The Moral Siege

The militarization of Jewish supremacism in Israel

Bills posted for a Rabbi Meir Kahane memorial rally. Photograph: Yossi Gurvitz
Bills posted for a Rabbi Meir Kahane memorial rally. Photograph: Yossi Gurvitz

By Assaf Sharon in the Boston Review

Addressing Israel’s offensive in Gaza, John Kerry said: “Israel is under siege by a terrorist organization.” Living in Israel, I found the secretary’s comment baffling. In my city, Jerusalem, the sirens have sounded only three times. Tel Aviv and its vicinity has had it worse, with three dozen sirens or so over the last month. Yet daily routine has not been greatly affected. In the south, near the Gaza strip, things are different. With numerous rockets daily, life in some Israeli towns and villages has become what happens between one rush to the shelter to the next. This is certainly not acceptable, but it is not a siege either. In Jewish history, the archetypical siege is the Roman siege of Jerusalem, described by the first-century historian, Josephus, thus: “Throughout the city people were dying of hunger in large numbers, and enduring unspeakable sufferings. In every house the merest hint of food sparked violence, and close relatives fell to blows, snatching from one another the pitiful supports of life.” In Zionist history, the paradigm comes from 1948, when Jerusalem was once again stricken with hunger and want of basic supplies. Here is how one mother described it in a letter to her son who was fighting in the north: “Whoever doesn’t have food simply goes hungry. There’s no gas for cooking, people gather wood and cook in the street. Other than bread, (and this too only 200 grams per person daily) there’s almost nothing to buy…. Water is delivered in a carriage with an allowance of 1.5 cans per person for a week (can=eighteen liters), which is precious little. And as there is no fuel for cars, the water must be brought (from great distance) from wells.” Today, this description is more suitable to Gaza than to Israel.

But there is another siege haunting Israel today. This siege is internal rather than external, moral rather than physical. The murder of sixteen-year-old Muhhamad Abu-H’deir, burned alive by Jewish extremists on July 2, made headlines worldwide. But the context in which this crime was hatched receives less attention. The day before, as the three Israeli youths kidnapped and murdered three weeks earlier were being buried, hundreds of extremists gathered in Jerusalem under the banner “We want Revenge!” And their slogans clarified: “Death to Arabs” and “Death to Leftists.” As the mob marched to the city center, they pounded on store fronts, demanding Arab blood. A large group gathered outside McDonald’s shouting for its Arab employees to be brought out. Smaller groups roamed the streets looking for Arabs to abuse. A wave of racist violence has been washing the streets since then. Organized mobs of extremists have been marching through the streets of Jerusalem shouting racist slogans, calling, “Death to Arabs!” Like scenes taken from revolutionary films, they block cars and busses mid-street, checking whether there are Arabs inside. If found, they are assaulted verbally as well as physically. Many Palestinians refrain from traveling on the city’s light rail because it has become a regular venue for racist attacks.

Sadly, Jerusalem is not unique. An anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv was attacked by hundreds of right-wing hooligans led by a rapper going by the nickname “the shadow.” Some of them were wearing the “Good Night Left Side” T-shirts popular among white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups in Europe. A week later this violent scene recurred in Haifa, where right-wing hooligans assaulted an Arab deputy mayor and his son as they were approaching an anti-war demonstration. In Jerusalem’s old city, a mother and her two young children survived an attempted stabbing by Jewish extremists. Amir Shawiki and Ahmed Kasuani, twenty-year-old Jerusalemites, were less fortunate. Both were severely beaten by a Jewish mob simply because they were Arabs. Omar Diwani, a city bus driver in Jerusalem, was hospitalized after four young men assaulted him upon detecting his Arab accent. Dozens of similar attacks against Arabs and “lefties” have taken place recently in the streets, in cafes, in shopping centers, on busses and trains. Israel’s radical right is on the rise.

