Has Netanyahu become the first Israeli sheik?
Seriously, there is no denying that Israel is an extremely complex nation. Following the current and ever-ongoing attempts by the governing coalition of extreme right parties who have hijacked an independent judiciary will not make things any less complex. On the contrary, the overhaul of the Israeli legal system and the weakening of the Supreme Court by Netanyahu’s new team of culprits have deeply weakened the country’s already fragile but once solid democratic system and has now essentially transformed Israel in a kind of a “permanent” right-wing coalition of extreme religious parties led by LIKUD. For many Israelis, this was already a de-facto reality long ago where the permanence of right-wing coalitions, were slowly but surely putting their last death nails into Israeli democracy.
Harsh as this may sound, and in spite of the unending brave protests, the most recent developments within the Knesset are truly depressing on every level. In truth, it is hard to imagine Netanyahu or even Itamar Ben-Gvir becoming Israel’s first sheiks, with white gold trimmed long flowing robes and even starker white turbans. And yet, as far as one can see, Israel of today is finally coming home to its Arab brethren’s. The State, since its inception is legitimately part of the larger Middle East. And as a whole, incidentally this once exclusive “Arab” fabric, once woven from the tensions between what is actually preached and what is actually practiced. A fabric that is put together out of a collision of constructed images which simply do not match or correspond with one another, whether they are political, economic, social or religious. This collision is further exasperated with a non-critical look, a blind spot of sorts, for where most Arab societies are really heading currently in-spite of the bling bling showcase mega projects throughout the oil rich gulf countries: The rest of the Arab world is in dire socio-political-economic turmoil. And it is this exact phenomenon of this very fabric which is so deeply ingrained in faulty tribal stripes of exceptionalism, has now sowed itself throughout the Israeli political landscape as well. Will this fabric magically transform itself into a blue and white keffiyeh alongside the iconic Arab Palestinian symbol or the white Saudi shemagh one? That is the big question, isn’t it?
Has Israel become Arab?
This current situation particularly lends itself to a direct frontal attack on the collective social intellect. This essentially puts aside most non-conformist thinking in the most insidious ways imaginable for a populist reactionary ideology to attack and inflict deep divisions within the social fabric of the State for the mere consolidation of power essentially in one man’s hands. This sounds like virtually all post-colonial Arab States. So, how is it possible that now Israel, that this once potentially, a great and dynamic country, which was still a beacon of hope for the many, has falling so quicky into a dictatorial like and deeply misogynistic, oppressive trap, with a slight -twist of the coalition façade dangling along with one populist front man at its helm.
Unfortunately, Netanyahu once again come to power, and this time with a new emboldened social force behind him. Historically one wonders when did this radical transformation occur from a socio-collective democratic society to this Netanyahu-dominated surveillance obsessed militaristic one? Well, it cannot be overstated, that many of those who voted for the current government are Israelis with deep ingrained roots inside the Arab world itself. I mean for clarities sake, many of the Israeli citizens who vote extreme right, anti-left, anti-peace, anti-negotiations, anti-territorial compromise are indeed coming from different Arab & Muslim lands after all. They and their families had witnessed immense persecution since the founding of the State of Israel and were often forced to leave Muslim majority countries when they did not really wish to depart from their original homelands. So, in many ways, not to mitigate anyone, but the nature of modern Arab anti-Semitism needs to be addressed and explored for a better comprehension of the Realpolitiks inside Israel and its tragic effects on modern Israeli society as well as its deep-rooted impact on the Palestinian human and political tragedy.
When one closely examines, the ensuing demographics, the picture becomes clearer and clearer over-time. We have a larger and larger Arab Jewish population that continues to be by and large at an economic disadvantage. This further continues a massive social divide between many Mizrahi’s (Eastern/Arab Jews) together with the more recent and extremely aggressive Settler movement that are at odds with the more often liberal Ashkenazi’s (Western European Jews). There is even a bizarre sense of inferiority towards Ashkenazi’s here, while simultaneously, a mix of extreme hatred for the “Arab” is ever omni-present.
Never-the-less, poverty, a lack of a sense of mobility and even a collective sense of extreme defensiveness, breeds extremism. This kind of a volatile and explosive situation is absolutely no different for Israel or for the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories for that matter. Without mitigating terror or terrorism here, one can clearly see frequent social eruptions globally. Whether its Hong Kong or most recently France, whenever or wherever a democratic will is in a clash with authoritarian neoliberalism then, there are bound to be clashes and political manifestations. Regardless of the seemingly different causes or even different ideologies, the effects are inevitably the same: oppression of independent voices and oppression of civil liberties. Actually, one doesn’t have to go far to actually find continuing examples. But then again here in Israel, it is indeed a very gripping struggle, because underneath it, there is the fundamental issue about the future of Israel itself. Especially regarding the dynamic nature of Israeli multi-cultural society, with its conflict between civil society and or an ever more religious state, with its conflict between the nature of culture and the relationship of culture to power. And even more complex: The nature of power itself. How is that power to be made more accountable to its own Israeli citizens, to the public at large inside Israel itself and more importantly to its relationship with its Palestinian ‘co-citizens’?
