The Militarists and Haters Win in Israel
Winners: Netanyahu, AIPAC, the U.S. Republican Party, Sheldon Adelson (the American Jewish billionaire funder of the right), Hamas, the Islamic State, and the right-wing Mullahs in Iran.
Losers: Israelis, World Jewry, the Palestinian people, the forces for peace and nonviolence everywhere, the Palestinian Authority, the people of Iran, and the people of the United States.
According to Israeli newspapers reporting on the outcome of the Israeli election on Tuesday, Likud increased its lead in the next Knesset of 120 members. It will now hold thirty Knesset seats, compared to the Zionist Union (former Labor Party) with twenty-four seats. As the frontrunner, Netanyahu will be asked to create the government coalition.
The Joint List of Palestinian Israelis, the third-largest party, gets 14 seats, followed by Yesh Atid with 11, Kulanu with 10, Habayit Hayehudi (ultra right) with eight, Shas with seven, United Torah Judaism with six, Yisrael Beiteinu (fascist right) with six, and Meretz (once the peace party) with four.
Though the Israeli president has said he will ask for a government of national unity, it will be unity around the policies that Netanyahu put out clearly in the last days of the election: no Palestinian state, no deal that would allow Iran to develop nuclear energy, no willingness to count Arab Israelis as “real Israelis” (Netanyahu went so far as to warn the Israeli public that they were in danger because Arab Israelis had formed a Joint List and might become a real force in the Knesset unless the Jewish Israelis rallied around Netanyahu’s Likud party).
How can the right wing grow to so much power in an Israel filled with mostly decent human beings, some of whom have even been influenced by Judaism’s teachings of love for the neighbor and love for “the other,” though of course most Israelis are secular?
The first culprit here is the Occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, which created intolerable conditions for the Palestinian people and led a handful of them to acts of terror. Do not forget that it was Labor Party governments that initiated the Occupation, and when in power in the past forty years failed to end it (even when they had the political cover to do so immediately after the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin at the hands of one of the supporters of the West Bank settlers—this failure being the tragic legacy of the post-assassination government led by Shimon Peres who today is celebrated as a man of peace but failed miserably when he was in the position to actually end the Occupation).
Closely connected to that, and a major reason why so many Israelis tell themselves that they have no option but to be ruthlessly “tough” is the despicable and immoral way that Hamas has chosen to resist that occupation. We at Tikkun have repeatedly documented the human rights violations inherent in the Occupation and if you have doubts about that, go to read the reports of B’Tselem: the Israeli Human Rights Organization. And we’ve carefully reviewed the ways that Netanyahu manipulated public opinion last Spring and Summer to create the false impression that Israel was in huge danger. Nevertheless, Hamas’ decision to bomb Israeli cities last summer was not only an ethically hateful violation of human rights, targeting Israeli civilians, pushing millions to run into air raid shelters day after day for much of the summer, but it was also massive victory for right-wingers in Israel who were thereby able to justify Israel’s massive assault on Gaza but also to recredit in the minds of many Israelis the most fearful vision of Jews being in danger of annihilation even though Israel is by far the strongest military force in the middle east and the only one with massive nuclear weapons.
Hamas has played a dirty game here, believing that Israel’s extremists will ultimately cause Israel to lose the support of most of the countries of the world, and weaken Israel in the long run. Moreover, Netanyahu’s explicit rejection of a Palestinian state gives Hamas the upper hand in its political battle with the Palestinian Authority, which had agreed to the Obama/Kerry strategy of negotiations with Israel to create a Palestinian state. With that no longer an option, Hamas’ commitment to replace Israel with a “one-state solution” will seem the only remaining option to many Palestinians and hence increase Hamas’ political power in any future Palestinian election.
For the same reason, most of the Islamic fundamentalists and violent extremists will be rejoicing over the Israeli vote. It is in their interests to portray Israel as an evil state, and the racism and militarism that just got a new lease on life in Israel will help them make their case.
Republicans will have their stature elevated, having given Netanyahu a platform on which he could communicate the image of being “tough” and at the same time loved by the U.S. Congress. Doing so almost certainly helped his status with a section of Israeli voters who two weeks before were not so sure about Netanyahu and who continue to deny to pollsters, but not to each other, that they were swayed by the Congress’ support of Likud—it’s beneath their Zionist dignity to allow non-Jews to impact their voting, but it did.
Conversely, being a militarist and racist state will not help win Israel any friends around the world, and in the not-too-long-run it will weaken Israel’s support in the United States both among Americans in general and in particular among young Jews. So count the real anti-Semites who want to see Israel undermined as a way of getting at all Jews as having been among the beneficiaries of the Netanyahu victory.
