What About Israel?
An election with a dramatic result
After the Israeli election, in which the winning coalition included Benjamin Netanyahu along with two religious-nationalist parties, Daniel Gordis wrote,
There are many people around the world who want Israel to be something it does not wish to be. They want it to be successful, but humble. They want it to be strong and secure, but still desperate for foreign support of all sorts. They want it to be Jewish, but in a “nice” kind of way. Israeli dancing (which I haven’t seen here in years)…
An Israel moderate in every way would be an Israel easy to love. It would be a source of pride, but not a source of shame. It would be an Israel that would make us feel great as Americans and as Jews.
The only problem is that that Israel doesn’t exist, and it never has
Other forms of Zionism have pursued lofty goals. Left-wing secular Zionists envisage Israel as a model socialist society. Right-wing religious Zionists dream of a state that reflects the Jewish spirit and honors Jewish law. In contrast, Goodman maintains, Netanyahu regards Israel’s goal as the state of Israel itself. According to Netanyahu’s Zionism, the state’s overriding purpose is to assure the Jewish people’s survival in a dangerous world that is, and always has been, especially dangerous for the Jewish people.
Recall Thomas Sowell’s distinction between the constrained vision and the unconstrained vision. The left looks at Israel with the unconstrained vision, hoping for a socialist paradise in which Arabs and Jews live in harmony. Netanyahu represents the constrained vision, in which socialism does not work and conflict is part of the human condition.
For a few decades, there were at least some parts of Israel in which Arabs and Jews lived in harmony. Certainly in the Haifa area. As late as the mid-1980s, Arabs and Jews were much more integrated than they are today. Two Intifadas later, not so much.
American Jews are still pretty far to the left, and they are disappointed that Israel has been reduced to being a Jewish homeland. For example, Peter Beinart writes,
In France, the US, Italy, and India, right-wing leaders are seeking—to varying degrees—to create ethnocracies, states that define themselves as belonging to a dominant ethnic, religious, or racial group. Their centrist opponents—to varying degrees—support legal equality for all citizens. This divide creates deep ideological polarization. But Israel is not deeply ideologically polarized. It’s already an ethnocracy and no major political party wants to change that.
…anxiety underlies Ben-Gvir’s agenda today. Unlike Lapid, who believes Israel’s ethnocracy is stable, Ben-Gvir believes it is weak. It is weak because Israel’s Palestinian citizens are too numerous and insufficiently subservient. … Whether or not he believes he can expel Palestinian citizens from the country, the threat serves a purpose. It bolsters Israeli ethnocracy by warning that Palestinians may face harsh reprisals if they challenge it. Lapid does not consider such threats necessary. He might even consider them counterproductive, since they could lead international observers to question the legitimacy of the Jewish state that both he and Ben-Gvir support. But ultimately, Lapid’s objection is to Ben-Gvir’s methods, not his end goal.
On the Israeli political map, Ben-Gvir is a “religious nationalist” and Lapid is a centrist.
Pointer from, who remarks,
We can already begin to envision a coming US foreign policy that will demand equality for Palestinians in Israel and a single state that will incorporate Gaza and the West Bank as well, thanks to the growing strength of anti-Israeli sentiment on the American left, led by many Jewish-Americans.
It used to be that Palestinian terror attacks came from the West Bank or Gaza. What has happened in the last year or so, as best I can tell from afar, is that Arabs within pre-1967 Israel have taken killing Jews [UPDATE: A commenter thinks I am wrong about this, and that the killings are coming from outside the pre-1967 borders. If so, then my impression is significantly mistaken]. This is mostly a new development, and it disturbs whatever equilibrium existed before. Why it emerged, I cannot say. Contagion from Black Lives Matter, in some sense?
In any case, if Israel cracks down, then Beinart and other liberals from outside of Israel will cry “ethnocracy.” If Israel does not crack down, and the Israeli Arabs continue to commit murder, ordinary Israelis will ask what kind of a Jewish homeland they have where Jews cannot live without the fear of being murdered for being Jews.
Gordis is suggesting that the latest election in Israel found Israelis voting for security for Jews. They elected a right-wing government, one that seems likely to include Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Shmotrich as ministers. Those two politicians lead the “religious nationalist” parties that Prime Minister Netanyahu is almost surely going to have to include in his government.
Some of these religious nationalists seem determined to poke and provoke the Arab community. Armin Rosen writes (WSJ),
For a growing number of Israelis, the ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount epitomizes the state’s ambivalence toward Judaism itself, and a decadeslong indecision as to whether Jewish belief is a hazard in need of careful management or the reason for modern Israel’s existence. Like this month’s Knesset election, in which gleefully antiestablishment parties seeking a more Jewish national character made large gains, the quietly changing situation on the Temple Mount attests to which camp is winning and why. “You push to the point of resistance,” Rabbi Levi said. The point hasn’t been met, so the pushing will continue.
Proponents of the peace process used to speak of “confidence-building” steps. What it seems to me that we are seeing right now, on both sides, is the opposite.
After I wrote the above, I came across a long, fascinating conversation between Robert Wright and Eric Alterman. Both take the leftwing view that is critical toward Israel. Alterman has a new book, which I have not read, so I may not be representing his views correctly.
Both Gordis (who I quoted at the top) and Alterman see the schism between Israelis and American Jews, particularly young, secular American Jews. Gordis wants American Jews to better understand Israel. I see Alterman as giving up on left-leaning American Jews having any influence on either Israel or on American policy toward Israel. I infer that he thinks that American Jews on the left might just as well stop paying attention to Israel. They should not support Israel. But he thinks that their hostility toward Israel is not effective.
I do not share Alterman’s angst about Israel. I see Israel as a flawed country surviving in very troubled region. To me, leftist hostility toward Israel is, like many leftist causes, a mindset that leads to trying to destroy civilization in order to save it.