Israel’s growing anti-democratic tide deepens

My following essay appears in Lebanon’s Al Akhbar English:

Radical Jewish colonists in the occupied Palestinian West Bank have been attacking Arabs for decades. In the past these incidents barely rated a mention in the Israeli press, let alone the global corporate media.

It was only this month after a small group of Zionists rioted at an Israeli army base that the Israeli government expressed outrage over their behaviour. The violence “shocked” Israel,… wrote the New York Times, while the… torching of mosques… has now become a regular event.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his military to apply administrative detention orders to Jewish extremists, as is routinely done with Palestinians in the territories. Aside from the fact that such a change in policy highlighted the apartheid nature of Israel’s matrix of control in the West Bank – different laws apply to Jews and Arabs – even the Israeli army claimed it would… make little difference.

Successive Israeli leaders since 1967, across the political spectrum, have indulged, funded, supported, defended and armed hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in the West Bank (and Gaza until 2005). The effect of this mass colonization project, condoned by Western powers, has been the impossibility of a viable two-state solution and growth in ultra-nationalism. Acceptance in a post Arab Spring Middle East is a… remote dream.

On countless occasions I’ve seen young Israeli soldiers standing idly by while settlers hit Arabs in the West Bank and destroy their fields. The main job of the army in the territories is to maintain and enlarge the Zionist hold on valuable land.

The Israeli government and the vast bulk of the Zionist Diaspora have remained silent for years when colonists attack Palestinians in “price tag” missions. Indeed, public fund-raising events in America, including those held by the Hebron Fund,… openly collect tax-exempt donations… for the very people the Israeli government now claims to be against.

In Australia similar… fund-raisers are held for the Jewish National Fund… (JNF), an organization directly complicit in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian properties. A JNF board member in America… quit this month… after the organization launched eviction proceedings against a Palestinian home in East Jerusalem.

The rot has well and truly set into the Israeli political establishment. A columnist for the Israeli daily… Haaretz, Yossi Sarid,… argued that all the settlements were illegal… and damned the horror currently felt by the Israeli army (no mention of the Arabs, of course, with violence against them seemingly less important than harming Israeli soldiers):

“So there is no need to be overly impressed by the orchestrated shouting about the Frankenstein that has gotten out of hand, because the denouncers are the ones who created him. They were warned a thousand times about creating a state within a state, an army within an army, but they didn’t want to listen. They were too scared of the settlers and their rabbis. We see them in their disgrace, dancing in front of Zionism’s coffin, and despise them.”

The depth of the problem was revealed by right-wing Zionist publication,… The Jewish Voice, who… proudly published tips… for settlers keen to sabotage army equipment. One read:

“The engines of vehicles, especially armoured vehicles, are highly sensitive to sand or sugar. The same is even more true about the vehicles’ oil and gas tanks. Carelessness about that could do serious damage to the unit’s ability to carry out destruction, just because of a little inattention, wouldn’t it be a pity?”

It would be a mistake to presume Israel’s democratic deficit simply occurs in the occupied territories. The current Knesset has revealed the dark authoritarianism that beats inside the Jewish state.

I recently spoke to a leading independent American journalist Joseph Dana, currently living in Ramallah, who told me that it was impossible to find more than a select few Israelis who understood the depth of the problem and what was required to force an ideological change on the population.

Liberal Zionism is in crisis, pushed into silence by its cherished two-state dream disappearing and far happier to demonise boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) than propose any serious alternatives to Knesset-backed fascism. Importantly, few Israelis chose to enter the West Bank and witness the creeping apartheid against Palestinians living there; the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem bubbles are far more comforting. The vast bulk of the Israeli media class… see no evil… and remain on the establishment drip feed.

An increasing number of pieces of legislation aim to disenfranchise Arabs, liberal Jews, secular Jews, Palestinians and the Jewish Diaspora without which the nation would not survive.

The Financial Times,… in a scathing essay in early December, highlighted the myriad issues. Hagai El-Ad, the director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, repeated the mantra that I hear amongst the real activist Left in Israel. “This is not just about anti-democratic bills, this is about anti-democratic society,” he said. “It is about the idea that human rights are somehow synonymous with treason, and about creating an atmosphere of suspicion.”

These trends caused Philip Weiss, founder of the influential American website… Mondoweiss, to write, “Israel isn’t good for the Jews anymore.” He railed against mainstream Israeli opposition to multiculturalism, pluralism and tolerance.

It is something growing numbers of liberal Jews worldwide are rejecting. Even former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg… wrote in his Atlantic blog, “I think we’re only a few years away, at most, from a total South-Africanization of this issue.” The one-state solution is happening by default, whether those bleating about maintaining a Jewish majority like it or not.

Israel has always relied on unlimited Western largesse to fund its racism. When arguably America’s most influential columnist,… New York Times’ Thomas Friedman – a man with a long history of defending Israeli extremism,… explains a new book by Belén Fernández… – starts denouncing the “Israel lobby” for… buying the US Congress… and blindly acquiescing with discriminatory policies towards Palestinians, the mood is shifting:

“If the 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians are not a real people entitled to their own state, that must mean Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank and that must mean — as far as Newt is concerned — that Israel’s choices are: 1) to permanently deprive the West Bank Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and put Israel on the road to apartheid; 2) to evict the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing and put Israel on the road to the International Criminal Court in the Hague; or 3) to treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as citizens, just like Israeli Arabs, and lay the foundation for Israel to become a binational state. And this is called being “pro-Israel”?”

None of these attitudes concern the pro-settler… Jerusalem Post… who this week… editorialised in favour… of a Republican front-runner, Newt Gingrich, who didn’t even acknowledge the existence of Palestinians as a legitimate people. Other measures to delegitimize any opposition to Zionism include this… recent essay published by the neo-conservative haven… American Enterprise Institute that argues, “How Israel’s defence industry can help save America.”

The Western liberal love for Israel ended many years ago. What remains less accepted, however, is what has been taking place instead of the myth.… Haaretz… publisher Amos Schocken… enlightened his readers… that the ideology of [settler movement] Gush Emunim has dominated Israel for decades. It is irreversible. It is Israel:

“This is a strategy of territorial seizure and apartheid,” he despaired. “It ignores judicial aspects of territorial ownership and shuns human rights and the guarantees of equality enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.”

The wilful ghettoization of communities is now endemic.Take the example of a religious school… in the town of Afula that recently discovered that their children had seen a Muslim wedding during class. They were so appalled – under the influence of an NGO that aims to prevent any Arab and Jewish mingling – that a Rabbi had to be called to “purify” the facilities before they could return.

Such racism is not reserved for a few extreme communities on the fringes of society. They are views shared and enacted by leading members of the Israeli government.

It is the natural outcome of over 60 years of global Zionist indulgence.

Antony Loewenstein ( is an Australian journalist, author of… My Israel Question… and co-editor of the forthcoming title… After Zionism.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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