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Why “I Told You So” Matters!

by António Moreira Antunes*

(*Cartoonist: “Caricature was not antisemitic.” Printed first in the NY Times, and then in many other major world and Israeli newspapers. H.D.)

When it was announced in mid-July that PM Netanyahu will be the one to decide whether to allow Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to enter Israel for a visit, it immediately made me think, and question: What the Israeli Prime Minister would do? I felt strongly that he won’t allow them in. If so, I realized, it would be contrary to diplomatic procedures established since Israel’s independence, to welcome all USA government officials and representatives—whether staunch supporters of Israel or its fierce critics—to visit the country and see for themselves the “only democracy in the middle-East.”

So strong was my conviction in such an outcome that, when I shared the story from an Israeli newspaper about it (i.e. Netanyahu being the final arbitrator on the matter) in our ‘Conservative Jews in Sacramento’ Facebook page, I added that: “Just for the fun of it—realizing that the Talmud says “prophecy has been given to the fools!”—my bet is on Netanyahu preventing Talib and Omar from visiting Israel.” There were some comments, if I remember correctly, but no one challenged me on going out on a limb like that so bluntly.

It’s important to stop here in the chronicle of events—though some interesting, unexpected developments are coming—and reflect on WHY I had such a strong feeling that Netanyahu won’t allow them to enter. For one, following Netanyahu’s political career for so long, and watching in dread how all democratic principles, common-sense values of justice and decency have long left him, all in the pursuit of the ultimate goal—authoritarian-power—I figured that both as a person and a politician he won’t allow these two fresh, American democratic voices of dissent to enter.

For second, realizing how close the visit of the two Congresswomen would be to the Israeli election, I figured Netanyahu—a supremely adroit, capable political animal—would rather do the wrong thing for Israel’s future and for American Jewry’s future, in order to safeguard the support of his electoral base; who vehemently hates all Arabs, and cannot fathom that there are two Muslim women in the American Congress. For Netanyahu, winning the coming election is almost a question of ‘life and death’. No kidding. As I pointed out in talks and on this blog not once, his need to win the elections—far outweighing the importance of Israel’s democracy—is not a political question. It’s not a chance to make peace with the Palestinians. It’s not a chance to improve the lives of poor Israeli citizens. NO: he wants to save himself from going to prison.

For third, President Trump. I realized instantly that Trump won’t allow this visit to take place. Like Netanyahu, Trump’s interests don’t include democracy, human rights, agreed upon diplomatic procedures, or the Jewish American public wellbeing as a whole. His sole interest is winning reelection, and if possible—again, like Netanyahu—remain president for ever. To achieve that, he not only needs the support of his regular republican base, where Israel is regarded as a ‘saint nation’, but the support of all evangelicals. He needs them to win the next election for him. And they demand of him in return to support Israel unconditionally. Hence the move of the embassy to Jerusalem; hence stopping all financial aid for the Palestinians; hence withdrawing from the international nuclear deal with Iran; hence recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

Now back to what happened. Just a few days after I shared the story on Facebook, and made my ‘outlandish’ prediction, the Israeli papers reported that Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and one of Netanyahu’s closest confidants, declared that Reps. Omar and Talib will get their visas and will be allowed into Israel, in line with Israel’s long-established tradition. Immediately, I thought to share the story on our Facebook group’s page, admit that I was wrong, and gladly so, since I truly believed they should be allowed in.

But a little voice inside me instructed me to wait a while. Indeed, for about a month, report after report, all the way to the Prime Minister’s office, confirmed that they will be allowed in to visit Israel. So much so that up to the final days, there were Israeli politicians, including Jerusalem’s mayor, who announced that they would be willing to meet with them. But I stuck to my guns, and remained quiet. I decided that until they are not only on the plane flying to Israel; not only even when they are touching down in Ben Gurion Airport —but only when they are through border customs and on their way to Jerusalem, only then would I admit I was wrong.

Alas, I was right. Trump tweeted; Netanyahu backed down; the rest is history. And talking about history, let’s go back some 38 years. That when, as reported in the Washington Post by Gershom Gorenberg, Israeli PM Menachem Begin said this: “Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic?” He said that to U.S. Ambassador Samuel W. Lewis in response to a series of punitive measures against Israel by then President Ronald Reagan, the latest in response to Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. Begin was so incensed by what he perceived as Reagan’s attitude toward Israel, and that he had to follow instructions from Washington.

