This week, when the New York Times featured an opinion piece by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, it harmonized with a crescendo of other recent pleas from prominent American supporters of Israel. Bloomberg warned that Israel’s new governing coalition is trying to give parliament the power to “overrule the nation’s Supreme Court and run roughshod over individual rights, including on matters such as speech and press freedoms, equal rights for minorities and voting rights.” Such a change would, Bloomberg added, undermine Israel’s “strong commitment to freedom.”
Strong commitment to freedom? That would sure be news to the more than 5 million Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.
The pretense is that what’s happening now with Israel amounts to a surprising aberration from its natural state. At times, the denial even rests on the tacit and absurd assumption that Jews are less inclined to commit atrocities than any other people. But recent events in Israel are continuing a long Zionist process that has been propelled by mixtures of valid yearning for safety and extreme ethnocentrism, with terrible results.
Three widely esteemed human rights organizations — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem — have rendered a clear and convincing judgment: Israel operates a system of apartheid against Palestinians.
When Israeli officials are confronted with such truth — as shown in a recent video of a Q&A session with Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely at the Oxford Union in Britain — the responding demagoguery is pathetic and outrageous.
During the last few weeks, Israel’s government has grown even more dangerous in rhetoric and oppressive in deeds, with its soldiers protecting Jewish settlers rampaging as they terrorized Palestinians with horrible violence.
Israel has been the fruition of a Zionist dream, but at the same time a real-life nightmare for Palestinian people. The occupation of Gaza and the West Bank that began in 1967 has been nothing less than an ongoing, large-scale crime against humanity. Now, early 2023 has brought an unprecedented flood of concern from Israel’s supporters in the United States. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government has made clear its fascistic contempt for Palestinian lives, while even taking steps to curb some rights of Israeli Jews.
Since mid-February, the leading liberal American Jewish organization J Street — “pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy” — has been sounding frantic alarms. The group’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, warns that after taking power in early January, “the far-right . . . is now firmly in control of the government of Israel.” And “they are moving at lightning speed to enact their agenda, threatening to make Israel unrecognizable to millions of Jews and others in the United States who care deeply about the country and its people, and who believe in the democratic values on which it was founded.”
In a typical email alert, J Street declared that “Netanyahu is subverting Israel’s democracy” while advancing “a plan to completely strip the independence of Israel’s Supreme Court.” J Street went on to criticize the new government for policies not unlike those of Israeli governments going back decades; the new administration has “moved forward plans to build thousands of new settlement units in occupied territory” and “approved ‘legalization’ of at least nine West Bank settlement outposts that were previously unauthorized by the Israeli government — acts of de facto annexation.”
And yet, after decrying these ominous developments, the J Street action alert just told recipients to merely “contact your representative in Washington and urge them to speak out and stand up for our shared interests and democratic values.”
Early this month, J Street lamented that “terrible violence and conflict on the ground continue to escalate — as this year has seen deadly terror attacks on Israelis and the highest monthly death toll for Palestinians in over a decade.” But J Street refuses to call for a cutback — let alone a cutoff — of the massive subsidy of several billion dollars in military aid that automatically flows every year from the U.S. Treasury to the Israeli government.
Far from being a “Jewish democratic state,” Israel has evolved into a Jewish supremacist state. In the real world, “Israeli democracy” is an oxymoron. Denial does not make that any less true.