May 17, 2002
The rising tide of Israeli extremism
The Israeli Taliban had its national convention the other day, and the nutballs won out: the Likud party went on record as declaring that it would never accept the legitimacy of a Palestinian state. In a stemwinder of a speech, ultra-rightist Benjamin Netanyahu gave voice to what has been, up to now, a largely unspoken sentiment, advocated only by the most extreme fringe parties:
"In order to defeat terrorism, we must take three steps. First, we must complete the purification of the area, and clean it out totally of all fighting forces and arms. The Prime Minister and the government began this mission, but it has not yet been completed."
Ah yes, "purification" – an ominous word choice.
To be fair, this translation is unique to the excerpt that appears on David Horowitz's site: on the Netanyahu.org site, which offers the complete text of the speech, this word is missing. But that is just nitpicking, for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine has always been implicit in the Zionist program, in spite of the (public) protestations of its leaders and is now becoming more explicit as the Middle East crisis reaches a feverish pitch.
Today, 46 percent of Israelis support what even Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of hard-line "revisionist" Zionism, explicitly ruled out – the forcible expulsion of 3 million Arabs. Over 60 percent want the government to "encourage" Israeli Arabs to leave the country, according to Ha'aretz. The growing respectability of these ideas is symbolized by the entry of the fundamentalist National Religious Party into the government.
Another Likud coalition partner is the Molodet party, which holds the Ministry of Tourism: Benny Elon, the head of the ministry, recently launched a publicity campaign on behalf of his party's main platform plank: "Only transfer will bring peace," as the billboards emblazoned with the Molodet slogan proclaim.
According to the Zionist ultras, there already is a Palestinian state, it is located in Jordan – and the Palestinians need to go back there. Sharon, during his tenure as Defense Minister, once averred that "there is a Palestinian state. All that is needed is a headline." To say that the Jordanians, not to mention the US State Department, oppose this on the grounds it would be destabilizing is a bit of an understatement. As one wag put it: "Presumably the headline would be 'King Hussein dead. Arafat in Amman.'"
To get a good look inside the Netanyahu mindset, check out Christopher Hitchens' memorable piece posted four years ago in Salon:
"A few weeks ago, in this holy city, a public lecture was offered by Benzion Netanyahu. It was in honor of a man named Abba Ahimeir. Neither of these two men is, perhaps, as well known as he ought to be. Benzion Netanyahu, the 87-year-old father of the [then-]Israeli prime minister, is a scholar at Princeton University and the author of The Origins of the Inquisition … Abba Ahimeir was a writer and activist in British Mandate Palestine, and a zealous lieutenant of Jabotinsky. In the pages of the magazine Doar Hayom, during the late 1920s and '30s, he wrote a celebrated column titled 'From the Notebook of a Fascist." He hymned Mussolini, referred to Jabotinsky as 'Our Duce,' and even went so far as to say that Hitler was on the right track, except for his excessive anti-Semitism. … Ahimeir, said the elder Netanyahu, had been his mentor."
Yes, but is the son responsible for the sins of his father? Hitchens informs us "it is very well attested that Netanyahu the younger makes few moves without consulting his revered papa, who also rose to be Jabotinsky's secretary and pallbearer." His mentor, Ahimeir, headed a faction of Jabotinsky's Revisionist movement called Brit Habirionim, or Alliance of the Strong, although birionim, in the contemporary vernacular, has come to mean "hooligans." Netanyahu senior once told an interviewer:
"It is obvious to me that there is no Palestinian people. Not in the past, nor in the present. ... What we have here is simply a branch of the Arab people. The claim that such a people exist is only being made so as to justify the call to liquidate the Jewish state. They [the Palestinians] are trying to create the illusion of a people that in fact has never existed."
Hitchens cites a March 21, 1998 article in Ha'aretz, by Shani Litman, reporting on a talk given by Netanyahu to an audience of "right-wing retired officers and security men in Tel Aviv." He assured them there would be no sell-out:
"We are making a constant effort to preserve the maximum, including territories I would fight for even if they had no security value."
