I wrote here about a scandal initiated by Shin Bet chief, Yoram Cohen, a few weeks ago concerning the past Gaza war. Cohen arranged for some of his most senior agents and officers to speak on camera with Israel’s most popular news magazine, Uvdah. The message was not a pleasant one. The Shabak claimed that both the IDF and cabinet ignored its repeated warnings several months before hostilities began, that Hamas planned a war against Israel in which it would invade the country and attempt to conquer territory. The message backfired once the segment aired. The IDF of course reacted with rage. But even more importantly, the domestic security agency came across as whiny and carping about not being given credit for the valuable work it does in protecting the State. The unspoken message was that the Shabak was the only government agency which raised the alarm while all around them were asleep at the switch.
Perhaps in a more traditional democracy such a complaint might have resonated had the security agency had a strong political opposition which could take up the cause, call hearings, command headlines. But Israel has no such system (in security matters there IS not opposition), so Cohen and his boys were left out there hanging all alone. No one came to their defense. What’s more, the facts didn’t appear to support the arguments they offered to the Israeli public. It didn’t appear that the Shabak knew any more about a Hamas attack than any other military or intelligence agency. In short, Cohen was made to look the fool.
As a result, several prominent journalists began to demand the chief’s head. The Uvdah strategem was so blatant, so out of character for an agency not known for washing the nation’s dirty linen in public, that it seemed reasonable to demand accountability and a resignation. Amir Oren wrote such a story in Haaretz. Yossi Melman joined him in i24. Even Bibiton joined in.
But when they raised the question of who might replace Cohen, they diverged in evaluating the candidates. As I’ve noted before, there are two major figures in the running: Nadav Argaman and Roni Alsheikh. The one drawing most attention and controversy is Alsheikh. His nickname is The Fox, and he’s known for his wily, relatively violence-free interrogation technique. He rose up through the ranks along with Cohen, whose speciality was recruiting Palestinian agents. Their paths crossed professionally numerous times and they worked closely on numerous cases. Today, the deputy is known to have the ear of his boss.
That’s because they derive from the same Mizrahi Orthodox ethnic milieu. While Cohen’s family ethnic background is Afghani, Alsheikh’s is Yemenite.
For the first time in the Israeli media, Yossi Melman has published a mini-profile of Alsheikh. It appears designed to make him more palatable to Israelis of more centrist views. Melman notes that while the agency deputy has a religious-nationalist reputation, even more secular Shabak officers say it hasn’t interfered with his adherence to high professional standards.
Melman notes that Alsheikh is a graduate of one of Jerusalem’s prestigious yeshivot and a former West Bank settler (he no longer lives in a settlement). He has eleven children and was already a grandfather at age 40! There can be no doubt that despite Cohen’s slightly quieter and more moderate style, they’re both devotees of settlerism, which is, after all, the sina qua non of the Likud.
One of Cohen’s “innovations” at Shabak headquarters was the dedication of a new synagogue. In naming it, they eschewed conventional middle-of-the-road names like Beth El, Beit Elohim, Beth Am, Beth Israel, etc. Instead, they went whole hog, adopting the tragi-messianic name, “Masada Fortress.” Any student of Jewish history can tell you that, at least according to the prevailing myth, Masada’s defenders fought bitterly to the end against the Roman invaders. When all their other options were exhausted, they committed suicide in order to protect national honor. That should tell you quite a bit about the nationalist impulses of those who run the show there.
Haaretz’s Sefi Rachlevsky called Alsheikh’s political leanings “messianic,” which infers a presumed devotion to the more radical of the settlers. If you’re a liberal Zionist, afraid that ultra-nationalism will stain the reputation of Israel’s purported democracy, his appointment would be quite alarming. One could expect a rise in Jewish terrorism and price tag attacks along with an escalation of the level of Jewish violence. Increased calls for destruction of the Haram al-Sharif (videos like this by Israeli settler “activist” Avishay Ben Yishay will no longer be considered mere fantasies) and expulsions of Palestinian residents from East Jerusalem. One would expect the police and intelligence services to ignore or even facilitate settler transgressions. Such an appointee would fuel the rising religious war that’s gathered a head of steam over the past month or so.
Many of Haaretz’s columnists believe that Israeli democracy is salvageable if they would only work hard enough to save it. For them, Alsheikh is yet another nail in the coffin of such liberal Zionist dreams. I don’t share these views. Like Jerry Haber who, during the 2008 election, publicly welcomed a Netanyahu victory because he believed it would further expose the fatal flaws of the current Israeli political system and hasten its downfall, I believe the more extremist Israel’s security approach becomes, the quicker the world will understand the naked ugliness at the heart of apartheid Israel. External pressure and even intervention is the only hope for Israel’s longer term survival. It won’t come as long as liberals inside Israel and out believe there’s something left to save of this empty shell. So in this race to the bottom, I say may the worst man win. Israel should get what it deserves: a Shin Bet director who reflects its worst fear, ignorance, violence and hate. It’s supremacism, bigotry and Islamophobia. Let’s not put a pretty face on this.
Liberal Zionists want to merely rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. Why should we care whether the intelligence chief is a radical settler or more moderate, Meir Kahane or Tzipi Livni? What’s the difference, really? One smells nicer than the other. But they each end up the same place. It only takes longer for one to get there than the other. They both serve the same fundamentally unjust system. If the worst candidate wins, and bares the fangs of the agency so that the world sees this evil more quickly and clearly–so much the better.
The same holds true for candidates for prime minister. Besides the certainty that no “moderate” could win, I wouldn’t want one to win if he or she could. I say elect the most extreme there is. Bibi’s too smooth. He’s learned to sweet talk and appear moderate when he needs to. Bennett, despite his support for ethnic cleansing and bantustans, may also be too moderate. Lieberman would be good. A former club bouncer turned Israeli despot. A fire-breathing fascist. Maybe Feiglin. Eventually, you know as well as I, he will throw his hat into the ring. I want him, personally. The worse the better. Let the world see the ugly face of Israeli racialism. Force the world to stare it in the eye till it blinks.
Abraham Lincoln said “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” In this case, that’s not such a bad thing when the foundation is based in thievery, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. The “house” that is Israel, the one predicated on Nakba, Occupation and apartheid, must fall before a New Israel can rise in its place.