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New Year; Old Hope

972mag.com

As we welcome the new Jewish year, 5780, I’d like to wish you all a healthy, happy, meaningful year. And as we look ahead to the new year, there’s a new—old, in my opinion—hope of renewal in Israel. The elections of September 17 are still fresh and far from settled. Many questions still remain. But it is safe to say that a new wind is blowing. And that maybe—just maybe—the rule of Bibi Netanyahu, a rule that was based on incitement, on subversion of democracy, on extremism and racism, on undermining the rule of law, and on solidifying the occupation and the endless conflict with the Palestinians, might finally be over.

This new wind is, in many ways, an old wind. It brings with it the smell of Eretz Israel of old. Of principles of justice for all, of separation of state and religion, of equal rights before the law. Of the essence of the declaration of independence. There’s chance of going to seed; to the old seed that gave birth to the state of Israel as we knew it and loved it. There is an opportunity now, even if a narrow one, to go back to what made the country so great in its first years of existence.

Don’t get me wrong, though; I’m not so naïve as to believe that all of Israel’s problems can now, suddenly and miraculously, be solved. Far from it: I’m well aware that the leaders of the Blue and White party, which had a narrow win – as indeed I predicted in my talk in Davis—in the elections, are not knights with shiny armor, riding on white horses. They have their faults, like all of us, and in term of the chances for peace, and a way to resolve the eternal conflict with the Palestinians, they are not so different from Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud party.

But I do believe that the probable successor—whether in this round or the next one—to the current Crime Minister, Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and While party, is a principled, old-time Rabin-like Israeli. (On the second night after Election Day he was in the audience at the Cultural Hall in Tel Aviv, at a concert by Israeli singers, and was invited on the stage to sing one of these good-old Israeli songs.) His immediate fight—what caused him to throw his hat into the ring in the first place—was to save Israel’s democracy. It seems safe to say that this battle, at the essence of these two rapid elections, is still going on. Maybe far from over. But for now, Israel survived the gravest threat since independence of turning into an autocracy. And that, in and of itself, is a major win.

The other threat, to be followed soon had Netanyahu won the elections, was the promised annexation of the West Bank, an end to any chance of peace-agreement with the Palestinians, and thereafter Israel turning not only into dictatorship, but an Apartheid state as well. This threat is still very real, make no mistake, but at least the new leader, together with his co-leaders, has a chance to change direction. Whether they will take this road; whether they will even have the chance to go this way, still remains to be seen. But the possibility is there.

On the ground things have changed so much since the 67 war, especially during the last twenty years or so, that it seems very unlikely that the Two-State solution—which I declared dead in another talk I gave in Davis seven years ago—can be resurrected. Yet one can still believe in miracles. In old Israel itself. Believe so even though the gap between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; between the fanatic, religious Israel and the secular, liberal Israel, has widened so dramatically lately. So much so that the ‘War between the Jews’ is again a real threat and possibility. The gap between the haves and have nots has also widened. These problems and others must be addressed by the new government, however shape it’s going to take. The job ahead of that government is real, and not easy, but doable.

Of course, as I write this, it’s not clear at all—after the attempt at unity government has failed, it’s Netanyahu who is getting a first crack at building a coalition—whether Benny Gantz and his Blue-and-White party will be given the chance to build a coalition, should Netanyahu, as expected, fail. And yet, one can hope. One can hope that—again, in this round or the next—the wind of old Israel would take over and bring a change in government and direction. Because Israel and its citizens, and with them Jews the world over, have a lot to be thankful for. And be proud of, too. And be able to believe again that corruption can be replaced by hard and principled work. That occupation can be replaced, for both sides, by liberation. And that glory days might be in sight again. Shana Tova!

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The End of Israel as We Know It

politico.com

In the last few weeks—following our ‘Days of Awe,’ as it were—two major developments occurred in Israel-Palestine that might shape the reality of the place and its people for years to come. Now, while these two developments, in and of themselves, are not so earth-shattering—though nonetheless, historic—it is quite possible that they would seal the deal on the outcome, the trends, the events that have been brewing in the Holy Land for quite some time.

