Well I see a bad moon rising
Yeah I see the end coming soon
Well I hear earthquakes and lightning
Yeah I hear the voice of rage and ruin
Well don’t go out tonight
It’s bound to take your life
Yeah there’s a bad moon on the rise
Well I see the rivers overflowing
I hear the troubles on this way
Yeah I hear that hurricane blowin’
Well I’ve seen some bad times today
Well I hope you have got your shit together
I hope you are quite prepared to die
Well it looks like we’re in for nasty weather
Yeah one eye is taken for an eye
—Bad Moon Rising, Credence Clearwater Revival
There are times when bad things happen to Israel and its response to them make things worse. Then there are times, without any prompting, Israel shoots itself in the foot (or mouth). Recent days offered a perfect example of this. In light of repeated tit-for-tat terror attacks in Jerusalem in recent weeks, along with Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes, and police pogroms in Al Aqsa mosque, Netanyahu has decided he’s got to teach those Palestinians a lesson they won’t soon forget.
So he’s proposed a series of what I call Israeli racialist laws that strip much of the “democracy” from the term commonly used to portray Israel: a “Jewish democratic state.” Na’aman Hirschfield, an Israeli academic living in Berlin, wrote this keen description of the proposed legislation in Haaretz, which he declares affirms the official triumph of Israeli apartheid:
…The government approved a bill that extends Israeli civil law into the settlements automatically (settlers are already subject to civil law) and thus officially extends the state’s civil jurisdiction into the west bank, which being an occupied territory, is currently governed through martial law…This territorializing action…seeks to dissolve the distinction between the occupied and non-occupied…
The result of such legislation is to extend Israeli law not just to individual Israeli citizens who live in the West Bank, but to the territory itself. From there it’s just a hop, skip and jump to annexing the Occupied Territories entirely to Israel. A goal all settlers and most Israeli rightists share. One which will lead to civil insurrection both among Palestinians in the Territories and likely inside Israel itself.
…The democratic and secular basis of the state is under attack with the proposed “Jewish Nation-State Basic Law,” which Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed to push through as soon as possible.
The first clause of this law states:
“a. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people in which it realizes its aspiration for self-determination in accordance with its cultural and historic heritage;
b. The right to realize the national self-definition in the State of Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people;
c. The Land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and the place of establishment of the State of Israel.”
It further asserts the significance of “Jewish tradition as a source of inspiration” [for] legislation, demotes Arabic from being an official language into a secondary language, and sets the “basics of liberty, justice and peace envisioned by the prophets of Israel” as a defining characteristic of the state alongside democracy.
…The [proposed] law would force the Supreme Court to give more weight in judicial decisions to the Jewish element than the democratic one in all instances in which there is a clash between the two, curtailing the judiciary and removing key checks and balances that have thus effectively prevented the enactment of a de jure apartheid through legislative and executive actions. It would also dramatically exacerbate the bias against Palestinians who are Israeli citizens (euphemistically referred to in Israel as “Israeli-Arabs”,) while introducing the denial of the Palestinians’ claim to a homeland and of their right to self-determination, into the legal foundation of the State of Israel itself; making the erasure of Palestine and Palestinians into the law of the land while enabling the expansion of the state to include the entire territory of the Land of Israel / Palestine.
Though the racist foundation of the State of Israel was clear from its very beginning in the Nakba, until now there was always a tension between the Jewishness of the state versus its democratic nature. For the first thirty years or so, the secular, democratic nature of the state was prominent, perhaps even predominant. But that began to erode with Israel’s victory in the 1967 war and the rise of settler Judeo-nationalism.
These proposed law would forever seal not just in law, but in the foundational principles of the State that it officially rejects the Declaration of Independence which affirms the multi-ethnic nature of the State and espouses equal rights for all citizens regardless of religion. If Israel had a constitution, these proposals would be, in effect, amendments fundamentally altering the nature of the state. It would be as if John Hagee persuaded a Christian president and Congress to amend the Constitution to endorse Christianity as the state religion, and the secondary place of non-Christian religions in American society. Further, it would be as if such amendments also affirmed that the State existed to affirm the aspirations of the white Anglo-Saxons; and that non-whites could have no similar expectations within this state.
