Benjamin Netanyahu, in collaboration with Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir and a cohort of other fascists, has been executing a judicial coup which guts so-called Israeli democratic institutions and threatens liberal reforms.
Many Israelis are infuriated. They’ve always viewed Israel as either part of Europe or the United States’ 51st state. “The only democracy in the Middle East”, a “villa in the jungle” with its fancy boutiques, exquisite espresso bars, glitzy shopping malls, wild/sexy nightlife and world-class wineries and restaurants. Most liberal Zionists see themselves closer to “civilized” white Christian Europeans rather than their “primitive” Brown Muslim Arab neighbors.
Liberal Zionism promotes the notion of a left-to-right spectrum within Israel. Yet the differences between the extremes are merely tactical and cosmetic, maintaining an illusion of a humane society with a healthy democratic discourse. “Left-wing” and “Liberal” Zionist parties engage in civil liberties for members of the privileged class yet dare not address the nature of Zionism, whose adherents have terrorized Indigenous Palestinians for over seven decades.
For liberal Zionists, without LGBTQ rights and buses on Saturday, Israel would simply become another Middle Eastern theocracy in which women are rendered inferior and prayer is mandatory in schools. In contrast, they see themselves as trailblazing feminists who believe women should have every right men have, like the right to enlist into military combat units and kill Palestinians. And what about Palestinians, you ask? It’s complicated, they respond.
The “Pogrom” and B’Tselem
As with every fledgling Israeli regime, the current government seeks to market itself to the Israeli public, distracting from its own corruptions and inadequacies by massacring Palestinians and stealing their resources. However, in contrast to recent administrations, Netanyahu and his cabal now unapologetically incite vigilante and mass civilian settler violence in addition to advocating for military incursions, mass arrests, bombings of innocent civilians, sieges and assassinations.
On the night of February 26-27, supposedly in response to the shooting of two Israeli settlers, hundreds of settlers rampaged through the Palestinian town of Huwara, near Nablus in the occupied West Bank, killing, torching and wounding.
Israeli liberal society was outraged. Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Human Rights Organization said in response:
“As a Jewish person, we know what a pogrom is. Because Jews have been on the receiving end of pogroms for too many years. Now, after what happened here on Sunday night, there are hundreds of Jewish settlers that know what a pogrom is not from the side of suffering under it but from the side that has committed that atrocity.”
By comparing the events in Huwara to a “pogrom”, a word closely linked to massacres of Jewish people in Russia or eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, El-Ad continues B’Tselem’s unfortunate framing of Zionism as a Jewish project enforcing “Jewish supremacy”, rather than the correct identification of genocidal western settler colonialism and white supremacy.
It is common practice for Zionist propagandists to promote the anti-Semitic fallacy that Israel is a Jewish state which represents Judaism and thus all Jews. Spearheaded by Netanyahu in 2018, Israel’s The Nation State of the Jewish People law enshrines this canard as an addition to Israel’s Basic Laws, which operate as a stand-in for a non-existent Constitution, pursuant to Israel having never declared its borders thus enabling continuous theft of Palestinian land. The fallacy serves as the cornerstone of Zionist propaganda (aka Hasbara), galvanizing support for Israel’s settler colonialism and attack of anti-colonial resistance.
Clearly, Zionists would much rather engage with accusations of carrying out a “pogrom” than a “white supremacist settler rampage”, ironically despite the obvious white supremacist nature of the former. Deploying its police, military and settler brownshirts, Israel has always been engaged in settler violence aimed at expansionism and resource acquisition. In fact, Zionism is a racist and settler colonialist movement, which opportunistically coopts aspects of Judaism in an attempt to justify its criminal practices against the Palestinian people. Zionism is based on a distinctly secular outlook, which embraces aggression and expansion as an acceptable response to trauma and denounces the traditional Jewish pacifist approach of viewing hardship as divine punishment for sins. Zionist strategists manipulate the past traumas Jews have endured to gain support for aggressive criminal policies that disenfranchise and evict Palestinians.
Unfortunately, El-Ad’s comments are in line with this Zionist tradition. However, the framing of Zionism as “white”, not “Jewish” enables and strengthens the formation of coalitions between all those opposed to settler colonialism and white supremacy and hinders Zionist attempts at sabotage by hurling cynical accusations of “anti-Semitism”.
The Israeli Flag and Zionist Propaganda
The ultimate propaganda goal of any nationalistic apparatus is to fuse the perception of “self” with that of “nation” into a cohesive identity that is loyal to the ruling class. Indeed, one symbol has reemerged in nearly every image and video from these liberal Zionist protests throughout Israel and the West Bank – the Israeli flag. These protests have become a nationalistic chest-beating contest in which protesters compete with Israeli police, and politicians – Netanyahu and his fascistic brethren – over loyalty to Israel and Zionism. Hence, it’s clear these protests are no real threat to the apartheid regime. Yet, they could pose a threat to Netanyahu’s solidification of the Nation-State law within the Basic Laws as he seeks to extinguish the power of courts to change or remove it, along with protecting him from corruption charges.
Meanwhile, millions of Indigenous Palestinians in Israel, the Occupied Territories and diaspora are excluded from this reactionary discourse. For them, the Israeli flag represents their catastrophe and can never symbolize justice.
Indeed, Zionist propagandists have recognized the immense propaganda potential in these protests. They can claim Zionism is indisputable within Israel, and is fundamentally liberal, even democratic, as it supposedly allows a range of opinions and tolerates opposition.
Not only have these protests failed to threaten the Israeli regime, Netanyahu and his government have unapologetically and confidently deployed police tactics against protesters normally reserved for Palestinians and occasionally ultra-orthodox Jews. These tactics, including flash grenades and skunk water are small potatoes for Palestinians who are murdered every day by Israeli occupation forces, including women, children, elderly folk and members of the press.
Further, amidst worldwide condemnations, including within Israel’s political spectrum, some Israeli politicians have maintained their emboldened inflammatory rhetoric. Betzalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister with sweeping civilian powers in the West Bank said the town of Huwara “should be erased”, yet not by civilians, but by the military.
The horrific oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people will not cease as a result of actions by the Israeli/Zionist public unless Palestinian demands for justice are supported first and foremost. As with the 2011 social justice protests, these recent demonstrations reflect discontent from a class of Israeli society afraid to lose certain privileges. Inevitably, Palestinians will continue to suffer apartheid and genocide until the international community intervenes.
By contrast, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has wisely adopted a strict anti-Zionist, anti-racist platform grounded in human rights. Built on clear understanding of oppressive systems, intersectional resistance and the path to liberation, BDS incorporates lessons of past anti-colonial movements, dismantling fictitious, divisive political narratives of white supremacy, imperialism, racism and patriarchy. The recognition that various oppressed peoples have common enemies serves to reinforce solidarity and cooperation between them, enhancing the growth and success of principled grassroots movements worldwide.