In the strange political gyrations that contributed to forming the new Israeli government, Bibi Netanyahu left open the foreign ministry portfolio, ostensibly for Labor chief Isaac Herzog. Prevailing wisdom from the Likud is that after a post-election cooling off period, Herzog will see the light and join the ruling coalition and accept the job. This will prove terribly convenient to Netanyahu, who desperately needs a liberal fig-leaf to shield the fascist, and even criminal elements who prevail in the present iteration of the cabinet.
Leaving the post open creates an odd vacuum by which the deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, becomes in effect the acting or interim foreign minister. Netanyahu doesn’t work out of the ministry. The person who sits there physically and commands authority is Hotovely. She, like all her colleagues in the cabinet, is an ardent settlerist. She also has the benefit of adding a feminine luster to the cabinet boys club.
In my post about the new government ministers, I noted that it would be impossible for the world to deal with her. Her views are, if anything to the right of Lieberman’s (who yesterday called Netanyahu’s affirmation of a two-state solution the equivalent of “autism“). She opposes a two-state solution, which is where it gets a bit complicated. Everyone in the cabinet opposes two states…except the prime minister. Who supports two states when he’s talking to foreign leaders. But not when he’s talking to a domestic audience. Which bring us to another irony: the hasbarists used to chortle about Arafat saying one thing in Arabic and another in English. This is precisely what Bibi does, except he says two different things in ONE language, English! If you’re confused, don’t be. This is Israel, after all.
Returning to Hotovely, today she gave her inaugural address to the foreign ministry staff. It was a doozy. She argued that the MFA in the past has been too concerned about the niceties of diplomacy; about advancing clever legal arguments to advance Israel’s position before the world. Instead, she argued, we have to cease with such sophistries and tell the world what is morally right. It is simply moral, right and just for Israel to own the entire Land of Israel. We know it from our Bible. God has told us so and our sages endorse this.
She harkened back in Jewish history to the Middle Ages and dragged poor Rashi, the 12th century French Talmudist, into the fray on behalf of the nation. Here is how she characterized Rashi’s commentary on the opening verse of Genesis:
“Rashi says the Torah opens with the story of the creation of the world so that if the nations of the world come and tell you that you are occupiers, you must respond that all of the land belonged to the creator of world and when he wanted to, he took from them and gave to us.”
Hoping that the deputy minister had mangled Rashi, I researched his commentary. In truth, Hotovely erred in attributing this to Rashi. The latter was quoting another scholar, Rebbe Yitzchak, who’s quoted as saying:
“Rebbe Yitzchak said, ‘[God] need only have begun the Torah from ‘This month shall be to you” which is the first Commandment which Israel was commanded. For what reason did it begin with ‘Bereishit’?… So that if the nations of the world will say to Israel, ‘You are bandits, for you conquered the lands of the seven nations’ Israel will say to them, ‘The whole earth belongs to the Holy One, Blessed is He; He created it and He gave it to the one found proper in His eyes. By His wish He gave it to them, and by His wish He took it from them and gave it to us.'” (Rashi, Bereishit 1:1)
Unfortunately, Hotovely appears to have gotten the passage right. The rabbis did justify the Jewish people’s conquest and eternal control of Israel through resorting to a vague Divine blessing.
But in the process, Hotovely opened up an entirely new can of worms. Who were these “seven nations” from whom Israel might be accused of stealing the Land? They are the nations which occupied the Land of Israel when the Israelites first entered it following their forty years of wandering in the desert: the Hittites, Hivites, Jebusites, Perizzites, Amorites, Girgashites, and Canaanites. What happened to them? The Bible recounts wars of conquest in which the tribes were eventually wiped out. In many cases, there were battles, exceedingly bloody ones, in which the tribes were conquered. In other cases, perhaps they were assimilated into the Israelite tribal population.
But in the case of other neighboring tribes like the Amalekites, whom the Israelites battled on their way to Canaan, God commanded his people to utterly wipe them off the face of the earth–every man, woman, and child. Further, he cursed any Israelite who showed any mercy. This can only be called the earliest record in literature of genocide.
What Hotovely didn’t tell you was that the medieval rabbis she invoked are offering their blessing to this genocide. Which means that by quoting them she herself is approving of historical genocide. In one of my posts, I wrote of Nakba as Israel’s Original Sin. And in a strict sense that remains so. But if we want to speak of the entire breadth of Jewish history, the wars of conquest are the Original Sin of the Jewish people.
But unlike today, there’s little we can do to redeem the suffering we caused to the seven nations, since they’ve been wiped out. But there is something we can do regarding Palestine. We must not permit this benighted Israeli government led by knaves and fools like Hotovely, to drag us back to the days of Biblical holy wars.
Contrary to what the minister said in her address to her colleagues, Rashi is not the relevant halachic or civil authority determining Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. No one in the world, contrary to Hotovely’s belief, will be moved by resorting to Rashi to bolster a modern claim for what amounts to conquest and theft.
World leaders ought to do a very quick calculation about whether they can afford to be seen with this person. Can you imagine her telling the foreign ministers of the world that a latter day claim of modern Israel is justified by a medieval rabbi who spent his entire life in rural France? Is this the image you want to project?
Finally, lest anyone misunderstand what I wrote or seek to exploit it for their own fraudulent purposes, none of this negates the immense suffering of the Jewish people throughout its history. What this post suggests is that the history of a single people is full of acts of good and evil. When you have power you can do great evil, when you don’t you can suffer great evil. The key is to walk a fine line between the two.
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.