If Christian evangelicals made such a proposal, it would be met with consternation and roundly rejected. But only because the U.S. was founded with a constitution that enshrined separation of church and state. In Israel, David Ben Gurion deliberately finessed the question of how prominent the role of Judaism should be in affairs of state. For him, the legitimation offered by Israeli Orthodox Jews at the time the state was founded was much important than defining the limitations of the role of religion in the state. As a result of this devil’s bargain, we have the current mess.
Reporters in the mainstream media have noted that these new proposals, which are a religious version of the Nuremberg Laws, would drive a wedge between Israel and Diaspora Jews; and that it would also further erode support for Israel within the international community. But I think it will go further than that. With such a fundamental change in the nature of the state, Israel will truly become a pariah state.
As long as there was a tension between religion and democracy in defining the State, the world could choose to see Israel as a democracy and overlook the fundamental violations of rights of the non-Jewish minority. But once Israel renounces democracy, all bets are off. Then Israel becomes apartheid era South Africa or North Korea. It may be possible for Israel to survive the ensuing sanctions and isolation with which the world will respond. But it will survive as a pariah state in the same way North Korea is.
Israel’s advocates will respond: no, Israel will be no different than scores of countries throughout the world viewed as pariahs (Moldova, Zimbabwe, Sudan, etc.). Each of those countries are viewed no more favorably than Israel, yet their leaders continue to lead and the world has done nothing to topple them.
This may be true. But none of these countries plays a critical role either in their region nor are they a threat to regional peace and stability. In other words, their sins may be ignored, something the international community always prefers if it can get away with it. That is not the case with Israel. The Middle East is too central, too critical a region to ignore in this way. There is too much at stake in terms of natural resources and the possibility of nuclear conflict.
But there comes a point in the affairs of men and states, when the world can no longer ignore oppression and injustice. Then it is forced to act, whether as a result of genocide (Rwanda, Serbia) or a campaign by international activists (South Africa).
UPDATE: The latest news is that after threatening to bring down the government if it voted on the “Jewish state” bill, Avigdor Lieberman brokered an agreement to postpone a vote by seven days. I’m not sure what the delay is supposed to accomplish, unless it’s meant to water down the language so so-called moderates can either vote for it or hold their noses as it passes.
Israeli Palestinians: Canaries in the Coal Mine of Israeli Democracy
Today, Israel’s leading Judeo-fascist politician, deputy Knesset speaker, Moshe Feiglin, ejected two Israeli Palestinian MKs who spoke to the plenum objecting to the proposed racialist laws. In doing so, Feiglin violated basic protocol of the body. But as long as he violated only the rights of ‘secondary’ MKs, there will be no repurcussions:
MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) was forcibly removed from the Knesset podium and dragged out of the plenum on Monday evening after he called Moshe Feiglin (Likud), the acting speaker, a fascist. Prior to Zahalka’s eviction, MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) was removed from the plenum, also at the behest of Feiglin, for allegedly shouting “You should be suffocated” at the acting speaker.
Barakeh was evicted without prior warning, which is required by Knesset regulations.
The session, which was debating a no-confidence motion, came to standstill after Zahalka’s removal, with opposition MKs loudly protesting the move. Feiglin subsequently explained that he had meant for Zahalka to be removed from the podium but not evicted from the plenum.
…In his speech, Zahalka attacked the new Jewish nation-state bill…Quoting the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, Zahalka said that she had criticized the idea of a national homeland for the Jewish people in 1941, arguing that it would turn the Palestinians into second-class citizens.
After Feiglin interrupted the speech with questions about Zahalka’s sources and terminology, the MK said: “I suggest you read her. Of course you are in an opposite world from hers… She was anti-Nazism, anti-fascism — and you are a fascist.” Feiglin ordered Zahalka to end his speech immediately and, when Zahalka refused, he called the security guards, three of whom dragged the MK from the podium and out of the chamber.
I have deliberately used the term “fascist” to portray Feiglin because of his belief in Judeo-supremacy, his desire to destroy the Haram al-Sharif and replace it with a shrine to Judeo-primitivism and animal sacrifice, and because he supports the expulsion of Palestinians not only from the Knesset, but from Israel itself.