Hitchens also cites a piece by Israeli analyst Akiva Eldar that told of a "memorandum of understanding" signed by the Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs, brokered by the Americans, designed to combat underground terrorist outfits and arrange for an exchange of intelligence. But there was a glitch, Eldar reported:
"Netanyahu forbade representatives of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) to meet with their Palestinian and American counterparts for the purpose of establishing a joint monitoring mechanism that would supervise the implementation of the memorandum. It is difficult to fathom how this very same individual, who swears allegiance three times a day to the cause of the security of Israel's citizens, is willing to forego a formal Palestinian Authority. The reason for Netanyahu's position is that he is opposed to a concomitant Israeli commitment to confiscate firearms in the possession of Jews who plan, or support, terrorist actions."
That a man like Netanyahu wields such power in the governing party – and may even be the next Prime Minister of Israel – is ominous enough. But that prospect takes on an even darker hue in light of the arrest of Noam Federman and associates in connection with a plot to bomb an Arab school for girls. Federman is a supporter of the virulently supremacist Kach movement, founded by the late Meir Kahane. Israeli authorities are now investigating to see if other terrorist attacks on Arabs are connected to an extensive extremist underground.
What we can see in Netanyahu, and the radicalized Likud, is the Jewish equivalent of the Taliban rising out of the fundamentalist, militant, and messianic currents roiling Israeli society. Sharon is held captive to this constituency, and cannot govern without them. Netanyahu's coup at the Likud party conference was but a prelude to the coming challenge to Sharon's leadership.
The Likud has always stood for the idea of a Greater Israel – a concept that has more to do with religious fundamentalism than any genuine concern for "security." There cannot be a Palestinian state, in this view, for the simple reason that God promised the Jews not only all the lands of Judea, Samaria (the West Bank), and Gaza, but beyond, from the Nile to the Euphrates. Describing God's covenant with Abraham, Genesis 15:18 proclaims:
"To your descendants I give this land from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the river Euphrates."
Millions of fundamentalists the world over, both Christian and Jew, believe that: what's more, they are willing to fight and die for it.
We are all-too-well acquainted with the scourge of Islamic fundamentalism, but the Israeli version – with the help of Christian "Zionists" in the West – may pose a deadlier danger in the long run. For the Afghan Taliban never even came close to acquiring nuclear weapons: the Israelis are already nuclear-armed. No one knows what a government beholden to a crackpot "spiritual advisor" like Rabbi Yosef is likely to do, in a crisis – and do we really want to find out?
What's even more outrageous is that this upsurge of religious fanaticism and ultra-expansionist sentiment has been fueled by a flood of US tax dollars, which fund not only the settlements but the religious schools that promote political extremism.
In his speech to the Likud party conference, Netanyahu boasts that he was feted during his trip to Washington, and that, in no small part thanks to his effort:
"The great American nation is not only not against us – it supports us, and by a huge majority! And that is important, because in the final analysis, what determines the position of the administration in the United States is public opinion – especially since the current administration – and primarily President Bush, knows perfectly well just who Arafat is and what he is striving for."
But of course this last is nonsense. Or else what are we to make of the American insistence on Arafat and the PLO as the only possible negotiating partners in a Middle East peace agreement? Oh well, never mind, because even the President of the United States is subject to political pressure. As "Bibi" puts it: "We have the ability to sway this public opinion."
The Israeli Taliban could easily be reined in, and nipped in the bud by US policymakers – but for the exertions of Likud's American supporters. Ensconced in both parties – allied with the Christian Right and the New Republic liberals – uncritical supporters of Israel dominate the national discourse on the Middle East. Wrapped in a protective shield, and subsidized to the tune of $3 billion a year by US taxpayers, the worst elements in Israeli society are coming to the fore, and pose a direct danger not only to US interests, but to the whole region.
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