The Lesser of Two Evils

timesofisrael.com

The announcement and signing of the agreement to form a unity government in Israel early this week, between interim Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and his main rival, the leader of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz, did not surprise me. Since Gantz’s speech to the nation the previous Thursday, which I found—unlike many observers and pundits—to be truthful and inspiring, I expected the result of that speech to bring home to Netanyahu the inevitability and urgency of such a deal. A deal that, with all its shortcomings and dangerous elements, I support.

Now how a ‘leftist/peacenik’ like me, you may ask, who detests everything Bibi Netanyahu’s stands for, and sees in him a real and present danger to Israel’s democracy and future; a longtime supporter of the Two-State solution such as myself, in opposition to the settlers movement since its inception following the Six-Day War, is now breaking ranks with his camp and supports Benny Bantz’s move in forming this unity government? In one word: Realpolitik. But of course, that’s not enough of an answer, and demands a further explanation. So allow me to elaborate.

I’ll start with what could have happened, or the ‘evil’ that was about to take a firm hold in Israel had Gantz not agree, and indeed pushed for the successful completion to this broad coalition deal. But before that even, one thing must be said at the outset: The unforeseen outburst of the coronavirus pandemic, and the grave danger to life and livelihood had dramatically changed the equation. Count me among those who believe that an emergency government WAS necessary in Israel in order to properly deal with it. And that to leave it all at the hands of Netanyahu and his cronies WAS a grave danger to the health of Israel’s citizens, and its democracy and freedom.

Following the signing of the agreement Gantz tweeted this (that’s the world we live in, ain’t it?): “We prevented fourth elections. We’ll safeguard democracy. We’ll fight the coronavirus and look out for all Israeli citizens. We have a national emergency government.” Again, I support these goals. And I believe he is sincere in his wish to achieve them. Of course, opposite him stands a fierce rival, a political animal like no other in Israel’s modern history, much more experienced and unprincipled than him. Also, against this tide, there exists a reality with strong currents that can topple this ship before it can sail into clear waters. But Gantz, who was the IDF chief-of-staff, is a fighter first and foremost. And he already achieved, entering Israeli politics a little over a year ago, more than most who spend a lifetime in it.

Now let’s examine the first evil: i.e. what would’ve happened had Gantz not soldierly marched on into this ‘lion’s den’ that is Netanyahu’s government. Netanyahu became the longest serving Israeli Prime Minister while serving as a caretaker, which is longer than a your now, following three inconclusive general elections. Sans a deal, he would be primed to continue serving in this capacity as PM. It thus provides him with the power to rule unopposed. There was a proposal, from the opposition actually, to freeze all political process and elections for six month in order to fight the pandemic. And so, it’s entirely possible that he would’ve remained in power for another year or so, even without forming a new government.

In that period of time, who knows what more he could’ve done in order to prevent his day in court, on bribery and breach of trust, and to subvert the fragile democracy and the rule of law to his will and dictatorial ambitions. (Remember, his mentor and teacher is not Trump, but Putin. And just like Putin, Netanyahu may use Gantz to stay in power for the long run.) Furthermore, the latest polls indicate he’s gaining ground significantly, with projection of 40 Knesset Members to his Likud party in the next election. This is a real threat. And it’s the result of what is called ‘rally round the flag’ effect in a moment of crisis. And Netanyahu, mind you—unlike Trump—is a real master-of-manipulation, taking full advantage of this terrible pandemic situation. Another six months or so with him alone in power, alone at the TV podium, and 40 seats in the Knesset might become 50 seats. In short, the chances of Netanyahu escaping justice and solidifying his rule over Israel for many years to come, were much larger without this deal.

Now let’s look briefly at this deal, the other ‘evil.’ It safeguards, enshrined by law, a transition of power. In 18 months, Gantz would become the next prime minister. It gives his party and block (together with two small fractions) hardly 19 Knesset members—Netanyahu has 59!—half the ministers in the new government (no doubt too large of a government). Including in that are the three most important ministers, to my mind, other than the PM: Defense, Foreign and Justice. It safeguards a transition of power, and it ensures that Netanyahu will go to court, once the courts are opened soon (his trial is scheduled now for May 24th). And, should the Israeli High Court prevent Netanyahu from holding office, Gantz automatically will become the interim PM, until new elections.

True, the deal also mandates that in July the decision to enforce annexation of large parts of the West Bank will be put in front of the Knesset. How can Gantz (and I) support that disastrous decision? Here’s how: real politics again. As I pointed many times before here, the settlers movement had won the battle. Hands down. There is no going back. The Two-State solution is dead. Gantz in fact, following his visit to the White House, endorsed the ‘Deal of the Century,’ and so are the majority of Israeli citizens. That’s doesn’t make this wrong right, of course not, but rather inevitable. It is the reality on the ground. (What the Palestinians should do, you ask? What they should’ve done long ago: Throw the keys at Israel and demand to be Israeli citizen in a ‘One-State solution.’)

Again, it’s true also that Netanyahu safeguarded in this deal his ability to remain in power for the next 18 months (at least, since the possibility he might not relinquish it still exists). He has control, and veto—but so is Gantz—over appointments of judges and other important positions in the legal system. But not without obstacles, with the Justice ministry in the hands of an astute Gantz’s appointee, and with time running out on him fast.

There are many who oppose this deal who are saying Gantz had the chance to lead. Had the chance to enact laws that would’ve prevented Netanyahu from subverting the law of the land to his will, and prevent him from staying Prime Minister. Not so. Two members of his party were opposed to these moves, and so is another member of the closely attached Labor Party (that expect to disappear in the next elections). I don’t believe this opposition had a real chance to unitedly do so. It was fragile at best, impossible at worst.