There is a related anti-democratic Knesset bill which would call for the expulsion of any MK who called for violence to oppose the State. It’s known as the “Zoabi law” since it’s intended to eject her and disenfranchise her Palestinian voters. Of course, Zoabi has never advocated armed rebellion against Israel. But in Israeli terms, if you say a sympathetic word (as Israeli Jews would define “sympathetic”) about acts of Palestinian terror, then you yourself are terrorist.
This bill is not controversial among most Israeli Jews who detest Zoabi with a hatred once reserved in this country for Malcolm X, and no one inside or outside Israel would get terribly worked up about her expulsion. But they should. Zoabi is the canary in the coal mine of Israeli democracy. If she “expires” politically, it’s only a matter of time before the Judeo-fascists come after more moderate opponents, even Jews.
I’ve regularly written here that Israeli party/electoral politics have grown increasingly irrelevant to Israeli society and certainly to any possibility of resolving the Israel-Arab conflict. The Knesset isn’t a body which makes major decisions relevant to Israelis. Almost all such decisions are made by the cabinet or ministries. Can anyone watch the above video in which Feiglin shoves a sock in Zahalka’s mouth and then blithely turns to fellow rightist Yuval Steinitz and recognizes him to speak in place of the Palestinian MK, without recognizing the irrelevance of the Knesset? It is an illustration of the dysfunction and bankruptcy of Israeli politics. An emblem of despair and the collapse of whatever vestiges of democracy that remain.
Livni and the Co-Optation of the Political Center
Those of you versed in Israeli domestic politics may remember that the justice minister in this most extremist of all Israeli governments is none other than Tzipi Livni. She was the child of Irgun extremists who fought at the side of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir in the days when they were terrorists. Livni had a change of heart when Ariel Sharon abandoned the Likud to begin what was originally conceived as a “centrist” party, Kadima. She joined him as a senior leader of the new party.
Almost all Israeli politicians except those on the governing far right have virtually abandoned political principles in favor of survival. That’s why Livni agreed to accept a cabinet portfolio in the Netanyahu government. She did so despite the fact that she fundamentally disagreed with the foreign policy of the government and its approach to Palestinian peace.
Now, Livni, whose justice ministry would implement the very racist laws her government is proposing, has discovered what a schandeh they would be. She’s stolen a clever Peace Now graphic featuring the Israeli Declaration of Independence with all the democratic clauses stricken from the document. They say the imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But in this case, it’s the height of insincerity and hypocrisy.
If these proposed laws really bothered her all she has to do is resign to express her fundamental opposition. But she doesn’t dare do that because there is increasingly no role for moderates in Israeli politics. Without a ministry, she’d be consigned to political oblivion. She has no real mandate, no clear platform. Whatever she claims to represent (peace or democracy) she’s abandoned every time she was forced to make a choice.
To express her mock horror at recent developments, Livni featured a graphic of the Israeli Declaration of Independence with the democratic clauses excised. It would be more powerful if she hadn’t ripped off a far more graphically compelling version by Peace Now. Here is how it reads in translation (words in brackets are the “updated” Likudist version):
The State of Israel will be open to the aliyah of Jews and to the ingathering of exiles. It will strive for the development of the land for the betterment of
all its citizens[its Jewish citizens]. It will be founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace[faith, military power, and extremism] in light of the vision of Israel’s prophets. [the Likud central committee]. It will maintain the absolute equality of social and political rights for all its [Jewish] citizens without differentiating between religion, race orsex. It will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. It will protect the holy sites of all religions [except Islam] and be true to the principles of the United Nations.[the Bayit Yehudi party].
The signatures on the document are meant to imitate those of Ben Gurion and ministers in his first Israeli government. But here the signatories are Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, etc.
I feel far differently about the sort of developments I described above than I once might have. When I was a liberal Zionist, the horrors and opera bouffe above would’ve embarrassed me on behalf of Israel. I would’ve decried them and pointed out how bad they were both for Israel and Jews the world over. But now, I’m sorry to say, I welcome such megalomania. It is the only way to expose to the world the racism, violence, and injustice at the heart of today’s Israel. It is the only way to cause such revulsion that it will be forced to take action. It is the only way to transform Israel and make it a decent place.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.