In October 1995, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared before thousands of right-wing demonstrators in Jerusalem’s Zion Square to deliver a stinging denunciation of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo Accords he had signed two years earlier. “Death to Rabin! Nazis! Judenrat!” the demonstrators chanted. Many waved signs depicting Rabin dressed in Nazi regalia.
Concerned that Netanyahu would inflame an already dangerous climate, Israeli Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer warned the hyper-ambitious politician, “You’d better restrain your people. Otherwise it will end in murder. They tried to kill me just now… Your people are mad. If someone is murdered, the blood will be on your hands… The settlers have gone crazy, and someone will be murdered here, if not today, then in another week or another month!”
Netanyahu ignored Ben-Eliezer, striding to the podium to chants of “Bibi! Bibi! Bibi!” and an eerily prescient introduction as Israel’s “next prime minister.”
One month later, Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a right-wing radical and student at Bar-Ilan University, the ideological training ground of Israel’s religious-nationalist front. Rabin’s wife, Leah, refused to forgive Netanyahu, insisting he was at least as responsible for her husband’s murder as the extremist who pulled the trigger.
With Netanyahu back in the prime minister’s office, Avigdor Lieberman’s proto-fascist party in control of several top government posts, and the Israeli peace camp Rabin once inspired in a state of near-permanent marginalization, an emboldened settler movement has turned its wrath on Barack Obama. Obama has aroused the setters’ ire by calling for a construction freeze in the West Bank and a halt to Israeli housing projects intended to Judaize Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
7-23, an anti-US hatefest erupts in front of the American consulate in Jerusalem
On July 23, thousands of Jewish settlers and their right-wing allies in the Knesset gathered in front of the American consulate in Jerusalem for a torchlight rally against Obama’s proposals. My friends Joseph Dana and Mairav Zonszein were there with a video camera to document the demonstrators’ histrionics. According to Dana, no other journalists shot video of the event.
“Saddam Hussein Obama! Saddam Hussein Obama!” the settlers chanted. “Piss off, you little shit!” a young radical growled when asked if he had a message for the American president.
“I believe if Barack Obama manages to hurt Israel they will be punished,” said another twenty-something rightist. “At some point Israel will survive and America will fall.”
The most remarkable comment came from a demonstrator who claimed that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a former civilian volunteer for the Israeli army and the son of a former member of the Zionist terrorist group Irgun, is a self-hating Jew.
Emanuel “is an auto-anti-Semite,” the protester said. “He is a Jew that has something against his Jewishness.”
In another era, it might have been possible to dismiss such a remark as paranoia from the far-right fringe. Unfortunately, Netanyahu is reported to have said the very same thing in private discussions with his top advisers. According to Ha’aretz correspondent Barak Ravid, the Israeli Prime Minister has routinely referred to Emanuel and David Axelrod as “self-hating Jews.” Like the settlers whose rhetoric he apparently emulates, Netanyahu has become unhinged by Obama’s interference with Israel’s ongoing colonization of the West Bank.
Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, will hold several meetings this week with top members of Netanyahu’s government. Seeking to tamp down on the growing rancor between Tel Aviv and Washington, Mitchell called the meetings “discussions between friends.”
But who are the Israeli Prime Minister’s real friends? The settlers who cheered Rabin’s murder and now inveigh violently against Obama, or the American administration that has pledged to ship his country advanced weaponry and billions in loan guarantees? The White House must force Netanyahu to decide.