Zionists of the World Unite! (Around Me)

Haim Watzman

Beware of Israelis who call for unity. More often than not, what they really mean is “everyone should unite around my political program.”

In yesterday’s Ha’aretz, Moshe Arens calls for unity with an invocation of American revolutionary rhetoric (”Divided We Fall”). Yet his bottom line is that unity means acceding to the agenda of Israel’s right-wing religious extremists.

Arens is a right-winger I like to disagree with. He writes well, argues cogently and logically, and sincerely believes both in Zionism and democracy. Like me, he grew up in the United States and absorbed the principles of liberal democracy. While he’s a territorial maximalist and a hawk to end all hawks, not to mention a talented political maneuverer in his Byzantine Likud party, he has devoted much effort to promoting minority rights in Israel, in particular serving an advocate for the Bedouin.

So when he writes that “The life-blood of a democracy are differences of opinion between different elements of the society that are debated and resolved in democratic elections,” I accept his sincerity. When he writes “Being united means that the different segments of Israeli society do not feel alienated from the state and its institutions,” I second him enthusiastically. When he writes, of the Bedouin, that “Years of government neglect and erratic measures to urbanize these nomadic people are turning them into an increasingly alienated and hostile element, easy prey to the subversive Islamic Movement,” I applaud him. When he refers to “the one success story—the Druze community in Israel, whose integration into Israeli society is primarily due the service of its young men in the IDF,” I think he’s painting an overly rosy picture, but he’s within the pale of reasonable argument. (For an excellent analysis of the relationship between Druze military service and that community’s ambiguous integration into Israeli society, see Ronald R. Krebs’ Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship)

But then Arens takes up Israel’s national religious community—that is, not the national religious community in general (of which I’m a member), but that large portion of it that has fallen under the sway of the messianic theology that promoted Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Arens correctly notes that this section of the Israeli public is in crisis, and that “in recent years the government’s actions are gradually pushing increasing numbers from that community to the sidelines, and toward a feeling of alienation from the state and its institutions.” And he warns that “the lawless behavior of some of the younger settlers in Judea and Samaria is clearly a reflection of a feeling of frustration and anger that is straining against the restraints of law and order.”

And he concludes: “Maintaining unity among Israel’s citizens – Arab and Jew, religious and secular – is a goal of greatest importance. Divided we fall.” Hard to disagree with that.

But what’s the subtext of Arens’ argument? To fight the alienation of the Bedouin, we need to provide them with equitable social services and economic opportunities. To integrate Israel’s Arabs into Israeli society, we need to recognize that their citizenship should grant them full political rights. In the case of the Druze, we must recognize that their military service gives them a special claim on full partnership in the Jewish state. And what do we need to do to prevent the alienation of the national religious camp?

Arens doesn’t say so straight out, but the implication is clear. We need to cave in to this community’s political and religious agenda. We should allow them to settle the West Bank freely, even if in doing so they endanger Israel’s vital interests.

By the same logic, shouldn’t we fight the alienation of Israel’s Arab citizens by adopting the political agenda of the extremist northern branch of Israel’s Islamic movement?

Of course, it’s no coincidence that the settlers’ Greater Israel political agenda is one that Arens shares.

Sorry, Moshe. If this is what unity means, then united we’ll fall.

4 thoughts on “Zionists of the World Unite! (Around Me)”

