One grim upside of Israel’s massacre in Gaza has been the way in which a widespread view of the Israeli state has come into alignment with those who know something of the region’s history. As more revelations about war crimes come out, the contradictions of Israel’s complex idea of itself — as both victim and the end of victimhood — and the way it sells its wars, come to the fore. Thus crushing blows can be delivered on subject populations because their rockets represent an existential threat — but the blow can be delivered so crushingly because they actually don’t.
But in the long slide to paranoia, one signal moment that people will look back on is today’s announcement by Ehud Barak that Labour would enter a coalition with Likud and Yisrael Beitenu (Israel, We’s Takin’ a Piece of the Action — sorry, Israel, Our Home), the latter’s leader Avigdor Lieberman, taking the role of Foreign Minister.
Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer from Kishinev Moldova (which is like being a bouncer from downtown Pago Pago, where even the quiet customers are 300-pound Samoans), has two key policies: a loyalty oath for Israeli Arab citizens, and the “swap” of Arab Israeli towns for West Bank Jewish settlements. Both are clear apartheid policies, effectively making Israeli Arabs provisional — i.e. non — citizens, a status they explicitly lived under from 1948 to 1966.
The second is simply the re-establishment of the policy of transfer, ethnic cleansing 3G, whereby Israeli Arabs are transferred into a stateless, sequestered entity, and any prospect of contiguous territory in the West Bank sliced up even further.
The Labour move, voted up by its 1400 member executive by about 650 votes to 550, may yet split the party — which has been reduced to 14 seats (out of 120 in a parliament it ran for 30 years), which would be the end of Labour in its current form, and of a certain idealised form of what Israel is.
The Labour approach to Zionism was always somewhat self-deluding — Labour’s Haganah forces had been as heavily involved in the ethnic cleansing of 1948 as the terrorist groups who eventually became Likud, and Labour was instrumental in establishing the de facto apartheid that dominates Israeli Arab life — but it had the remnants of something resembling an approach guided by ultimate reconciliation. With a Likud/Beitanu/Labour government, that is sealed off. The “left opposition” in Israel is now Kadimah, a party founded by Ariel Sharon.
With this tripartite alliance, Israeli Arabs — one of the least violent subject people around — have become the official social enemy, a move foreshadowed before the elections when MPs of all Israeli Jewish parties voted to ban the Israeli Arab parties from participating.
What remains of the idea of a secular democratic polity in Israel is being squeezed between an increase in orthodox literalism — with an increasing base in the army — and an influx of Russian immigrants, who provided Lieberman’s support base, and whose background is the torpid late-Stalinist politics of the outer regions of the USSR, in particular its search for social enemies, without whom everything would be hunky-dory.
You couldn’t blame anyone Jewish for wanting to get out of Moldova, or points surrounding, but the cute secret of the current phase of Israeli immigration is that a lot of them aren’t Jewish at all. Faced with a grievous decline in western Jewish immigration, Israeli authorities have quietly relaxed the rules so that anyone digging up a Jewish female relative or two a few generations back — or even dodging up faked ancestry — can get in. The bizarre result was that last year the cops uncovered Israel’s first neo-Nazi cell — a bunch of Russian kids who finally got out of whatever sh-t hole they were in, only to find that everything they were told was spot-on. Wherever they looked in Israel, the Jews were in charge.
One would have thought that the last thing you wanted to do, would be to disenfranchise a minority population so definitively that an entire section of such population see insurgency as both necessary and legitimate? As sh-tty a deal as Israeli Arabs get from Israel, a significant number of them obviously want to live in an actual constituted state rather than an undefined no-place like the territories. To systematically push them to define themselves wholly against that state is really a substantial anti-achievement.
But once you lose sight of the bigger picture — as did the white South Africans or the Ulster protestants — then you can trek a long way from reality. What better sign of that than the country would choose a racist thug for a foreign minister, one who wants a two tier society, at the same time as the country that pays for its army chooses its first black President? Why not segregate the public buses and lunch counters, and have done with it (indeed this is already happening in Jerusalem, where there are now significant public areas where Arabs are forbidden to walk)?
Hubris and paranoia are two sides of the same shekel in this case. The very fact that Israel can exist at all can only come about because of the consent of the Israeli Arabs — which must be spurned and alienated to, um, protect Israel.
With the latest revelations about war crimes in Gaza — deliberate shooting of civilians, white phosphorus use — the “invasion” is acquiring the character of an experimental massacre. Israel’s leaders seem to have been intent on using the population for experimentation with new weapons. They seem intent on testing their own country to destruction — theirs and others.