On Monday Israel revealed the true dimensions of the peace it professes to long for – bullets and the bible! And not even the Jewish bible, but the evangelical Christian one, replete with the second coming, Armageddon, salvation and Trump.
Even as self-satisfied American and Israeli dignitaries patted themselves on the back in the cause of peace at the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers were mowing down teenage Palestinians at the fence that divides the impoverished, desperate enclave of Gaza from Israel. At least sixty were killed and two thousand wounded, almost all from sniper fire.
And if that wasn’t enough cognitive dissonance, thousands of Jewish revelers of about the same age as both the soldiers and the dead protesters in Gaza thronged the central square in Tel Aviv to celebrate the triumph of Israeli Neta Barzilai at the recent Eurovision song contests.
Barzilai is a weight- and appearance-challenged woman who sings about the right of people to be different, though the rights of different people in Gaza didn’t seem to perturb her and those who celebrated her much. They partied through the night.
Beyond the grotesque counterpoint between the scenes in Gaza, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – all of which are little more than an hour’s drive from each other – a number of important conclusions emerge from Monday’s events.
The first is that Israel has no plan, no strategy for the Palestinians other than the use of overwhelming force. It professes peace, but it has done nothing in the past twenty-plus years to even hint at a sincere intention to initiate change. When it comes to peace, or any sort of resolution, Israel doesn’t have a clue. A country that prides itself on its brainpower, Israel is intellectually and morally bankrupt.
That insolvency is exacerbated by the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, which has been under Israeli siege for the past eleven years. The people of Gaza are deprived, destitute and slowly going demented. The young people who are willing to run through bullets to get to a border fence have been driven perilously close to the edge by the obtuse brutality of Israel and its military enforcers.
Israel’s contention that the protesters were somehow a threat to Israeli security is rubbish. Israel’s monopoly on force in the region is absolute; Palestinian assailants may kill or wound the odd Israeli, but the only people in existential danger are the Palestinians.
When Israel talks peace it means the maintenance of order at gunpoint. It’s up to the international community, particularly the EU, to decide whether it’s worth their while to continue working for such a peace. Trump’s US, of course, has already decided.
The second conclusion that can be drawn from this week’s events is that not only Israel’s leaders are delusional and insensate – the nation is too. The mass slaughter of Palestinians is a matter of indifference to most Jewish Israelis. All of one thousand people turned out in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night to demonstrate against the killings. The rest were entertaining themselves in bars, coffee shops and movie houses.
It’s a distinct type of apathy that South African whites will recognize; a murky soup of inbred prejudice, incessant propaganda, inchoate fear, helplessness and selfishness. Obviously, not all Israelis think alike. Many hate Arabs and are quite content to see them gunned down. Others live in denial, while yet others repress their humanitarian instincts because there’s nothing to do about the situation and they need to get on with their lives.
The bottom line is that the Israeli electorate will not vote out the current government – and if it does, it will replace it with a clone. With the sole exceptions of an unelectable list representing the country’s Arab population and a tiny left-Zionist party, there is no mainstream politician in Israel who offers any viable alternative to what the country already has. Israel, on its own, is unable to offer a solution to the conflict.
The third conclusion is that the Netanyahu government is in the process of dismantling Israel’s coalition with diaspora, primarily American, Jewry. Netanyahu likes to see himself as not only the head of the Israeli government but the leader of Jews everywhere. In the past, there was some justification for such belief. But no longer. In order to solidify his coalition, Netanyahu has deliberately and conscientiously degraded state recognition of the Conservative and Reform strains of Judaism – to which the bulk of religious American Jews belong – in favor of his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
The last straw for many American Jews will have been the embassy ceremony on Monday, in which a prominent role was given to two evangelical Christian pastors, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress. Hagee and Jeffress, outspoken bigots who believe that all Jews will convert to Christianity on the day of reckoning, are anathema to the American Jewish community, as well as to virtually all non-evangelical Americans. But for Netanyahu they are the guardians of his political longevity.
It’s a simple calculation. The Netanyahu coalition is becoming increasingly totalitarian as it seeks to protect its patrimony – Jewish control over the entire Land of Israel – from the forces of democracy and common sense, both within and outside Israel. That means placating the country’s ultra-Orthodox parties at the expense of the other, more-liberal denominations, which has drastically reduced his support in the traditionally progressive community. The evangelicals, ardent Trump supporters like Netanyahu, are their replacement; the new, politically correct Jewish community in the US.
Though it’s difficult to see, there may be a light among all this primeval darkness. Like the Soweto students’ protests in 1976, Monday’s massacre is a sign of Israeli weakness, not strength. A regime that has no solutions to real problems except bullets and tear gas is a regime with deep fault lines beneath its seemingly impenetrable exterior. And those cracks will only get wider and deeper with time.
It took eighteen years from 1976 until apartheid collapsed in South Africa. It could take a lot longer in Israel, but it’s bound to happen. Israel is too strong for its own good – and that’s a potentially fatal weakness.