Tag Archives: zionism

Israeli democracy, or the lack thereof: a conversation with Alternet’s Joshua Holland

I recently spoke to Alternet’s Joshua Holland about law and politics in Israel. Our conversation focused on the image of Israel as a Western style democracy coping with legitimate security concerns versus the reality of Israel as an ethnocratic state managing its demographic peril through authoritarian measures approved by the Jewish majority. The discussion can be heard here. Below is a transcript via Alternet:

Joshua Holland: Max, I don’t want to talk about Iran today. I don’t want to talk about the Israeli lobby in the United States, and I don’t want to talk about the Occupation. I want to talk about something I don’t think gets enough attention in this country, which is the sharp rightward turn of the Israeli government.

One of the great non-sequiturs of our political discourse is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. And I say it’s a great non-sequitur because it’s usually used as a response to, for example, criticism of the Occupation. You say this Occupation is terrible, and people say it’s the only democracy in the Middle East.

Anyway, Tzipi Livni, the leader of the opposition Kadima Party, accused Benjamin Netanyahu recently of, “an attempt to transform Israel into a type of dictatorship.” Kadima lawmakers said that recent legislation passed by the Knesset represented, “the gravest challenge to democracy since the establishment of the state in 1948.” Tell me about the sharp rightward lurch. When did this happen, because I remember when I was a kid Israel was almost a socialist country.

Max Blumenthal: Well, by not wanting to talk about Iran you’re an anti-Semite and I condemn that.

JH: Max, I’m a self-loathing Jew — please get this straight.

MB: Part of Netanyahu’s goal in focusing on Iran is taking the Palestinian question off the table, and so it’s good that you’re talking about this. Israel has never been a democracy in the sense that we think about a democracy. It’s a settler, colonial state that privileges the Jewish majority, which it created through violent methods of demographic manipulation over the indigenous Palestinian outclass.

That’s true even inside Israel. So when you hear people like Tzipi Livni — who is for now the head of the Kadima Party but soon to be ousted, and actually came out of the Likud Party and was aide to Ariel Sharon – when you hear liberal Zionists, people on the Zionist left, warning that Israel is turning into a fascist state what they’re talking is the occupation laws creeping back over the green line, and that these right-wing elements are actually starting to crack down on the democratic rights that have been afforded to the Jewish majority inside Israel. So Jews who are left-wingers, who are dissidents and speak out against state policy are actually beginning to feel a slight scintilla of the kind of oppression that Palestinians have felt since the foundation of the state of Israel. That’s where this criticism is coming from.

I think we really need to get beyond the discourse of occupation and the discourse of fascism, and instead to talk about institutional discrimination and apartheid, which is what has been present since the foundation of the state of Israel.

JH: Now I want to talk about some of the specific measures that have been proposed, some of which have passed. There are some things that have been pulled back or tabled temporarily due to international pressure, and other have actually gotten through and become law. Tell be about the crackdown on NGOs.

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1 State conference critic Foxman once suggested “fully integrating the Palestinian Arabs into the Israeli body politic”

This weekend’s One State Conference at Harvard University has prompted predictable cries of outrage and calls for cancellation from the Israel lobby and its allies in Congress. Senator Scott Brown, a Republican from Massachusetts, is the latest Friend of Israel to join the chorus of condemnation, calling for Harvard to ban the conference altogether. The campaign of intimidation and smears highlights America’s pro-Israel community as the political element most devoted to suppressing free speech and academic inquiry on campuses across the United States.

Abraham Foxman, the national director for the Anti-Defamation League, is at the helm of the campaign to censor the discussion at Harvard of equal rights in Israel-Palestine. In an op-ed for the Boston Globe, Foxman wrote, “Let’s be frank. The term ‘one-state solution’’ is a euphemism for the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel.” He attacked the conference participants for their ” alleged concerns about Israel’s ‘occupation’’ and treatment of the Palestinians,” claiming that their true goal was to “make anti-Semitism more acceptable and more likely.”

In light of Foxman’s assaults on the academic discussion of equal rights for all living under Israel’s control, it is worth recalling an angry letter he sent to the editors of the New York Times on June 20, 1984. In the letter, Foxman took issue with an editorial the Times published calling for a two state solution that would have required Israel to give up control of the West Bank. Foxman criticized the authors for casting Israel’s undemocratic control of the West Bank in a negative light, insisting that Israeli control of the Palestinians was not “deleterious to [Israel’s] well being.” And in the end, he suggested that Israel should consider”fully integrating the Palestinian Arabs into the Israeli body politics.” This is the very concept that will be discussed and promoted at the One State Conference this weekend at Harvard.

