"An Epidemic Of Not Watching"


It's a courageous, smart and open-eyed essay that Peter Beinart, my old friend and fellow former editor of TNR has written. It has, to my mind, two central things to tell us. The first is that the political, moral and cultural shift within Israel is much worse than many seem to acknowledge; and the second is that the American Jewish Establishment, as Peter calls it, is intent on looking away, and on reiterating exhausted motifs and failing smears to keep reality at bay, as their children drift away from what looks increasingly like an apartheid state in a permanently warring Middle East. The Dish has tried to convey part of what has culminated over the last couple of years. But Beinart's picture of reality is as sobering as any I have yet read, and helps one realize just how alarmingly realist John Mearsheimer's bleak view is. The government in Jerusalem is more radical and extreme and illiberal than many want to believe:

Effi Eitam, a charismatic ex–cabinet minister and war hero, has proposed ethnically cleansing Palestinians from the West Bank. “We’ll have to expel the overwhelming majority of West Bank Arabs from here and remove Israeli Arabs from [the] political system,” he declared in 2006. In 2008, Eitam merged his small Ahi Party into Netanyahu’s Likud. And for the 2009–2010 academic year, he is Netanyahu’s special emissary for overseas “campus engagement.”

A minor figure? Let's go further up:

Foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman’s position might be called “pre-expulsion.” He wants to revoke the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who won’t swear a loyalty oath to the Jewish state. He tried to prevent two Arab parties that opposed Israel’s 2008–2009 Gaza war from running candidates for the Knesset. He said Arab Knesset members who met with representatives of Hamas should be executed. He wants to jail Arabs who publicly mourn on Israeli Independence Day, and he hopes to permanently deny citizenship to Arabs from other countries who marry Arab citizens of Israel.

Then ... drum-roll please ... Netanyahu himself. This, I'm ashamed to say, I didn't know:

In his 1993 book, A Place among the Nations, Netanyahu not only rejects the idea of a Palestinian state, he denies that there is such a thing as a Palestinian. In fact, he repeatedly equates the Palestinian bid for statehood with Nazism. An Israel that withdraws from the West Bank, he has declared, would be a “ghetto-state” with “Auschwitz borders.” And the effort “to gouge Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] out of Israel” resembles Hitler’s bid to wrench the German-speaking “Sudeten district” from Czechoslovakia in 1938. It is unfair, Netanyahu insists, to ask Israel to concede more territory since it has already made vast, gut-wrenching concessions. What kind of concessions? It has abandoned its claim to Jordan, which by rights should be part of the Jewish state.

So while those of us in what Peter calls the "comfortable Zionism" of the older American generation somehow believe that Netanyahu is sincere in wanting out - one day - of the West Bank, you realize that he already believes that in reality, Israel has a legitimate claim to the East Bank as well, and should be congratulated for not invading and occupying that! How on earth is there ever going to be any kind of settlement on those grounds?

The politics of Netanyahu's coalition also means he could never concede anything on the West Bank. The ultra-orthodox - a very fast-growing group - has shifted to a strong anti-concession position, represented by their party, Shas, which helped humiliate Biden. The fundamentalist virulence of the settler movement has infiltrated the military; and much of the next generation is more extreme than the last:

When Israeli high schools held mock elections last year, Lieberman won. This March, a poll found that 56 percent of Jewish Israeli high school studentsand more than 80 percent of religious Jewish high school studentswould deny Israeli Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset.

This is the mirror that Obama said he would try to hold up to Israel in order to help it make the right decisions for survival as a Jewish and a Western state. The American Jewish Establishment (AJE, a useful new term) tried to smash that mirror or veil it. This is not an answer. It is an integral part of the problem. On its current trajectory, Israel will become a Jewish authoritarian state, using brute force against a majority of its citizens and inhabitants, because it has no other option. And its actions, by inflaming Jihadism worldwide, could well come back to hurt not just Israel, but us all. I read Ze'ev Sternhell in college, when I studied modern European history. He remains a brilliant scholar of fascism. So this winner of the prestigious Israel Prize deserves a listening:

Commenting on Avigdor Lieberman and the leaders of Shas in a recent Op-Ed in Haaretz, [Sternhell] wrote, “The last time politicians holding views similar to theirs were in power in post–World War II Western Europe was in Franco’s Spain.” With their blessing, “a crude and multifaceted campaign is being waged against the foundations of the democratic and liberal order.” Sternhell should know. In September 2008, he was injured when a settler set off a pipe bomb at his house.

Why is that pipe-bomb any less of a warning than an IED in Iraq? And is it really being a friend of Israel to ignore it?

(Photo: a young religious settler on the West Bank. By Uriel Sinai/Getty.)