“There is an ultimately insoluble contradiction between a Jewish state of Israel that is the fulfillment of the 2,000-year-old Jewish-Zionist dream and a state in which Arabs and Jews possess equal rights—including the rights of the Arabs democratically and peacefully to put an end to the Jewish state. Those who refuse to give Arabs that right but tell him he is equal think he is a fool. He is not.”
– Meir Kahane, They Must Go, 1981, p.71
Everyone’s on pins and needles you guys.
isRaEL iS BeCoMinG LeSs DeMoCraTic
Not only is Bibi back, he appears to be bringing the religious right along with him. The main person in question is Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Ben-Gvir, who lives in the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba in Hebron, is 46 years-old, and as we’ve all gathered by now, he is also a great admirer of the late Rabbi Moshe Levinger.
Levinger is the founder of the now-defunct Gush Emunim group. Founded in 1974, its goal was to establish settlements in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.
Bibi and his Likud party have made a coalition deal with Ben-Gvir’s far-right party, Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Strength”). This will result in Ben-Gvir gaining considerable power. According to Al Jazeera, He will:
“take up the newly created role of national security minister…have control over the Israel Border Police’s division in the occupied West Bank, which currently falls under the defence ministry…take up several newly formed portfolios and roles, including one related to the development of the Naqab (Negev) desert, another as the deputy minister in the Ministry of Economy, and the chair of the Public Security Committee of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.”
The mere fact that they are creating a national security role should be cause enough to raise eyebrows. What’s more, the agreement includes establishing a national guard and expanding “reserve troop mobilisation in the Border Police.”
And that’s not all.
The Religious Zionism party, led by Bezalel Smotrich, will also play an important role in this new government.
Smotrich’s party will have control of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which is “the Israeli government’s civil authority in the West Bank” and a “hybrid military-civil” unit. COGAT also has control of the Civil Administration in the West Bank, “the government’s civil representative in the West Bank,” so that too will fall under the control of the aptly-named “Religious Zionism” party.
The power given to Religious Zionism is significant, particularly given that Smotrich (whose home was reportedly built illegally in a settlement in the West Bank) “advocates the idea of a complete Land of Israel and was even arrested by the Shin Bet internal security agency in 2005 during a protest against the separation of the State of Israel from the Gaza Strip.”
Ben-Gvir has had problems with the Israeli authorities:
“Convicted by an Israeli court in 2007 for inciting anti-Arab racism, Ben-Gvir stoked tension with Palestinians this year when he visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, or Temple Mount, a contested religious site where there is often violence between Israeli police and Muslim worshippers. ‘We’re the master of the house here,’ Ben-Gvir said.”
Despite these controversies, as usual, we shouldn’t expect the US’s unwavering, constant support of a foreign nation to change much.
We Can’t All Just Get Along, Though It’d Be Nice if We Could
Until now, Ben-Gvir had been somewhat relegated to the fringe, but now that he is becoming more mainstream, we must ask: just how ‘extreme’ are his views anyway?
Ben Gvir’s party has its roots in the outlawed Kach party, the party begun by Meir Kahane (1932-1990). The growing strength of these parties should give us pause. Like Kahane, Ben-Gvir may sound extreme to the secularists, but to us, their frankness is a breath of fresh air.
Kahane was a controversial figure even in his adopted home of Israel (he was originally from New York).
Meir Kahane founded the Kach Party and was considered an extremist by many, but if you take some time to listen to what he says, I think he just sounds more frank and more honest than others. This is evidenced by the fact that some of his followers are now mainstream.
This is him in a 1983 interview on CNN, discussing the Conflict:
Interviewer: “I think many people would say that 35 and 40 years ago was quite different than now, and perhaps it is time to have peaceful coexistence. You say there can be none. You want the Arabs to leave. The Arabs…the Palestinians, say that is there homeland, why should they leave?”
Kahane: “Because they want me to leave, and I understand them, and I respect them. I understand the Arabs, and the Arabs understand me, and neither of us could understand you. And neither of us can understand the Jewish leaders who speak about sharing the country.” (2:48-3:23)
I’m obviously not a fan of Kahane, but he’s right. The religious—Jews or Muslims—have a mutual understanding that they do not share with secularists, no matter how well-intentioned the secularists may be at times.
This is in large part why it’s just as well that the religious are moving closer and closer to center stage within Israeli politics.
The Rise of the Israeli Right
AP News reports:
“Over the last year I’ve been on a mission to save Israel.” Ben-Gvir recently told reporters. “Millions of citizens are waiting for a real right-wing government. The time has come to give them one.”
In an article in Foreign Policy entitled “What Makes Israel’s Far Right Different,” David E. Rosenberg argues that the far right groups in Israel are different from those seeing a rise in popularity within Europe:
“What has driven the rise of the far and populist right in the West is subject to much debate, but most would agree that immigration, rising crime, and fading economic opportunity—together with soaring inflation and distrust of traditional establishment leaders—have all played a role.
Israel isn’t contending with those issues. It hosts relatively few asylum-seekers because the government’s draconian policies deter them from trying to enter the country. Crime has risen, but only in Arab communities, which has little impact on the Jews supporting the far right. The economy has enjoyed unusually strong growth for nearly all of the last two decades. Unemployment is close to record lows, the tech sector is booming, and inflation is restrained compared to the United States and Europe.”
Rosenberg pinpoints inherent racism, founded in what he calls “Jewish supremacy,” as the problem:
“Without a doubt, there is a racist component to Religious Zionism’s rise. Its core constituency of believers—which is probably half of its current voting power—is intolerant, not only of Arabs but Jews of the left, LGBT people, and the nonobservant.”
While accurate, what is particularly interesting here is actually what Rosenberg doesn’t identify—that while Zionism is inherently racist, Muslims and Religious Zionists generally agree on points related to homosexuality and leftism today.
Muslims know that the farce of a democracy that is Israel should just say what it is—a state for Jews only. That’s why Bibi is better than the left. After all, it was under him that the nation-state law was passed. Now, with more observant Jews rising up within politics, at least there will be some grounds for understanding.
The leftists of Tel Aviv, who may claim to want equal rights for Palestinians, while clubbing at a gay bar, have little or nothing to do with us. It is for this same reason that it is unwise for pro-Palestine groups to join political forces with the LGBTQ community in the US. While some individuals within that community may be kind, you’re putting your values aside to fight for two causes that will inevitably end up clashing. On top of that, you create mass confusion amongst your own ranks.
Some may consider this to be an exaggeration, but I would say that until religion is recognized at negotiating tables as a major source of this conflict—and until Zionism is recognized as being inherently racist—this conflict will remain in its doldrums.
It will continue to suffer from phoniness and a ‘peace’ process that will lead nowhere (except of course in the favor of the Israelis alone).
A New, Old Way Forward
Here’s the problem: while the Israeli state becomes increasingly religious, the support for the Palestinian cause becomes increasingly secular. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority itself is a largely secular organization, even though I highly doubt that the majority of those in it who have real power would define themselves as secular, to the contrary I’d assume. This divergence creates problems in an already sticky situation.
Indeed the main thing that the Israeli state and Palestinians have in common is that they are, at the least, fairly religious. Figures like Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are actually against the secularization of Israel. This major point of convergence, I think, should be taken more seriously.
But instead, what we get are things like this:
These kind of pronouncements, I’m sorry to say, are useless and better left unsaid. We all know that they don’t believe in peace.
With an incoming government that could be even more violent than what we are seeing now (‘authu billah), why continue with the secular rhetoric which you probably don’t believe in anyway and which has not helped—like at all—towards solving these problems?