Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Lunatics Have Taken over the Asylum

Israeli society is standing by as settlers take the reins

Zeev Sternhell - Ha'aretz

Like every year during the days around Yom Kippur, the big question arises once again: How is it possible that we didn't notice the signs of the approaching war? But not only wars have early-warning signs - destructive social and political events do not come like a bolt from the blue either.

There is a growing tendency for the right to distance itself from "price tag" hooligans and to make us forget the fact that these belligerent groups, which are increasingly reminiscent of phenomena in Europe in the interwar period, are only the vanguard of the entire settlement movement. Of course, the vast majority of people living on the other side of the Green Line are disgusted by the torching of mosques, but I don't recall that many of them went out to demonstrate against the pogrom that took place in Anatot at the end of last week, nor that they condemn the daily harassment of Palestinian farmers, the uprooting of trees or the daily reign of terror in Hebron.

They consider the torching of mosques unnecessary and harmful, but daily control over the lives of Palestinians helps to perpetuate the occupation regime, and here the hilltop gangs play an important role in the service of the settlements: The hooligans' activity is living proof of the hopelessness of contemplating any change in the territories. After all, these gangs are drawing the boundaries of the government's power: Even if some day the right is no longer in power or Israel is forced to give in by dint of international sanctions, policy in the territories will not change substantially, because there the rioters are in control, in cooperation with the police and the army and with the general consensus of silence. They hold all the cards; threatening the possibility of a violent uprising against any government that does not serve their interests.

Under these circumstances, any negotiations for an agreement with the Palestinians, whether direct or indirect, are no more than a sad joke. The truth is that Israeli society and its governmental institutions are standing by helplessly in the face of the settlers' regime of fear and blackmail.

The other arm of the pincers closing in on Israel is that of the "respectable right." The two arms combine symbolically in the person of the justice minister: Well ensconced among Israel's wealthiest citizens, Yaakov Neeman serves in the present administration as the envoy of secular and "socially oriented" Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and, at the same time, does not conceal the fact that he hopes for the implementation of a halakhic (religious ) rule of law.

The religious community and the secular ultra-nationalists do, in fact, have a common basis and common objectives: They all consider the principle of Jewish supremacy as the only basis for Zionism and for Israel's existence. Just like ultra-nationalists in Europe during the dark period of the previous century, just like racists all over Europe today, the Israeli ultra-nationalists nurture ethnic solidarity by means of xenophobia and hatred of the other.

In their eyes, a community of all the citizens of the state, which includes the Arabs, is an artificial community, just as the concept of citizenship is artificial, and therefore inferior to the ethno-religious community, which they consider natural. Religion serves as a tool to exalt the privileged Jew and to trample those inferior to him. In this overarching concept, human rights and universal values are seen as infantile principles.

In this situation, signs of disintegration are multiplying in all areas of life. Antidemocratic legislation that has already been approved in the Knesset, with the support of Kadima, and legislation yet to come, is encouraging the erosion of liberal components of state education. That is also how we have come to accept as self-evident the expulsion of foreigners whose children were born in Israel and - according to accepted practice all over the Western world - should have been considered Israeli to all intents and purposes.

These are only a few examples that make radical, Israeli ultra-nationalism seem retrograde and alienated from the best of the democratic tradition. We can reasonably assume that there will be a continuation.


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