It is so common for Israeli Palestinian MKs to be charged with treason, aiding the enemy, spying, etc. that Israeli Jews not only take it for granted, but accept that the charges are true without any offer of proof. But it’s a relatively new phenomenon for Israeli Jewish MKs not just to be accused, but to boast that they gave away classified information to settler hoodlums that was used as part of an assault against a West Bank army base in which two senior officers were wounded by bricks and rocks. Because of the assault. the IDF was prevented from demolishing an illegal outpost, which was the original goal of the settlers. In most other democratic countries this would be considered akin to sedition. In Israel, not so much.
It’s bad enough that MKs Zeev Elkin (chair of the ruling coalition caucus in the Knesset) and Uri Ariel admitted that they secured information directly from IDF sources about the mission of military forces that night, and passed this information on to settler activists so they would know where the IDF was liable to strike. This allowed them to concentrate their forces to do the most damage to the IDF and its mission of evacuating the outpost. But Nana is now reporting (Hebrew) that senior minister Benny Begin joined in this operation. He is not just an MK, he is a member of the senior ministerial committee that deliberates on major strategic and policy initiatives (like whether Israel attacks Iran). Begin is also the son of Menachem Begin, one of the icons of the classical Israeli Jabotinskyian right. Begin isn’t known as a settler hothead. So when he too joins in such acts, it carries far-reaching consequences within the Israeli centrist community. It’s yet another sign of the triumph of ultranationalism in Israeli politicial discourse.
Do you think the Israeli police will dare investigate these MKs, whose loyalty is not to the State or its authorities, but to an unofficial vigilante rabble that is at war with the State they supposedly represent? This reminds me a bit of the Southern members of Congress in the years leading up to the Civil War. Their allegiance was increasingly not to the United States, but to their region. Time after time, they betrayed their country on behalf of their fellow Southerners, which led to deep mistrust and eventual national disintegration.
Israelis and Diaspora Jews wring their hands in frustration claiming that these bad settlers spoil it for all the other good, law-abiding settlers and the rest of Israel. It’s the old good cop-bad cop routine. The extreme settlers are the bad cops, the average Israeli citizen is the good cop. The argument goes: don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Remember that Israel is not these bad seed settlers. If we could only control the bad guys, then all would be well.
This is horse manure. As I argued in a recent post, the radical settlers aren’t separate from, or opposed to the State. As far as the West Bank goes, these settlers ARE the State. Civil and military authorities do their bidding. Settlers exercise massive control in their domain and no one threatens it, least of all a few rock throwing Palestinians and their do-gooder international activist friends.
Israel is not disintegrating, at least not yet, because the settlers and their allies control all the levers of power that they need to maintain their movement. Unfortunately, there is no Israeli Lincoln to offer the settlers a final ultimatum. There is no Ben Gurion willing to face down Begin and fire on the Alta Lena in order to put down a possible insurrection. Israel needs discipline and internal cohesion on behalf of an overarching principle like democracy. There is none and no one to impose it.
There is, however, a rising discipline among the far right and a vision of how to impose control over social and political structures that will ensure their permanent majority. So it becomes a question of time before Israel becomes a far-right state along the lines of Milosevic’s Serbia. The liberals have been vanquished inside Israel. There is no loyal opposition. There is no coherent alternate political philosophy. The left is not just in disarray but in full-fledged disintegration. The right is ascendant. It cannot end well.
My only wish would be for the settlers to secede from Israel–without the IDF to protect them from their Palestinian neighbors. We could call it the Confederate State of Judea. It would last for about five minutes, if that.
In a related development, the police arrested four of the activists who trashed the IDF base. It is the first time in my recollection that anyone has been arrested for any of the price tag violence that has happened over the past few months (except possibly the arrest of Dor Oved for his death threats against Peace Now). The only reason they were arrested was that they broke a certain social taboo. You can kill Palestinians in cold blood, even assault your fellow Israelis. But you cannot touch the IDF. You cannot assault an army base. That goes one bridge too far.
My prediction? The four will be out of jail in days, if not hours. They’ll be celebrated by their comrades who will sing and dance and lionize them for their heroism. The rest of Israel will yawn and go on with their lives. Let the settlers do what they want as long as they don’t bother us here too much. As for trial and punishment? Not on your life. But if (and this is a big ‘if,’ the pogromists were prosecuted for a crime, these MKs should be accessories after the fact. Begin, Elkin and Ariel aided and abetted serious lawbreaking and injuries to senior IDF commanders. That should count for something, even in a country in which democracy and the rule of law is going to Hell in a handbasket. In a real democracy, a senior minister whose leaks cause harm to senior military personnel and the trashing of an army base would resign. But Israel I guess isn’t that sort of place. It’s a place in which such behavior is rewarded rather than castigated.
Anat Kamm’s leaks didn’t result in a single injury to a single Israeli soldier. But Begin’s did. But who’s been punished and who is walking free?