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Hail the Jewish State; Screw Democracy!

Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

That’s the bottom line, my friends, regarding the ‘Jewish nation-state law’ the Knesset had passed last week. You can twist it in so many ways, and amend it a hundred times more, it won’t change its premise and purpose. Because, what’s in that law when you actually read it (which I have done), isn’t so drastic on first and even second reading. It says nothing about the Arab citizens of the country being relegated to a ‘second class’ status, or about their language being relegated to a ‘second language’ (other than to say that “the state’s language is Hebrew”). Or any such wording that can bluntly be blamed for being outright racist. But it says a lot about the intent of the people who fought for this law to become a ‘basic law’ in Israel.

by Avi Katz

Case in point. But wait… just to clarify: Israel has no constitution, per se, and all attempts at creating it since independence have failed. It does have the ‘Declaration of Independence,’ signed by David Ben-Gurion and other brave men and women upon declaring independence, which until now has served as the principal document—sort of constitution for Israel and its citizens—and that among other things promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or gender.” This historic, monumental document—written and passed under the gathering clouds of war—is now rendered almost mute by the passing of this new, infamous ‘basic law’.

And a ‘basic law’, by the way, is sort of a constitutional law in Israel. It meant to guide the legal system and it’s more difficult to repeal than regular laws. (The last sentence in this law states that “This Basic Law shall not be amended, unless by another Basic Law passed by a majority of Knesset members.”) It is, indeed, the intent of the ‘framers’ in this case as well: To enshrine it as irreversible law. And the way Israel and its population go—i.e. right and very-right of center currently, intolerant and religiously zealot—it’s here to stay. The law’s main function and purpose is to serve as a springboard for generations to come. And for actions to come. Actions that will continue to erode the legitimacy and existence—as free, equal-right citizens—of the Arab citizens of the country, and the Druzes too, together over twenty percent of the population.

You see, what this law does—more than anything else—is giving another push, a strong, decisive one forward to the forces that oppose tolerance; oppose liberal democracy; support intolerance and even ‘fascism’ of sorts. The erosion, if you will, or the march of Israel toward an autocratic-ruled, semi-Apartheid country is being moved into high gear by this law. Which at the same time kick the ball—excuse the cliché, but I enjoyed greatly the just concluded month of the World Cup—of democracy, tolerance, equality almost out of the playing field. Time will tell, of course, but the momentum of Israel founding fathers’ endeavor, and their historic, thoughtful document is gone. Thrown by the wayside.

Now back to the above mentioned “Case in point.” I am fortunate enough to receive every Friday the e-newsletter of the ‘Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest,’ in which they tell us—Jews, Israelis—all there is to know (of course, what they want you to know) related to Israel, usually with a brush of pink color, on everything that took place the previous week. And so when I opened the latest newsletter, just a day or two after passing of the ‘nation-state’ law, I was immediately drawn to one headline, titled “Israel Is the Jewish State.” Wow… Really?!… Tell me something I don’t already know. Anyway, I follow the attached link, which opened to an article in the Wall Street Journal, titled “Get Over It—Israel Is the Jewish State.” Big deal. As if we didn’t know that already. As if before the passing of this law it was not the case. Or in doubt.

Just as was the case with the moving of the American Embassy to Jerusalem—which, by the way, has failed miserably so far to generate any other civilized nations (other than two small, bribed South American regimes) to join in—the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was no big deal to most Israelis. We already knew that. It meant to create problems, which indeed it brought about. (The so-called Trump administration’s ‘huge, greatest peace deal of all times’ is dead before its arrival). It meant to push back the possibility of peace with the Arabs, which it has achieved spectacularly; it meant to continue the erosion of Israel as a democratic, liberal nation.

I will not go, here and now, into the details of the law—you can easily find it yourself in countless of articles online—other than to stress that it is indeed another milestone on the road to the cliff of hell. Too strong a wording, you say? Probably. But strong actions demand strong words. So let’s try it a different way: It’s as if another heavy stone has been laid on the grave of the liberal, enlightened state Herzl—the ‘visionary of the Jewish state’—and his brave, like-minded Ben-Gurion—who envisioned Israel as a liberal, democratic state for all its citizens. A “Light to the Goyim,” if you will. But no more. Screw the ideal of liberal democracy. We are living in the real, cruel world. Ideals are meant for leftists.

