Israeli Election: Democratic? Jewish? Really?

Election time in Israel is a season of forlorn hope for many Diaspora Jews, imagining, praying in our various ways that Israeli cousins will shift in a direction we can again proudly support or at least tolerate without revulsion, that we can somehow once again at least in some sense be part of the same people that long saw itself as a light to nations.

So for a moment, when I recently saw an Internet article that the coalition of Labor and Tzipi Livni’s new party were neck-and-neck with Likud in the polls, I’ll admit feeling a smidgen of something like hope.

But then I remembered Livni’s op-ed  in the Wall Street Journal last year, essentially pronouncing “our Palestinians” unready for democracy, another shot in the endless disgraceful effort to rationalize their perpetual subjugation. I find it hard to believe a government of which Livni is a leader can make a difference that matters.

Few manifestoes better illustrate the colonial way of thinking that seems, from my perspective, to dominate politics in what I now think of as “post-Jewish” Israel, a mindset that seems to give up connection to anything understandable historically as Jewish teaching. Livni’s logic is rather similar to that of all the monster empires Am Yisrael defined itself against throughout history.

That “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” does not seem to apply to those Livni views as inferiors, e.g., the Arabs of Palestine.  So Israel can continue to call itself a “proud democracy” while occupying or blockading into desperate poverty four to five million Arabs – both occupation and blockade of course acts of war to which virtually all Jews and virtually all Americans would support resistance by force anywhere else in the world.   Democracies don’t rule millions of unrepresented people as chattel.

And a state that treasures Jewish lives while devaluing Arab lives is no longer recognizably Jewish, representing something profoundly different and alien to Judaism.  Jews are of course commanded to love “the Other,” the stranger, as we were strangers in Egypt.

Hamas’ victory in Palestine’s only contested election was inherently illegitimate for Livni because Hamas is simply not a democratic party but a “terrorist group.”   Ditto Hezbollah.   Hamas and Hezbollah of course are both multi-faceted social and political organizations.   The fact that elements within them have horrifically killed Israelis – often while killing themselves – no more reduces these organizations to simply “terrorist groups” than Israel’s bi-annual Gaza killing sprees – which take the lives of vastly more innocents than Hamas could ever hope to – reduce the State of Israel to simply a “terrorist entity.”  (At least until recently, I thought “He who destroys a human life is as if he destroyed the whole world” was also Jewish teaching.)

What empire, what occupier, what dictator doesn’t demonize everyone who fights back as a “terrorist”?    And what is finally the Palestinian choice today beyond active resistance and meekly accepting perpetual oppression?   It’s not obvious.   It’s not like it’s just Hamas that Israel won’t negotiate with, as the failed “Kerry Round” demonstrated.

It’s meanwhile stunning to me that many Israelis – including in these pages – criticize Hamas and the PA for not holding their own elections since 2006.  Have they forgotten what happened last time?   Showing its respect for democracy, Israel targeted most winners for summary imprisonment.   And still of course refused to acknowledge, much less deal with, a la Livni, the faction that won.

Yes, there is a long and tragic history that we’re all familiar with.   Great and terrible things happened in 1948 and 1967, before and since, yet none of them can justify subjugating the Palestinians in perpetuity.

There is a worldwide struggle for the Jewish soul today between those who regard the Jewish people as bearers of a faith of universal human values and those who view Judaism as a tribal military cult.  Netanyahu and Livni are on the same side.

When I grew up as a young Jew in New York long ago, I thought every fight for freedom was mine.   Jews were known for championing the rights of all in a way that inspired others.  What we looked down on most in our sub-culture was looking down on people.

Today young Jews grow up in the Diaspora, pressed by the “organized community” elite of rabbis and large donors that dominates our communal institutions, to rationalize Israel’s oppression of another people.   Who needs it?   That intermarriage among the non-Orthodox in the U.S. has grown from 15 to over 70 percent since Israel became an occupier is not simply a coincidence, as the moral posture of the Jewish people worldwide has been reversed.

Israel’s policies today actively undermine Diaspora Jewry by linking Jewish identity with policies alien to what most identifying Diaspora Jews see as the essence of who they are.

The problem with the people crushed under our heels is they won’t stop biting.   It’s tough being a colonial power in a post-colonial age.  But, on the eve of yet another Israeli election that could matter but in all likelihood won’t, not yet tough enough.

About the Author
Steve Koppman was co-author of Treasury of American-Jewish Folklore (Rowman & Littlefield). He is a contributor to The Huffington Post and his satire, commentary and journalism have appeared in many publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation, The Chicago Tribune, The Village Voice, Newsday and others. His short plays have been produced throughout the U.S and he has contributed short fiction to literary and regional magazines and anthologies. He works as an analyst of the telecommunications industry, grew up in New York City and lives in Oakland, California.