Finally this: Netanyahu threats of ‘masses in the streets’ (blood in the streets is how I see it) in case the High Court or the Knesset would to prevent him from staying as PM were very, very real. Remember the murdered PM Yitzhak Rabin? And all that in the midst of a severe pandemic. The conclusion therefore is: Tough situations demand tough decisions. And in this tough, dangerous days, the ‘evil’ of this unity government—fragile and unpredictable as is—was, still is, a much lesser evil than the alternative.

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The New Anti-Semitism—Jews Against Bernie Sanders

leftvoice.org

As the chances of Senator Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination for presidency become real, and as the possibility of him going against Trump—and possibly, hopefully win—increases, so increases a special type of hatred against him. Shockingly, this hatred, and the strong sentiments that feed it, are generated from the most unexpected segment of the population: Jews. Especially conservative Jews. In the close circle of my social network I’ve heard him being called “Kapo” and “Self-hating Jew.” “I’d rather vote for Trump than him,” someone commented on Facebook. Just imagine what’s going on out there in the dark alleyways of the Internet.

These sentiments represent a special branch of anti-Semitism, and remind me of the atmosphere that prevailed in Israel prior to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. As led back then by Benjamin Netanyahu in the squares of Jerusalem, Rabin was called a “Nazi,” his picture dressed in Nazi officer uniform. (In a notorious Facebook post Sanders was compared to Adolf Hitler.) He was called a traitor, Rabin, while the smell of blood—of a heroic figure in Israel’s fight for independence, the crown prince of David Ben-Gurion, former Army’s chief-of-staff who dared to make peace—could be smelled in the streets for quite sometimes before he was gunned down in a Tel Aviv square, now carrying his name.

Why so? Who’s behind it? Where does it come from? You’d think that Jews, especially in Israel and in America, would know better. Would realize that it is one thing to oppose a candidate politically, not to like him or agree with his suggested policies, and therefore vote for somebody else. It is another thing, though, to spew this kind of hateful rhetoric—which, I’m afraid, will only increase as we get closer to the election—toward any political candidate, let alone a major Jewish candidate. No doubt it will help escalate the level of anti-Semitism currently existing in America. Just because a Jewish person, a politician even, sees things differently than the way we see them, doesn’t mean we have to label him a “traitor.” Doesn’t mean we should give ammunition to so many hot-headed people who hate us anyway for a myriad of reasons. He might be a different Jew than you and me; yet he is still a Jew.

And here’s what Sanders told the New York Times’ editorial board on that topic, when asked whether he believes in God. “I am Jewish. I am proud to be Jewish. I was bar mitzvahed from the Kings Highway Jewish Center, a long time ago. I am not actively involved in organized religion.” Well, just like so many Jews throughout the land, most probably the majority. In Israel, too, he would be regarded as a regular secular Israeli-Jew. In fact, Sanders had spent a few months living and working in a kibbutz back in 1963. Raise your hands please, Jews of America, how many of you have done so. Some, sure, but not many. It is one thing to dream, to talk longingly and lovingly about Israeli kibbutzim, and another thing altogether to pack your bags and go live there. Experience the experience.

Of course, another reason that sends American Jews off the wall in regard to Sanders is his support from, and close ties with, “The Squad.” In particular Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. For these American Jews that’s all the proof they need; like a deal with the devil, which only adds fuel to the fire. And while another twenty Representatives like Omar and Tlaib won’t bring Israel any closer to destruction, for many American Jews this alliance is an absolute “Trefah.” We better die than allow it to go on. God forbid a reconciliation, an understanding with Arabs and Palestinians would occur. God forbid a chance for a new road would open up. Who knows where it might lead us.

To peace maybe. Peace with the Palestinians, for instance. What a terrible idea, and possibility, for some American Jews. After all, Sanders had also said that “Israel has the right to exist, not only to exist but to exist in peace and security. But what US foreign policy must be about is not just being pro-Israel. We must be pro-Palestinian as well.” Well, amen to that. However, while for Sanders to imply that he loves all mankind (hippie-like, sixties-like) is okay, for him to say that “We must be pro-Palestinian as well” is not okay. That’s another “Trefah.” He must be a traitor. Let’s hang him in the squares of the Social Network. He is not even a Jew. Let Twitter eat him alive.

Because when it comes to Israel American Jews—especially the conservative movement—are always behind the curve. If AIPAC supported Netanyahu all these years, without ever questioning his motives and policies, then so are we. If AIPAC said you are not allowed to criticize Israel in public, we won’t do that. Any form of private thoughts we might have, we better keep to ourselves. That modus operandi doesn’t, and won’t work in regard to Sanders, should he be chosen the Democratic nominee, and thereafter elected president. The “War of the Jews” will erupt. American style. You just wait and see.

Sorry to break this to you: The horrible possibility of these hateful sentiments charging further the batteries of some lunatic—whether a Jew or a non-Jew—and igniting him to take matters into his own hands and do some terrible thing, is quite real. Yes, I’m talking about another assassination; a word some people here refuse to say when it comes to Rabin’s assassination (it was just “death,” I heard a rabbi says once in public.) But the current political climate in America, fully charged already, is ripe for explosion. With some militia-type hooligans, armed to the teeth, ready to pull the trigger on a whim. We Jews shouldn’t give them any opportunity to do so.

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