The first of these two developments is the unification deal between Fatah and Hamas, which was signed in Cairo on October 12, and which received the proper attention and media coverage in Israel, the world at large, and America. This deal of course is not a ‘done deal;’ in other words: thorny issues remain to be further ironed out, to be put into place and practice, until things will materialize into a sustainable reality. Until then, doubts will persist. However, there can be no doubt that if successful, this will be regarded as a momentous event, which will bring about a unified—fractured though it may still remain—Palestinian entity and force.

This development, which has been welcomed generally by the Palestinian people, the Arab Middle East leaders, the European countries; in short, anybody who for long believed that this is a major, required step towards solving the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Predictably, however, it has been rejected by Israel (strongly), and America (weakly). As far the latter is concerned, since it has no coherent policy of its own, or anybody in the State Department or the White House who has a clear understanding of the conflict, it has simply followed Israel’s dictate on the matter. Netanyahu—again, predictably—rejected the deal outright with all kinds of accusations and demands. The reason for that is simple: Anything that can bring closer a reconciliation between the two sides, with the possibility of peace and the creation of a Palestinian state, living side-by-side with Israel, is a nightmare for him.

The reasons for that, and for why this deal might in fact widen the chasm between the two sides—Israel and Palestine, that is, Jews and Arabs—and might push further away the chances of peace, are numerous. Meanwhile, it’s time for me to let you know about the second development, which came shortly after this first one, and that unlike it, received hardly any mention here in the American media, and in particular the Jewish American press. This development, coupled with the Palestinian unification deal, might signal, and solidify, the end of Israel as we know and love it. Or, to be more precise and honest: the Israel that we ‘knew’ and ‘loved.’

I am talking about, generally, the fate of the Labor Party in Israel, and specifically, the man who infiltrated it—indeed, like a fifth-column—‘kidnaped’ its leadership (albeit democratically) and now threatens to dismantle it once and for all. His name is Avi Gabbay. He is relatively a young man, 50, a successful business man—not without blemish, especially from the point of view of the ‘party of the working people’—who three months ago or so, after being a rightwing Likudnik most of his political life, including being a minister in Netanyahu’s government, switched allegiance, became a Labor Party card-carrying member, threw his hat into the ring, and—surprising everybody—had won the election, and became party chairman.

For those of you who don’t know, or remember, the Labor Party was formed in 1968, and comprised of the three main parties that ruled Israel—led mostly by David Ben-Guroin—for twenty years since independence. This union produced five Prime Ministers, and ruled Israel on and off until the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Thereafter, though not immediately, Netanyahu and the right-center Likud came into power, and never let go. Now to those of you who say, not without some justification, that the Labor Party—representing the center-left side of the Israeli people and politics—has been dead for many years, I say this: The Labor Party and its chairman, Isaac Herzog, lost by only six Knesset members to Netanyahu’s Likud in the last elections. If not for some late-hour shenanigans by Mr. Netanyahu—a la Mr. Trump—he might as well had won the election. A man of principals, Mr. Herzog refused the many attempts by Mr. Netanyahu to join his government, and be its Foreign Minister, unless there were real commitment to solve the conflict with the Palestinians, along the lines of the Two-State solution. But of course, there was no such commitment.

And so, in the last two weeks, the new leader Mr. Gabbay came out of the closet as what he truly is: A rightwing Likudnic. He declared, exactly as Mr. Netanyahu has done a few days earlier, that Israel will never dismantle any settlements. He declared the West bank settlers as the truly brave, new pioneers of Israel. Israel would never relinquish its s hold on the Jordan Valley, he’d further said, echoing Netanyahu. Latest rumors in Israel has it that he intends on changing the name of the party, where he already has power to appoint cronies to future ministerial positions all by himself, regardless of party affiliation. Furthermore, he declared his wish and intention to go into a national unity government with the Likud and Netanyahu. You see the similarities with the first development?

Why the Labor Party members—among them my 90-year-old-mother—have chosen him for their leader is a topic for another article. Though obviously, they are very keen on reclaiming governmental power, apparently at all costs. What is clear, however, is that while the first development signifies a compromise between the two Palestinian camps, and a wish—not without objectors, of course—to bring about peace based upon the principle of the a Two-State solution, the second development is exactly of the opposite kind: it signifies the enlargement, and hardening of the rightwing side of the Israeli people and politics. This side rejects any compromise, including the above mentioned Two-State solution. Essentially—it rejects peace.

Therefore, it closes the coffin on Israel as we know it: Jewish and democratic. What will come instead, only years will tell.

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