Just look at the demonstrators in-front of the army’s headquarters on Kaplan Street Tel- Aviv, and the violence inflicted on them. The demonstrators, who as political outsiders refuse to budge, refuse to give up hope in the current situation, in-spite of being hauled to the police station. There is somehow an immense ray of hope, because Israel’s diversity and inner resistance reflects all walks of life. Different non-conformist parties and various political minorities, even non-religious, non-Israeli’s, non-Zionists, coming together and demanding equality and justice for all, and at the same time they are all true Israel supporters. Can one honestly imagine this in Saudi Arabia?
A case for democracy?
In following the current protest on the Israeli streets, one sees the conflicting issues and those battle lines drawn on imagining kind of democracy Israel envisions itself to be. Is it the norm of democracy that many in the West have come to believe in and are thus struggling for, i.e.: where minority rights are equally upheld as part of an expansive social contract? Or is it democracy solely based on a numerical majority and under the guise of a supposed democratic process all dissent that does not fit the numerical majority is essentially made legally null and void?
In the case of Israel, as long as it claimed to be a democracy in the first case, it should have been aware of its own responsibilities. Great powers, especially democratic ones, cannot simply justify themselves on the basis of power and wealth alone. Yet, this is exactly what Netanyahu and his ilk just did. The modern imperium is supposed to be a legitimising instrument to socialise its people into its ethos. For that to happen, I suppose one needs basically two things: a ‘ghost’ and a ‘mission.’ Now the British Imperium, not so long ago, supposedly carried the mission of ‘a white man’s burden’; the French imagined, not so long ago, themselves going for ‘la mission civilisatrice’ and the Americans still have their ‘manifest destiny’, a moral calling to watch and guard their walls, while proclaiming global freedom. Each of these imperium’s had their ‘black,’ ‘yellow,’ ‘red,’ and now even ‘green’ menaces. But Israel’s Imperium has a problem. Yes, there is the ghost from the past, and here I mean the SHOAH specifically. But where is the mission that is beyond the narrative of victimhood?
Although for many, the memory of the SHOAH is a supposed pretext for the Israeli culture of defensive or even pre-emptive “aggression”- just like the post-colonial Arab States. But strangely enough this sentiment is even often regarded against Ashkenazi’s who are seen as equivalent to European colonisation and often the SHOAH is considered “their problem, not mine.” But then again, the towering pervasiveness of the SHOAH and its multiple representations are inescapable. Naturally this has to do with the vastness of the industrialised genocide of 6 million’s Jewish people perpetuated in Europe and not on the land where Israel stands today. But nevertheless, this eternal narrative of victimhood just does not seem to fit the reality of the modern, diverse, technologically precocious and socially complex state that Israel is in fact today. Let’s be brutally honest, as long as it is not a protractedly long war, the Israeli military alone is more capable than either the forces of United Kingdom or France and even more so over most global powers as well. So indeed, Israeli military might and its technological prowess are unquestionably very present. The question arises what purpose does it serve? Beyond the legitimate defence, Israel has been described as a strategic assist, but it seems that the current rhetoric of self-defence has actually crossed the boundaries outside the realm of even legitimate defence into a kind of propaganda tool inculcating perpetual fear and hatred for Arabs and Palestinians amongst Israelis themselves. Is that really democratic? While simultaneously, Israel could and has the material, intellectual and industrial power to perhaps be an Enlightened State, that can even afford itself to include its Arabs or even Palestinians in its own midst as genuine citizens if it so desires. If not then, it could even allow the Palestinians to have a dignified separation with sustainable land that can be jointly shared by both parties (i.e.: both Israelis & Palestinians) with both having mutual sovereignty on the same territory. Something that is not far from what many reasonable Israelis and Palestinians are actually proposing and even demanding to this day. Surely, this would slowly dissipate the victim narrative without forgetting the veracity and the importance of remembering the SHOAH and even the Naqba (Palestinian expulsion) together without denial or hatred of the other.