The biggest losers will be all those on the planet who yearn for a world based on social and economic justice, environmental sanity, peace and non-violence, and genuine caring for the peoples of the world. Those of us who talk about building a world based on love and caring will face the next five years with an Israel that scoffs at those ideas and spreads its cynicism to the rest of the world. Instead, Israel will be spouting a message of fear and championing the “Right Hand of God,” i.e., the notion that force and violence are the only way to achieve safety and security. And while few Israelis want to be involved in another war, many want to get the United States to do a proxy war on Iran for Israel, and that will be bad not only for the people of the Middle East but also for the many Americans who will lose their lives in such a war.
But why did the progressive peace voice have so little impact in Israel? The answer to this is startling: it didn’t have much electoral impact because it was almost totally absent from the discourse of the supposedly left former Labor Party which now calls itself “The Zionist Union.”
That party spent much of its time focused on matters of economic inequality, while simultaneously trying to prove itself equally militant with Netanyahu both in regard to Palestinians and in regard to Iran. They thus followed the same bankrupt path that Democrats have followed in the United States, failing to articulate a different worldview from the militarists, instead trying to insist that they would be just as militant and just as determined to wipe out “the enemy” (whoever that is perceived to be).
It’s an old secret of politics that when people want a warlike government or a racist government, they vote for right wingers. It’s a useless strategy for Labor in Israel or for the right wing of the Democratic Party to present itself as the “better militarists,” because people who want that will end up voting for the right anyway. Obama should have learned that when, instead of ending the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as he had led his followers to believe he would do, he instead escalated those wars with “surges,” the result was not a victory for the Democrats in 2010 and ever since, but rather a growing militarism in the U.S. and a consequent capture of Congress by the right.
If you listened to the television ads in Israel about the elections, you may have noticed that you barely heard a peep suggesting that the real issue in the elections was peace with Palestine, peace with Iran, or an end to Israeli leaders treating the U.S. president as though they owned him. The parties did their best to stay away from the reality that a vote for Likud would de facto mean more wars and violence for the citizens of Israel.
Yet the left in Israel, like the left in the U.S., has little understanding of the need for a whole new worldview to be popularized as the central task of liberal and progressive Israelis or Americans. They are too busy being “pragmatic” and “realistic” to recognize that they’ve lost the election because they failed to attempt to challenge the dominant ideology of their society: that it’s foolish to believe that people will respond to a vision of a society based on love, kindness and generosity.
Israel, like the United States, badly needs to hear a worldview that can challenge the great fears that Israelis have about their own annihilation, help Israelis recover from their post-traumatic stress disorder that keeps many from being able to think rationally about their own (or the Jewish people of the world’s) self-interest, and instead keeps them focused on the Holocaust and why they think it could happen again. Israelis, like Palestinians, deserve our compassion because they are stuck in fear, and that fear was magnified both by the daily runs to the air raid shelters this past summer and by the outrageous actions of the Islamic State (ISIL), which, after all, are taking place no further away than say Ohio is to New York or New Mexico is to California.
All this restimulates the Holocaust trauma which is so carefully reintroduced to each new generation of Jews with such intensity that many are unable to recognize that the behavior of the Jewish state in denying the Palestinian people the same rights Israelis rightly seek for themselves is at the core of the problem. Unable to see themselves as the most militarily, politically, and economically powerful state in the Middle East, they allow the Jewish state to act in an oppressive way toward Palestinians and justify that as their only alternative to annihilation—and their own behavior helps create the reality that they fear.
There is a way out of this self-fulfilling vicious cycle. Jews and friends of the Jewish people must join together to champion a Strategy of Generosity as a replacement for the Strategy of Domination. We must insist that a Strategy of Generosity is the best path to provide security and safety for Israel and the United States. I’ve developed these themes further in my book Embracing Israel/Palestine which you can order for Kindle on Amazon.com or by reading it in print by ordering it at tikkun.org/eip.
Popularizing a fundamentally new story about the world is critical to the success of peace, social justice, environmental sanity, and human rights. We have that story, and it is described in Tikkun magazine, detailed in my books starting with Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, Spirit Matters, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, and Embracing Israel/Palestine.
To popularize a different worldview is one of the reasons why I’ve joined with people of all faiths and secular humanists and fundamentalist atheists to build a Network of Spiritual Progressives that can articulate the world we really want, rather than remaining stuck in a politics that is so worried about being “realistic” that it only reinforces the very worldviews that lead to wars and racism of every sort. Please join me in that by becoming a member of the NSP at spiritualprogressives.org. When you join at the $50 level or more, you get a free subscription to Tikkun magazine as well.
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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun, the prophetic voice of Jews and non-Jews working for a world of love and justice. He is also co-chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives with co-chair Vandana Shiva, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley and San Franscisco. He is the author of eleven books including two national bestsellers: Jewish Renewal: a Path to Healing and Transformation, and The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. Rabbi Lerner welcomes hearing from you AFTER you’ve joined the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Email him at RabbiLerner.Tikkun@gmail.com.