  1. The “alienated settlers” Arens is referring to (I am not priviledged to be a Judea/Samaria resident, but I am an member of of the Orthodox/National Religious right-wing that fully supports them who also feels “alienated” from the state and its institutions) are an important segment of the political “Right” in Israel that the Likud once represented and then turned its back on. You must remember these people are overly represented in the combat units of the IDF and are also overrepresented in various science and technology workforces in the country (I myself fit into this category), so their influence on Israeli society is greater than their numbers alone would indicate. They make up a major part of the intellectual backbone of the political “Right”.
    Of course, it was Sharon who decided to make a break with this group and to identify the Likud with the agenda of the Left. Netanyahu, on taking command of the Likud is trying to be all things to all people and has failed totally to restore the connection between my “alienated” camp and the mainstream political Right in Israel, as far as I am concerned. The conclusion I and others have reached is that we are totally politically disenfranchised. No serious political movement in the Knesset represents our point of view. (You may point out the existence of the “National Union” party but this is an irrelevant party that is torn by internal dissension and which is ideologically bankrupt, not having any serious political platform about the serious issues Israel faces. There is also Lieberman’s “Israel Beitenu” which is also supposedly “right-wing” but Lieberman supports dividing Jerusalem…no ideological “right-wingers” I know support this party).
    Arens is pointing out that alienating this community is dangerous to the state of Israel. You say that this is not the case because their political agenda is “not in the nation’s interest” as you see it. Fine. That is your priviledge. However, I and my camp strongly disagree with you. So now the question is “since we both live here and we have strongly divergent views on how to proceed, what do we do about it”. Olmert thought had an answer in 2006. He saw how
    the “pro-settler Right” capitulated totally, without any serious resistance, to the destruction of Gush Katif. He saw how there was a solid majority in the Knesset more or less favoring destruction of most of the Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria (again, remember, this majority did NOT reflect public opinion at large, but was obtained by Sharon’s manipulations and outright bribery of MK’s), so he decided to tell the police to use maximum violence in pushing out passive protestors at Amona… mostly religious kids sitting inside the houses to be demolished with linked arms (you can see the films on YOUTUBE how the police illegally beat these kids with truncheons in the head). Olmert would show he was “tough” just like Sharon, and he believed that the Israeli public loved seeing its leader draw blood from the enemy, whether this “enemy” was Arabs or Jews. In the end, the whole thing boomeranged on Olmert and he dropped in the polls and got far fewer seats for Kadima in the 2006 elections held shortly afterwards than was expected.

    In democratic countries, the parliament is the forum for resolving conflicting interests and ideologies. The Left is congratulating itself on its success in destroying the Right. Peres himself said when Olmert was under some pressure to resign as a result of Winograd that the only thing that mattered was the support of 61 MK’s. Public opinion is of no importance. Pay off enough MK’s and you are behaving “democratically” according to Peres and the rest of the ruling clique. But you know very well this is not really “democracy”. The framers of the US Constitution realized that having an aggrieved minority that feels it has no outlet for its opinions is a very dangerous situation. That is why they demanded 2/3 majorities for the approval of treaties by the Senate or large majorities for changes in the Constitution. They realized that making artificial parliamentary majorities based on bribery or other temporary tricks in order to make fateful changes in how the country works is a recipe for disaster. This is what Arens is saying. You say you don’t agree with him, that my camp should be ignored. But there is a price to be paid for this. Sure, you can do like Olmert did and use the police and court-system to dispatch opponents of your policy. But do you really believe that is the healthies thing to do.
    We of the pro-Judea/Samaria Right have been using our democratic rights to push our views and they have over and over been overturned by bribery and trickery. So don’t be surprised if a lot of people are angry.

    Here is an excerpt from a column by Evelyn Gordon in the Jerusalem Post explaining why politically disenfranchising whole sectors of the population is playing with fire:

    Civil Fights: Why violence has replaced democracy

    Sep. 24, 2008
    Evelyn Gordon , THE JERUSALEM POST
    There has been a spate of attacks by settlers on both soldiers and Palestinians recently. This is not random violence, but calculated policy: The goal, activists say, is to “exact a price” whenever part of a settlement or outpost is dismantled, in the hope of persuading the authorities that dismantling settlements is not worth the cost.

    While only a minority of settlers supports this tactic, the number is growing, and defense officials believe the violence will only escalate.

    This is something no society can tolerate, and better law enforcement is clearly part of the necessary response. Yet law enforcement alone cannot solve the underlying problem ¬ which is that growing numbers of settlers have justifiably concluded that democratic action is pointless, leaving violence as the only rational option.

    IF THAT sounds outrageous, consider the following: In 1993, the Knesset approved the Oslo Accords, even though Yitzhak Rabin won election promising no negotiations with the PLO. But the ensuing surge in terror disillusioned many Oslo supporters, thus rightists saw a real chance of defeating Oslo 2 in 1995. So they did exactly what good democrats are supposed to do: They lobbied Shas and Labor MKs, and succeeded in garnering enough votes for victory – until Rabin, thumbing his nose at the rules, openly bought two MKs elected on a far-right slate, thereby securing a 61-59 majority. And since the offered bribe (a ministry and deputy ministry, with all attendant financial benefits) was illegal at the time, he then used his newly purchased majority to amend the law so he could pay up.

