Defense Minister Bogie Yaalon, a devout adherent of settler ideology, has been persona non grata for the U.S. administration for the past six months. He was largely responsible for torpedoing John Kerry’s year-long peace talks. On top of that, he dissed Kerry publicly, calling him “messianic” and “obsessive,” for the crime of exerting pressure on the Israelis to compromise in the negotiations.
Seeking to get himself out of the dog house, Yaalon traveled to Washington DC this week for what he hoped would be meetings with top-level administration officials. But it didn’t work. The highest he managed to snag beside defense secretary Hagel was UN Ambassador Samantha Power. The only reason he succeeded with her is that Power had agreed to the meeting before the administration decided to give the Israeli a cold shoulder.
It wasn’t just a silent snub, a U.S. official (possibly ambassador Daniel Shapiro) leaked to Yediot Achronot about Yaalon’s humiliation, intending to rub it in. The ex-chief of staff tried to shrug it all off by saying the bad blood was in the past. But statements from Washington showed otherwise.
In the past, I’ve written about Yaalon’s intimacy with the most extreme elements of the settler movement. He toured Australia on a Likud fundraising trip with Moshe Feiglin, which Meir Kahane’s son helped organize. Kahane lives in Tapuach, one of the most violent and homicidal of settler outposts.
So it comes as no surprise that the defense minister bowed to settler ‘pressure‘ to deny public transport access to Palestinian workers traveling to and from Israel. Settlers offered the bogus argument that the workers posed a security threat to them on the buses, and to Israelis inside Israel. They manipulated the alleged threat by lifting a Hamas song created during Operation Protective Edge, which was intended to spook Israelis with the threat of Palestinian military prowess. They accompanied the ominous musical message with video images of Palestinian workers disembarking from Israeli buses. The message was that any of these faces could be the next terrorist bombing one of these buses.
The propaganda is crude and unpersuasive. If it were in this country you’d breath a sigh of relief that right-wing media efforts are so primitive. But in Israel, it doesn’t matter how primitive the propaganda is. The settlers own the levers of power. They rule. They don’t need sophisticated media outreach. They don’t need polish to persuade Israel, since Israel is already persuaded.
Ironically, the argument about the Palestinians offering a terror threat within the Green Line was contradicted by the statement from the defense ministry the next day that the new apartheid system did not prevent Palestinians from traveling to Israel, it only meant they had to travel in more restrictive fashion (through a different checkpoint).
It’s worth noting that IDF commanders on the ground in the West Bank said there was no terror threat from these integrated buses. And there have been no previous terror attacks from this source. Of course there haven’t. Palestinians need work. Why would they allow a terror attack in their midst and destroy their own livelihood? And why would terrorists target a bus full of Palestinian workers?
Unfortunately, this is logic and reason; and settlerism doesn’t respect such niceties. It respects hate, fear and ignorance. It respects racism and Islamophobia. It respects Judeo-nationalism.
There is only one reason for this new apartheid ruling: Jewish settlers hate Palestinians and refuse to ride with them. In this way, they are no different than the whites of Birmingham who found riding on a bus with Blacks to be distasteful. The difference between the U.S. South and Judean Occupation is that a Palestinian Rosa Parks would be arrested, beaten, and sent to prison. If Palestinians boycotted the Israeli public transport system it wouldn’t harm settlers in any way since they’ve already created an apartheid system that divides Jews from Palestinians. There is no way, unlike 1950s Birmingham, that Palestinians can pose an economic threat to Israeli Jews.
Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer said that this decision returns Israel to those darkest periods of human history, from American slavery to South African apartheid, and show the ugly face of Occupation.”
Israeli liberals like Gershom Gorenberg are fond of asking inane questions like “where is the Palestinian Gandhi.” This is the wrong question. It’s obvious why there’s no Palestinian Gandhi: because he’s in an Israeli prison or dead. Unlike Gandhi or Martin Luther King, I believe there are times when non-violence fails in the face of implacable evil and violence. When the perpetrators have no conscience and are willing to go to any means to defend their privilege, then non-violence cannot succeed. We’ve seen tens of thousands of examples of Israeli homicidal violence against Palestinians which resulted in little or no echo of compassion from Israelis. Even if there was compassion, there was no accompanying resolve to change.
In one perverse way, Yaalon’s ruling makes me happy. It shows the true face not just of settlerism, but of the entire Israeli apartheid system. Make no mistake, Occupation is not a moral stain external to the Israeli State. It is at the heart of the State. The State as currently constituted could not exist without it. And with each new outrage, the world is further awakened from its moral slumber. BDS will become stronger. The campaign for justice and statehood in the UN strengthens.
Much more blood will be shed on both sides. But the arch of history points toward justice. It will happen.
There is a rightist slogan very popular in classical Zionist circles: “Masada must not fall again.” (sheynit Metzada do tipol). Alas, the current iteration of the Israeli state is a second Masada, especially in the form of the self-destructive policies pursued by the Likudist majority. This second Masada will fall, in fact must fall. To be clear, I’m speaking of an ultra-nationalist Masada in which racism and oppression are at the heart of the State. This Masada, fortified against justice and moral conscience, must fall and will.