    In your reading, Jewish history has been a search to get back to the holy land. Orthodox Jews believe that they will return upon the advent of the messiah. Everyone else may have raised their glasses at Passover to say, “Next year in Jerusalem” but they would have been quite happy to have stayed where they were–in Europe–if it hadn’t been for virulent European anti Semitism. The post-napoleonic era created the figure of the citizen, which was supposed to solve the Jewish question by making Jews citizens. In other words, it was supposed to solve the Jewish question by getting Jews to stop being Jews. When this didn’t work, and Jews were taking advantage of equal rights to excel in all walks of life, Europeans decided that they were a dangerous cabal, which is responsible for all the world’s ills. This is the atmosphere in which those “original, misguided Zionists” founded their movement. Next, you say,

    It took a number of wars to drive them to this place. Those misguided socialists whose ideas founded the Zionist movement have all been replaced by more realistic leaders.

    See my above comment for more “context” about those “original, misguided Zionists.” But the “number of wars” you so blithely mention were all wars of agression waged against Israel by rejectionist Arab states. You left out that little factoid.

    You continue to harp on the issue of the settlements:

    Unfortunately, one of the stumbling blocks to peace since 1967 – a stumbling block during the Camp David talks, and still today – is the question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and no politician in Israel seems willing to tackle this obvious impediment to a two-state solution.

    Did you know that Isreal and Palestine actually reached an agreement on the settlements at Camp David? The so-called stumbling block back then was the “right of return,” not the settlements. This means that the settlements are not the stumbling block you imagine they are. The stumbling block is the refusal of Arabs to live in peace with the Jewish state.

    You confidently predict that

    public attitude in America will begin to mirror public opinion in Europe

    This is what I referred to above. Europeans are hoplessly anti Semitic. If what you say does come to pass, then …. words fail me here.

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  4. Roque–

    You miss many of my points, largely because you confuse support of Israel with support of Israeli policies. Of course I support Israel’s right to exist. I support their right to live peacefully, and I don’t support the right of return, as I believe it is impractical and foolish. However, that does not mean that Israel should postpone dismantling its settlements. The two need not happen together. The settlements can be dismantled and at the same time, Israel can deny the right of return.

    Why not just go all out and say “some of my best friends are Jews” while at the same time supporting policies that would end up by destoying the state of Israel

    I have to say, your implications that I am somehow anti-Semitic are A) totally unfounded, and B) predictable and beneath you. You have better arguments than that, and whenever you stoop to the “attack the messenger” ploy, or question the motives when all you have to work with is assumption, well, you lose the heft of your argument.

    Let’s see, why do I take the “Arab’s side” in my discussion of the history? Do I? You’re right, I did leave out the fact that Israel was attacked first, that they played defense in 67 and 72 (etc.) I did not do so on purpose. I honestly didn’t want to summarize too much what I feel is quite common knowledge. Of course they were attacked–is that even disputed? And of course they had every right to defend themselves, and still do.

    My problem is with the foolish policies that the Israeli Government is implementing that I truly believe will spell disaster for the Israelis themselves. This stubbornness, this caving to the settlers, will leave, in the end, Israel alone without the patronage of the USA. I don’t want to see that happen. At all. I don’t want American public opinion to get to the point that Europe is at.

    But I do want to see Israel reign in its own aggressive policies that are only doing more damage than good now. You can call that anti-Semitic. You can call me whatever you want. But I stand by my admiration for Israel, no matter how clumsy its inception, or how foolish its policies are now. I want for it to succeed, but it won’t if it runs the course its on.

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  5. “The very momentum seems so counter-intuitive and reactionary…”

    Is this not the story of recent Israeli history? With all of the pressing issues in 2003, Shinui wins 15 seats on what amounts to an attack on religious Sephardim. Sharon wins in 2001 despite Barak and Clinton taking the risks at Taba. Netanyahu wins in 1996 because Hamas feared peace.

    I’ll never understand the place – one messianic percent of the country dictates to the rest…At least in the US, it’s the 42% of the country who believe in the virgin birth who tell the rest of us what to do.

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  6. I’m not calling you anti Semitic. The only people I accused of anti Semitism are Europeans and this is amply demonstrated by history as well as current attitude surveys. I’ll have to wait to show you why your version of the history of the conflict is so biased, but for now, rest assured that I don’t take you for a Jew-hater. It would never even have crossed my mind. But, still, wasn’t it MLK who said something like,

    “. . . You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely ‘anti-Zionist.’ And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain tops, let it echo through the valleys of God’s green earth: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews–this is God’s own truth.