    Worse, this perversion of democracy enjoyed monolithic support from journalists, leftist MKs, academics and other self-proclaimed champions of the rule of law. The lesson was obvious: Playing by the democratic rules is pointless, because the other side has no qualms about scrapping them whenever they prove inconvenient.

    It is no accident that the worst incident of political violence in Israel’s history, Rabin’s assassination, occurred a mere month later. If democratic alternatives are blocked, violence becomes the only recourse. And someone will inevitably take it.

    FAST FORWARD to the 2003 election, when Labor championed a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the Likud’s Ariel Sharon campaigned against this idea. Again, rightists did what good democrats are supposed to do: They threw themselves into electing Sharon. And they succeeded: The Likud won by a landslide. Yet 11 months later, Sharon U-turned and adopted Labor’s platform.

    Nevertheless, he offered a democratic escape route: an internal party referendum. So rightists again did what good democrats are supposed to do: They canvassed door-to-door among Likud members.

    And they won again: Though polls predicted an easy victory for Sharon, his plan lost by a 60-40 margin.

    But Sharon ignored his party’s verdict, despite having pledged to honor it. He also refused to submit his plan to any broader democratic test ¬new elections or a national referendum. And of course, these decisions were cheered by the left’s self-proclaimed champions of democracy.

    Thus the right won two democratic victories, the 2003 election and the Likud referendum, only to see both prove worthless.

    Once again, the lesson was clear: Playing by the democratic rules is pointless.

    After Sharon junked the referendum results, rightists protested by blocking roads around the country. That, while illegal, is a time-honored Israeli tradition. The Histadrut, for instance, blocked roads nationwide for months to protest the emergency economic program in 2003; disabled activists demanding increased funding once paralyzed the entire capital by blocking major roads. Yet neither union activists nor the disabled were ever arrested.

    Anti-disengagement protesters, however, were arrested in droves, and routinely jailed for lengthy periods. Here, too, the lesson was clear: Rightists will be jailed for using tactics that other protesters can use with impunity. In short, democracy is not a level field, so playing on it is pointless.

    —– cut rest of column

  2. YBD, if you feel abandoned and “disenfranchised” it’s simply because now a days even right wingers in Kadima and Likud have joined the reality based community and realize that Israel can’t possibly hold onto the territories while remaining a majority Jewish and democratic country. There’s simply no way to square that circle.

    To call yourself “disenfranchised” is a bit extreme. If your policies no longer have any political pull, it’s just because they were completely ludicrous to begin with, only now most of the country has come around to this conclusion.

  3. My point, Joe, is that what your saying is NOT true….that “most of the country” opposes the policies that I endorse. I said we played the “democracy” game and we WON. You would have seen that if you read the article by Evelyn Gordon. What the ruling clique did was to ignore the democratic decision of the people. Why do you think Sharon refused to call a national referendum or national elections in order to get a mandate from the public in order to destroy Gush Katif. Why do you think Labor and Kadima are terrified of new elections in their scramble to form a new gov’t without going to new elections if they believed the majority supported their policies. In effect, the Leftist clique has carried out a coup in order to thwart the will of the majority. That is how we see it. Bribing 61 MK’s to get a majority to carry out a policy which is the opposite of that which in which they were elected is NOT democracy, no matter what Peres says.

  4. “Thus the right won two democratic victories, the 2003 election and the Likud referendum, only to see both prove worthless….the lesson was clear: Playing by the democratic rules is pointless. ”

    What YBD said. Ditto. If democracy is turned into a farce, then it’s no longer a democracy. It’s no different from Asad’s or Mubarak’s regime, which puts on a pretense of ‘democracy’ but the game is rigged. Whether you are Left or Right-wing is irrelevant–for democracy to function, the government must carry out the wishes of the electorate who put it into place. (Whether or not the opposition, here or in Europe or the US, thinks those wishes are ‘ludicrous’).

    Otherwise, what you have is an oligarchy of elitists who are simply playing at democracy.

Comments are closed.