The Palestine equation
When it comes to the Occupation, it just breaks my heart to say this, but there is a total lack of any real sharp intelligent negotiating partners with Israel. Given the real political void on the side of the Palestinians or even the Arabs inside Israel and with the immensity of a fractured Palestinian identity, one sees a resistance movement stuck in its own past ideological imaginings. A mismatch in the communication and negotiation strategies and ignorance of the power of contemporary communication possibilities seem to result in self-sabotage rather than in effective political resistance. Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority/PLO leadership lack the skills of a Zelensky. The kind of repressive violence that the Palestinian Authority/PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah are internally and externally extolling, doesn’t bring them any global support or actual sympathy even from within the Occupied Territories. On the contrary, it puts them, against their own will, in the corner of collective terrorism, DAESH and Islamism. It lacks the content of a revolutionary violence, politically rooted authority and, most importantly, it lacks moral authority. And authority it is not. The PLO, unlike The Irish Republican Army, is at best, more an expression of a feeling than an expression of a resistance movement. This needs to be acknowledged, by both the ordinary Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and within the Palestinian diaspora, but also by the Israelis themselves when and if they begin to move beyond this quagmire of the Israel-Palestine question, either towards a two-State-solution, or a single unitary State with equal representation for two peoples. But here again, the problem is further exasperated, because even as a non-revolutionary organisation, the Palestinian Authority/PLO is badly carrying out non-revolutionary tactics, with a non-revolutionary program by non-revolutionary bureaucrats. To bring up the Irish example here, it did not have the false promises of its Irish bothers, like the Palestinian had from their Arab brothers (i.e.: Arab leaders). The fractures only gets’ wider and wider, but the political frustrations translate to more heinous violence built upon violence. This is preciously why the Irish Republican Army could force the United Kingdom and the United States to the negotiating table on its terms! The revolutionary nature of the IRA de-facto delivered to its people the promises it made. Something the Palestinian Authority /PLO/Fatah Faction or Hamas never achieved and can never achieve. Instead, here we have the most pathetic and humiliating point regarding the Palestinian drama, that is, The PLO surrendered to Israel, but to this day, Israel has not accepted the Palestinian surrender. Netanyahu and or Itamar Ben-Gvir will never ever negotiate with the Palestinians. So, where is the Palestinian female, male or non-binary Palestinian Zelensky? We would be having a very different conversation today if there was a legitimate Palestinian political leadership, that was at-least democratic and dynamic and not politically geriatric. The situation is so dire, that the Palestinian Authority is not even a real political player, but rather puppet of external forces. And nobody expects it to represent them. The situation in Palestinian Authority’s ‘controlled’ lands doesn’t even allow two individuals to meet without being watched or recorded. So, in truth no political organization is even possible under the current leadership. Furthermore, the problem of the Israeli and Palestinian drama is also rooted on total misconception of political representation and the legitimate recognitions of identity. And perhaps, Israel being the real and only power, needed a charismatic, open Israeli Biden of sorts, with a mission of power based on cohesion, unity, peace, inclusiveness for all Israeli’s, and especially for those who are Palestinians as well. And yes, with a leadership that adheres to an open democratic process in spirit of the letter and in its totality of actions. Perhaps, this may sound utterly naïve, but given the immense consequences, some collective ‘naiveté is desperately needed in action to counter the current nightmare.
Furthermore, can one not imagine that Israel should not be seen outside the bounds of the Arab realm of geography or even more pertinent, perhaps Israel should be seen more and more intrinsically linked to a broader Arab cultural identity than many do not wish to see. I am quite aware that many Arabs as well as many Israelis will chew me out for this sacrilege statement. But isn’t that the point, the similarities outweigh the dissimilarities on so many levels and in-spite of the official disclaimers for over 70 years. In-spite of denial and counter-denial of the existence of one or the other, the trajectories of Arabs and Israelis, the trajectories of Palestinians and Israeli’s are bound together and there is NO Exit. Expulsion and counter-terror are not solutions for a vibrant democracy. And are we not all too aware of the horrific human tragedies deliberately inflicted on innocent groups people during our vast 20th century? Have we not learned anything from history?
Although I know it has not always applicable in the case of Israel and even less applicable to her co-Arab neighbours: is how to represent an Enlightened liberal view regarding 1) the relationship between State power, 2) its civil society and 3) its minorities. What one could have said up till the last few days with a resounding affirmative, and in dissimilarity from Israeli’s Arab neighbours. That Yes, until recently Israel still continued to function in the bounds of certain Enlightened liberal values and also held genuinely free and fair elections. But this is exactly what is now totally threatened by the actual changes within the new laws inside Israel against its independent judiciary, against its Arab and Palestinian co-citizens, and against the citizenry at large. Rightfully so, many are deeply worried and in fear that Israel will no longer have legitimate elections… One can already see that a vast population in Israel is not allowed to vote, and now with the laws changing over the last few nights – independent, critical voices and members of the Israeli civil society will definitely be the next target to lose their voices and those precious basic rights that made Israel so unique to begin with. So yes, despite all the utterly cruel and despicable actions of the current ultra-right-wing government and its followers, for all those who want and who inherently believe (like myself) in a just and equitable solution with Israel once again being a real beacon of hope for the entire Middle East, then we really have no other choice but together, to continue to fight for a free democratic Israel, even if it seems utterly hopeless. Finally, given the horrific Russian invasion of a sovereign Ukraine, shouldn’t the international community be sanctioning Israel as well for its illegal annexation of Palestinian occupied territories and thus force this once beacon of hope, this great land of Milk and Honey back to its own democratic founding principles?
“There must be another way”: written together, performed together by the Israeli singer Noa (Achinoam Nini) with her music partner Gil Dor and with the Palestinian singer-songwriter and political activist Mira Awad.