Jewish radicalism is not a new phenomenon. Its current incarnation traces back to Rabbi Meir Kahane, who, after forming the militant Jewish Defense League in the United States, emmigrated to Israel and founded the ultra-nationalist Kach party. Kahane advocated the forced eviction of all Palestinians residing west of the Jordan river, subordinating state law to Jewish religious law (Halakha), and revenge as punitive policy. Although strongly liberal on economic issues, his ethics were utterly collectivist: the moral agents were not individuals but nations. Any harm to a Jew was an affront to the nation, and revenge should be taken not necessarily on the perpetrator but on “the Arabs.” I vividly remember classmates of mine who, under his influence, would retaliate against random Palestinians following attacks on Israelis. Retaliation quickly morphed into preemption and then into naked aggression. In his short tenure in the Knesset, Kahane proposed outrageous legislation, such as revoking the citizenship of all non-Jews, or criminalizing sexual relations between Jews and Arabs. The core of his ideology was a militant form of Jewish supremacism, best expressed in the slogan frequently heard these days “a Jew is a soul, an Arab the son of a whore.” But with Kahane the medium was more significant than the message. Fusing populist rhetoric with strong-man authoritarianism, he appealed both to religious zealots and to underpriviledged Israelis. Playing on their resentment, he riled them against the “elites,” whom he portrayed simultaneously as all-powerful—controlling the media, the education system, and the courts—and as weak and degenerate. Weak in their treatment of the Arab enemy, and degenerate in their morality, which for him meant the loss of their Jewish fiber. His hostility toward Arabs, however, sometimes seemed second to his loathing of the left. These “fifth column” “destroyers of Israel,” as he biblically labeled them, were subject not only to derision but also to very thinly disguised threats.

Read more at the Boston Review

The movement that dare not speak its name in Israel

Vocal opposition to the war in Gaza can be hard to express in Israel, where campaigner Gideon Levy says people ‘leave their liberalism’ at the 1967 border

Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv to protest against attacks on Gaza, 26 July 2014. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty

By Giles Fraser in The Guardian

Gideon Levy doesn’t want to meet in a coffee bar in Tel Aviv. He is fed up with being hassled in public and spat at, with people not willing to share the table next to him in restaurants. And now he is fed up with the constant presence of his bodyguards, not least because they too have started giving him a hard time about his political views. So he doesn’t go out much any more and we sit in the calm of his living room, a few hundred yards from the Yitzhak Rabin Centre. Rabin’s assassination by a rightwing Orthodox Jew in 1995 is itself a sobering reminder of the personal cost of peacemaking in Israel.

In his column in Haaretz, Levy has long since banged the drum for greater Israeli empathy towards the suffering of the Palestinians. He is a well-known commentator on the left, and one of the few prepared to stick his head above the parapet. Consequently, he is no stranger to opposition from the right. But this time it is different. Yariv Levin, coalition chairman of the Likud-Beytenu faction in the Knesset, recently called for him to be put on trial for treason – a crime which, during wartime, is punishable by death.

“It is time we stop regarding despicable phenomena like this with tolerance,” Levin said of Levy. Soon after that interview, Eldad Yaniv, a former political adviser to ex-prime minister Ehud Barack, wrote on his Facebook page: “The late Gideon Levy. Get used to it.”

Levy’s unpardonable crime is vocal opposition to the war and to the bombing of Gaza. According to recent polls, support for the military operation in Gaza among the Jewish Israeli public stands somewhere between 87% (Channel 10 News) and 95% (Israel Democracy Institute). Even those who are secretly against the war are cautious about voicing their opinion openly.

Read more at The Guardian

The next time you hear an American politician refer to Israel as a free and democratic society, please, stop and think. It isn’t true.

