There is no saving Israel

24 June 2024
Vashti Fox

Prominent Democrat and the most senior Jewish figure in American politics, Chuck Schumer, gave a controversial speech to Congress in March. In it he called for fresh elections in Israel and criticised current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel”. “Israel”, he continued, “cannot hope to succeed as a pariah opposed by the rest of the world”. Later, Schumer maintained that these comments were motivated by a desire to “save Israel”.

Schumer is not alone in this desire. Liberal opinion across the Western world, as well as inside Israel, agrees. The editorial team of Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently argued that Netanyahu must go “[f]or the sake of the country’s existence, status, security, economy, nature and essence, for the sake of the country’s future”. Accordingly, the problem with Netanyahu’s genocidal war against the Palestinians is that it imperils Israel’s legitimacy. Israel has been hijacked; it is becoming a rogue state and needs rescuing from itself.

An important element of this argument hinges on the nature of the Netanyahu coalition. In 2022, to ensure his own political survival, Netanyahu entered government with two prominent fascist parties: the Religious Zionism Party and Jewish Power. The leaders of these parties, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, are now the finance minister and national security minister respectively.

The project of these Israeli fascists is unabashed genocide, not just in Gaza but in the West Bank too. The Netanyahu government is broadly committed to this goal. For instance, in December 2022, a day before the new government was sworn in, Netanyahu issued a list of goals and priorities for his new cabinet. “The Jewish people”, it read, “have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the land of Israel”. The project of reconquering the West Bank has accelerated since 7 October. A New York Times investigation revealed that, while much of the world is focused on Gaza, Israeli settlers in concert with the Israeli military are terrorising Palestinians into leaving their homes. Building has commenced in numerous settler outposts defended by militias armed by Ben-Gvir.

The Times investigation exposes decades of military cover and legal impunity given to settlers stealing Palestinian land. Such investigations reveal something profound. The fascists, far from being an anomaly in Israeli political life, have been created by the Israeli body politic itself. They have taken the general climate of Jewish supremacy to its logical conclusion. The New York Times, however—rather than conclude the obvious, that there is a fundamentally racist, genocidal dynamic at the heart of Zionism—argues that Israel has been “hijacked”. Israel has in fact not been “hijacked” by these forces; it depends on them.

What’s more, focusing solely on the fascists or the settlers is a distraction. Last December, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced limited visa bans on Israeli settlers responsible for violence in the West Bank. This month, Australia followed suit and banned extremist settlers from gaining entry visas. In neither case were these moves accompanied by a ban on sending weapons to Israel or the breaking of any diplomatic or military ties. The visa bans, as with the emphasis on the settlers and the fascists, serve as cover for the genocidal intent of the Israeli state.

The individuals and parties put forward as alternatives to the fascists, the settler parties and Netanyahu are no alternative. Take Benny Gantz, who, since his resignation from Netanyahu’s war cabinet, is being touted by the international media as a brave and principled Israeli statesman. In fact, Gantz has long been a war criminal. He was the army’s chief of staff in 2014 when he directed the murderous 50-day assault on Gaza known as “Operation Protective Edge”, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians. In 2019, he boasted about “sending Gaza back to the Stone Age”. Although many Western leaders have celebrated Gantz as a potential fighter for democratic rights inside Israel, when he was in government, he banned Palestinian NGOs by declaring them terrorist organisations. In 2022, he ordered Israeli troops to raid their premises and weld their doors shut before arresting many prominent Palestinian activists.

The other “alternatives”, from Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid Party to Yair Golan, the chairperson of the Labor Party, are similarly implicated in the Israeli war machine. As Israeli oppositional journalist Gideon Levy put it in a Haaretz article in February:

“Parts of those not on the right support the war from within the government, and another part supports it from the outside, and everyone in the choir sings the same song, conducted by the right. The whole world is calling for an end to the war, and in the Knesset [Israeli parliament] there is not a single Zionist who will do so. Democracy? Opposition? Alternative? Not here, not now.”

Zionism has always been this way. Historically, there have been different strategies for pursuing the colonisation of Palestinian land. They have all—from the early Labor Zionists to the current fascists—sought a Jewish supremacist state established in all of historic Palestine.

There is nothing to be “rescued” in the Israeli state. The attempts to do so by Western politicians stem from a desire for a postwar scenario in which they can maintain relations with Israel, albeit an Israel with a shiny new government unstained by the atrocities in Gaza. By contrast, the left should fight for the fall of the Israeli state and the establishment of a Palestine free from war, oppression, religious division and exploitation.

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