But now, on a lesser important matter by far, all it takes is a tweet from the American President in the morning, for the Israeli Prime Minister to put his tail between his hinder legs and cower at noontime. So down goes long standing procedure. Down goes the solidarity of republican and democrats alike towards Israel. Down goes Israel’s relations with the Democrats in Congress. Down goes American Jews, the vast majority of them democrats, and very much opposed to trump. Even AIPAC—Holy Moly!—condemned Netanyahu’s decision, which brought about this public-relation nightmare for Israel, democrats, and Jews. And down goes also any chance of getting closer, even if by just a few steps—such as this visit and visitors—towards understanding the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and one day maybe solving it.

That’s why, in this case, “I told you so” matters so much. Because it makes clear that a decision such as this trip’s cancellation was not a whim, a momentary blindness; rather, it was deep-rooted, long-reaching, and wrong.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.


The Big Lie


The last Israeli election and its aftermath, combined, has produced a big lie. Unfortunately, that big lie—in which the Israeli media, from left to right, and the international media as well, have participated willingly—is continuing to obscure the truth and outcome of that election. And in so doing, despite the results pointing clearly at a different direction, making it harder on the public at large to digest and understand the outcome, and on the forces of peace and democracy to unite and bring forth the desired change.

Here’s why and how, starting in the beginning. Before the election, the prevailing expectation was for Netanyahu to prevail, no matter the actual results, and form the new government. The politicians, journalists and other observers, based their assumption on two main reasons, or factors: One, the demographic factor, the shift in the Israeli population’s makeup that has been taking place for quite sometimes now. That shift to the right, they were correct to assume, would determine, to a significant degree, the result of the election.

The Sephardic/Mizrachi large segment of the Israeli public is still (almost) uniformly stands behind Netanyahu. No matter that he, and his party, are (mostly) Ashkenazim, and hardly represent Israeli Sephardim; no matter that the Likud party, traditionally, has been shying away from socio-economic issues, which are of significant importance to that population; and no matter that even on security issues—the city of Sderot, hard hit by rockets coming from the Gaza Strip, long demanding of Netanyahu to do much more to secure their peaceful existence—still voted for him in large numbers.

Add to that the large immigration of Russian Jews (and non-Jews) from the 1990s onward. This segment of the population is also solidly on the right, and values power, or the perception of it, above all else. However, they dislike another segment of the population, which contributes so prominently to the shift rightward in Israel. And that is the religious/orthodox segment of the Israeli population. Which is about 10% of the population and growing mighty fast, due to a large birth-per-mother rate. While they are solidly on the right, they are also very pragmatic: Whoever gives them more money to study the Torah, avoid the mandatory army service and the need to work for a living, get their support regularly.

So this trend is true, much in existence, and even growing. But what the politicians, journalists and pundits (to this day) got wrong, once the election results were certified, was the true meaning of that result. First, they declared Netanyahu a winner. He was reelected, with a big margin, etc.—even though he has failed to win the election. He, the leader of a party that is in power, give or take a few years, since 1977; he, the Prime Minister of the last ten years; he, the all-powerful politician, all-adroit manipulator, the ‘Magician; he, who met with Putin three days before the elections; he, Trumps favorite son, who gave him the embassy in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as presents—was able to master only 35 Knesset seats in the election.

The exact number of Knesset seats that Benny Gantz, a general who was never a politician, running for office for the first time, was able—after creating a new party, no less—to master. It was a tie, at best; it was a loss, for Netanyahu, at worse. It was a loss obscures by the inevitable win of the center-right block, which consists of various, not at all the same parties. It was a loss that nobody wanted to see. And then it came crushing down. And it came crushing down because of that one big lie—the proof is in the pudding, as the Americans like to say—and because of the inability, and unwillingness, to face the truth. See straight what Israel is facing.

And what Israel is facing is a deep chasm. A war of the Jews. A war on democracy itself. A war on the character of the Jewish state. A war between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A war between the rule of law and anarchy. A war between the secular, liberal, democratic Israel—which envisioned, created, and built the country—and the fervent religious, extremist segment, who want God, King, and Bible to rule.

That’s why Netanyahu has failed to build a governing coalition. That’s why in the last minute, indeed just before midnight, he avoided doing the right thing, as required by law and tradition—informing the president that he was unable to build a government—and has dissolved the newly elected Knesset. This has prevented the true winner of the election, Benny Gantz and his Blue-and-White party from getting a shot at building the new government. Which, though it seemed unlikely, they had at least an outside chance of accomplishing.

In the upcoming September election Netanyahu’s chances of success are even less certain. His looming indictment proceeding on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, are looming larger now. And the fractions in his own party, his natural coalition partners, and the Israeli society at large grow bigger by the day. So fasten your seatbelts, to paraphrase the immortal words of Betty Davis, as it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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