Israeli Parliament Deputy Speaker Calls For “Ethnic Cleansing” of Gaza

Moshe Feiglin

“A refreshingly open call for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from an Israeli deputy speaker”

By Katie Halper in The Raw Story

I’ve always said that I like my ethnic cleansers like my men: honest, direct, and with a plan. Sadly, like good men, honest and open ethnic cleansers are few and far between. As the Israeli government, and those who blindly defend it, claim that the attacks in Gaza are for self-defense, and self-defense alone, one man has the courage to admit that the real goal is to rid the area of Palestinians and populate it with Jews. And that man is Moshe Feiglin, Deputy speaker and member of Knesset (Israel’s parliament).

Read more at The Raw Story

Israel’s Bloody Status Quo

By Michiel Coxcie, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Cornelis Floris, Cornelis Bos (circle of) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Roger Cohen in The New York Times

LONDON — Sheldon Adelson’s right-wing Israel Hayom, the biggest-selling newspaper in Israel, has called for Gaza to be “returned to the Stone Age.” During the last Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza, in 2012, a government minister called for Gaza to be consigned “to the Middle Ages.” Before that, there was the Gaza War of 2008-2009, in which 1,166 Palestinians died and 13 Israelis, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The story goes on and on. There is no denouement. Gaza, a small place jammed with 1.8 million people, does not recess to the Stone, Iron, Middle or other Ages. It does not get flattened, as Ariel Sharon’s son once proposed. The death toll is overwhelmingly skewed against Palestinians. Hamas, with its militia and arsenal of rockets, continues to run Gaza. The dead die for nothing.

Israel could send Gaza back to whichever age it wishes. Its military advantage, its general dominance, over the Palestinians has never been greater since 1948. But it chooses otherwise. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talk of a ground invasion is empty. The last thing Israel wants, short of a cataclysm, is to go into Gaza and get stuck.

What Israel wants is the status quo (minus Hamas rockets). Israel is the Middle East’s status quo power par excellence. It seeks a calm Gaza under Hamas control, a divided Palestinian movement with Fatah running the West Bank, a vacuous “peace process” to run down the clock, and continued prosperity. Divide and rule. Hamas is useful to Israel as long as it is quiescent.

Read more at The New York Times

Tales from Gaza: What is life really like in ‘the world’s largest outdoor prison’?

With its sandy beaches and sumptuous seafood, it could be a holiday resort. But life in Gaza, post-Israeli sanctions and with 50 per cent unemployment, has never been more difficult. Alistair Dawber meets the people trying to survive on the Palestinian coast.

By Alistair Dawber in The Independent

The guide books warn that it’s very unstable and that tourists shouldn’t go there; the Foreign Office tells Brits that there’s a high threat from terrorism – don’t visit any part of the territory, it says, and if you do, there is no ‘our man’ there to help you out.

In truth, it is pretty difficult to get into Gaza anyway. Unless you are a journalist or work for an NGO, the likelihood is that you will get stopped at Israel’s airport-terminal-like border post at Erez, which governs who is allowed to enter the Palestinian territory and, more importantly in Israeli eyes, who is allowed out.

But once you do get permission to go to Gaza, you realise that it is not like anywhere else. After getting the necessary stamps in your passport, you take a long walk through an 800-metre or so long cage, overlooked by Israeli army gun posts and balloons fixed with cameras that keep an eye over what’s going on. Locals call it “the world’s biggest prison”, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

Palestinian Abu Ameera poses for a photograph with children at Shati refugee camp Saleh Jadallah

Gaza is about 5,000 years old and one of the world’s oldest cities. In that time it has been both a thriving port and, as it is today, a sprawling mess of refugee camps and poverty. According to the United Nations, 1.5 million people call it home, making Gaza one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. Of the 1.5 million inhabitants, 1.1 million are refugees; those who lived in what is now Israel before 1948 refuse to give up the belief that one day they’ll return to their former homes.

Read more at The Independent

Why Bankrolling Israel Prevents Peace in the Middle East

An Israeli soldier stands beside a tank in Avivim near the Israel-Lebanon border (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28 percent of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10 percent. In actual fact, barely 1 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of US foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid—nearly all of it military since 2008—has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming. In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel—for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse—who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

Read more at The Nation

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