    Is this a bogus quote? It looks like it to me, but still, MLK or not, there’s more than a grain of truth in it.

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  7. Thanks for clearing that up, Roque. I’m also not anti-Zionist, though. Most modern day Zionists simply believe in the right of Israel to exist. I am anti-expansionist, and those Zionists who believe in achieving a “greater” Israel to the detriment of peace or the Palestinians have none of my support.

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  8. Here’s what I’m talking about –

    Country by Country Findings on Anti-Semitic Attitudes

    In responding “probably true” to the statement, “Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own country,” the 2009 survey found:

    Austria – 47%, down from 54% in 2007
    France – 38%, down from 39% in 2007
    Germany – 53%, up from 51% in 2007
    Hungary – 40%, down from 50% in 2007
    Poland – 63%, up from 59% in 2007
    Spain – 64%, up from 60% in 2007
    The United Kingdom – 37%, down from 50% in 2007

    In responding “probably true” to the statement, “Jews have too much power in the business world,” the 2009 survey found:

    Austria – 36%, down from 37% in 2007
    France – 33%, up from 28% in 2007
    Germany – 21%, unchanged from 2007
    Hungary – 67%, up from 60% in 2007
    Poland – 55%, up from 49% in 2007
    Spain – 56%, up from 53% in 2007
    The United Kingdom – 15%, down from 22% in 2007

    In responding “probably true” to the statement “Jews have too much power in international financial markets,” the 2009 survey found:

    Austria – 37%, down from 43% in 2007
    France – 27%, down from 28% in 2007
    Germany – 22%, down from 25% in 2007
    Hungary – 59%, down from 61% in 2007
    Poland – 54%, unchanged from 2007
    Spain –74%, up from 68% in 2007
    The United Kingdom – 15%, down from 21% in 2007

    In responding “probably true” to the statement “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust,” the 2009 survey found:

    Austria – 55%, up from 54% in 2007
    France – 33%, down from 40 % in 2007
    Germany – 45%, unchanged from 2007
    Hungary – 56%, down from 58% from 2007
    Poland – 55%, down from 58% in 2007
    Spain – 42%, down from 46% in 2007
    The United Kingdom – 20%, down from 28% in 2007

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  9. Okay, interesting data. Looks like the countries with higher levels of education, literacy, etc. answered the most positively (or the least anti-Semitically). The further East you go, the further the misconceptions about Jews rises.

    But this really doesn’t speak to my larger point.

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  10. I think you are wrong about the US losing support for Israel. Among the American public (according to recent polls), most people support Israel’s attacks on Gaza. In American politics, support for Israeli positions on issues is virtually unanimous. There is little reason to expect that to change.

    I have come to the conclusion that a two-state solution is impossible. It was attempted in the 1990s. The Israelis made a lot of promises and didn’t keep them. The Palestinians see no incentive to seek further peace negotiations, because there are no enforcement mechanisms to see that Israel keeps their side of any bargain; the US will support Israel whatever it does.

    I can only see two possible outcomes: the removal of Palestinians from the Territories through a combination of death, deportation, and flight; or their continuation and as economically and socially non-viable group under military rule and cut off from everything by checkpoints, as Israel further expands into the West Bank.

    The problem could have been solved by a two-state solution in the decades following 1967. It cannot be solved now. There are too many settlements, Israelis are too disinclined to remove them (partly because they don’t expect they’ll have peace even if the settlements are removed), and the United States is utterly incapable of acting as any sort of “honest broker” in the region because the Palestinians have no reason whatsoever to trust it.

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  11. Katherine blames Israel for the conflict in Israel/Palestine:

    The Israelis made a lot of promises and didn’t keep them. The Palestinians see no incentive to seek further peace negotiations, because there are no enforcement mechanisms to see that Israel keeps their side of any bargain… There are too many settlements, Israelis are too disinclined to remove them

    Katherine could not have gotten her understanding of the history of the conflict from anything but Arab/Palestinian sources. It’s amazing and depressing that people like this will hold themselves up as having some real knowledge and understanding of the conflict and as holding some “high moral ground.”