Below the fold is the full text of Foxman’s letter, which I retrieved from Lexis-Nexis:

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The Bibi Connection

“US President Barack Obama is ‘naïve’ and needs to face up to the threat presented by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East, Israel’s National Security Council concluded during a strategic discussion several days ago,” Israel Hayom reported.

The Israeli National Security Council consists of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s closest advisers. And Israel Hayom is not just another right-leaning Israeli tabloid. Referred to by Israelis as the “Bibiton,” or Bibi’s mouthpiece, the paper is an instrument that gives him extraordinary political leverage. The obviously planted article in Israel Hayom rang like a bell sounding the start of Netanyahu’s own campaign in helping the Republican Party oust Obama from the White House.

Israel Hayom’s genesis demonstrates the depth of Netanyahu’s connections in Republican circles. It was created by one of Netanyahu’s top financial supporters, a Las Vegas-based casino tycoon named Sheldon Adelson, who is also a major donor to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Adelson’s closest relationship is with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a longtime ally of Netanyahu who has been running a rancorous campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Netanyahu’s less than subtle intervention has become an open issue in Israeli politics. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party has criticized Netanyahu for damaging the US-Israeli relationship. “Netanyahu spoke about consensus,” Livni said in May, “and if there is a consensus in Israel, it’s that the relationship with the US is essential to Israel, and a prime minister that harms the relationship with the US over something unsubstantial is harming Israel’s security and deterrence.”

But Livni’s warning has been ignored. Rather than hesitating, the prime minister and his inner circle are moving full steam ahead in their political shadow campaign whose ultimate goal is to remove Obama. Bibi’s war against Obama is unprecedented. While Israeli prime ministers have tried to help incumbent presidents, none have ever waged a full-scale campaign to overthrow them.

Netanyahu has engaged enthusiastic allies in the Republican Congress, led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and within the right-wing media. His neoconservative allies in Washington are launching a “Super PAC” to generate emotional attack ads against Obama and any candidate that might be an obstacle to his policies. And his campaign has even broadened into an attempt to discredit The New York Times, whose editorial page and foreign policy columnists, Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen, have been critical of him.

Netanyahu’s shadow campaign is intended to be a factor in defeating Obama and electing a Republican in his place. He opposed Obama’s early demand to freeze settlements on the West Bank as a precondition for reviving the peace process, a process since the Oslo Accord that Netanyahu has attempted to stall or sabotage, despite his signing of the Wye Agreement under pressure from President Clinton. Since his adamant stand against the settlement freeze, Netanyahu has undermined every effort to engage the peace process. He appears dead set on consolidating Greater Israel, or what many Israelis call “Judea and Samaria,” and has signaled a strong desire to attack Iran.

By all accounts, Netanyahu’s personal chemistry with Obama is toxic. Obama bristles at his belligerence. But Netanyahu’s hostility has reaped rewards from him, having stopped the peace process in its tracks. The latest effort by the Quartet seems doomed to failure. And Netanyahu’s rejectionism has put Obama on the defense. Most of the US Jewish establishment has remained a bulwark for Bibi’s policies. Obama, meanwhile, has been forced to declare America’s “unshakable bond” with Israel, even as Bibi thwarts Obama’s initiatives and attacks him in the Israeli press.

As political strategy, by tainting Obama as less than full-throated in support of Israel, Netanyahu bolsters the Republican themes that the president “apologizes” for US power, is weak on national security, and is an agent of “decline.” By depicting Obama as “weak” on Israel, Netanyahu’s campaign excites right-wing Jews and evangelical Christians, who overwhelmingly accept the biblical claims of the Jewish state’s historical right to Greater Israel, Judea and Samaria. Bibi’s deepest attack line against Obama merges theology with ideology.
His campaign against Obama is a high-stakes gambit that will almost certainly color US-Israeli relations well past Election Day. Already, Netanyahu has succeeded in polarizing the political debate, as his agenda is singularly aligned with the Republican Party. Yet Bibi’s short-term objectives are rapidly turning the US-Israel relationship, at least under his aegis, into a partisan issue, another litmus test of conservative ideology rather than national interest.

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