And by the way, here’s an anecdote, important though: Only two members of the Knesset abstained during the vote (passed by 62 to 55). One of them was Benny Begin, a member of the governing party the Likud. Even he, the son of Menachem Begin, the leader of the Irgun, the founder of the Likud, the first Prime Minister of a rightwing government in Israel, couldn’t—in all his moral consciousness, (probably hearing his father rolling in his grave—vote for this law. Not in my name.

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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The Battle That Never Ended

Just before dawn on March 21, 1968, our elite reconnaissance unit—the tip of the spear of the Israeli Army Paratroopers Brigade—took off in several helicopters, on our way to cross the Jordan River into Jordanian territory. We were in the air when the IDF began its first major operation against the PLO, who’d established its main base near the Jordanian town of Karameh. I was a young second lieutenant back then, commanding a platoon of soldiers. Our mission was to block the escape route of Palestinian fighters, capture or kill them. As I recall, my platoon happened to be engaged in the fiercest battle our company had encountered that day. We lost four young soldiers on the battlefield, among them an officer, a dear buddy of mine. As for me, after unwisely coming into contact with two flying bullets, I ended up in a Jerusalem hospital.

Though the Palestinian fighters (with considerable help from the Jordanian Armed Forces) suffered far greater casualties, dead and injured, and though this battle—directly or indirectly—brought upon them the disaster of ‘Black September,’ and forced their relocation to Lebanon, according to their legend the ‘Battle of Karameh’ was a great victory. Likewise, Israeli army historians, soldiers and officers, don’t consider ‘Operation Inferno’ a successful operation. The reasons for that, in an operation that came close on the heels of the monumental victory of the Six-Day War—a war in which our unit had participated, both in the Egyptian and the Syrian fronts—are varied. The reason for this piece, however, is not to reminisce, or to analyze the success and failure of that major battle.

The reason is altogether different, and pointing at a much greater failure on Israel’s part. We didn’t know that at the time, but with the passing of the years it became clear that the core idea behind that operation, and many others to follow, was the belief that we Israelis can solve our dispute with the Palestinians by first vanquishing them in the battlefield. If only we’ll be stronger militarily—if not morally—the problem will somehow solve itself. Of course, it never did. Furthermore, back then most Israelis didn’t even know, or acknowledge that there was such a thing as Palestinians. Case in point: we young soldiers. All we knew was that we were fighting terrorists, whose sole aim was to annihilate Israel. When Prime Minister Golda Meir claimed—she was not alone, mind you—that “there were no such thing as Palestinians,” it fell on welcoming ears.

The same cannot be said regarding the Palestinians’ attempts to dispel this notion. Last year, among the many words written about the 50-year anniversary of the 1967 war, a story came to light of how, before the guns were even silenced, a prominent Palestinian lawyer had offered the Israeli government a detailed two-state peace plan with the Palestinians (who played no part in that war), supported by fifty Palestinian dignitaries. I first read this story in Moment Magazine; confirmed later by another, Israeli source. In both versions, the detailed peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians, as put forward by Aziz Shehadeh, was never even discussed by the Israeli government, let alone replied to. A trend that has continued to date; most notably regarding the Arab League’s Peace Initiative of 2002.

Yes, the Oslo Accords were signed. And yes, some of that plan’s directives had been partly achieved. But not the ultimate prize: Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel, in peace and security for all. A young Israeli, religious-extremist of the worst kind, made sure of that. He assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the altar of peace, aiming for the conflict to remain unsolved; for the occupation and settlements to continue; for Israel’s control over the West Bank and Jerusalem to remain eternal. It’s why I consider the Two-State Solution—the best option of solving the conflict—no longer viable. Just as sometimes we hear of people who miraculously, after years in coma, suddenly spring back to life, so we can unreasonably hope that this solution, on its dying bed for some years now, also would.

But I wouldn’t bet on it. True, Israel made some unrequited overtures towards the Palestinians, but those claiming it proves Israel’s sincere wish for peace are missing the point. The point being: Israel had the power and means not to settle the occupied land, to withdraw to acceptable, secure borders, and to maintain military control over the territories until final peace agreement had been reached and had been established on the ground. But Israel’s interest in peace came—still does, unfortunately—second to settling the land and solidify the occupation. Israel could’ve prevented the conundrum looming large now: Binational state. Which either won’t be a Jewish state anymore, or won’t be a democratic state. Israel’s grand illusion that it can achieve both while preventing the Palestinians from having their own legitimate national aspirations realized, is not only a false narrative, but also an affront to Zionism.

* Previously published in Moment Magazine online under the title: “Fifty Years Later, the Battle That Never Ended”

** The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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