Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s Terror Minister (aka minister of national security), visit yesterday to the third holiest shrine in Islam posed a deliberate provocation to the entire Muslim world. When he first proposed the visit, Bibi Netanyahu issued soothing words implying he would postpone the plan. In the meanwhile, he actually gave Ben Gvir approval for the visit; or the latter merely informed Netanyahu he would go regardless of what the PM wanted. The only condition Netanyahu imposed was that the Judeo-fascist firebrand should coordinate with the police and security services.
For that reason, Ben Gvir arrived at 7 am when the site was practically deserted, entered by a side gate (see video clip below), and stayed for thirteen minutes. That was long enough for him to film a video (see below, with translation) brimming with defiance and boasting of Israeli sovereignty over every inch of the site.
Further, one of his main campaign promises was to permit unlimited access to Jews, which is now restricted. This would raise a furor in the Muslim world, just as Ariel Sharon’s 2000 visit to the same spot ignited the Second Intifada. 6,000 Israelis and Palestinians died thanks to Sharon’s incitement. One can only imagine what could happen after Ben Gvir dropped this match into a burning cauldron.
Ben Gvir’s defiant words at Haram al-Sharif:
Israel will not be intimidated by a group of murderers, a despicable terror organization. The Temple Mount is the most important place of the Jewish people. It is open to everyone: Muslim, Christians and yes, even Jews make pilgrimage. In the government I joined, there will be no discrimination or racism [against Jews]. Jews will make pilgrimage to the Temple Mount. We are making clear to Hamas: we will not be intimidated, we will not surrender, nor will we blink [before them].
Before yesterday’s incident, world leaders have said that they trust Netanyahu as the “adult” in the room, who will moderate the hijinks of his teenage charges. The Biden administration said that it would ignore the extremists and only deal with Netanyahu. But this strategy is doomed if Netanyahu and his extremist colleagues are both pursuing the same aims (with somewhat different tactics).
Clearly, this episode indicates that the prime minister either cannot or will not restrain the worst excesses of their ideological zeal. Netanyahu himself has encouraged such illusions with soothing promises of moderation. However, those who believe anything out of his mouth are fools. He is a silver-tongued snake who tempts the world with apples from his garden.
After Ben Gvir’s visit, the world turned upside down. Condemnation was universal. One of Israel’s closest Arab allies, United Arab Emirates, called for a UN Security Council meeting to protest the provocation. King Abdullah, whose kingdom is the custodian of the holy sites told CNN: “If people want to get into a conflict with us, we’re quite prepared…We have certain red lines… And if people want to push those red lines, then we will deal with that.”
The Biden administration, as is to be expected, offered bromides and pablum:
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said…Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount “has the potential to exacerbate tensions and to provoke violence.”
He further stated that the U.S. “is deeply concerned by any unilateral actions that have the potential to exacerbate tensions precisely because we want to see the opposite happen. We want to see tensions reduced.”
Price added that “We know that the exceedingly rare instances of previous high-profile visits to the Temple Mount have only exacerbated tensions. This is not an academic question, we have seen what has transpired in the past, and we continue as I said before to strongly support the long-standing historic status quo at the site.”
(Some) American Jewish groups denounce new fascist government
As I’ve written here, the US Israel Lobby groups have welcomed the new government, deliberately ignoring its fascist ideology. They act like robots repeating the same few words over the over as if they’re under hypnosis. Nor have the progressive Jewish groups been much better. J Street did release two statements. One followed the inauguration of the new cabinet and declared Israel’s (non-existent) democracy in danger. The second expressed ‘alarm’ at Ben Gvir’s visit. It ended with this statement which sounded like a pro-Israel version of the Pledge of Allegiance to Brand Israel:
As a pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy organization committed to a US-Israel relationship rooted in shared democratic values, J Street will continue to urge the Biden Administration and Congress to stand up clearly for the key principles and commitments that this government threatens.
T’ruah also released a strong statement:
“Israel’s new government is a stark display of rising facism and racism. Netanyahu’s coalition government gives power to violent, right-wing extremists who seek to incite political violence and who will put lives at risk. The rise of figures like Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich, and the Jewish Power party show the real danger of extremism and faith becoming entangled. Perhaps most dangerous to Israeli democracy…”
That last phrase about “Israeli democracy” [sic] had a distinctly liberal Zionist gloss. There is a fervent, but false conviction among liberal Zionists that Israel is a democracy. It blinds them to the reality. But at least they’ve made this statement.
Meretz’s US affiliate, Partners for Progressive Israel also denounced the new government. However, it championed the Israeli liberal Zionist party as the body which would lead the fight. In fact, Meretz didn’t even cross the electoral threshhold and for the first time in its entire history has been shut out of the Knesset. It is politically irrelevant.