    There’s really no point in debunking Katherine’s views here. It would take too long and it would be useless anyhow. If she wants to identify with the Arab/Palestinian version of the Oslo period, then she has a perfect right to do so. I just wonder what motivates people like Katherine. Is it some poorly-understood third-worldism and the legend of “national liberation?” Is it just an updated version of Antisemitism that she adopts in imitation of the Europeans? Is she an Arab and/or Muslim herself, who feels that the mere presence of a Jewish state in the Middle East violates god’s law?

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  12. Interesting Article, thank you E.D. Kain.

    I don’t regard the ADL as a reliable or objective source of statistics, however I would have welcomed information on shifts in European attitudes to Israeli policy and EU support for it (which is what I was looking for when I came here). The ADL stats are all about European attitudes to Jews rather than Israel.

    I simply don’t believe that anti-Semitism is significant a problem in Europe, particularly Western Europe where opposition to Israeli policy is strongest. Certain it pales in comparison to the problem of Islamaphobia which the US pro Israel Lobby has actively fostered. When I encounter any story purporting to be about anti-Semitism now my working assumption is that it is most likely connected to attitudes on Israeli policy rather than actual anti-Semitism. I’m active in several of the many organisations now opposing Israeli policy and I see no evidence whatsoever of anti-Semitism within them. Indeed, quite the contrary, anti-Semitism is regarded, apart from being abhorrent in itself, as obstructing rather than facilitating the struggle for the freedom, liberty and equality of Palestinians including those who are citizens of Israel.

    With regard to the main issue: I completely endorse the comments made by Katherine above, particularly the section quoted by Roque Nuevo which he attempted to rubbish mostly by character assassination (another frequent Lobby technique). I cannot speak for Katherine, but in my own case these views are based in large part on my own personal experience of occupation and oppression living in Palestine with Palestinians. Of course, unlike my hosts I was unlikely to be subjected to the harassment, humiliation, assault, imprisonment, property confiscation and destruction which is a regular part of the lives of many ordinary Palestinians.

    I note in Roque Nuevo’s remarks on Katherine’s comment that the Anti-Semitism card is played again. How sadly predictable. As bad is the imputation contained in the phrase “imitation of the Europeans”.

    I was once a strong supporter of Israel. One of the most damning things against it is the way its supporters attempt to suppress dissent and harass those who dare to express opposition. If it had right on its side, neither of these would be necessary.

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  13. Miles Stuart:
    In all your wisdom, you haven’t seen the crowds marching and chanting “Death to Israel/Death to the Jews” and so forth during the Gaza war? If this isn’t anti-Semitism then what on Earth is it? Is this what you’d call principled objection to Israeli policy?

    Why isn’t the ADL a reliable source of attitude survey info for you? I’d like to see your critique but I fear it’s just because they’re Jews and committed to fighting anti Semitism. Therefore you must think that they are hopelessly biased–or something along those lines. Which is a hopelessly juvenile critique. If not, then show me I’m wrong.

    The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project disagrees with you (

    Like the Pew surveys, recent Anti-Defamation League (ADL) polls of eleven European nations found growing anti-Jewish sentiment. For example, concerns about the loyalty of Jewish citizens and fears of Jewish economic power have become more widespread in France, Poland and Spain.

    They find that between 20 and 46 percent of Europeans in six nations hold “increasingly negative” opinions of Jews, which includes questioning their loyalty to their countries. In Spain the number is 46 percent. That is, if you go to Spain, chances are that one out of two people you’ll meet will hold these opinions about Jews. In the US, the number is six percent.

    You should read more carefully. I don’t like having people put words in my mouth. I never called Katherine anti Semitic. The only people I did call anti Semitic are Europeans, which I have demonstrated. I was only speculating on Katherine’s motivations for taking the Arab side in the conflict and saying that she possibly is a Euro wannabe. But she may even be Palestinian for all I know.

    Now that you’ve put yourself forward as an expert, explain how, in Katherine’s words, “The Israelis made a lot of promises and didn’t keep them” during the Oslo process. Then show how the Palestinians/Arafat kept his.

    Katherine’s comment about “no enforcement mechanisms” is puerile. There are no such ironclad “enforcement mechanisms” in regards to any international agreement. Any nation can “opt out” whenever it wants to, for any reason whatsoever, if it assumes the consequences. These kinds of consequences will not be any less serious for Israel than for anyone else. Show me why this is wrong, as long as you have “completely endorsed” her comment.

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