Despite these statements from multiple organizations none, in my reading of the media, has mentioned any of them. That speaks to the bias, ignorance or sloppy journalism of outlets like Haaretz, JTA, the Forward, etc.
Update: Jewish Voice for Peace just sent me their statement about both the new fascist government and the Ben Gvir intrusion. Without doubt the best of the ones I mention here:
…The new Israeli government has been clear about its agenda from the beginning: ensure Jewish supremacy over all land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and expedite the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. This is the most extremist, supremacist government in Israel’s history…Some of its new leaders, including Ben-Gvir, openly advocate for the formal expulsion of Palestinian citizens of Israel who they deem disloyal. We should heed the warning signs – Netanyahu’s new coalition will aggressively oppress Palestinians, suppress all dissent, and foment violence.
We call on progressive American Jews to join us in demanding an end to U.S. military funding to Israel, and to actively participate in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement until Palestinians are free.
If Not Now also called for stronger US opposition to Israel’s apartheid regime. It sent a statement from which this is excerpted:
The question for the Biden Administration is – will the US finally withdraw its support from a government that is openly violent and racist? And for American Jews – will we move beyond voicing our horror, and push for actual accountability?
If Not Now promised, when I inquired of their communication staff, that a statement would be forthcoming tomorrow. Jewish Voice for Peace said the same. While I respect each of these groups immensely, I can’t help feeling some were asleep at the switch. Fascism raised its weary head and so many paid little (or not enough) heed.
Not to mention the Squad and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Nothing from any of them as far as I have read.
The theo-fascist cabal behind the new Israeli government has a clear agenda: Judeo-supremacy and ethnic cleansing. But that’s only the plan for Palestinians. It has similarly repressive plans for the Jewish population as well. I call it Jewish Talibanism. It mixes a fundamentalist form of (Orthodox) Judaism with an anti-woke social agenda. That includes homophobia, misogyny, and a Judeo-supremacism that echoes Nazi Aryan principles.
Women will be restricted in many public spaces. Women will not even be allowed in the back of the bus with men. Men will have their own separate buses. Women their own: separate but equal. We all know how that worked out under Jim Crow. Rosa Parks successfully defied white supremacy. But Israeli women, I’m afraid, are entering a new era of oppression. Further, women will no longer serve in the army, as the Judeo-Taliban believe that women’s role is in the home, raising children. Sound familiar?
Gay Pride parades, held every year in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (despite one fatal and another near-fatal stabbing in previous years), will be canceled. One senior rabbi even called the new Knesset speaker, who is gay, “infected by disease.” Doctors will be permitted to refuse treatment to gay patients. Business owners may refuse service to gay patrons.
The homophobes will tell you they have no prejudice against gays. But they seek, as the Supreme Court argued in the Hobby Lobby and related cases, to respect religious conviction. Of course, the argument is specious. The truth is that they hate gays and want to legalize homophobia without acknowledging that’s what they’re doing. Though, of course, their lies may be so persuasive they actually believe them.
Returning to the theo-fascist religious agenda: Ben Gvir’s visit is the first shot across the bow. It marks his intent not only to open full access to Jews, but to destroy the existing status quo, which permits the Palestinian Waqf to control the Al Aqsa mosque, while Israel controls all the territory surrounding it (largely the Kotel). Destroying the status quo will, he believes, provoke massive fury in the Muslim world: precisely what Ben Gvir wants. He seeks a final triumphant confrontation with the Palestinians and Muslim world in general. He wants Israel to declare once and for all that it is, as he has warned Palestinians, “master of this house.” He plans to pursue his agenda without regard to Muslim sensitivities.
The ultimate goal, which Ben Gvir has admitted may be far in the future, is the destruction of Al-Aqsa and the building of the Third Temple on its ruins. The twisted Judeo-eschatology envisions the rebuilt Holy Temple as the event that will bring the Messiah, the Jewish version of the evangelical End of Days.
The world must not make a mistake by viewing this as the ranting of lunatic fanatics. They are, to use a phrase, as serious as a heart attack. They first began this movement after the 1967 War, which saw the “miracle” of Jewish conquest of Jerusalem’s Old City. This in turn offered Jews access to the Kotel for the first time in twenty years. Many Israeli Jews saw this as a God-given miracle which would, eventually lead to messianic redemption. Even many secular Israelis shared in this mass euphoria. But while such zeal may have cooled among the majority of Israeli Jews, it has only intensified among the hardcore zealots: the Hilltop Youth and their political mentors, Ben Gvir, Smotrich, et al.
Against such a powerful belief system, only equally strong pushback will stop the looming catastrophe. These Judean radicals want a final confrontation between Jews and Muslims. They believe to the bottom of their souls that God is with them, their cause is righteous, and they will vanquish their enemies, emerging victorious. The secular among us have a word for this: genocide. Whatever the final outcome, half the world could be incinerated in the process.
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.